Turkey’s Five Oldest Cities

Turkey’s Oldest Cities

Turkey is a country whose history began in ancient times. It is associated with many civilizations that existed on this territory. The modern Republic of Turkey is located in southwest Asia, it also slightly takes over southern Europe. Earlier here were the ancient states of Georgia, Byzantium, Persia, and the Roman Empire. Beginning in the early 11th century, the Seljuks, a Turkic ethnic group, began to dominate here. Osman Gazi then founded a powerful state, the Ottoman Empire. Its power extended for several centuries, after which the current Turkey was formed. On the territory of the country there are many historical areas that have preserved the buildings of ancient cities. Many of them are in ruins. These are the cave settlements, tombs, amphitheaters, colonnades, left from the times of the Roman Empire, Colchis, ancient Armenia. Much better preserved are the buildings from the Ottoman period, which were built by Turkish rulers. These are various mosques, palaces, minarets.

Top 5 old cities in Turkey

  1. Ankara – 7th century BC
  2. Antalya – 159 BC.
  3. Izmir – 6,500 B.C.
  4. Phaselis – 7th century BC
  5. Bergama – 12th century BC

Ankara – heritage of ancient civilizations

Ankara is the capital of modern Turkey. It is a huge metropolis, the second largest in terms of population after Istanbul. It is one of the oldest settlements of the West Asian region. The first references to it date back to the 7th century BC. At that time the settlement was known as Ankira (anchor). Ankira was located in the center of trade routes, so it was already flourishing then. During the Middle Ages the Turks recaptured the city from the Byzantines. After that Ankara has suffered many battles, it was destroyed and rebuilt again. The oldest places of interest belong to the Roman period. One of them is the Hisar Citadel.

The monument consists of two rows of high fortress walls. The internal row was erected in the 6th century, and the external one was completed three centuries later. Earlier on territory of a citadel there were 2 tens towers, but they were destroyed. The most ancient building is the Temple of Augustus and Romans. It dates back to the 1st century AD. It was built in the form of a classic Ancient Greek peripeter, which is a rectangular building with a colonnade. On its walls is carved autobiography of Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus. Now tourists can observe 2 walls with part of the door. There are also the ruins of a huge complex of Roman baths: the remains of the columns, walls, baths. Haji Bayram Mosque is a Muslim architectural monument. This is the oldest religious building of the Seljuk period. The mosque has perfectly preserved its original appearance. It was built in 1428. It was named after the famous philosopher and poet Hadji Bayram. The building has elements typical of Muslim architecture: balconies, arches, minaret. The interior is also beautiful. There are many carvings and mosaic floors. Inside is the tomb of a philosopher with an altar.

Izmir – centuries of history

Izmir is one of the oldest Turkish cities, the date of origin of which is considered to be 6,500 BC. Now it is a large metropolis, a major seaport, the most important financial center of Turkey. Previously, it was the site of Greek Smyrna, the oldest Greek settlement with a history of two thousand years. Under the Romans it was the capital of their Asian province. Smyrna was important as a religious, administrative center. After it was conquered by the Seljuks (1076), its functions were preserved. Tourists can visit the archaeological complex Agora.

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The Agora was the city square where all the most important events took place. It had a huge political and social significance. It was built in the 2nd century B.C. Its columns, arches and the remains of its walls were preserved. Excavations are still going on. Another monument of antiquity is the fortress of Kadifekale. This was a castle complex built by the commander of the army of Alexander the Great (4th century BC). Later it was destroyed and restored many times. At this time, you can see the remains of the southern wall of the castle with five towers. Inside there are structures of later period. These are examples of medieval architecture. The Genoese fortress was built by the Turks to protect them from the enemy (14th century). It functioned as a fortification until the middle of the 19th century. The walls and towers are in good condition, now there is an archaeological museum. The oldest religious building is the church of St. Polycarp. It was named after the bishop of Smyrna, who was martyred by the Romans. Later he was elevated to the rank of saint and recognized as the patron of Izmir. The building was reconstructed by the Turks in 1620. Now it is in excellent condition.

Bergama – remnants of the Roman civilization

Bergama is a small town on the coast of the Aegean Sea. In ancient times on this site was a settlement called Pergamum, which is the largest city in the region. Pergamum reached its greatest prosperity under the Romans. The oldest attraction is the Lower Agora, the former town square of Pergamon. It was the site of commercial chambers, where meetings and performances were held. There is a temple of Athena which was built in the 4th century BC. This is the oldest temple in Pergamon. There used to be a library inside. Unfortunately, only ruins remained, but the temple of Trajan is a little better preserved. Here you can see the columns with some of the superstructures. Nearby tourists can look at the amphitheater of Pergamon.

It is located on the hillside. The auditorium consisted of 80 rows, which were cut through the rock. It was considered the largest theater in the ancient world.

On the territory of Bergama are a number of structures of the Turkic era. These include:

  • Seljuk minaret;
  • Chukurkhan caravanserai;
  • Great Mosque;
  • Shadyrvanly Mosque.

All the listed religious constructions date back to the 14th-16th centuries. They are excellent examples of classical Muslim architecture.

The real Turkey: 5 interesting cities

Turkey is a country with a long and very rich history. It is all the more frustrating that most travelers perceive this country as a place for a budget holiday by the sea on an all-inclusive package. But we know that all at times more interesting and deeper! We’ve chosen 5 cities where you’ll discover the real Turkey – with ancient architecture, authentic cuisine and centuries-old mixture of cultures.

Photo: adventurefaktory.com


Edirne was once the principal city of the Ottoman Empire until the capital was moved to occupied Constantinople. Edirne is called the gateway of Turkey because of its location on the border of Greece and Bulgaria. At different times the city belonged to the Romans, the Byzantines, the Greeks and of course the Turks. Here everywhere you can see the centuries-old mix of cultures: Byzantine bridges, lots of old mosques, Ottoman wooden houses, Turkish markets, acting Orthodox churches (half of the population of Edirne are Greeks). The city has a convent of dervishes and a school attached to it. By the way, the city was one of the stops of the Orient Express.

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The Selimiye Mosque (Meydan Mahallesi, Mimar Sinan Cd.) built by Sinan is one of the grandest architectural achievements of Islamic culture. It is not just a mosque but a complex of buildings including a school, madrasah, library, hospital and baths. The entire complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex is supported by a system of vaults, not found in other buildings of this type. The old Selime Madrasah now houses a free museum of the history of Islamic education.

The old town of Kaleiçi (Kaleiçi) was almost completely rebuilt after a major fire in the 19th century. But Ottoman wooden houses can still be found in this area and some buildings are still not restored and look as if the fire swept through these streets yesterday. In the same area is the Great Synagogue (Dilaverbey Mahallesi, Maarif Cd No:75), built in the likeness of the Vienna synagogue. It was renovated in 2015 and is now the center of Jewish culture in Turkey.

The old city used to be surrounded by fortress walls and fortification towers, which were blown up in 1953 because they did not fit in with the city’s architecture. Only the Macedonian Tower (Çavuşbey Mahallesi, Mumcular Sk. No: 9) survived. Now it can be found on Mumcular Street next to the usual panels.

Sarayici is a province near Edirne where you will find Byzantine arch bridges and the ruins of an Ottoman palace and the Tower of Justice. The tower was built by the same Mimaram Sinan who built Selimiye. The tower was the seat of the supreme court of the Ottoman Empire, which is where it got its name. On the upper floor you can find what used to be a swimming pool and a marble fountain in the 16th and 19th centuries.

The best way to get to Edirne is by bus or shuttle bus from Istanbul. The buses leave every 30 minutes from Alibekoy and Esenler Bus Stations. The journey takes about 3 hours and the ticket costs €8.

Photo: maxpixel


Safranbolu is a small town in northern Turkey, near the Black Sea coast. The place has always been known for its saffron, from which, in fact, got its name. Like many other cities in Turkey, Safranbolu blends Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman culture. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is like one big museum: there are 1008 registered historical sites and artifacts in Safranbolu.

The city consists of three separate historical districts: central Çukur, Kirankoy and Baglar (Turkish for “vineyards”). Cukur is located in the south and has a triangular shape. There is an old market place in the center of the neighborhood, surrounded by the houses of artisans.In Baglar, there are private houses among the gardens. The area used to be an urban summer resort. In Kirankoya, you can find houses without windows on the facades, which makes them look like an extension of the garden walls.

The old town of Çarşı is located in the southeast of Çukur. It is a shopping district with old timber-framed buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. Many of the mansions have been converted into museums or are open to the public. On the streets Kaymakamlar (Kaymakamlar) and Kileciler (Kileciler) can find homes with preserved from the XVIII-XIX centuries interiors.

The squat roofed Mehmet Pasha Mosque (Carsı ici Safranbolu) was built in 1661 and has an unusual for mosques architecture. In the courtyard you will see a metal sundial, which was installed in the XIX century (then it was fashionable).

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Do not forget about the traditional Turkish baths. Cinci Hamam (Kazdagliogulu Meydani) is one of the oldest and most famous Turkish baths where the locals go. It is located in the center of the city and has separate baths for men and women.

The Cinci Hanı (Çeşme Mahallesi, Saraçlar Sk) was built in the 19th century by the city’s merchants and is still open for visitors. It is worth stopping by for the cool view of Safranbolu from the roof and the traditional Turkish tea in the hotel’s courtyard.

You can safely go to any bazaar and enjoy the shopping views of the Turkish province. Felt, leather and lace products are the traditional craft of Safranbolu. The region makes its own special kind of halva, tahini, which can be found in every sweet shop. Do not forget the spices and saffron.

Not far from the city is a six-kilometer cave Bulak . Shuttle buses to the cave run from the central bus station and cost about € 0.7. Tourists are available to explore about 500 meters of the cave. We recommend arriving as early as possible, because from 11 am the area is full of Turkish schoolchildren who want to look at stalactites and stalagmites.

There are no direct routes from major cities to Safronbolu. The easiest way to get there is by bus from Istanbul (Alibikey Bus Station) and Ankara (Aşti Bus Station) to Karabücke (€12.5 and €6 respectively). The trip takes 4-6 hours. From there you can catch a minibus and in 30-40 minutes you are in the city of saffron for about € 2.

Photo: Erasmusu.com


Once two dervishes were flying over Turkey, choosing an attractive place to rest. One of them found a suitable one in the south: “Konalım mı?” (“Shall we land?”). His friend replied, “Kon ya!” (“Let’s land already!”). The dervishes liked the place so much that they decided to establish a city there. Later, the Sufi poet Rumi would live in that city and it was he who would invent the famous dervish dance-twisting. His son would become the founder of the Mevlevi Sufi Order, which would be based on his father’s teachings.

Ataturk banned all Sufi orders in 1925, but Konya is still an important place for dervishes. Every year in December, followers of the Rumi order hold a mass dance meditation to connect with God.

Despite its proximity to dervish culture, the inhabitants of Konya remain adherents of traditional Islam.There is hardly any alcohol or tobacco stores, few bars or entertainment venues in the city. Turks appreciate Konya for its quiet and measured nature. Tourists are expected to respect the Islamic norms and traditions. Women should dress in as closed clothes as possible, and men should put off shorts for the larger and seaside cities.

The Mevlana Mausoleum Museum (Aziziye Mah, Mevlana Cd. No:1) is the main attraction of the city. The wooden tomb of Jalaladdin Rumi, one of the four great Persian poets and mastermind of the Mevlevi order, is decorated with unique patterns carved by Seljuk craftsmen over several years. The museum holds ancient manuscripts, musical instruments, and dervish clothing from different times.

If you’re traveling in Turkey in December, be sure to stop by Konya for the Sheb-i-Aruz Festival of Rotating Dervishes, which takes place every year from December 7 to 17. For ten days, Sufis from all over the world indulge in dance meditation to the hypnotic beat of drums and the sound of the flute ney. According to the Mevlevi Order, the special dance of Sama (performed by dervishes) appeared at the same time as the universe and helps Sufis to achieve unity with God. It is believed that divine love at this time is given not only to the dancers, but to all people around them. The ritual itself is considered by UNESCO to be a masterpiece of oral and intangible cultural heritage, and there is no festival on such a scale as in Konya anywhere else in the world.

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In the center of Konya, the original Seljuk architecture of the XI-XIII centuries has been preserved. Go for a walk through the old town and admire the turquoise roofs and lilac minarets.

The Selimiye Mosque (Mevlana Cad. Mevlana), built in the 16th century by Sinan, is the sister mosque of Selimiye in Edirne. The Minbar, from which the Imam reads Friday prayers, is made like one of the towers above the Mevlana mausoleum.

A plane ticket from Istanbul costs € 20 and the journey takes an hour and a half. The bus from Antalya (Otogari bus station) takes about 7 hours and costs € 10. This is the fastest and cheapest way to get to Konya. Direct buses go from Istanbul and Izmir; from Adana you can get to Konya by train.

Photo: Kuku Travel


Mersin is the second youth capital of Turkey after Izmir. According to one of the versions the city received its name from the myrtle that grows in the region. It is comfortable to come to Mersin at any time of the year, because the temperature rarely drops below 10 degrees Celsius. There are boulevards stretching along the coast, with palm trees lining the edges. In spirit and landscape of the city resembles the Turkish Los Angeles.

Every November here is the Citrus Festival, something like our Dozhinok. Along the central promenade of oranges, lemons and pomelos are lined with the most unexpected shapes: lighthouses, steam engines, animals, musical instruments, and more. The festival opens with a parade of cultures, which brings together folk groups from more than 20 countries. Ahead of the procession is always a caravan of citrus animal figures.

To the west along the coast you can see the ruins of the ancient Pompeiopolis (1st century BC). The old ruins are embedded in the landscape of the city not as historical sites and monuments, but rather as a tired of all the long construction. Usually local youth hang out there.

The Kyzkalesi castle is a typical defensive fortress that was built by the Greeks. In the XII century the Armenians completely reconstructed it and built their church in the courtyard. In the early twentieth century during the Cilician purges the castle was partially destroyed and the church blown up.

In the western part of Mersin you will find the ruins of a Hittite fortress, which was a border crossing point in the XIII-XV centuries BC. There is also Eski Mosque (Cami Şerif Mahallesi, Sk. No:2) with a gabled wooden roof built in 1870.

Near Mersin is the birthplace of St. Paul, Tarsus (Cumhuriyet Mah. Abdi Ipekci Cad. No:14) and a well with healing water. You will also find the mosque Ulu (Camii Nur District), which was built on the ruins of an Orthodox church. Not far from it is the Mausoleum Mosque of Makam Sharif (Makam Meydani), where the Prophet Daniel is buried. This is also where Cleopatra met Mark Antony (Mersin Caddesi).

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Mersin has no airport, so the best way is to fly to Adana (from Antalya or Istanbul) and from there an airport bus will take you to Mersin in 40 minutes. The trip costs €25 from Istanbul and €15 from Antalya.

Photo: discovergaziantep.com


When you say the code word “Gaziantep” to Turks, they immediately extend a gourmet “mmm” and grab their bellies. Gaziantep is the culinary heart of Turkey. It has the best baklava, kebabs, pilafs, and kokorechi. There are countless cafes and street food stalls in the city – you’ll find your own specialty in every neighborhood. Since 2012, there has been a significant increase of Syrians here, which broadens the possible range of gastronomic tourists.

Gaziantep has a complex fate. In the Middle Ages the city was called Antep, it was home to Armenians and Kurds, who in the early 20th century, the Turks moved to Syria. From 1918 to 1921 the city was occupied by the French, after the withdrawal of their troops the city was added with the prefix “Gazi” – the winner. When the Syrian civil war started, Gaziantep became a center for the temporary migration of Syrians. Many of them stayed here for several years or stayed permanently. This has had a great effect on the cultural landscape of the city: there are now many Syrian cafes, stores, hair salons, and so on. In general, the same “color” in the city can be found on every corner.

Be sure to walk through the old city and brave the closed courtyards along the way. In almost every one of them, you’ll find a coffee shop with its own recipe for traditional Turkish tea and coffee.

The Mosaic Museum (Mithatpaşa Mahallesi, Hacı Sani Konukoğlu Blv.) houses frescoes and mosaics from the ancient city of Zevgme, which was blown up during the construction of a dam. There you can see 140 m² of frescoes, four Roman fountains, statues, sarcophagi and columns.

The castle (Seferpaşa Mahallesi, Naip Hamamı Sok.) above the city was built as a defensive fortress by the Hittites in the 12th century BC. Later on (in the 3rd century B.C.) the Romans converted it and used it as the city’s main building. Today you’ll find a military museum there.

Be sure to visit the Botanical Garden (Gazi mah. Zübeyde hanım bul.) . It is about 3 times smaller than the Minsk one, but arranged with the same coziness and love.

Don’t forget the central bazaar . The market in Gaziantep is a multitude of shops and open workshops all in one place. A craftsman can make traditional Gaziantep copperware in front of you in an hour or two. We recommend looking out for handmade Yemeni slippers and carpet shops. By the way, the carpets here are much cheaper than in Istanbul (for example 0,5x1m rug will cost 15-25 €). The main thing is not to forget to bargain!

The villages of Rumkale and Savas became victims of industrialization in Turkey. In 2000 they were flooded due to the opening of a dam. The landscape here is more like a surreal picture: minarets of mosques stick out from under the water, abandoned village houses as if crawling to the shore, turquoise smooth surface of the dam almost does not move. You can reach the villages in 2 hours by shuttle bus (€ 3) or by boat, book a tour with local firms.

Gaziantep can be reached by air from any major Turkish city. The trip from Istanbul and Antalya will take an hour and a half and cost € 20-40.

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