The most interesting ancient ruins of Turkey

Ancient Ruins in Turkey

I will also mention a dossier about the most landscaped highways of Turkey. This report will be mainly about those ancient monuments and ancient cities that are now uninhabited (not counting the guards, ticket takers and tourists visiting these monuments). They can be as far away from modern cities as they are almost within them.

From 2011 to 2019, I spent 1.5 years in the remnants of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire (and frankly, I plan to continue this outrage in the future), visiting many sites from the Roman, Ancient Greek and other venerable eras. I think more than half of the most interesting ancient cities and amphitheaters in Turkey have experienced my invasion and photography.

  • Content:
  • Introduction to Turkish antiquity.
  • Paying admission to Turkey’s ancient sites.
  • The most interesting ancient ruins in Turkey.
  • Museums with ancient artifacts.

Introduction to Turkish antiquity.

In Turkey itself the word Anatolia (in Turkish Anadolu) is sometimes used to refer to the peninsula of Asia Minor (on which the Turks have settled today) to the same territory or parts of it. Anatolia was the ancient name for the whole area. And the Turks simply borrowed this geographical concept. Exactly geographical (not national), and in Turkey the names of some regions now contain the word “Anatolia” (for example, Eastern Anatolia = Dogu Anadolu).

A map of the ancient historical territories of Turkey

A map of the ancient historical territories of Asia Minor (now Turkey) during the so-called “classical antiquity” (between the 7th century BC and the 5th century AD), which included the heyday of the Greek and Roman empires, the remains of numerous constructions can now be found not only in Turkey, but also in the surrounding countries.

The Turks conveniently and without scruples first came to invade and then “masterfully” settled on the territories which previously belonged to other more ancient civilizations and in that ancient time have built here a lot of objects. Although, these others, too, at one time moved someone or even wiped them out (by the way, separately I pondered on the subject of “Whose piece of land is this or that, in fact?)

And for this reason, in the modern country named Turkey there are many ruins, especially of the ancient Greek and Roman period. Probably most (or half) of the most spectacular remnants of ancient cities are located in the provinces in the extreme southeast of Turkey: Izmir, Mugla, Aydın, Denizli and Antalya (that is, their maximum concentration in those places which are both the warmest in Turkey and closest to modern Greece).

The province of Antalya is perhaps the champion (but with an implicit advantage) in the number of the most interesting remnants of ancient cities, and mostly the cities of the ancient state of Likia (although the provinces of Mugla and Izmir are inferior to Antalya in the number of interesting ancient sites). But in the neighboring province of Denizli is located, in my opinion, the most spectacular ancient city in Turkey – Pamukkale. It was awarded the prize for its magnificent calcite terraces formed by a powerful thermal spring that springs from the bowels of the earth, all this mixed with ancient ruins.

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And, perhaps, most of the most interesting ancient Greek and Roman cities in Anatolia are located not very far from the coast, usually not more than 30-50 km from the coast. For this reason, they are so loved by tourists vacationing at seaside resorts. “Ancient City” in Turkish is spelled “Antik Kenti”.

 Tomb of the Lycian kings in Myra

Hollowed out in the rock tombs of the Lycian kings in the ancient city of Myra. It is 3 km away from the district center of Demre.

In the province of Antalya and Mugla there is a “Lycian trail” (which is even 500 km long), passing through the mountains and on this route there are many Lycian monuments, tombs, most of which are free to visit (because they are solitary and not so important that they require payment for each of them). Also, the trail itself has many beautiful views (sometimes pure mountain views, sometimes sea views from above). There is a fee to enter the trail (and a ticket is given), but the trail crosses many villages and asphalt roads, and it is easy to enter without a ticket.

The entrance fee to the ancient sites of Turci and

As a rule, the more expensive the entrance ticket to the ruins, the more interesting this ancient city. The largest ancient cities in Turkey usually have two official entrances and many unofficial ones (such as a hole in the fence), and many antiquities lovers take advantage of this grace. Keep in mind, however, that Turkey’s most interesting ancient cities are guarded by the gendarmerie (there is a special issue about these army-police structures and generally terrorist threats in Turkey).

Not that soldiers are constantly walking around the whole area, but inside the ancient city (or at the entrance) there is usually a small platoon of gendarmes who periodically patrol the area (but only in particularly interesting ancient cities or in large crowds of tourists).

In small ancient cities and other small objects usually do not sell tickets, especially if the object is very distant from modern cities. But near the tourist area (eg beach resorts), even mini-objects often have a paid entrance. And you can hardly blame the state in this, as archaeological activities and restoration of monuments requires financial expenses. Of course, restored antiquities do not look so spectacular compared to those that stand in approximately the same state in which they were dug out by archaeologists. However, the restored ones give an idea of the structure and approximate design of the ancient city.

Perge ancient city center

The central part and the main street of the ancient city of Perge (in the province of Antalya). The restored columns help to give a better idea of what the ancient city was like.

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The most interesting ancient ruins in Turkey

This rating does not include the ancient cave cities and collections of other cave complexes in Cappadocia, as that is in a different category altogether. And maybe the total natural beauty and historical sites of Cappadocia on the interest is about equal to all the other (taken together) the ancient structures (and their remains) in Turkey. Therefore, for the time being, let us temporarily assume that Cappadocia and its beauties simply do not exist, and everything else in Turkey does.

10 points out of 10 → Pamukkale (aka the ancient city of Hieropolis = Hieropolis). It is an awesome sight, it is definitely the most interesting antique site in Turkey (meaning a single compact object). If you want to see both the natural beauty (travertine terraces) and the remains of the ancient city, it is the best option in Turkey (remember, if we do not take into account Cappadocia). But it also costs a little more expensive than all its other ancient congeners in the Turkish Republic. Besides on the territory of Pamukkale there is an archaeological museum (it seems that the entrance fee is free).

If the remains of the ancient city of Hasankeyf were alive, they (along with the surrounding scenery) would also be 9-10 points, but in 2019, the Turkish authorities decided to sacrifice it for the dam with a hydroelectric plant and with a reservoir, which will generate a lot of electricity (although data as of December 2019 said that not yet flooded, but it is already imminent). I visited Hassankife in 2013 (though it was closed for archaeological work at the time) and walked around the hills and the scenery was very beautiful… I will therefore leave this paragraph about Hassankife as a reminder of the city. Well, and a snapshot:


A small part of the ancient town of Hasankafe. You can see: on the right – some caves (there are thousands of them), on the left – a fortification on the rock, further down – a minaret (which was left without a mosque) and the remains of the pillars of the ancient bridge in the river.

8 points – Ani. This ancient city was originally of Armenian origin, but there are also the remains of several Turkish mosques, converted from churches in the early centuries. In total there are about a dozen mosques, churches and chapels (all in varying degrees of safety, but almost all at least have walls, and most of them have roofs and domes). Almost all of these structures are quite interesting.

Also in Ani you can see the Armenian border across the Arax River (and there is a very nice canyon), Armenian border guards, who unfortunately watch their historical lands from across the border. Until 2010, you had to get a permit (permission) from the police to travel to this “open air museum” because it is on the border. But they were abolished, and in 2012 I visited the ancient city of Ani without any permits.

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In a bit more detail I told about Ani in the dossier on the province of Kars (where this ancient city is situated) and three neighboring (especially the very famous Erzurum).

ancient city of Ani

A small part of the ancient city of Ani. Rare tourists enter from this side, as it is an unofficial entrance, and from the side.

7 points – Ephesus. It is considered the largest surviving ancient city in Turkey. However, there are no landscape views there, as it is dislocated between the hills. Ephesus has two amphitheaters, long colonnaded streets, public toilets (a very peculiar sight), an imposing library building (or rather, the remains), the footprint of some important person, and other little things.

The main amphitheater of the ancient city of Ephesus

The main city theater (amphitheater) of the ancient city of Ephesus (Ephesus) in the region of Izmir. There is another smaller theater in the city.

7 – The ancient Roman city of Pergamon = Pergamon, located in the modern city of Bergama. It is slightly smaller than Ephesus, but no less spectacular due to the fact that it is spread out on steep slopes. And from it there are beautiful 360 degree views of the surrounding area.

7 – Yazılıkaya (translated from Turkish as “Painted Mountain”), aka Midas, is the most interesting of the ancient Phrygian sites, there are tombs, stairs, drawings, wells, tunnels and other ancient artifacts carved around one small mountain in the rock, which are about 3000 years old. Some of them are beautifully decorated with relief images. Within a radius of about 50 km (mostly to the south and east) there are other ancient Phrygian sites but these are much smaller and scattered over 1-5-10 km apart.

The staircase carved in the rock

A staircase carved in the rock from the bottom of the cave reservoir (cistern) leads to the top. This is where the ancient Phrygians took water for their daily needs.

6 points – Letoon & Xantos. An ancient temple and city which was one of the most important in the Lycian Kingdom. The city is located in the south of the province of Mugla, near the province of Antalya.

6. The ancient city of Anamurium together with the castle of Mamure located 12 km from Anamurium. In total I will give them 6 points, although individually they can be only 3-4 points, but the fortress looks more impressive (by the way, here is a separate article about Turkish forts). I combined them only because they are located close to each other (and close to the district center of Anamur, named after this ancient city). By the way, both sites are by the sea. This is in the western province of Mersin.

 at the fortress of Mamour near Anamour

View from the tower in Mamour Fortress (near Anamour), and further behind its walls you can see the sea.

  • Also 6 points are awarded to :
  • The ancient city of Side (near the district center of Side in the province of Antalya). One of the most visited in Turkey, because of its location by the sea and close to seaside resorts, where a huge number of tourists rest (including a lot of Russians there).
  • The ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias, stationed in the modern Turkish province of Aydın.
  • Gordion (capital of the Phrygian Kingdom, there are remains of ancient walls, many mounds and an interesting museum, it is near the Turkish capital Ankara).
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I would give about 6 points to the ruins of Dara (Dara harabaleri), which was a fortress of Byzantine origin in Mardin province between the regional centers of Kızıltepe and Nusaybin. The ruins of Dar are spread over a wide area (so it is a bit more difficult to assess than a compact object). The most interesting things in this ancient city are several cisterns (the most interesting of which is the “Prison” cistern), the remains of an unusually shaped tank and a necropolis, the entrance to which is ticketed, it seems.

The necropolis of Dary is a set of caves hollowed out in the rocky hills, very similar to the caves of Cappadocia (only the latter is much larger in scale).

the reservoir and canal at Dara.

Remains of an unusually shaped water reservoir and canals at Dara.

Another 6 points (although you can go between 5 and 6) are awarded to the ancient monuments in the district center of Ahlat (Bitlis province) on the western shore of Lake Van. Almost in the center of Ahlat there is a cemetery with very interesting ancient Muslim tombstones (similar to Noratus cemetery in Armenia, and there too near the shore of a huge lake), it is the most famous and unique site in Ahlat. There are also almost a dozen different kumbets (tombs 4-5 meters high), an old arched bridge, the remains of a cave settlement, and a couple of km away from this interesting cemetery there are small remnants of an ancient fortress.

 The ancient Muslim cemetery at Achlat.

The main attraction in Ahlat is an ancient Muslim cemetery with many high tombstones, each with interesting patterns. Only 1/10th of this cemetery can be seen in the picture.

The following ancient cities get about 5 points from me (the first 8 existed at the time of the fashion for amphitheaters and colonnaded streets, that is, 2000 years ago):

  • Sagalassos near the district center of Ağlasun.
  • Arykanda halfway from Finike to Elmali.
  • Myra near Demre.
  • Perge 20km east of Antalya.
  • Rodopolis near Kumluca was free to the public during my visit in 2012.
  • Assos near Behram village in Ayvacık district of Çanakkale province.
  • Priena, 15 km from Söke district center in Aydın province.
  • Laodicea (which is literally 8 km from Pamukkale).
  • And the most ancient site in this 5-point list is Hattusha (a Hittite ancient capital in the village of Boğazkaleh, Çorum province).

Also in the 5-point category is the ancient city of Aspendos (in the province of Antalya). There are many remains of aqueducts (in Turkey it is perhaps the longest collection of surviving aqueducts in any ancient place) and the Aspendos Amphitheater is the largest surviving ancient amphitheater in Turkey. Moreover, the ancient city is now known mainly as an amphitheater. There is a fee to enter it (although, I found a passage from the other side without tickets), and you can look at the aqueducts for free. There are several other ancient (but smaller) structures in Aspendos.

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Aspendos aqueduct

You can see a few pieces/sections of the ancient aqueduct at Aspendos.

The ancient cities of Kavn =Kavn (in the province of Mugla), Kibira = Kibyra (in the province of Burdur) and Stratonikea =Stratonikea (in the province of Mugla) deserve 4 points each, in 2017 its viewing was free for visitors. And also the Greek monastery of Panagia Sumela (or simply Sumela = Sümela Manastırı) – almost the most famous and interesting ancient monastery in Turkey (unique for its wall frescoes). Here it is depicted in the next photo:

3 points – But the effect of viewing the legendary ancient Greek city of Troy (the remains of which are now in the Turkish province of Çanakkale) can be only three, because there is not much interesting left, mostly newly built.

Also get 3 points each: Sardy (it has a lot of new buildings, and therefore it does not look very good).

Sumele in Trabzon province

Greek monastery Sumela (Sumela) in Trabzon province. Unique in its location on the rock and ancient frescoes on the walls.

Museums in Turkey with ancient artifacts

Every Turkish province has a museum that displays various ancient objects found in that province. In the most antiquities-rich provinces there may be two or three such museums (for example, a provincial museum and an archaeology museum), each of which displays ancient artifacts from that area.

Sometimes you have to walk around such museums for more than one hour because (since you came here) you want to see this looted goods. If in the ancient city we see a general scope, large statues and wide streets with columns, in museums the exhibits range from big to small, and even to micro. The latter include a variety of ancient jewelry and everyday objects. And to my taste, these ancient macro and mini artifacts can be quite interesting.

Antalya Archaeological Museum has a large collection of sarcophagi

In the Antalya Archaeological Museum, among other junk, there is a large collection of stone sarcophagi (actually coffins), many of which are about 2 meters in length.

Admission to such museums, of course, is usually paid. But there are some museums that are free of charge, especially if they are small. The most expensive archeological museum of Turkey (and, accordingly, the most interesting) is the “Museum of Anatolian Civilizations”, stationed in the Turkish capital city of Ankara. Probably second place (among archaeological museums) is the museum in the city of Antalya.

There is also a collection of all my articles about the remnants of the Ottoman Empire.

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