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Turkey is exotic to Western eyes. Its domed mosques, their minarets reaching for heaven; the packed bazaars agleam with copper and brass and piled high with carpets; the ancient ruins and medieval palaces and fortresses all are the stuff of legend come to life. These sights alone, to say nothing of Turkey' s great natural beauty, would be enough to keep you coming back. But there is so much more to experience here than glorious architecture, stunning coasts and mountains, and the monumental legacies of great civilizations past. In Turkey, without expecting it and with a lightness of spirit, you will begin to feel untethered from the ways of the Western world. Formally, through pacts and protocols, the country seeks to join itself to Europe. Happily, in its soul, where it really counts, Turkey will always be a land apart. And for that very reason, you may find it hard to visit only once.
Istanbul can fascinate, frustrate, and enchant you all at once. Europe and Asia, the old ways and the modern, mix here in tight quarters, yielding bewitchingly out-of-sync images. Imagine an Armani-clad driver in a Lexus, shouting into a cell phone and in the next lane, a donkey hitched to a cart, taking the daily gridlock philosophically. Picture young women in designer jeans lined up for a new Western flick and, passing by them, matrons robed to the ankles, bound for evening prayer. You'll find scenes like this all over the city. Much of what you've come to see great mosques and palaces packed into the ancient heart of town, Old Stamboul. This is where Topkapi Sarayi, a stunning palace steeped inlore, expanded over the centuries, serially embellished by rulers like Ahmet III (who built a grand street fountain here). Peewee pashas, their parents, and visitors alike are all attracted by the priceless gems of the Treasury and the mysterious fascination of the palace's famous harem. Sinners have sought mercy, rather than material accomplishments, in the light-filled Blue Mosque and in Aya Sofya. The Byzantine Empire echoes in the mosaics of the latter, now a museum. Classical music echoes through the world's most handsome cistern, Yerebatan Sarnici, where water, precious in Istanbul to this day, was stored as siege insurance.
The ancient Greeks, who knew a thing or two about living well, loved this white-sand coast and its turquoise waters, settling here as early as 1000 [bc]. The ancient Romans, who knew quite a bit about stealing good ideas from the Greeks, continued developing the area. The result today is a wealth of classical ruins for you to explore, those same enticing beaches and waters for you to splash in, lodgings for all budgets, and excellent seafood dining. Pergamum, with its great Hellenistic acropolis, is magnificent, as is the Temple of Apollo in Didyma, where a massive head of Medusa stands guard. The Great Theater, also Greek-built, is the grandest ruin at Miletus, while the columns of Hierapolis are a legacy of imperial Rome. Aphrodisias holds the remains of the city of the goddess of love, but the centerpiece of open-air antiquities is Ephesus, with its two-story Library of Celsus and other splendidly preserved ruins from a theater to temples. The place has great meaning for Christians: Paul preached here to hostile crowds, but managed to found a congregation. And nearby is Meryemana, the house where Jesus's mother is believed to have spent her final years.
ANKARA AND CENTRAL ANATOLIA
When Kemal Atat?rk, the father of Turkish independence, chose Ankara as his seat of government in 1923, he had a vision of building something unprecedented in Turkey a modern, secular city like the national capitals of the West. Ankara was a provincial backwater, virtually a clean slate for city planning. Today its broad boulevards and refreshing green spaces, such as Genclik Park, create an urban roominess unique in the land. An honor guard is always at Anit Kabir, Atat?rk's mausoleum. Though statues of Atat?rk are everywhere in Turkey, you'll gain a deeper sense here of the reverence Turks feel for the man. Pride of nationhood is also strong at the Ankara Anadolu Medeniyetleri M?zesi, a treasure house with artifacts of Anatolian civilizations from Assyrian to Hittite to Roman. Paintings and sculptures by modern Turkish artists fill the Resim ve Heykel Muzezi, a stroll away. As you admire these great temples and palaces remember this: they stood here long before there was an Athens or a Rome.
BLACK SEA COAST
Wild and remote in many places, this scenic coast is worlds apart from Turkey's other beach areas. The stunning scenery, pretty villages with old Ottoman houses, and good bazaars can take at least a week to explore. You can start in Sile, whose striped lighthouse and picturesque harbor, complete with castle ruin, are familiar sights to Istanbulites needing a break by the sea (the Big City is just to the west). You'll find plenty of nightlife here. Enjoy it; you may not see it again for a while. Moving east, turn south at the walled city of Amasra and head for Safranbolu, where the lure is the well-preserved old town with its Ottoman houses. Also inland, medieval Kastamonu casts a spell with its historic castle and its this-is-the-real-thing bazaar. Back on the water, Sinop is the oldest city on the Black Sea Coast old enough to have been founded, supposedly, by an Amazon queen and full of reminders of its Greek and Byzantine, and Seljuk past. Press on to Samsun and head inland for Amasya, supposedly founded by another Amazon queen, and steeped in history reaching back to Alexander's time.