Top Six Greek Treasures in Turkey

There are many ancient Greek and Byzantine archaeological and historical sites in Turkey, attracting hundreds of thousands, even millions, of visitors every year.

All of them are landmarks not to be missed by travelers to Turkey, and places that should also be visited by Greeks as reminders of Greece’s long, rich history and contribution to Western civilization.

HAGIA SOPHIA

Built on the ruins of two previous churches after the Nika riots of 532, Hagia Sophia was Byzantine Emperor Justinian I’s crowning achievement. Taking only five years to be completed, the impressive architecture of the building has allowed it to stand the test of time and nature. Today it is Istanbul’s most visited landmark.

Primarily an Orthodox basilica, it was briefly converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral during the Fourth Crusade, then became a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Each culture has regarded the building as the highest platform of spirituality and art; thus, the monument is laden with valuable historical traces from the last 1,500 years. Since 1935, Hagia Sophia has functioned as a museum, and was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1985.

TROY

Since Homer’s epic “Iliad”, Troy has become the staff of legend and source of artistic inspiration for millennia. Although a mythical place for many, it is actually a historical place, located on the mound of Hisarlik in modern north-west Turkey.

The excavation of the site is attributed to German entrepreneur Heinrich Schliemann, who began work there in the 1870s. With over 4,000 years of history as a connection point between Eastern and Western civilizations, Troy was named a World Heritage Site in 1998.

EPHESUS

Close to modern Selcuk in the Izmir province of western Turkey lies the port city of Ephesus, a remarkably well-preserved paragon of Greek, Roman and early Christian culture, inhabited since the 10th century BC. The Temple of Artemis that belongs to the Classical Greek era is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Library of Celsus is a Roman addition, and was designed to serve as a mausoleum for Senator Celsus, who is buried in the crypt below.

The Christian era is represented in Ephesus in the nearby House of the Virgin Mary. It was an essential place of pilgrimage for Christians and non-Christians alike, since the fifth century. The area is laden with interwoven tradition, and was given World Heritage status in 2015.

ST. NICHOLAS CHURCH, DEMRE

Born in nearby Patara, St. Nicholas was the influential bishop of Myra (modern Demre in south-west Turkey) in the fourth century. After his death, the new church built in his name in Myra became his final resting place.

The particular St. Nicholas is the historical equivalent of our modern Santa Claus and the site is widely regarded as one of the most important Byzantine structures in Anatolia that was a place of worship and pilgrimage from the fifth to the 12th century. The church was later flooded and buried under silt, then discovered and partially restored by Russian Czar Nicholas I in 1862. It has been under official excavation since 1988.

ANTIOCH OF PISIDIA

The city was founded in the Hellenistic period by Antiochus I Soter from the Seleucid dynasty, or possibly even earlier, by his father, Seleucus. The name “Antioch” was often used by Antiochus I when founding new settlements and renaming the already existing towns. He founded as many as 16 new Antiochs in Asia Minor and the Middle East.

The term “Pisidian” is frequently added to its name, to distinguish this particular city from other Antiochs. It is not entirely correct since Antioch is located on the border between the ancient Phrygia and Pisidia. Its location is better reflected by its Latin name – “Antioch ad Pisidiam” meaning Antioch [located] in the direction of Pisidia.

MILETUS

Miletus in western Anatolia was one of the most important cities of Ionia. It is located near the mouth of the Meander River in ancient Caria. Today the nearest village is Yenikoy.

The archaeological site and the local museum with findings from Miletus, Didyma, Priene and Myous are a must, and so is the theater. Excavations in Miletus started by French archaeologists in 1868, while significant research has been carried out since 1899 under the auspices of the German Archaeological Institute.