By Karen and Marvin Paulsen
Traveling to Turkey is an opportunity to experience the many layers of religious and historical sites that shaped our western society centuries ago.
Most likely, if you choose to visit Turkey, your itinerary will include an unforgettable stop in Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople), where you will visit Hagia Sofia, a remarkable Byzantine church built by Justinian, and the Ottoman-inspired Blue Mosque.
Your itinerary also should include a trip to the ancient city of Ephesus, one of the best-preserved ruins in the Mediterranean and one of the stops on the St. Paul Trail.
None of these is to be missed.
On this trip, however, our adventure took us south to the turquoise waters of the western Mediterranean to Antalya and then farther southeast to Cappadocia, called the Cradle of History.
Antalya, a large resort area, is a base where you can enjoy many day trips to ancient sites. Most hotels can suggest tour companies that provide daily or longer trips so be sure to inquire before booking. Our hotel was the Renaissance Antalya Beach Resort.
Not far from Antalya, hidden high in the mountain valley, are the ruins of Termessos, the only city that Alexander the Great did not conquer in 333 BC. It is not an easy trip; you will climb over loose rocks and go up very steep paths, so be prepared with water, good shoes and determination to experience this once defensive citadel.
The many sarcophagi still in the rocks are quite impressive — as is the well-preserved theater. It is worth the climb, and few tourists come to take the hike up.
Just 25 kilometers away is the Karain Cave, the oldest settlement in Turkey, which was occupied for 25,000 years. Archaeologists have found stone axes, arrowheads and bone fragments of the Neanderthal man. It also is not an easy hike up with uneven steps, so go slow and take in the mountain scenery. On your way to the cave, you will pass through many pomegranate and olive groves.
Another beautiful theater is at Aspendos, built by the Romans during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (61 A.D.) and still used today. The acoustics are remarkable, and the site is considered the best-preserved Roman theater of the ancient world. Even today, concerts and plays are performed in this 15,000-seat outdoor theater.
Only 17 kilometers from Antalya is Perge, an ancient Pamphylia city from the Hellenistic period of the second century B.C. The main ruins include a massive and well-preserved Roman gate, many ancient baths and an impressive colonnaded street.
After some hard days on the historical scene, it was time to rest and enjoy the beautiful waters and beaches of the Mediterranean.
The final leg of our trip was south through the rich farmlands to Cappadocia. The region is rich in geographical formations made from lava flows 10,000 years ago, underground cities that protected the persecuted Christians and rock-hewn churches with frescoes from the 6th century.
Viewing the rock formations and valleys of Cappadocia is best done in a hot-air balloon. We chose to fly with Anatolian Balloon Co. because the basket held 20 people (some had up to 36 in the basket). The flight was 60 minutes and even concluded with a champagne toast — just to celebrate a safe landing.
You are picked up very early in the morning at your hotel, about 5:30, so you can get to the site and see the sunrise as you float over the fairy chimneys, Rose Valley and cut-out pigeon houses high in the cliffs.
Once back on the ground, you can visit the cave houses and rock-hewn churches in the Goreme Open Air Museum. The same ticket will allow you to enter the well-preserved church across the street, the Tokali (Buckle) Church, with a painted narrative cycle of the life of Jesus on the vault and upper walls dating back to the 10th century. Allow at least two hours in the museum and enjoy the many cave churches with ancient wall paintings.
On a visit to Turkey, a must-see event is the whirling dervish ceremony. The ritual is 45 minutes, and no photography is allowed during the sema (ceremony), but at the end, they allow for a few photographs. You can book at any hotel, but you do need reservations — and try to book with a group because the price can vary.
This article would not be complete without a comment about the food and people of Turkey. The fresh vegetables and fruits, especially the various eggplant preparations, figs, dried fruits and nuts, were absolutely delicious, along with great coffee.
While traveling, we had no language barriers, and the Turks are very kind and generous people — so don't hesitate planning a trip to this exciting and historical country.
Karen and Marvin Paulsen acquired their travel bug while living in Germany when he served in the U.S. Army in 1970. They are both retired and enjoy the many adventures of travel.