13 UNESCO Heritage Sites to Visit in Türkiye
Türkiye is full of cultural and natural sites that are of outstanding universal value to the rest of humanity. As of 2020, 16 cultural and 2 mixed regions in Türkiye had been cited among UNESCO World Heritage sites, “mixed” meaning they contain elements of both natural and cultural significance. 84 more remain in the Tentative List, waiting to get the attention and value they absolutely deserve.
A country with a history of thousands of years, Türkiye has been home to many cultures and religions. All these cultures and religions have essentially left behind something for domestic and international visitors to see, touch, taste, smell and listen to. As the country is lucky to have so many sites of universal historical value, your trip to Türkiye is sure to expand and enrich your knowledge on humanity’s extensive heritage. You’ll see that the country’s unmatched natural beauty has been combined with varieties of fashions as it continued to prosper under the influence of thousands of people. We’ll be listing below some of these sites of historico-cultural importance, and we do advise you get ready to fill out a whole page out of your travel bucket list.
The Mysterious Ruins of Ani in Kars
Situated in close vicinity of Türkiye’s eastern border, on what used to be a significant trading hub, the medieval ruins of Ani carry the traces of a history that goes back thousands of years. The ancient site is located on a triangular piece of land whose climatic and geographical features make it naturally defensive. Also called the City of 1001 Churches, the site, together with its 50 churches, 33 cave churches and 20 chapels, is a must-visit region for all history enthusiasts and lovers of the early Gothic architecture.
The many temples, palaces and complementary buildings that the site accommodates are thought to have been among the most technically and artistically advanced structures in the world at the times they were first built. The area also houses the oldest surviving mosque of Anatolia, called by the name Manuchihr. The mosque was built during the rule of the Shaddadid dynasty, though its prayer hall dates from a later period (the 12th or 13th century). The complex of the mosque contains a public museum showcasing heritage assets that have been found within and around the area. This City of 1001 Churches has found itself a place among the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2016.
The Lion Gate in Hattuşa, Çorum
A Near East superpower, the Hittites built their capital city in close proximity to Türkiye's Çorum Province. Six gates were constructed to let people enter the interior of this city, with this particular one considerably outstanding. Built in the early 14th century, The Lion Gate is the first gate that you’ll come across when you follow the official sightseeing route. The silhouettes of wild lions that can be seen on this gate are thought to have served a protective purpose, scaring away evil spirits from the city. Other representations of these animals in Hittite and Mesopotamian architecture also reveal that they have been used for this same function for many years.
Mount Nemrut and the Mausoleum of Antiochus I in Adıyaman
You can see in the picture the mausoleum of Antiochus I (69-34 BCE), who built this Hierotheseion (temple-tomb) as a monument to himself. These giant limestone statues showcase not only figures of deities but also Antiochus’ paternal Persian ancestors and maternal Macedonian ancestors. They therefore bear witness to the dual origin of the kingdom’s culture enriched by Persian and Macedonian influences.
UNESCO described these statues as “one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period,” and continued the description with the following words: “a project unequalled in the ancient world,” which we couldn’t agree more. Click here to learn more about the secrets of Mount Nemrut. (Link: https://goturkiye.com/blog/mount-nemrut-the-secrets-of-the-commagene-kingdom)
More information about Adıyaman is available here if you are interested.
Ephesus Ancient City in İzmir
Located in İzmir, the ancient city of Ephesus showcases Hellenistic and Roman settlements. The site now stands out as an example of a Roman port city, whose functionality has now been replaced with pure aestheticism. Pergamon Ancient Theater is located near this site and should definitely be added to the itinerary, as both are ready to satisfy the photographer in you 24/7.
Troia Ancient City in Çanakkale
With its 4,000 years of history, Troia is probably one of the most renowned archeological sites in the world. The site and the historic Siege of Troia were immortalized by Homer in the Iliad, and they’ve been depicted in many other books and films ever since. The Siege of Troia started when Helen (wife of Agamemnon of Mycenae) eloped with Paris, a prince of Troia. It lasted for years and years and was resolved by a simple trick: Achaean soldiers hid in this giant wooden horse and pretended to have left. The Trojans took the horse inside their walls and thus opened their gates to the Achaeans. Troia was burned and the population slaughtered.
Türkiye houses many other architectural wonders for you to see. Click here if you want to explore them. (Link: https://architectureturkiye.com/architectural-wonders) More information on Çanakkale is available here; so, click to draw yourselves a roadmap. (Link: https://gocanakkaleturkiye.com/)
Aspendos Ancient City in Antalya
Situated in Antalya, the ancient city of Aspendos is one of the big-hitter historic attractions for tourists visiting the Turkish Riviera. Part of the glorious city of Pamphylia, this town was founded in 1,000 BCE. Its acoustic properties are extraordinarily good and offer an unmatched experience for its visitors. It’s one of the most well-protected ancient theatres of all time and houses many festivals and concerts throughout the year.
The nearby towns of Perge and Side also deserve to be on your travel bucket list if you want to add a bit of history to your stay in and around the Turquoise Coast.
Sümela Monastery in Trabzon
Overlooking the valley of Altındere, Sümela Monastery offers a picture-perfect landscape that is nowhere to be found outside Türkiye. It was first constructed as an Orthodox monastery, having been dedicated to Virgin Mary. The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism places its foundation date around 386 CE, during the reign of the emperor Theodosius (375-395). Throughout the history, the monastery fell into ruin several times, with its last restoration having been conducted in 2015.
Here’s a link to our Trabzon page if you want to form a sightseeing route for yourselves: https://gotrabzonturkiye.com
Göbeklitepe Archeological Site in Şanlıurfa
It was through the discovery of Göbeklitepe that human history was rewritten.
Located in Upper Mesopotamia, the archeological site of Göbeklitepe saw the emergence of the most ancient farming communities in the world. Offering the earliest example of human settlement, the site dates to some 12 thousand years ago. It exhibits megalithic structures that were first erected by hunter-gatherers in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age. Of a ritualistic, and most probably a funerary, nature, these historico-cultural monuments have a new story to tell almost every day. They recently revealed, for example, that Neolithic people had a command of geometry.
Offering such an educational and recharging adventure to its visitors, the archeological site of Göbeklitepe is surely a must-visit site for lovers of the historic. We’ve shared a very informative article on Göbeklitepe. Click here to read it. (Link: https://goturkiye.com/blog/a-beginners-guide-to-gobeklitepe-what-does-zero-point-in-time-mean-) More information about what to do in Şanlıurfa is available here. (Link: https://gosanliurfaturkiye.com/)
Çatalhöyük Archeological Site in Konya
Another throwback to the days of the Neolithic era awaits you in Konya (ancient Iconium). Thought to have flourished around 7,000 BCE, the site has been listed since July 2012 among UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The site overlooks the Konya Plain, which has been of considerable archeological interest after the discovery of the Neolithic Çatalhöyük area.
Çatalhöyük, in its entirety, is composed of domestic buildings, with no public facilities to have been discovered to this day. A striking feature of these assets is that they’re mostly composed of female figurines, thought to represent a female deity. Although a male deity also exists among the carved figures, statues of the female deity are said to far outnumber those.
More information about the world’s first city is available here. (Link: https://goturkiye.com/blog/catalhoyuk-the-worlds-first-city)
Hierapolis Ancient City in Denizli
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1988, Hierapolis is an ancient city that once served as the center of eparchy and that serves today as an archeological museum. It’s situated on some hot springs, which have been used as a spa since the second century BCE. Earliest known examples of crank and rod mechanism are exhibited around the area, and the ruins of ancient baths, temples and other monuments await visitors today.
The most important places that you should see include The Necropolis, where some 1,200 tombs exhibit local varieties of limestone and marble, Ploutonion (Pluto’s Gate), and The St. Philip Martyrium, which has been named after the Christian apostle. The Antique Pool (Antik Havuz) is still active and open to visitors.
Here’s a quick chance to expand your Denizli route: https://godenizliturkiye.com/routes
Xanthos-Letoon in the Turkish Riviera
Two neighboring settlements located in the boundaries of Antalya and Muğla provinces of Türkiye, Xanthos-Letoon is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site that sticks out as a remarkable archeological complex. Sources inform that Xanthos was the successive capital, and a cultural and commercial center, of the Lycian Civilization as well as the later civilizations. The region now gives out many clues about Lycian traditions as the epigraphic inscriptions there, engraved in rock or on huge stone pillars, house the most important texts in the Lycian language. Its examples of Lycian tomb architecture as well as The Xanthian Obelisk are among the places that you should definitely pay a visit.
Plenty of renowned historians make mention of Xanthos as the largest city in Lycia, not excluding Homer.
The Birth of the Ottoman Empire: Bursa and Cumalıkızık
UNESCO announced a serial of eight component sites in the City of Bursa and the nearby village of Cumalıkızık in their World Heritage List. The City of Bursa was the capital of the Ottoman Empire between 1335-1363, which endowed its streets with many historical heritages to just stroll around and see.
The city houses many monuments and buildings that display traces of both the early and late Ottoman architecture, the most renowned of which is the Grand Mosque of Bursa or Bursa Ulu Cami. The city’s commercial districts of inns (hanlar), social complexes (külliye), integrating mosques, religious schools, public baths as well as the tomb of Orhan Ghazi, founder of the Ottoman dynasty are among the places that can be seen in this city. For more information about this city, click here. (Link: https://gobursaturkiye.com)
Located 10 km east of Bursa Province, Cumalıkızık has over the years become a tourist favorite with its Ottoman-style houses and exceptional city planning method. The town was built as part of a vakıf project, meaning that it belonged to an institution and was to provide an income for Orhan Ghazi Social Complex (Orhan Gazi Külliyesi). The site now holds 270 historical, three-story houses, all still intact and begging to be explored. If you visit the site, don’t forget to visit the Cumalıkızık Ethnography Museum which displays historical objects from the village, proving that Bursa and Cumalıkızık together provided the Ottoman Empire with the prosperity and development it necessitated in its first years of establishment. You can click here to see what else there’s to do in and around Cumalıkızık. (Link: https://gobursaturkiye.com/48-hours)
The City of Safranbolu in Karabük
The city of Safranbolu is a typical Ottoman city, located in the present-day Turkish city of Karabük. It served as a trading hub after the Turkish conquest in the 11th century CE, and its traditional, wooden houses entered the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994. The castle, Turkish baths (hamams), bazaars, inns, mosques, the old government house, and unique and civil architectural buildings are the major places of interest for the visitors. The site’s greatest architectural development is thought to have taken place during the 17th century. About 800 of the Safranbolu Houses are under legal preservation. The mansions, which are also under preservation, provide restaurant and accommodation services.
You may also want to visit Safranbolu City History Museum, a cultural unit established with the aim to collect and preserve all kinds of information, documents, objects, visual material, audio and video recordings in order to promote and present the cultural, historical and social richness of the city. Safranbolu Arasta Bazaar and Clock Tower are also around, and they remain a tourist favorite.
To discover other UNESCO World Heritage sites and routes in the Black Sea region, click here.