As of July 2021, UNESCO lists 1,154 World Heritage Sites, of which 897 are categorized as cultural, 218 as natural and 39 as mixed properties. While these sites can be found across 167 countries, Turkey now boasts 19 world treasures on the list with the addition of the Arslantepe Mound. Let's explore the wonderful tales the country has to tell by taking a closer look at these heritage sites.
Added to the UNESCO list in 2011, the Selimiye Mosque and its social complex in Turkey's northwestern province of Edirne were constructed by Mimar Sinan, the most renowned Ottoman architect of the 16th century.
The complex includes madrassas, a covered market, a clock house, an outer courtyard and a library. "The square mosque with its single great dome and four slender minarets, dominates the skyline of the former Ottoman capital of Edirne," according to UNESCO's website.
Adorned by tiles from the town of Iznik in the northwestern province of Bursa, renowned for its ceramics at "the peak period of their production," the organization says the mosque "testifies to an art form that remains unsurpassed in this material."
Located in Turkey's Aegean province of Izmir, Pergamon and its peripheral multilayered cultural landscape were added to the list in 2014.
As the capital of the Hellenistic Attalid kingdom, the acropolis of Pergamon was a major center of learning in the ancient world, says UNESCO. "Monumental temples, theaters, stoa (a covered walkway or portico), gymnasium, altar, and library were set into the sloping terrain surrounded by an extensive city wall," it adds.
It is possible to see the remains of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires in and around Pergamon, known as the town of Bergama in the present day, with structures reflecting Paganism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The remains of the city were first discovered in the 1870s by German engineer Carl Humann. Pergamon was home to an amphitheater that could seat 50,000 people and a theater for 30,000 people, the second largest library in the ancient world as well as the first hospital – just some of the reasons why it's definitely worth a visit. Today, only the Viran Kapı (Ruined Gate) stands as the surviving arch of the theater.
Also in Izmir province, the world-renowned ancient city of Ephesus was added to the UNESCO list in 2015. Ephesus is an ancient Greek settlement that later became a major Roman city near the present-day town of Selçuk, boasting a rich cultural heritage dating back to 6500 B.C. The ancient city experienced its heyday under Roman rule, becoming the capital of Asia Minor, also known as Anatolia, in the 20s B.C. Unsurprisingly, today the city serves as a major tourist attraction on Turkey's western coast.
The U.N. body celebrates "grand monuments of the Roman Imperial period" including the Library of Celsus and the Great Theater, which have been unearthed in excavations. Though it adds: "Little remains of the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World,' which drew pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean." The House of the Virgin Mary, a chapel close to Ephesus, has also become a place of Christian pilgrimage, it notes.
Turkey's largest city Istanbul has been associated with major political, religious, and artistic events for more than 2,000 years, the U.N. said. Four historical areas of the historical peninsula in Istanbul were included in UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1985. These areas are the Sultanahmet Urban Archaeological Component Area, Süleymaniye Mosque and its Associated Component Area, the Zeyrek Mosque (the Monastery of the Pantocrator) and its Associated Component Area and the Istanbul Land Walls Component Area.
The Sultanahmet Urban Archaeological Component Area consists of the Hippodrome of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia, Hagia Eirene, Little Hagia Sophia Mosque and Topkapı Palace.
The Süleymaniye Mosque was built by Mimar Sinan under the auspices of Suleiman I, also known as Suleiman the Magnificent. The structure was designed and registered on the UNESCO list as a complex that could meet both the city's religious and cultural needs.
Zeyrek Mosque and its Associated Component Area include the Zeyrek Mosque and its surroundings while the Istanbul Land Walls Component Area borders the historical peninsula on the west and covers the city walls and their surroundings starting from the Marmara Sea on the south and extending to the Golden Horn in the north.
In northwestern Turkey, the city of Bursa and the nearby village of Cumalıkızık were added to the UNESCO list in 2014 as a serial nomination of eight component sites.
"The site illustrates the creation of an urban and rural system establishing the Ottoman Empire in the early 14th century," it says, adding that the area "embodies the key functions of the social and economic organization" of the Ottomans' first capital, which "evolved around a civic center."
The village of Cumalıkızık is the only rural area "to show the provision of hinterland support for the capital."
Added to the UNESCO list in 1994, the town of Safranbolu, a typical, well-preserved Ottoman town, is located in northern Karabük province.
From the 13th century to the advent of the railway in the early 20th century, Safranbolu was "an important caravan station on the main East-West trade route," UNESCO says.
The town is famous for its Ottoman-era architecture that includes frame houses, mosques, inns, Turkish bathhouses, fountains and shrines. It features an old mosque, old bath and the Suleyman Pasha Madrassa, which were built in 1322. "During its apogee in the 17th century, Safranbolu's architecture influenced urban development throughout much of the Ottoman Empire."
Hattusha, the capital of the Hittites – one of the most ancient Anatolian civilizations – was added to the UNESCO list in 1986.
The city, located in present-day central Çorum province, is "notable for its urban organization, the types of construction that have been preserved," including temples, royal residences and fortifications.
UNESCO also notes the rich ornamentation of the Lion Gate and the King Gate leading to the center of the city as well as the "ensemble of rock art at Yazılıkaya." It notes that the city enjoyed considerable influence in Anatolia and northern Syria in the 2nd millennium B.C.
The distinguished 11th-century Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği is located in central Sivas province and was added to the UNESCO list in 1985.
Designed and built by architect Hürrem Shah of Ahlat on the orders of Emir Ahmed Shah, the ruler of the Mengujekids in 1229, it was built in the honor of the Turkish victory against the Byzantine Empire in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071.
With its single prayer room and two cupolas, the mosque exhibits a "highly sophisticated technique of vault construction, and a creative, exuberant type of decorative sculpture – particularly on the three doorways, in contrast to the unadorned walls of the interior," the UNESCO website says.
Located in eastern Malatya province, the 7,000-year-old ancient mound of Arslantepe was added to the UNESCO list earlier this year.
The site was occupied from at least the sixth millennium B.C. until the late Roman period, says UNESCO, citing archeological evidence.
"The earliest layers of the Early Uruk period are characterized by adobe houses from the first half of the 4th millennium B.C."
"The site illustrates the processes that led to the emergence of a state society in the Near East and a sophisticated bureaucratic system that predates writing ... Exceptional metal objects and weapons have been excavated at the site, among them the earliest swords so far known in the world, which suggests the beginning of forms of organized combat as the prerogative of an elite, who exhibited them as instruments of their new political power."
The Diyarbakır Fortress, the Hevsel Gardens and the surrounding cultural landscape in eastern Diyarbakır province were added by UNESCO in 2015 as a single listing.
The area "has been an important center since the Hellenistic period, through the Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic, and Ottoman times to the present," the U.N. agency explains.
"The site encompasses the inner castle, known as Içkale and including the Amida Mound, and the 5.8 kilometer-long (3.6-mile) city walls of Diyarbakir with their numerous towers, gates, buttresses, and 63 inscriptions."
The legendary ancient city of Troy is located in the western province of Çanakkale and was added to the list in 1998. "Troy, with its 4,000 years of history, is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world," according to UNESCO.
"In scientific terms, its extensive remains are the most significant demonstration of the first contact between the civilizations of Anatolia and the Mediterranean world."
"The siege of Troy by Spartan and Achaean warriors from Greece in the 13th or 12th century BC, immortalized by Homer in the Iliad, has inspired great creative artists throughout the world ever since."
Added by UNESCO in 2017, the archaeological site of Aphrodisias, located in the village of Geyre in the western province of Aydın, comprises a temple to the Greek goddess Aphrodite that dates from the third century B.C., along with a city constructed a century later.
"The wealth of Aphrodisias came from the marble quarries and the art produced by its sculptors," adds UNESCO. "The city streets are arranged around several large civic structures, which include temples, a theatre, an agora, and two bath complexes."
Pamukkale, a natural landmark known for its mineral-rich thermal waters and white travertine terraces, has long been a major tourist attraction in southwestern Turkey and was added to the list in 1988. It is "an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins," according to UNESCO.
The adjacent site of Hierapolis was established at the end of the second century B.C. by the Attalid kingdom as a thermal spa. "The ruins of the baths, temples and other Greek monuments can be seen at the site."
Located within the boundaries of Turkey’s Antalya and Muğla provinces, Xanthos-Letoon is perhaps the grandest and most unique architectural example of the ancient Lycian civilization, which was one of the most important cultures of the Iron Age in Anatolia and the first people to establish a democratic union in history. The ancient city was added to the UNESCO list in 1988.
Serving as the capital of the ancient Lycian kingdom, it "illustrates the blending of Lycian traditions and Hellenic influence, especially in its funerary art," the U.N. agency underlines.
"The epigraphic inscriptions are crucial for our understanding of the history of the Lycian people and their Indo-European language."
Dating back 9,000 years, the prehistoric site of Çatalhöyük is located in central Konya province and was added to the list in 2012.
The site testifies "to the evolution of the social organization and cultural practices as humans adapted to a sedentary life," according to UNESCO.
"The western mound shows the evolution of cultural practices in the Chalcolithic period, from 6200 B.C. to 5200 B.C. Catalhoyuk provides important evidence of the transition from settled villages to urban agglomeration, which was maintained in the same location for over 2,000 years ... It features a unique streetless settlement of houses clustered back to back with roof access into the buildings."
UNESCO describes Cappadocia as "a spectacular landscape," adding the site to its list in 1985.
The site is "entirely sculpted by erosion," it says, adding that the Göreme valley and its surroundings contain "rock-hewn sanctuaries that provide unique evidence of Byzantine art in the post-Iconoclastic period."
The famed ancient site of Göbeklitepe is located in Turkey's southeastern Şanlıurfa province and was added to UNESCO's list in 2018.
It "presents monumental round-oval and rectangular megalithic structures erected by hunter-gatherers in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age" between 9,600 and 8,200 B.C., according to UNESCO. "These monuments were probably used in connection with rituals, most likely of a funerary nature."
"Distinctive T-shaped pillars are carved with images of wild animals, providing insight into the way of life and beliefs of people living in Upper Mesopotamia about 11,500 years ago."
Located in the Kahta district of the Adıyaman province, Mount Nemrut towers 2,134 meters (7,001 feet) high and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. However, it is not its height that makes Nemrut a UNESCO World Heritage-worthy site, but rather the gigantic statues of gods commissioned by King Antiochus I of Commagene – a kingdom founded north of Syria and the Euphrates after the breakup of Alexander's empire – for his own tomb.
"The mausoleum of Antiochus I (69-34 BC) is one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period," says the U.N. agency.
"The syncretism of its pantheon, and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced back through two sets of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of this kingdom's culture."
Ani, a medieval Armenian city often called the city of 1,001 churches, is situated in the eastern Kars province on the Armenian border. The site was added to the UNESCO list in 2016.
The site "combines residential, religious and military structures, characteristic of a medieval urbanism built up over the centuries by Christian and then Muslim dynasties," UNESCO says. "The city flourished in the 10th and 11th centuries A.D. when it became the capital of the medieval Armenian kingdom of the Bagratides and profited from control of one branch of the Silk Road."
"The Mongol invasion and a devastating earthquake in 1319 marked the beginning of the city's decline ... The site presents a comprehensive overview of the evolution of medieval architecture through examples of almost all the different architectural innovations of the region between the 7th and 13th centuries A.D."