What is more, the majority of the ancient ruins in Turkey remain in very good condition.
There are in total 28 archaeological sites in Turkey that attract a large number of international visitors every year. The most important ancient sites in Turkey are: Göbekli Tepe, Ephesus, Temple of Artemis, Bergama Acropolis, and Aphrodisias.
Göbekli Tepe Archeological Site
Göbekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill) is a Neolithic sanctuary near the city of Şanlıurfa in southeastern Turkey. The site was discovered in 1995. At first it was assumed that it was a medieval cemetery. However, archeologists today believe that Göbekli Tepe is one of the oldest man-made religious structures in history. It is most probably the world’s first place of worship.
Göbekli Tepe consists of a circle of Neolithic megaliths. The limestone pillars are set on the top of a mountain ridge. They are estimated to date back to 10,000 BC, which makes them almost 7,000 years older than Stonehenge.
The megaliths are decorated with reliefs of animals and abstract pictograms. The carved symbols on the Göbekli Tepe megaliths preceded Sumerian hieroglyphics, thought to be the basis of human languages, by 8,000 years.
The excavation of the Göbekli Tepe’s Neolithic continues today. It is estimated that only 5% of the site has been unearthed so far. Many Göbekli Tepe artifacts can be seen on display at the recently opened Şanlıurfa Haleplibahçe Museum. The museum also holds a full replica of the sacred site.
Ancient Greek City of Ephesus
Ephesus is one of the most famous and most visited archaeological sites in the country. It is located near the city of Selçuk in western Turkey.
Built in the 10th century BC, Ephesus was originally a Greek city. In 27 BC, the Roman Emperor Augustus named it the capital of Roman Asia Minor. It thus became one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean, home to more than 250,000 people. Ephesus was not only a major trading center in the Roman world but also an important pilgrimage site with the Temple of Artemis built to worship the local goddess.
Today, it is possible to admire a number of well-preserved Ephesus monuments. They witness the past of a vibrant and rich metropolis. The famous Library of Celsus, for example, once used to house nearly 12,000 scrolls. Furthermore, the Grand Theater of Ephesus, with a capacity of 25,000 people, was the largest theater in the ancient world.
The Ephesus Museum located in the city center displays numerous artifacts found in the ancient city and has many unique finds from the gladiator cemetery excavation.
Greek Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis, a place of worship dedicated to the Greek goddess, was considered being one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. This is one of the most interesting historical places in Turkey due to both its heritage and its ancient splendor. The Temple of Artemis was the very first ancient site that 19th-century western archaeologists were commissioned to excavate, under the auspices of the British Museum.
The grand temple was destroyed and rebuilt many times during its long history. The final construction began in 323 BC, when it became the largest temple of antiquity. It was twice as large as the Parthenon in Athens. The columns on the temple’s facades were decorated with elaborate relief figures from Greek mythology. The temple was destroyed one last time by the Goths in 286 CE.
Today, the only remnant at the site are foundations and fragments of the last Temple of Artemis, including an 11 meter-high column. The column was made from the rubble found at the site and put together to replicate one of the originals. The original statue of Artemis was removed during a fire and is on exhibit at the Ephesus Museum in the city of Selçuk.
Bergama Acropolis Archeological Sites
One of the best places to visit near Istanbul is Bergama Acropolis. This is Turkey’s most impressive archaeological site, built on the side of a steep hill northeast of the city of Bergama. Every year, the ancient site sees close to one million visitors. Pergamon was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2014. The most famous among the Bergama Acropolis ruins are the Temple of Trajan, the 10,000-seat Greek theater, and the Altar of Zeus.
The ancient city of Pergamon dates back to the second millennia BC. It survived both Persian domination and conquest of Alexander the Great. Bergama was the Roman capital of Asia Minor before Ephesus.
With the development of parchment, one of the largest libraries of the world was built in Bergama, rivaling even the famous library of Alexandria. The city served also as a healing, science and art center, and it was renowned for its magnificent sculptures. Bergama housed one of the first Seven Churches of early Christianity. The name of the city is cited in the Bible.
Ancient City of Aphrodisias
Aphrodisias is one of the most important sites containing Greek and Roman ruins in Turkey. It is situated in a valley 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Izmir in the southwestern part of the country. Aphrodisias was an ancient Greek town, named after the goddess Aphrodite, that later got assimilated into the Roman Empire.
The site’s most famous structure is the sanctuary of Aphrodite. Another one of Aphrodisias highlights is the Sebasteion, or the Temple of Emperors, built between 20 CE and 60 CE. Although the original building was destroyed, many marble reliefs that used to adorn the walls have survived.
Aphrodisias also used to be a major source of marble. The stone was shipped all over the ancient world and used in building facades and sculptures. Consequently, many master sculptors settled in Aphrodisias. Their impressive works are displayed in the Aphrodisias Museum.