Historic sites preserved to this day in Turkey

Journey into Antiquity: 18 of the most beautiful ruins in Turkey

Turkish Ancient Cities

Let us show you a dozen and a half picturesque ruins in Turkey that every lover of antiquity should see.

Did you know that Turkey has more ancient ruins than Greece? Plus they’re more affordable and less expensive! And we really love antiquity. Wandering around the ruins, imagining the former greatness of cities, to empathize with their prosperity and decline, to try to read the inscriptions, notice interesting patterns and details, to touch the ancient stones and live a little life in the excavations – is priceless. At home it’s a particular pleasure to stumble across a mention of a city you’ve been to in a book by an ancient author, and feel a sense of belonging, though it’s centuries later. All of this encouraged us to travel around Turkey, most of which was devoted to ruins.

As I have already written, there are countless ruins in Turkey. Some are in good condition and are being actively restored, such as Laodicea. However, many are poorly preserved, and apart from scattered fragments, nothing remains. In this article, however, I will tell you only about the most picturesque, spectacular, impressive ruins that surprised us in some way.

At the end of the article you will find a map with all the mentioned ancient cities.

Important to know . We visited almost all of the ruins by car, which we rented through Localrent.com. Read how to rent a car in Turkey. Keep in mind that only a few ruins can be reached by public transport, but some are taken on tours – we advise taking them on Tripster.

Ruins in Ephesus

Our love for antiquity is well illustrated by this photo of Lesha in Ephesus.

Termessos – the most impregnable ruins

Touristic: ★★★★☆☆☆ Spectacular: ★★★★☆

Termessos is called the Turkish Machu Picchu: all because the city is lost high in the mountains, and it is so impregnable that Alexander the Great himself would not take it! The more interesting it is to “conquer” the curious tourist: first you have to make a long loop on the serpentine, then walk up an improvised staircase, and then explore the city along the trails, hidden among the dense vegetation. Termessos reminded me of the ancient Mayan city of Calakmul – just as quiet, abandoned, and mysterious, with stunning mountain views and authentic, unreconstructed buildings.

Termessos is convenient to visit from Antalya by car or with this tour.

Ruins in Turkey

Lesh at the most beautiful place of Termessos, the amphitheater overlooking the mountains.

Perge, the most grandiose ruins.

Touristic: ★★★★☆ Spectacular: ★★★★★

The most grandiose and impressive of all the Turkish ancient cities we have seen! It is powerful and graceful at the same time. So many columns and fountains we haven’t seen anywhere else. Everything is big and beautiful. All in all, even people indifferent to ruined architecture will be amazed by the scope of the city.

Perge is located near Antalya, but you can visit it only by rented car or with a tour – usually Perge is combined with Aspendos.

Perge – the city of columns and fountains. Perge.

Aphrodisias – the most picturesque ruins

Touristic: ★☆☆☆☆ Spectacular: ★★★★★

The ancient city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will fall in love as soon as you see it. It is not for nothing that it has such a name! The columns of the temples gracefully white against the blue sky, the naked figure of Apollo shamelessly flaunts near the baths, and the magnificent theatrical “masks” show the full range of emotions of the actors. What impressed me most was the huge well-preserved stadium, the ancient scribbles carved into the theater floor and seats, and the magnificent temple gate, the Tetrapilon.

Aphrodisias is accessible only by car, I did not see any excursions. The easiest way to get there is on the way to Pamukkale.

The magnificent gate of the temple is Tetrapilon. The masks are the decorations in the theater.

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Antique Side – the connection of times.

Touristic: ★★★★★ Spectacular: ★★★★☆☆

Probably the most accessible ancient ruins in Turkey. To see them, simply arrive at Side bus station, walk a hundred meters, and there you are standing among the snow-white columns. The Ancient Roman city is well preserved: you will see the agora, an impressive amphitheater, baths, a very beautiful fountain – the nymphaeum and an elegant temple of Apollo. All this charming heritage is cleverly blended into the resort town, and you feel the connection of times, watching modern cars pass through the ancient gate of Vespasian.

Side is easy to see on your own, but you can take a tour to delve deeper into history.

Antiquity and modern life exist side by side in Side. This is me touching antiquity in the ancient city of Side.

Tlos – tombs in the rocks and beautiful views

Touristic: ★★★★★☆☆☆ Spectacular: ★★★★★☆☆

Tlos, according to Strabo, was once one of the most important Lycian cities, but its history begins long before Lycia. Just think – it was founded in the 20th century BC! Impressive, huh? We went to Tlos to see the rock tombs, to find the tomb of mythical hero Bellerophonte, who is mentioned in the “Iliad” by Homer (no, we didn’t), and to take beautiful pictures of the surrounding mountains and the valley of Xanthus.

You can visit Tlos by car from Fethiye and Oludeniz.

In Tlos we tried to find the tomb of mythical hero Bellerophonte, who is mentioned in the ‘Iliad’ of Homer, but we did not find it. The fortress of Tlos offers beautiful views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. The ruins are especially beautiful in spring, when the grass is not yet scorched by the sun and the poppies are in bloom.

Xanf is unique and not for everyone

Touristic: ★★★★★☆☆☆ Spectacular: ★★★★★☆☆

Xanthos will seem boring to the average tourist – there are far more spectacular ruins in Turkey. But if you are inquisitive and curious, I advise you to go to Xanthos. Only at these ruins you will see the longest inscription in the Lycian language and rock tombs with bas-reliefs on pillars. The bonus is that you can look inside the rock tombs, which is something that is forbidden in Demre and Fethiye.

You can drive here from Fethiye, Kas or Demre by renting a car.

In Xanfa there are unusual tombs on pillars with bas-reliefs. Lycian inscription in Xanfa.

Mira (Demre) – tombs with bas-reliefs

Touristic: ★★★★★ Spectacular: ★★★☆☆☆

A beautiful example of the Lycian art of burials in the rocks – they are decorated with bas-reliefs. Too bad you can’t go inside anymore. Nearby is an impressive and well restored amphitheater with 10,000 seats. Alas, all this beauty will have to share with the crowd of tourists, because Mira is part of a very popular tour “Demre – Mira – Kekova”. We stopped here in a rented car while driving from Antalya to Kash.

Ancient city in Turkey

Tombs in Mira.

Miletus is the jewel of Ionia.

Touristic: ★★★★★☆☆ Spectacular: ★★★★☆☆

A large and once glorious city, according to Herodotus, “the pearl of Ionia. Miletus had 90 colonies, two of them in the Crimea, Theodosia and Panticapaeum, now Kerch. Miletus was known for its philosophical school, the thinkers Thales, Anaximenes and Anaximander were from here. But the heyday changed to decline because of the wars with Persia and the shallowed river, which connected the city with the sea, and since the 15th century the city has been abandoned.

What impressed me most in Miletus was the amphitheater: its cool, dusky corridors and the staircases that led the audience to their seats, playing the role of a time machine.

We came here by car from Bodrum; I didn’t see any excursions into the city.

Ancient city in Turkey

The amphitheater of Miletus was built by the Romans on the basis of the Greek.

Didyma – gigantism and oracle

Touristic: ★★★★☆☆☆☆ Spectacular: ★★★★★

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To feel like a midget, come to Didyma. Here the gigantic columns and the size of the Temple of Apollo can shock you! It was the largest temple in Ionia, but it was never finished. It was also famous for its oracle, which was as good as that of Delphi.

We came here by car from Bodrum; I didn’t see any excursions into the city.

This is me standing among the columns of the Temple of Apollo in Didim – appreciate the scale! Gorgon Medusa from the frieze of the temple.

Eurrome – the elegance of the columns

Touristic: ★★☆☆☆☆ Spectacular: ★★★☆☆☆

Evromos (Evromos) attracted me with the best-preserved temple in Turkey: 16 of the 32 elegant columns stand confidently as if nothing had happened. It was like a picture from a history book come to life! The small town is right by the road, we came here from Bodrum.

Antique ruins in Turkey

The columns of the temple of Zeus in Evromos.

Ephesus is the most spectacular ruins

Touristic: ★★★★★ Spectacular: ★★★★★

If you have only one ruins to choose from to explore the ancient heritage in Turkey, don’t hesitate to go to Ephesus. There you will get the most complete picture of the ancient cities and will be definitely impressed with what you see! The library of Celsus alone is worth a lot. One bad thing – these are the top ruins in Turkey, so you can’t avoid the crowds of tourists. Even during the pandemic, there were quite a few people there. Learn more about Ephesus.

Come here with a tour or by rented car from Kusadasi, Izmir or Selcuk.

The Celsus Library in Ephesus is the most beautiful building and a tourist attraction. The image of Hercules on the gate of the same name.

Hierapolis is a biblical city.

Touristic: ★★★★★ Spectacular: ★★★★☆☆

Hierapolis grew up on the thermae of Pamukkale – so it’s a spa resort with 2,200 years of history! The ancient Greeks and Romans warmed their bones here, that alone is worth a visit to the ruins and thermae. The city is beautiful even now: the agora, the street with columns, a large amphitheater, an impressive necropolis with a variety of tombs. Only here can you see the tombs right on the white travertine. It was interesting to find the latrina (public toilet in our words). So if you come to Pamukkale, be sure to walk around Hierapolis!

Come on your own by car or with a tour. Excursions to Hierapolis are combined with Pamukkale and are in many resorts.

We photographed the main street of Hierapolis from a drone. The cypress trees in Hierapolis bring thoughts of Tuscany.

Laodicea – the city of white columns

Touristic: ★☆☆☆☆ Spectacular: ★★★★☆

Laodicea on the Lick is as delicate as a young girl and incredibly charming thanks to its white columns against a background of bright blue sky, sun-scorched grass and distant mountains. The city is large and interesting, with active excavations and restoration work.

You can come by car from Pamukkale.

Laodicea is primarily impressed by the many columns. Laodicea.

Kibira – a unique mosaic of the Gorgon Medusa

Touristic: ★★☆☆☆☆ Spectacular: ★★★★☆☆

There are many well-preserved buildings in Kibira, but tourists come only for the unique and very beautiful mosaic in the odeon – the head of Gorgon Medusa made of multicolored pieces of marble. Also in front of the building the Turks restored a mosaic of 500 square meters! So do not be lazy to look at this beauty, but come in high season, because the winter to fill up the mosaic.

You can come by car from Antalya, or with an individual excursion.

Odeon with the mosaic of Medusa Gorgon. Medusa Gorgon. Large mosaic in front of the odeon.

Aspendos is an imposing amphitheater.

Touristic: ★★★★★ Spectacular: ★★★☆☆☆

Aspendos made this list only because of its spectacular amphitheater – so far the only one fully restored in Turkey, but the theater in Ephesus is soon to be completed. Tourists hang out at the amphitheater and do not go further along the paths – and rightly so, because there is nothing else to see. More or less preserved fountain and basilica, the rest is a pile of shapeless stones. However, the aqueduct, which stretches for 15 km to the mountains, is still of interest, but it is better to come to it by car separately.

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The amphitheater of Aspendos can be seen only with a tour or on their own by car from Antalya.

Aspendos is famous for its restored amphitheater, which not so long ago gave concerts and performances. The ruins of an aqueduct near Aspendos.

Kavn – the Lycian tombs above the river

Touristic: ★★★★☆☆☆☆ Spectacular: ★☆☆☆☆

We only saw the city (or rather, the gorgeous tombs) from the water during our excursion to Dalyan. In principle, if you have already seen Tlos, Pinara or Mira, you can not go to Kavn, because there are the same tombs.

Antique ruins in Turkey

The tombs in Kavn are best seen from the water.

Faselis – pine and azure

Touristic: ★★★★★ Spectacular: ★★★★☆☆

The Lycian city, formerly known as a pirate harbor, is now just a chambered ruin in the shade of pine trees where Turkish families come for a picnic. The occasional russo tourists, who came by “pirate” ship and decided to dilute the foam parties and bathing in the sea with something more cultural, drop in here occasionally. Faselis does not impress, if you have already seen such mastodons as Ephesus, Perge, or even something smaller, but it charms with its atmosphere: here you can touch the antiquity, swim in the azure bay and relax in the shade of pine trees. And what fragrances of pine are here – you can’t inhale for life!

You can visit the city with a tour by boat, arrive by car or by dolmush from Kemer. Find out what else is worth seeing near Kemer.

Antique ruins in Turkey

Lesa on the ruins of Phaselis.

Olympos – for first timers

Touristic: ★★★★★ Spectacular: ★★★☆☆☆

Like Fazelis, also a pirate town. There is nothing outstanding, except that it is curious to see the sarcophagi at the entrance, the ruins of the temples, the Roman baths. But I included Olympos in the list because its beauty is hidden in the thickets, and you can imagine yourself as an archaeologist who was the first to discover the city. We were happy to try on this role and went through all the available nooks and crannies! By the way, not far from Olympos there is a fire-breathing mountain Chimera.

You can visit the city with a tour or come by car from Kemer.

Antique ruins in Turkey

The ruins of Olympos.

Other beautiful ruins.

These ruins were in our plans, but for certain reasons we could not visit them. Judging by the photos and reviews, also beautiful at the ruins of Iotape, in Patara (near the magnificent barchans – a gimmick for Turkey!), Pinar and Sagalassos.

Unfamiliar Turkey and its secrets: Historical attractions in Turkey

Historical places in Turkey

Modern Turkey is “obscenely” rich in historical sites, most of which are concentrated near the Mediterranean and Aegean beach resorts of the country.

You can book your plane ticket online here:

But there are top secret, unknown to the European tourist, interesting places in Turkey that only local history buffs know about. However, the unfamiliar Turkey, in our opinion, deserves no less, if not more attention than the familiar and explored. And in order to have an interesting journey, below we have compiled a small list of tips and pointers. Do not forget to take advantage!

Historic places to visit in Turkey

Nemrut Dag

Nemrut Dağ Mountain (2150 meters tall) is an extraordinary mountain in Turkey’s southeast, in the Taurus Mountains (Adıyaman Province). In 62 BCE one of the Armenian kings of the Ervandid Dynasty – Antiochus I Theos, had a tomb-sanctuary built on the top of the mountain, which was surrounded by huge statues of Zeus (in the center), Apollo and Hercules. The height of the sculptures is about 10 meters.

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Nemrut Dog Turkey

Secret Historical Places of Turkey, Nemrut-Dag, photo

There is also a statue of Antiochus I himself, and his body is buried under the mound. Such a massive historical monument has not gone unnoticed – it has been included in the Guinness Book of Records and the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Lake Egridir

The lake is a vast 500 square meter mountain lake in the southwestern part of Turkey, 186 kilometers away from the beachy Mediterranean city of Antalya and is perfect for summer weekends. Staying overnight on a tiny island in the middle of the water is ideal for swimming, climbing the mountains and visiting the famous historical sites in the area, such as the ancient Greco-Roman towns of Sagalassos (Isparta) and Antiochia (modern Antakya, Turkey).

Lake Egridir, unknown Turkey

Lake Egridir, unknown Turkey

Both cities in the Hellenistic period were part of the historical province of Pisidia on the western slopes of the Taurus. The distance to the ancient finds from Antalya is about 100 km.

Hasankeyf

Hasankeyf is a very ancient city and region in the province of Batman on the river Tigris, known from ancient history. The population there consists mainly of Kurds and it is not numerous – only about 3000 people. It is easy to find it on the map – look down from Diyarbakir down the Tigris.

 Hasankeyf Turkey

The ancient city of Hasankeyf Turkey, photo

If you are interested in Turkey and its little known historical places, you should definitely visit this place during your nearest trips because in the near future the Turkish authorities want to realize a large-scale project of the construction of the reservoir Ilisu, which will be filled with the waters of the mighty Tigris. Once the plans come to fruition, Hasankeyf will be under water. Thus the remains of the Roman fortress of Kefe atop the cliff above the Tigris, which once protected the river crossing, the huge ancient pillars that supported the bridge of Artucid across the river, the surviving dome-shaped tomb made in Asian architectural techniques, may disappear forever.

Sumela Monastery

Panagia Sumela (Greek Παναγία Σουμελά, Turkish Sümela Manastırı), as it should be properly called, was founded at the end of the fourth century on the chalk mountain of Trapezund. It is located near the modern Turkish Black Sea port city of Trabzon (see Black Sea coast of Turkey). Looking at this marvelous architectural work, one unwillingly wonders: how could the builders so cleverly shelter it on a steep cliff, against the background of a stunningly beautiful wooded valley?

Panagia Sumela, a Greek Orthodox monastery in Turkey

Panagia Sumela, Greek Orthodox monastery in Turkey, photo

More recently, the Orthodox Greek monastery has been restored, and today it’s worth getting here to admire the thousands of rediscovered frescoes adorning the walls and vaults of the Pontic Greek shrine.

Iznik

To get to Iznik, the famous ancient town of Nicea, where potters and tile makers lived, you have to take a short flight from Istanbul straight across the waters of the Sea of Marmara.

Iznik and its ancient Roman artifacts

Iznik and its Roman artifacts

In today’s Iznik, whose ceramics decorate most of the magnificent mosques of the world (including the Blue Mosque of Istanbul), you will find a charming seaside haven of relaxation with well-preserved Ancient Roman fortification walls and great Roman historical artifacts housed in the local museum. Of course, the main advantage of modern Nicea is the warm atmosphere of Turkish southern town, which smells of tea and oranges.

Ceramics of Iznik, Turkey

Iznik and its Roman artifacts

Edirne

On the banks of the river Edirne, in the European part of Turkey, practically on two borders at once – with Greece and Bulgaria, there is a beautiful city with the same name – Edirne (Turk: Edirne). Once it was called Hadrianopolis, in honor of its founder – the Roman Emperor Hadrian. The streets of this pleasant town offer stunning examples of the splendid architectural heritage which once graced the capital of the mighty Ottoman Empire (1365-1453).

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Edirne, Selimiye Mosque

Edirne, Selimiye Mosque, photo

The Selimiye Mosque, designed by master architect Sinan, is the most striking diamond in the crown of Edirne. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Amasya

Northeast of Ankara, the modern capital of Turkey, in a narrow green valley of the Yesilirmak River, lies the town of Amasya, guarding the tombs of the Pontic kings, and preserving the old half-timbered houses of the Ottoman Empire, many of which now serve as small authentic Turkish boutique hotels.

Amasia, little known historical sites of Turkey

Amasya, little-known historical sites in Turkey

Amasya once served another important role – it was a public school for the Sultan’s Ottoman children. Here, in specially equipped settlements symbolizing the different nationalities, their life, traditions and family life, the future Padishahs learned the subtleties of governance.

Kars and Ani

Kars is an ancient town in eastern Turkey, very different from other cities and towns. Today it serves as the administrative center of Kars Province but in the period from 928 to 961 AD was the capital of the Armenian kingdom of Bagratids and from 963 to 1065 was the capital of Armenian Kingdom. – From 963 to 1065 A.D. it was the capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Kars.

The Ancient Ani Historical Ruins, Little Known Turkey

Historical ruins of ancient Ani, little known Turkey

In 1878-1917. Kars belonged even to the Russian Empire and was the center of Kars region. Such an atypical Turkish settlement can rightly be recorded in the list of the most Russian cities in Turkey, because it preserved one of the most powerful fortresses of Turkey, which at first was stormed and then – for a long time guarded by the Russian imperial troops. In the early twentieth century, the history of modern Transcaucasia was written here – in 1921, the Kars Peace Treaty was signed, as a result of which Armenia and Georgia lost part of their historical lands. From those times, the architecture of the city has preserved the medieval Armenian architectural masterpieces and Russian houses of the beautiful era of the nobility.

Near the original Kars, there is another historical miracle, which survived in modern Turkey – the medieval Armenian polis Ani, or rather, what remains of it. By the way, present-day Armenia is very close to present-day Turkish Kars and ancient Ani.

Safranbolu

Safranbolu is a small town in northwestern Anatolia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a great opportunity to travel back in time to one of the world’s greatest empires, the Ottoman Empire and explore the architectural and historical vestiges of those times which are still preserved in Safranbolu.

Safranbolu Ottoman Houses, little known historical sites of Turkey

Safranbolu. Houses from the Ottoman period, little-known historical sites in Turkey

A very nice and quaint little town that hasn’t yet been discovered by Europeans. That’s why you have to hurry!

Lake Van

The highland Lake Van (Van Gölü, Turk.) in the Armenian highlands of modern Turkey is quite different from other lakes in these parts. The lake is the biggest soda lake in the world (the main mineral dissolved in water is drinking soda (NaHCO3). The lake is furthermore fed by rains and melting snow, with the exception of four small mountain streams, it receives almost no water from other sources.

Lake Van Turkey

Lake Van Turkey

Since the water here is quite salty (it contains only a third less salt than in the sea), to swim in its silky waters is quite comfortable and easy. In the surroundings you can visit several beautiful Armenian temples, one of which is situated right on the lake, the church of Holy Cross on Aktamar Island, get acquainted with the fortified palaces of the ancient state of Urartu.

The essential attribute of Lake Van is delicious, simple local breakfasts and lunches, including kaimak (rich cream) and honey, tender lamb, chicken eggs stuffed with goat cheese and aromatic herbs.

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