Türkiye’s position as a unique junction between the worlds of the East and the West has had a significant impact on the country’s culture throughout its history. Over time, many different ancient civilisations have left their mark across the landscape, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the ancient cities and archaeological sites of Türkiye’s Aegean region.
Situated 80km inland from the seaside city of İzmir is one of Türkiye’s most significant and best-preserved ancient cities – Ephesus. Founded in the 10th century BC by Attic-Ionian colonists, the city grew into a thriving trade and cultural centre during the Roman period (see CWA 1 and 52). With a population of 250,000 and an abundance of grand public buildings, Ephesus was once said to rival Rome as the greatest city in the world.
Ephesus was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015 and the remains of many of its impressive ancient structures can still be seen today, including the Temple of Artemis, around which the ancient city was developed. This sanctuary dedicated to the Ephesian Artemis – a local form of the goddess, connected to the Anatolian Mother Goddess – was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus is also home to the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian, the city’s impressive open-air amphitheatre, and multiple agoras, aqueducts, Roman baths, and houses containing elaborate frescoes and mosaics. The city was also an important centre for Christianity in the region and is believed to be the final resting place of Mary and the site where St John wrote his gospel (see CWA 82). The House of the Virgin Mary and the Basilica of St John are among the many ancient sights to be seen at Ephesus.
The ancient city of Pergamum, situated near the modern town of Bergama, is another of Türkiye’s most impressive archaeological sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Dating back to the 3rd century BC, the city was once the capital of the Hellenistic Attalid dynasty, and it remained an important cultural, scientific, and political centre during the ancient periods. The ruins of Pergamum’s acropolis sit on a hill – accessible by a convenient aerial lift – and encompass the remains of a wealth of monuments. These include the ancient city’s amphitheatre, the Temple of Trajan, and the foundations of the Pergamum Altar, while at the foot of the acropolis sits the Sanctuary of Asclepius, which became one of the most important healing centres of the ancient world, offering treatments such as mud baths, music, and water therapy. The city was also an important parchment production centre, and the Library of Pergamum, which was said to contain almost 200,000 volumes, was second only to the Library of Alexandria. Also worth a visit is the nearby Bergama Museum, where you can get a closer look at many of the artefacts excavated at acropolis.
Another important ancient centre of healing can be found at the city of Hierapolis, which was the site of a flourishing spa during the Hellenistic period. This area is home to calcite travertines full of naturally warm, calcium- and iron-rich waters, which still supply the nearby modern spa town of Pamukkale. These thermal springs were believed to have healing properties and the ancient city, founded in the 2nd century BC by Eumenies II, king of Pergamum, grew and gained prominence thanks to this natural wonder. At the World Heritage Site today you can see the ruins of Hierapolis’ ancient baths and other structures and monuments, and swim in Cleopatra’s Pool, a spring where the Egyptian queen is rumoured to have bathed.
Türkiye’s Aegean region is also home to an array of other important ancient sites, such as Miletus, Aizanoi, and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Aphrodisias, among others. Many of these sites feature impressive archaeological ruins that are still standing today, offering visitors unparalleled opportunities to immerse themselves in the rich culture of this fascinating area.
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