Asia Minor Travel & Tours - Your Guide to Turkey

History of Turkey

Mother GoddessTurkey is considered to be one of the richest countries in terms of archaeology and is by far the biggest “open air museum” of the world. It has always been a bridge between the East and West and has been noted by scholars as the “melting pot” of various cultures where classical culture was shaped. Recently discovered and excavated sites like “Gobeklitepe” and “Nevali Cori”, revealed the earliest known temple of the world ever found. From the first known urban city settlement of “Catalhoyuk” to the historically famous Troy and from the Ionians (the Anatolian Greeks) to the greatest empires of the world, the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman, many cultures were established and indeed flourished in and around this huge “melting pot”.

Today, a traveler to Turkey can observe the features of all of these cultures. Not only are they visible in their marvelous remains, but in their impacts on the daily lives of Turks today, which differs greatly from one area to another.

The Prehistoric Period

100,000 – 8,000 B.C.
The earliest cave settlements of the world can be seen, especially at Karain, Belbasi, and Beldibi caves, where humanity made its earliest appearance in the world.

11,000 – 2,000 B.C.
Under the light of recent excavations at the upper Mesopotamia valley, world’s oldest villages are found at Nevali Cori and Gobeklitepe. The first urban city settlement of Catalhoyuk, the earliest place of agriculture, Hacilar, and numerous mounds of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic period can be seen in Turkey. The museums are full of remarkable remains from this very early cultural period of humanity.



The Neolithic period, meaning the “new stone age”, started in Anatolia about 11,000 B.C., where the people of Nevali Cori, Gobeklitepe, Catalh?y?k and Hacilar, among others, were the first to leave their caves and start living in “houses” and small cities.

The most significant feature of the Neolithic period is agriculture and pottery. Following the Neolithic, came the Chalcolithic period which marked the appearance of metal tools.

These two very important periods came to an end with the discovery of bronze, a mixture of copper and tin. Thus, the Bronze age begins, considered to be one of the biggest revolutions in the history of mankind.

The large trade industry between Anatolia and Assyria brought written history to Anatolia in about 2,000 B.C. Kayseri, Kanesh and Karum, appear to be the first trade centers of the world, where thousands of clay tablets have been found relating to this trade.

The dominating culture of Anatolia during this period was the “Hatti” culture, from which came the name of the first big empire of Anatolia, the “Hittite Empire”. The Hittites adopted everything from the “Hatti” people except their language, which was the first Indo-European language spoken in Anatolia. The Hittites changed the face of the country. Their detailed and sophisticated state archives, not only enabled us to reconfirm the “Tell-el-Amarna” tablets of Egypt, but also revealed the history and relations between cities on the western coast of Asia Minor in the 2nd millennium B.C. This eventually changed our entire concept of the civilization of the “known world”.

Troy seems to be the dominating culture during this period in the West, and several other Aegean and Mediterranean cultures are quoted by the Hittites, such as the Lukka people, later known to us as the Lycians.

By mid-2,000 B.C., the general view of Anatolia confirms the existence of a highly developed city-state system, mainly controlled by the Hittites. The city-states’ high culture and wealth, which came mostly from mining, agriculture, and trade, allowed Anatolia to enjoy one of its most brilliant and prosperous periods of history. Unfortunately, this wealth also attracted some of its neighbors.

In about 1,200 B.C., a very large raid descended upon Anatolia, and possibly along with the help of a great earthquake, almost all of these city-states, including the Hittites, met their demise. This invasion was later told by Homer in the Iliad.

This raid and its subsequent destruction was so severe that none of the city-states could ever recover again. The cultures vanished, not to be recognized again. Even the greatest empire of the world, the Hittite, was entirely forgotten by the Greeks and the Romans. The Hittites were not rediscovered until a scholar found them in the Old Testament in the 19th century.

This period is known by the scholars as the Dark Ages of Anatolia.

The Classical Period

Throughout the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., we see Anatolia awakening once again. Several civilizations start to appear in different areas, whose cultures shape the “Classical Greek period” of the world. From north to south along the Aegean and Mediterranean, the following are some of the important cities and areas:

  • Troas, Troy, Alexandria Troas

  • Aeolya, Pergamon

  • Ionia, Miletos, Smyrna, Ephesos, Samos, Chios

  • Lydia, Sardes

  • Phyrgia, Midas city

  • Caria, Halikarnassos, Aphrodisias

  • Lycia, Xanthos, Patara

  • Pamphylia, Perge, Aspendos

  • Pisidia, Antioch, Termessos

It is not possible to list all of the cities and cultures, but Urartians, Cilicans, Mysians, Traces, and many others can be listed as well.

Certainly cities like Pergamum, Ephesus, and Miletus led the way. The first paper was used in Pergamum, hence the term “parchment”. The first money was minted by the Lydians. The official Greek language was the language of Miletus, which Athens accepted in the 5th century B.C. Both the Persian invasion and the invasion of Alexander the Great influenced the culture and carried it to all the other areas. Three of the ancient wonders of the world are located in and around Anatolia.


The Hellenistic and Roman Periods

The Hellenistic period, where the Greek cultures were mainly formed, was subject to several wars and invasions. Great cities were established and destroyed during this period. The domination of several kings and rulers finally came to an end when the Roman Empire enlarged its borders to encompass many parts of Asia, making Ephesus the capital of the Asian province of Rome.

Perhaps, not only the cities of Anatolia, but the whole world which was inhabited then, lived its most prosperous and wealthy period during the Roman Empire. The richness and wealth of this period can best be observed in several cities of Anatolia. Throughout the 1st and 4th centuries A.D., Anatolia doubtless enjoyed the most brilliant period of her entire known history.

Hundreds of cities with thousands of remains from this period can be seen all over the country.

The idea of a single god was first established in Egypt, then officially in the Old Testament. The early Anatolian Greek philosophers, including Xenephon, claimed the first idea of a single god for the Western World. This one god, who, he explained, “sees everywhere, thinks everywhere, and hears everywhere”, was much different than the many Greek gods.


Christianity, Medieval and Modern

This idea of one god, shaped mainly in Anatolia, was perhaps the most important event leading towards Christianity. The seven churches of the Revelation are found in Anatolia. Ephesus, the cult center of the traditional Anatolian virgin mother goddess, became the center of the early Christians, where the Virgin Mary was worshipped. It was also here that she was accepted as the “Mother of God”.

St. Paul was born in Turkey. John spent almost all of his life in Turkey. St. Nicholas was born in Patara, a Lycian town, and became Bishop of Myra and of Lycia.

Therefore, it is not surprising to find the first and most important Christian Empire, the Byzantine, in Turkey. Cities like Istanbul are flattered with numerous and wonderful remains from this period.


1070 The Turks arrive…

A new movement of immigration to Anatolia came this time from the East, from Central Asia, the homeland of the Turkish tribes. In 1071 A.D., the Seljuk Turks, defeating the Byzantine armies at the eastern gates of Asia Minor, came in and settled in central Anatolia, around the modern town of Konya, known as the center of the Whirling Dervishes. The Seljuks reestablished trade, architecture, political stability, and religion. The 11th and 12th centuries were thus flourishing periods for Anatolia. Several intellectuals from all over the world came and settled in Konya, including Mevlana Cellaledin-i Rumi, who became the founder of the Mevlevi order, well known to the Western world as the ?Whirling Dervishes?. Neither the Arabs nor the Byzantines, who were vital enemies of the Seljuks, were able to put an end to this empire. It was the Mongolians, another tribe that marched through central Asia with their leader Hulagu, who defeated the Seljuks. They were not interested in staying here, however, so Anatolia was once again left without a major authority until the Ottoman?s took power.

The major rule of history never fails. There is always a beginning, a rise, and finally an end for all great empires. The Byzantines finally fell under the rule of the growing Ottoman Empire in 1453 when Mehmet the Conqueror captured Byzantine. A new era for Anatolia began.

The Ottoman period was the last big empire of Anatolia, where the existing cultures were well mixed with the Islamic and Turkish culture. The state policy of the Ottomans was tolerance, leaving all people under their rule entirely free to pursue native religious and cultural practices. This allowed a very interesting mix of cultures to develop in Turkey.

When the Ottomans lost the First World War, almost the entire country was once again invaded. This time Turkey embarked on a new journey towards a modern, secular republic under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, known as “Atat?rk”.

Today, Turkish citizens are proud of being members of one of the first modern countries of Europe, where women are ensured equal rights, and of a democratic republic in the modern world.

Content by Archaeologist Umit Isin

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Last modified: 
February 25, 2014