There are hundreds of historical places in Turkey and you risk being ‘ruined’ out. But choose wisely and you will see some amazing sights with unique stories to tell.


We spent 3 weeks driving around, tirelessly visiting over 20 historical places in Turkey. Throughout the west of the country, Greek ruins litter the area that is home to big names such as Troy, and unknown gems like Afrodisias. With so many on offer, you need to pick carefully or you risk getting fed up before you’ve even scratched the ancient surface.

We have put together a list of what – in our opinion – are the 8 most interesting historical places in Turkey. It’s not just a list of celebrity ruins in the best condition. Instead, we have selected ancient Roman and Greek ruins in Turkey that hold a certain intrigue. Places of myths and legends. Ancient Greek towns perched precariously on hills. Imperial Roman capitals of wealth and power. Mind-bogglingly gigantic temples. And, one of the last 7 Wonders of the World still in the upright position. Each of these historical places in Turkey is a bit different, tells it’s own story and gives a unique insight into this very special part of the world.

1 / TROY

WHY GO? To uncover one of the greatest legends of all time.

I am not going to lie to you. There is not a lot to see in Troy. No grand theatres, or towering temples. No mighty walls or monumental baths. Even the sea, that used to surround this ancient hill town, has receded many kilometres into the distance.

But what Troy does have, is the mystique of legend that surrounds its very name. In the 8th century BCE Homer wrote his famous poem the Iliad telling the story of how the Greek Kings capture Troy after the ten-year Trojan War. That legend and its protagonists live to this day, in the words we use, the films we watch, and the stories we read.

Wandering around the rubble of Troy – and it is little more than rubble – you can explore Homer’s tale. The ramp and western gate through which Achilles was shot in the ankle and died. The line of blackened rocks where the Greek Kings burnt the defeated city to the ground. And the actual Trojan horse still standing proudly just beyond the entrance gate (ok, maybe that’s fake).

There is a strange excitement and energy when you stand amongst these pitiful ruins, for Troy has been a place of pilgrimage for many great kings. Alexander the Great, Xerxes, Julius Caesar and Augustus all came here to honour those Greek heroes and legends of the past. We did the same.


Troy /8:30 – 19:00 Apr-Oct; 8:30 – 17:00 Nov-Mar; Price: ₺25 + ₺10 audio-guide + ₺10 parking Location: 17100 Kalafat Köyü/Çanakkale Merkez

2 / APOLLON SMINTHEION

WHY GO? For the beautiful country lanes, and interesting story amid more Trojan legend

While Apollon Smintheion in not one of the better known historical places in Turkey, it is a great little ruin with a good back story and a link to Trojan legend. Wandering Cretans were attacked on this spot by an infestation of mice. Recalling an old prophecy which said they should settle where they were overrun by the ‘sons of earth’, they decided to settle here and build a temple to Apollo Smintheus (Apollo the Slayer of Mice).

This town became Khryse and in the 8th century BCE, according to Homer, the daughter of the local priest – also called Khryse – was captured during the Battle for Troy. King Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks, took this girl as his trophy and refused to return her to her father. Khryses prayed in anger to Apollo Smintheus and the god agreed to send a plague over the army of the Greeks, creating a pivotal storyline in Homer’s epic. The temple here today was built by the Romans in the 2nd century (and by the Turks over the last decade).

Another bonus is that in order to get here, you have to leave the motorways and major roads and head into the winding country lanes of the Biga Peninsular. The roads skirt the coast and azure blue seas before rising up through rural villages and rocky desolate shrubland. It’s a beautiful drive taking you into a landscape that has barely changed since ancient times.


Apollon Smintheion /8:00 – 20.00 Apr-Oct; 8:00 – 17:00 Nov-Mar; Price: ₺5; Location: 17880 Gülpınar Bucağı

3 / EPHESUS

WHY GO? To stand in awe of the Library of Celsus and marvel at the terraced houses

Ephesus is the jewel in the crown of ancient Roman and Greek ruins in Turkey. Although originally a Greek City built in the 10th century, Ephesus became a place of prominence after the Roman Emperor Augustus came to power in 27 BCE and named it the capital of Roman Asia Minor. Money and power flooded into the city resulting in some remarkable construction and architectural gems. Undoubtedly making it one of the best historical places in Turkey.

The Library of Celsus is the iconic image of Ephesus, built in AD 125 CE it once held nearly 12,000 scrolls. The bas-reliefs and statues covering the façade are in exceptionally good condition. The nearby theatre is the largest in the ancient world holding an estimated 25,000 people and the Temple of Hadrian and the Odeon are further excellent additions to Ephesus.

But the lesser known highlight is the covered terrace houses. These Roman homes were partially destroyed by an earthquake in the 3rd century CE but the ruins that it left are in remarkably good condition. The houses are now preserved under a large roof, with glass walkways allowing you to explore the buildings without disrupting the site. It very rare to see the sheer quality of frescoes still intact, with intricate designs and vibrant colours. Terrace house number 2 is particularly astounding.

Close to Ephesus is the stunningly impressive Pamukkale with ancient ruins and those unmissable terraces.


Ephesus /8:00 – 18:30 Apr-Oct; 08:00 – 16:30 Nov-Mar; Price: ₺40 + ₺10 parking at south gate +₺20 extra for Terraced Houses (which close at 18:00); Location: Atatürk Mh., Uğur Mumcu Sevgi Yolu, 35920 Selçuk

4 / BERGAMA ACROPOLIS

WHY GO? To wander through an atmospheric hill town to see the impressive Temple of Trajan

Bergama is one of the best Greek ruins in Turkey. It was the Roman capital of Asia Minor before Ephesus but visiting here is a completely different experience. Bergama Acropolis is a traditional Greek hill town, built on the side of a steep hill, with defence being the top priority. There is much less of the power and might of a wealthy Roman Empire here, instead in Bergama you are on a hill, surrounded by long grass with only the birds and tortoises for company.

We went in the final hours of the afternoon and we were the only people there. A cable car takes you up the hill, from which you get great views of the surrounding countryside. The reconstructed Temple of Trajan is magnificent. An attractive theatre cascades down the hill, and scraps of columns lie in the weeds and overgrown grass.

The famous Altar of Pergamum, a shadow of its former self, has been stripped bare and its impressive marble facades now reside in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin. Having visited that museum a few years ago, I had always wanted to come and see the actual site. And what a great moment it was.


Bergama Acropolis /8:00 – 18:45 Apr-Oct; 08:00 – 16:45 Nov-Mar; Price: ₺20 + ₺20 cable-car; Location: The cableway station is located at Kurtuluş Mahallesi, 5. Sk. No:13

5 / BASILICA OF SAINT JOHN

WHY GO? To get a selfie in front of the supposed tomb of the actual St John and see an incredible Byzantine Church.

Perched on a hill just outside Ephesus, the Basilica of St John is a ruin different than all the others. Instead of an ancient town or Roman Temple, it’s a Byzantine Church with a special resident. This site is the alleged resting place of St John, who spent his final days in Ephesus and is rumoured to have written his gospel on this hill before dying aged 100 years old. He is buried here according to his last request.

As Christianity spread, a monumental tomb was built over his grave and in 350 CE a basilica with a wooden dome was built over the tomb. Then in 6th century CE, Justinian and Theodora knocked down the basilica and built a 6-domed church that survived for almost 800 years, before being destroyed by a large earthquake. These are the ruins you see today.

It’s easy to get an idea of the scope and size of the church which would be the 7th largest in the world if it existed today. Some original frescoes, almost hidden from view closed gate, give a glimpse of the grandeur the church once had. Looking out from the atrium of the church you can see a lone pillar standing in a field. This is the only remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World and next on our list of historical places in Turkey.


Basilica of St. John /8:00 – 18:30 Apr-Oct; 08:00 – 16:30 Nov-Mar; Price: ₺10; Location: Atatürk Mh., St. Jean Cd., Selçuk

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6 / TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS

WHY GO? To see one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.

The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse at Alexandria, the Great Pyramid at Giza and the Temple of Artemis. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only one that stands complete today. But we couldn’t pass up the chance to see one of them that has a tiny snippet of its former glory, still standing today.

The Temple of Artemis was, built and destroyed three times, with the final version beginning construction in 323 BCE. It would become the largest temple in the ancient world. Its platform measuring 137m long, 69m wide and 18m high supported over 127 columns. St. John would regularly pray and preach to the local Ephesians here and the temple is mentioned in the Acts of St. John. It was destroyed in 286 CE by the Goths and all that stands there today is a single column put together from the rubble that was found at the scene.

While this is not enough to bring this place to life it makes the list of one of the best historical places in Turkey because of its heritage and the grandeur of what once must have been. A grandeur that you can only really appreciate once you have visited the Temple of Apollo.


Temple of Artemis /8.00 – 19.00; Price: Free; Location: Atatürk Mh., Park İçi Yolu No:12, Selçuk

7 / TEMPLE OF APOLLO, DIDYMA

WHY GO? Because sometimes, size matters.

As you approach the Temple of Apollo it doesn’t seem that impressive. Only three columns are still standing with a pediment across the top of two of them. It is not particularly ornate, nor does it have a dramatic location. But as you descend into the temple all these concerns disappear. The columns and walls are simply massive. Unlike anywhere else we went, the Temple of Apollo shows the size, power and majesty with which the Romans honoured their Gods.

The temple was built on a platform over 5,500 square meters, upon which rested 122 columns each with a diameter of 2.5 meters. The walls of the temple itself rose 28 metres above ground. The whole site is a monstrous undertaking of enormous scale.

The columns rise like mighty redwoods into the sky. One fallen column gives you the opportunity to fully appreciate the scale of this place. As we strolled around we felt like Lilliputians living in a world built for much more significant beings. And yet this was only the fourth largest temple in the ancient world.


Temple of Apollo /08:30 – 18:30 Apr-Oct; 08:30 – 16:30 Nov-Mar; Price: ₺10; Location: Yenihisar Mh Didim

8 / APHRODISIAS

WHY GO? To marvel at the marble reliefs of the Sebasteion.

Aphrodisias is an ancient Greek town deep in the Anatolian hinterland. It got absorbed into the Roman Empire and most of the site dates from Roman times. Many ruins are in good condition with the Tetrapylon and Odeon standing proud and an excellently preserved stadium that seems to go on and on. But the undisputed highlight is the Sebasteion.

The Sebasteion, meaning the Temple of Emperors, was built from 20 CE to 60 CE. When completed it was a magnificent three storied building with Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. Sadly, much of the building itself was destroyed, but many of the marble reliefs that adorned these walls have survived.

The reliefs are now housed in a purpose-built room attached to the on-site museum. The reliefs are well presented, well explained and in excellent condition. They tell the stories of Gods and of the Emperors, of their triumphs and conquests. An hour spent wandering around the museum is a tour de force of myth, legend and truth and unquestionably makes Afrodisias an excellent final stop on any tour of historical places in Turkey.


Afrodisias /08:00 – 19:00 Apr-Oct; 08:00 – 17:00 Nov-Mar; Price: ₺35; Location: Geyre Mahallesi, 09385 Karacasu

HOW TO SEE THESE HISTORICAL PLACES IN TURKEY

Because Turkey is a cheap country to travel to at the moment, the best way to see all these sites with the flexibility you will want to enjoy them at your own pace, is to hire your own car.  We’ve prepared some tips to help with driving in Turkey here, and our complete itinerary for Turkey provides all the details of this fantastic trip.

HISTORICAL PLACES IN TURKEY THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT

We had a great time checking out all the historical places in Turkey, mostly because we love travelling and exploring everything we possibly can. So even if a site was a bit of a dud, the pleasure of just strolling around a new place in the hope of uncovering something that fascinates was enough to keep us marching from one Greek ruin to another.

Having said that, there are no duds in the historical places of Western Turkey, just some that appealed more than others. If you are interested in all the places we visited but didn’t include on this list, here they are:

Alexandria Troas; Assos; Priene; Miletus; Heraklia; Hieropolis; Sagalossos; Valens Aqueduct; Ascelpion and Aspendos.

MORE READING

If you have more time in Turkey you can’t go past the magical Cappadocia. To read our take on the current political situation in Istanbul read this, or for a part of Turkey we couldn’t recommend to our readers, have a look at our thoughts on Ölüdeniz.

“Untold

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How to explore the ancient historical ruins in western Turkey / #turkey #ancientruins #ruins

How to explore the ancient historical ruins in western Turkey / #turkey #ancientruins #ruins

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