Ancient Sites of Turkey


Turkey – the only country in the world that shares borders with both Asia and Europe. Known as the crossroads of civilisations, Turkey’s fascinating culture has strong historical connections to ancient Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Armenian and Ottoman Empires.

Whilst the power and armies of these great civilisations have been lost to time, each empire has left their mark across the countryside of Turkey- you just need to know where to look!

1. Mount Nemrut

Located in the Taurus mountain range in southern Turkey, Mount Nemrut is home to an ancient complex built by the fourth king of Commagene, Antiochus I Theos. In 62 BC, Antiochus commissioned the construction of a religious sanctuary atop of Mount Nemrut (Nemrud Dag) with the intentions of being buried within after his death, so he may be worshipped as a god for years to come. The site includes a pyramid of stone chips 145 metres wide and 50 metres high, as well as two processional routes that lead to the pyramid for the west and east.

One of the most impressive features of this site the mixed elements of Macedonian and Persian cultures, stemming from Antiochus belief that he is the descendant of both Alexander the Great and Darius the Great. This can be seen in the two rows of sandstone statue heads that surround the religous site, each row representing his different lineage.

Nemrut statues of Persian ancestors
Sandstone statues of Antiochus’s Persian ancestors.

2. Library of Celsus

Located in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, on the western coast of Turkey, lies the ruins of the once great Library of Celsus. Erected in 117 AD, the library was commissioned in honour of Roman Senator  Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus by his son Gaius Julius Aquila. The library had enough room to store over 12,000 scrolls and was also the final burial place of the Celsus, who lies in a decorated sarcophagus deep beneath the ruins. Once completed, the Library of Celsus became the third-largest library of the ancient world and was one of the greatest buildings constructed by the Roman Empire outside of Rome.

The library was destroyed in 262 AD when a devastating earthquake struck, causing a fire to break out across the city. The fire damage completely destroyed the interior of the library, whilst the outside facade remained standing until the 10th century when another earthquake struck the city.

3. Aspendos Antique Theatre 

The most well persevered Roman Theatre outside of Italy lies in the ancient town of Aspendos. The theatre was built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (yes, the one from The Gladiator) in 155 AD and served as an important city to the Roman Empire as an outpost near the Asian border. The impressive structure towers over travellers who come to visit, standing at 315 feet tall the theatre can accommodate up to 12,000 people at one time.

Whilst the building has some minor damage, overall it has remained untouched in the 1800 years since its erection. In fact, the building is in such good condition that the Turkish State Opera and Ballet are still able to hold annual concerts every summer.

4. Gobekli Tepe 

Gobekli Tepe –  an archaeological site on top of a mountain ridge located near Turkey’s southern border. There has been a lot debate surrounding the dating of the site, with some archaeologists suggesting that the site was founded about 11,500 years ago (making it roughly 7,000 older than Stonehenge). Stone blocks as high as five metres show carved reliefs of boars, foxes, lions, birds and scorpions. The ancient ruins where only rediscovered in 1963 by the University of Chicago, who mistakenly labelled the site as a burial ground, before excavation begun in 1994 that revealed the true history of Gobekli Tepe.

The people who built this remain a mystery, in the area surrounding the site there is no evidence of housing or of graves, indicating that whoever built Gobekli Tepe did not live near by. Adding to the mystery of this site is the fact that it was purposely buried around 1,000 years after it was built, allowing Gobekli Tepe to remain in near perfect condition until it’s rediscovery in the 20th century!

5. Sumela Monastery

Located within the Pontic Mountains in the Maçka district of Trabzon Province in modern Turkey is the impressive Sumela Monastery, a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The actual monastery is situated in the face of a steep cliff at an altitude of 1,200 metres, making it a marvellous piece of ancient architecture. Constructed in 386 AD, folklore surrounding the monastery states that it was founded by two Athenian monks,  Barnabas and Sophronios, and became famous for an icon of the Virgin Mary that was supposedly drawn by the Apostle Luke.

In 2015, the monastery was closed of the public after a series of falling rocks threatened to damage the monastery and its visitors. Renovations have taken longer than planned but the monastery is set to re-open on Assumption day in 2018.

6. Seytan Castle

Located in a remote canyon near the river Kura in the province of Ardahan is the aptly named Seytan Castle ( translated to the Devil’s Castle). It is not known when this magnificent structure was first built, however archaeologists have suggested in was built during Urartian rule, based upon similar architectural features found in other buildings. Little else is known about the origins of the castle, although it served as border fortress to the Georgian Empire during the 13th century.

The castle has been a hot spot for illegal treasure hunting for several centuries due to a local legend that states a daughter of Georgian king was buried beneath the castle with gold and various precious artifices. The name of the castle originates from the myth that an evil spirit  was sighted in the area in the past, which still survives as a superstition among the area’s inhabitants.


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