Turkey’s 19 Incredible Historical Sites That Made it to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List
If you are a history geek or an ancient culture enthusiast, Turkey is definitely the place to visit for you. From Greeks to Persians, from Romans to the Turks… Countless different civilizations once ruled these lands and left many historical and invaluable assets behind that attracted the attention of millions of tourists every year coming from different parts of the world who want to discover the depth of history and the most famous stories told in the ancient tales and myths which was carved into the artifacts or whatever remained of them.
Since Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, has been the stage of many different civilizations for thousands of years, it contains and preserves a load of historical and cultural relics. Do you know that most of these architectural and historical artifacts, underground cities, religious buildings, and palaces that have survived to the present day are on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List and are therefore protected by the United Nations? If you don’t know already, why don’t we just check out the rest of the article together?
According to UNESCO, here are some of the interesting numbers that could allure you to visit Turkey:
Number of Properties that are on the World Heritage List
Number of International Cooperation
Number of Conservation Reports Published by UNESCO
Total Amount of Approved International Assistance
As mentioned above, there are 19 spectacular heritage sites preserved by UNESCO with the recent inclusion of Göbeklitepe, which was discovered during excavations in Turkey, on the list. Let’s now take a look at what you could expect from seeing all these must-visit historical sites of Turkey.
1. Cappadocia / Göreme National Park – Nevşehir
Located in Nevsehir, The Göreme National Park of the Cappadocia region, which was included in the UNESCO list in 1985, consists of rocks sculpted in an extraordinary way due to the million years of wind and water erosion of tuffs caused by the lavas of the Volcanic Mountains of Erciyes and Hasan. In addition to these rock structures which create a magnificent view, therefore, called fairy chimneys, the Göreme National Park was once a region inhabited by ancient Christian communities (post-Iconoclastic period) and full of historical artefacts that reflect and hint pretty clear about their lifestyles and way of living in those periods in the history.
So it is a great place who are curious about those communities, and how people of that age were able to live in such fascinating but also harsh topographic conditions, built those underground tunnels, passages, and towns, and drilled deep into the mountains or hills to build themselves cave-like houses.
The areas included in the UNESCO World Heritage List include the Göreme National Park, Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı Underground Cities, Karain Dovecotes, Karlık Church, Yeşilöz Theodoro Church, and Soğanlı Archaeological Site.
A bonus tip, in Cappadoccia, if you are an admirer of the sunsets or sunrises, you may take a hot-balloon ride during these times of the day or arrange your stay at one of those fancy hotels that could provide you with a cave-like room so you can relive those times of history.
2. The Historical Peninsula of Istanbul
The most valuable part of Istanbul, once the capital and most valued city of the Roman, Byzantium, and Ottoman Empires, is known as the historical peninsula and includes such historical districts as Beyazıt, Süleymaniye, and Sultanahmet steeped in history, and a part of the old Istanbul Walls are also included in the protection area of UNESCO. In this region, there are architectural wonders recognized globally such as Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Süleymaniye Mosque, and Sultanahmet Square, formerly known as Hippodrome. There are also many ancient buildings and artifacts in this region, each from different periods, and it is an area that is heavily touristic and contains so many worth-seeing historical beauties.
3. Mount Nemrut – Adıyaman
Mount Nemrut is located on the borders of the Kahta district of Adıyaman and has an altitude of 2.206 meters. It is on the list of UNESCO’s protected areas due to the presence of a 50-meter-high, 150-meter-diameter tumulus and giant statues belonging to the Kingdom of Commagene.
Mount Nemrut contains the most magnificent sacred ruins of the Hellenistic Period in Anatolia. According to the inscriptions, Antiochus I Soter had a splendid mausoleum built, a tumulus made of crushed stones over the burial chamber, and sacred areas surrounding the three sides of the tumulus to show his gratitude to the gods and his ancestors.
4. The Ancient City of Troy – Çanakkale (Dardanelles)
Troy, the story of a fallen city, one of the most historic and famous in the world, which has been the stage for the oldest and most reputed tales known to mankind, the setting of the stories of the most legendary characters like Achillies, Hector, Paris, Helen of Troy and such… what remained of them are now ruins gathered and displayed in the archaeological site of Troy which is currently located in the Çanakkale, Dardanelles.
Traces of many different cultures have been found in Troy. Starting from the 19th century, archaeological excavations are still underway in Troy, while Troy continues to welcome a large number of domestic and foreign tourists.
5. Ancient City of Ephesus – İzmir
The region, also known as Ephesus Ruins, consists of four components: Çukuriçi Höyük, Ayasuluk Hill (Selçuk Castle, St. John’s Basilica, Isa Bey Bath, Isa Bey Mosque, Artemision), Ephesus Ancient City, and Virgin Mary’s House.
Ephesus, one of the most important centers of the ancient period, has been used as an uninterrupted settlement area for about 9 thousand years, starting from the prehistoric period throughout the Hellenistic, Roman, Eastern Roman, Principalities, and Ottoman periods, and has been a critical port city and cultural and commercial center at all stages of its history.
6. Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape – İzmir
Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape, Pergamon (multi-layered city), Kibele Sanctuary, İlyas Tepe, which was included in the World Heritage List in the category of Cultural Landscape at the 38th Term Meeting of the World Heritage Committee and contained layers belonging to the Hellenistic, Roman, Eastern Roman, and Ottoman Periods. The area consists of nine components, namely Yığma Tepe, İkili, Tavşan Tepe, X Tepe, A Tepe, and Maltepe Tumulus.
With its glorious acropolis, the capital of the ancient city, Pergamon was considered a great hub for education & training from its foundation in the 3rd century BC to onwards its Roman period. When the control of the city passed to the Romans, it became the capital of the Roman province in Asia. Next to the Greeks, Romans also constructed new or improved old buildings in the city such as sanctuaries, temples, and amphitheaters.
7. Göbeklitepe – Şanlıurfa
Göbeklitepe, which has made a big impression since it was discovered and the excavations started, has a history dating back to 12 thousand years earlier from now. Göbeklitepe, called the “zero point of humanity,” was recorded on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2018. With its great erected pillars and carved wild animal figures on them, Göbeklitepe pointed out the suggestions of what the life of a hunter-gatherer community is about, especially when it comes to religions or beliefs between 9600-8200 BCE in upper- Mesopotamia. Pillars’ placement in a round-oval shape could suggest that the place was once used for religious rituals or funerals.
8. Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği
If you are a fan of medieval architecture, The Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği in Sivas is a must-see. With its richly-adorned exterior walls and doors containing so many astonishing architectural and sculptural craftsmanship details and labors, The Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği has a mosque with a tomb within which was roofed with two domes and consists of a hospital adjacent to it.
It was built by Ahmet Shah and his wife Melike Turan from the Mengücekli Principality in the 13th century. There are figures carved with the traditional stonework of Anatolia on all four sides of the architectural structure. With its sophisticated construction technique, the Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği is definitely a masterpiece in Islamic architecture and medieval tradition.
9. Hattusa (Boğazköy) – Çorum
Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite Civilization, has an important historical past. In Hattusa, which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986, there are temples, royal residences, and fortifications, the vast majority of which belong to the reign of King Tudhaliya IV. Adorned in a highly rich way, the Lions’ Gate and Royal Gate are some of the historic pieces deserving to be seen in person and appreciated considering the conditions in the 2nd millennium BC.
10. Xanthos-Letoon – Muğla
It is known that Xanthos, whose history dates back to 3000 BC, was the largest administrative center and capital of Lycia in Antiquity. There are stone inscriptions in which the longest and most important texts in the Lycian language can be observed in the settlements, which are approximately 4 kilometers apart.
Dipylon, built between 68-70 AD and made of decked stones with polygonal mesh, forms the southern entrance to the city. The Xanthos Theatre, which has a capacity of 2200 people, was built in the Hellenistic Period and renovated in the Roman Period.
11. Safranbolu – Karabük
Starting from the 13th century, Safranbolu, the architecture which heavily influenced the Ottomans in the 17th century, was a significant station for the trade route between East and West. The district of Karabük is considered a world heritage site as a whole area with its mosques, bazaar, neighborhoods, streets, and a series of historical wooden, cute and cozy medieval houses. The city is represented in the World Heritage List in three parts: Çukur, Kiranköy, and Bağlar. The Old Mosque, Old Bath, and Süleyman Pasha Medrese, constructed in the 14th century were particular historical artifacts that are worth seeing in Safranbolu.
12. Selimiye Mosque and its Social Complex – Edirne
Known as the masterwork of Sinan the Architect and located in Edirne, the mosque was built in the name of Sultan Selim II. The building is considered among the most magnificent works of its period with its technical perfection, dimensions, and aesthetic details. Hence, it was taken under protection by being accepted as one of the world’s heritage.
13. Çatalhöyük – Konya
Çatalhöyük, which is a crucial proof of the transition from villages to urban life with its history of more than 2,000 years, sheds light on the history of humanity with its original findings such as the first house architecture, the first landscape painting, the cult of the mother goddess, and works of faith.
14. Cumalıkızık and Bursa
Cumalıkızık, which was established as an Ottoman founding village at the same time as Bursa, which was established on the North-Western foothills of Uludağ as the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, was recorded on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2014.
The World Heritage Site of “Bursa and Cumalıkızık: The Birth of the Ottoman Empire,” which was included in the World Heritage List in the cultural category, the Hanlar Region, which includes the Orhangazi Complex and its surroundings, Hüdavendigar (Murad I) Complex, Yıldırım (Bayezid I) Complex, Yeşil (Mehmed I) Complex, Muradiye (Murad II) Complex and Cumalıkızık Village consist of many historic and valuable sections.
15. Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens – Diyarbakır
Diyarbakır Fortress, Walls, and Bastions are shaped in line with the needs of the civilizations, cultures, and periods that prevailed in the region, and live as original and authentic cultural assets that still maintain their originality. 7,000-year historical existence, and keep a crucial universal heritage feature throughout its history, the Hevsel Gardens, located in geography where garden culture is vital, reveals a unique value as an area open to public use.
16. Archaeological Site of Ani-Kars
The Archaeological Site of Ani in Kars was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016. It is of great importance as a multicultural Silk Road settlement where settlement was continuous from the Early Iron Age to the 16th century, and where all the richness and diversity of the development of the Middle Ages in terms of urbanism, architecture, and art are seen together.
17. Ancient City of Aphrodisias – Aydın
The first settlement in the Ancient City of Aphrodisias in Aydın dates back to 5 thousand BC. The Ancient City of Aphrodisias was included in the World Heritage List in 2017, along with the ancient marble quarries located approximately 2-3 kilometers northeast.
18. Pamukkale-Hierapolis – Denizli
It is accepted that the city of Hierapolis was founded by Eumenes II, King of Pergamum, in the 2nd century BC and was named after Hiera, the wife of Telephos, the legendary founder of Pergamon.
Hierapolis, which played one of the most important roles in the spread of Christianity in Anatolia, is also the city where St. Philippus, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, was killed.
19. Arslantepe Mound – Malatya
Arslantepe, where the findings of the historical process from the Late Chalcolithic period to the Iron Age are discovered, also contains the traces of many civilizations from the Hittites to the Roman and Byzantium.
The excavations reveal the structures of one of the oldest city-states of Anatolia with its mound of the Late Hittite period, lion and overturned king statues at the entrance, mud-brick palace with infrastructures such as a rain drainage line, and more than 2,000 seals.
History is only one of the many reasons to visit, live or invest in Turkey. As you can imagine, it is delightful for someone living or investing in Turkey to visit and get to know the history once lying beneath these sites since you feel you become a part of this deep-rooted history. If you also want to feel this way, why don’t you consider the possibility of living or investing in Turkey?