Less known than the well-trod roads between Istanbul and the classic sights in the western half of the country, Turkey’s Eastern regions present travellers with exciting new places to explore. Read on as Turkey’s hidden gems are revealed!
The Silk Road
The Silk Road refers to a pretty vast area, but here we’re talking about Turkey’s hinterland, from the extraordinary landscapes of Cappadocia to Kahta, Mt Nemrut and beyond. Karatay Han – between Cappadocia and Kahta – is one of the best preserved caravanserais in the region. These roadside inns, surrounding open-air courtyards, were places where travellers and traders could rest and recuperate; frequently with space for merchants, their goods, animals, fodder and other supplies.
Gobekli Tepe is still being excavated, but is reportedly the world’s oldest known religious structure, thought to be built by hunter-gatherers almost 11 600 years ago. You read that correctly, that’s 11 600 years – seven millennia before the great pyramids of Giza. Vaguely reminiscent of Stone Henge (though of course much older), Gobekli Tepe is made of finely carved limestone pillars, adorned with bas-reliefs of various animals. It’s the oldest known example of any kind of building more elaborate than a hut, and it’s safe to say that when it was erected, nothing like it had ever been seen on the face of the planet.
One of the largest cities in Southern Turkey, Diyabakir has in fact been inhabited by humans from the time of the Stone Age. Known as Amida to the Romans and Byzantines, the city is home to one of the world’s longest defensive walls – 5.5 km of black basalt walls that encircle the city. And with good cause: over the years the city has been occupied by the Mitanni, the Assyrians, the Romans, the Ummayads, various Turkish dynasties, and finally the Ottoman Empire. Tragically the city was also reportedly a site for ethnic cleansing of Armenians in the late 19th century.
Deir-Al-Zafaran (Saffron monastery)
The Saffron Monastery has been considered sacred for hundreds of years. Founded in 493AD, the monastery was formerly the seat of the patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church until 1932 when it was relocated to Damascus. Deriving its name from the colour of its stones, it reportedly has 365 rooms – one for each day of the year.
Located on Lake Van, Akdamar Island features the Church of the Holy Cross, a once-important Armenian cathedral. Founded by King Gagik between 915 and 921 as part of a royal complex that included a palace, a monastery, streets, gardens and terraced parks, the cathedral is all that remains today.
Back on the Silk Road is Holap Castle, which straddles the old route, serving to protect the road and to charge travellers a toll – though no such toll is charged these days! Most of the remaining part of the structure was built by a local Kurdish lord in 1643.
The sophisticated city of Van has a large student population, but it’s by no means hedonistic. There are some beautiful monuments, and it’s the perfect base from which to explore the nearby lake and remote towns and villages.
Explore these and other gems in Eastern Turkey on the Eastern Turkey Explorer tour.