Home to hundreds of archaeological and natural sites, the Turkaegean has always been an important hub in history. With numerous sites enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the region is like an open-air museum where you can discover the history of humankind step by step among the archaeological remains.
A Multi-layered Cultural Hub
In Çanakkale, awaits a city that had one of the most epic wars in all of history; thought to have been fought on the Turkaegean coast around the 12th century BCE, the source of inspiration for several literary works including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Goethe’s Faust, as well as a blockbuster movie. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the vast archaeological site of Troia has 10 different layers and was continuously inhabited between the years 3.000 BCE and 500 CE. As you exit the archaeological site, a state-of-the-art building the Museum of Troy, honored with the 2020 European Museum of the Year Special Award, will take you on a journey through the history of the region. According to the legend, after the fall of Troia, Aeneas fled the burning city with a few survivors to rebuild in a new destination. The track he followed from Troia to Rome is today known as the Aeneas Route, a lengthy corridor certified as a Cultural Route of the Council of Europe.
The ancient site of Troia became the setting for one of the most famous myths in human history through the words of the ancient lyric poet of the nearby ancient Smyrna. Homer, who lived by the river Meles in today’s Turkaegean city of İzmir tells the stories of King Priam, Hector, Achilles and the beautiful Helen, taking place in the region surrounded by Mount Ida on the Dardanelles Strait. The road passing through the intact Aegean villages to the south leads to the ancient city of Assos (Behramkale), where a philosophical school was established by Aristotle. At the highest point of the city lies the Temple of Athena, the first and only known Doric temple in Anatolia and on the south side the city’s ancient theatre looks over to the Aegean Sea.
Pergamum: The Ancient Centre of Arts & Culture
Bearing the traces of great civilizations to the present day, Pergamum was “the most illustrious city in Asia Minor” according to the ancient historian, Pliny the Elder, and still is as it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Pergamum was one of the oldest healing centers of the ancient world, the Asklepion (the only temple remaining that was devoted to the god Asklepios, known as “the place where death does not enter”) and the birthplace of Galen, the great physician, who led the way for modern medicine today. The Asklepion is considered the world’s first psychiatric hospital, naming psychists as “Asclepiad”, the snake intertwined with staff, the medical symbol, was originally utilized here. Classical splendor was so reflected in the city’s architecture, art, medicine, culture, and education that the invention of Pergamenese Paper, known as parchment, made the Library of Pergamum, the second largest in the ancient world challenged Alexandria with over 200,000 books.
The Acropolis of the city, built on terraces above a vast plain decorated by rivers from ancient times, offers visitors a unique view from the steepest theatre in the world. Located at the foot of the Acropolis – the upper city and initially dedicated to the Egyptian deities, the Red Hall later functioned as a church and mosque.
Bergama generously presents the hidden treasures of the Turkaegean with its carpets, local delicacies such as çığırtma – aubergines in tomato and garlic sauce, the waterfalls and the Kozak plateau that surrounds the settlement and offers you a green journey among the pine trees. Beautiful small bays with the finest sandy beaches and Kalem Island where shades of blue and green await you for short breaks on your cultural and natural journey through the Turkaegean.
Ephesus: the Leading Light of Archaeological Sites
Fertile soil with peach orchards, olive groves and poplars as far as the eye can see the capital of the Roman Empire in Asia Minor, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient city of Ephesus. As one of the most important ports of the ancient world and the oldest excavation of an archaeological site in Türkiye, Ephesus provides a complete envisioning of what an ancient Roman city was like two thousand years ago.
Ephesus’s delightful landmarks to explore are the Library of Celsus, the intact Roman theater where St. Paul once preached and gladiators had fierce battles and hillside mansions of the wealthy citizens of ancient Ephesus that are rich in frescoes and murals with vivid colors and patterns. The House of the Virgin Mary, a chapel seven kilometers from Ephesus, has been a major place of Christian pilgrimage since the 5th century as well.
You might easily visit Ephesus on a day tour from İzmir, or stay overnight in Selçuk, where you can enjoy the Ephesus Museum with its magnificent marble statues, and the extensive remains of the Basilica of St. John on Ayasuluk Hill in the town center. The House of the Virgin Mary, a chapel seven kilometers from Ephesus, has been a major place of Christian pilgrimage since the 5th century as well.
10 kilometers away from Ephesus, the small village of Şirince has picturesque accommodation options in traditional houses and mansions, with the bonus of panoramic views over vineyards and olive orchards. Don’t forget to try out the local wines with fruit flavors.
Pamukkale Springs and Hierapolis
Heading towards inland valleys, two magnificent sites draw eyes to their splendor. Within the borders of Denizli city, Pamukkale, which means “the cotton castle”, is a unique site in the inland Aegean. The cotton-white travertines of Pamukkale are almost surreal, as hot pools form on each shelf cascading down to the ground like a fluffy waterfall from the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis. The “Holy City”, Hierapolis, was founded by the Attalid kings of Pergamum at the end of the 2nd century BCE, at the site of an ancient cult. The Hellenistic spa town steadily flourished, reaching its peak in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. Baths, temple ruins, a nymphaeum, a necropolis, and a magnificent ancient theatre and many more are still on site to be explored by the visitors. Following the acceptance of Christianity by the emperor Constantine and his establishment of Constantinople as the ‘New Rome’ in 330 CE the town was made a bishopric.
The tradition of weaving and textile industry has been an old millennia-old tradition, mainly due to the high-quality cotton grown in the Aegean Region, Denizli has been the textile capital of the region for over 4000 years. The world-famous Buldan fabric –named after the Buldan town of Denizli– is produced using a special weaving process and retains its texture for a long time thanks to its natural raw materials and colors. Buldan fabric can be used for curtains, bathrobes, bedspreads, bed sheets, linings as well as garments such as blouses, dresses, and skirts.
The city of Aphrodite: Aphrodisias
Another UNESCO World Heritage site – Aphrodisias, is a remarkably preserved city of ancient Caria. The site is located 100 km east of Aydın and can be reached easily from İzmir and even from Antalya for a day trip. The city was famous for its school of sculpture during antiquity along with its sanctuary of Aphrodite. The nearby high-quality marble quarries are the reason for the city’s enormous wealth and prosperity during the Roman Empire which also allowed Aprodisians sculptors to master their skills and rise to fame.
When archaeologists discovered the city in the 19th century, almost all of the artifacts and buildings were intact since the city’s location was far away from the coastline and not close to any main trade routes of the modern period, allowing it to be safe from any robberies. Extensive excavations continuing for over 60 years, revealed several buildings, and hundreds of statues of high quality. These statues and excellent reliefs are on display at the Aphrodisias Museum on site. Once famous for its Temple of Aphrodite and its exquisite marble sculptures -a city whose columns, pediments, theatre, sarcophagi and monumental gateway still partially standing to this day, Aphrodisias continues to exude grandeur and demonstrate beauty of the antiquity.
The restorations of the Propylon and Sebasteion, allow visitors to perceive how the city once looked like. The theater, agora, odeon – bouleuterion, baths and the biggest Stadion in Türkiye with a capacity of 30.000 people are almost intact. Aphrodisias Stadium is perhaps the city’s most magnificent work of art and the best-preserved ancient stadium of the Aegean from antiquity. The Geyre village, which was once built over the ancient city, stands out with its traditional houses and architecture.
Knidos: a Matchless Ancient Harbour
The ancient city of Knidos is located at the furthest point of the Datça Peninsula. Connected to the mainland by a narrow, sandy isthmus, the entire inner mural area of the ancient site of Knidos is strewn with architectural remains. Astronomers, including Eudoxus the Mathematician, ancient physicians and architects gathered at the secured harbors of Knidos.
Knidos was also known for its renowned statue of Aphrodite, carved by the famous ancient sculpture Praxiteles in the mid-fourth century BCE. The statue was the first cult statue of the goddess depicted nude which became an inspiration and was copied for hundreds of years. Notable remains are a few basilica arches, floor mosaics and the exceptional sea-facing ancient theatre still remarkably intact.
The beauty of Knidos can match the beauty of the landscape it offers. The harbors of the ancient city are now popular anchorages for the wooden gulets or sailboats of blue voyage tours that stop for swimming and to visit the ancient remains of Knidos. It’s time to join us at the Turkaegean and follow in the footsteps of history!
Seven Churches of Revelation
The Turkaegean is also an important destination for faith tourism, as it hosts all of the seven major churches of early Christianity mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Each of these churches received a letter from John the Apostle, calling them to repent for their sins and correct their current course. Along with Ephesus and Pergamum, Thyatria (Akhisar), Smryna (İzmir), Sardeis (Salihli), Philadelphia (Alaşehir), and Laodicea (Denizli) are the ancient churches that St John wrote about in the Bible. These churches are relatively close to each other and clearly marked for visitors, which makes them easily discoverable during a week-long itinerary.
Aeneas Cultural Route
Imagine a journey that would change the history of the world. The Aeneas Route is a journey of a lifetime, a wonderful passage through time that allows you to walk in the footsteps of a Trojan hero. Aeneas stretches from the vibrant shores of the northwestern Turkaegean to the sandy beaches of Lazio in Italy, by sea and partly by land. This route is inspired by the mythical legend of Aeneas as told by the Latin poet Virgil. Aeneas fled the burning city of Troia with his family and companions and embarked on a long journey of discovery through cultures, landscapes, and civilizations, to seek and build a new city after the legendary Trojan War.