whsThe World Heritage List  slowly drawn up by UNESCO since 1972 is full of surprises.

Asked to guess which places would be regarded as Turkey’s most important sites most people would probably have plumped for Ephesus (Efes). Instead it was Troy that made the list, along with Hierapolis, the ancient city that lives in the shadow of its more upfront sister Pamukkale.

Glaring omissions include the ruined Armenian city of Ani, near Kars; İshak Paşa Sarayı near Doğubayazıt; the wonderful honey-coloured houses of Mardin and Midyat; and Hasankeyf, on the Tigris near Batman, which is scheduled to vanish in favour of a dam. Other than Hasankeyf and Midyat, all these places feature on the tentative list of possible future additions to the list. 

If you’re planning a tour of Turkey it's worth knowing that these are the sites the UN thinks the world could not do without.

Historic Areas of İstanbul

No prizes for guessing that the old part of İstanbul enclosed within the Walls of Theodosius was one of the first places in Turkey to achieve world-heritage-site status. Attention focuses on the great monuments of Sultanahmet (Ayasofya, Topkapı Sarayı, Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), and the Yerebatan Sarnıcı (the Underground Cistern)) but also encompasses the magnificent Süleymaniye Camii and even the wooden houses of the back streets in areas such as Vefa.

Unfortunately Old İstanbul is now seen as in danger from population pressure, industrial pollution and uncontrolled urbanization. In particular the restoration work on some stretches of the ancient walls has come in for serious criticism. UNESCO also criticized the original design for the new bridge over the Golden Horn which was latter amended to reduce the height of the supporting struts.

Archaeological Site of Troy

Who hasn’t heard of Troy, the wondrous walled city made famous by Homer’s saga, The Iliad, and then brought to light, when many people had assumed it was as fantastical as Atlantis, by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann? Some visitors to the site come away disappointed because the ruins can’t hope to compete in splendour with those of Ephesus or Aphrodisias. However, the site won its listing not just because of the cultural significance of The Iliad but also because it demonstrated one of the earliest contacts between the European world of the Mediterranean and that of Anatolia.

Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens

The walls of Diyarbakır are said to be visible from the moon although that is probably a fairy story. Regardless, they're an impressive if somewhat grim sight, still enclosing the narrow streets of the old heart of what is now a large and largely modern town. The Hevsel Gardens stretch from the walls down to the banks of the Tigris, a sea of greenery in contrast to the modern concrete. They had been threatened with development. Hopefully their UNESCO listing in 2015 will have seen off that threat. 


Turkey's biggest and best-known archaeological site was a late addition to the list, only being added to it in 2015. The crowds can be oppressive, especially in summer, but if you do manage to come here at a relatively quiet time you can fail to be impressed, especially by the Terraced Houses where you can even go upstairs inside houses that have been excavated to reveal frescoed walls and mosaic-covered floors. 


Familiar to most people is Pamukkale near Denizli in Western Anatolia where calcium-laden water flowing over a cliff-edge has created extraordinary white travertines, petrified waterfalls with pools of warm water collected on top of them. A site as amazing as this attracted attention from earliest times, and King Eumenes II of Pergamum established a spa resort here in 190 BC which was expanded into Hierapolis, a sprawling hillside city, by the Greeks and Romans. Unfortunately in the rush to get to the travertines the extensive remains, which include a vast necropolis and a lengthy stretch of original Roman pavement, often get overlooked.


These two sites on the south coast between Fethiye and Patara are reminders of a time when the Lycians ruled this part of the coast from their capital at Xanthos, a little inland from Kınık. Originally Xanthos was adorned with wonderful pillar carvings some of which were removed to the British Museum in 1842. The Letoon lies closer to the sea and was originally a shrine to Leto, a lover of Zeus, and her son Apollo and daughter Artemis. Frequently flooded, it is a serene and peaceful place to escape the summer crowds.

Nemrut Dağı

Routinely dubbed “the Eighth Wonder of the World”, Nemrut Daği, the great burial site of Antiochus I (69-34 BC) on top of a mountain between Malatya and Adıyaman in the southeast, crops up on posters all over the country which depict the giant heads of eagles, lions and men that ringed the mound before they were toppled by an earthquake. It’s a great place to visit especially if you opt to do so in the middle of the day to avoid the dawn and sunset crowds. It’s also the only one of Turkey’s world heritage sites that requires some physical exertion to appreciate. Bring sturdy shoes.

Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia

Göreme National Park was not just one of the first sites to be listed but is also an example of somewhere that is regarded as equally important not just for the natural beauty of a landscape created by the action of wind and rain on soft volcanic tuff, but also for the cultural importance of its endless rock-cut churches, chapels and underground cities. Within the wider site it is Göreme Open Air Museum that has the main honour of showing off the world heritage site symbol and that’s because the small churches contained inside it provide important evidence of the development of provincial Byzantine art in the post-Iconoclastic period.

Hattuşa: the Hittite Capital

Hidden in the countryside near Çorum north-east of Ankara Hattuşa is an enormous site where some recent reconstruction has arguably made it easier for non-experts to appreciate what they’re seeing while irritating the purists at the same time. The site dates back to the second millennium BC when the Hittites ruled a huge swathe of Central Anatolia. Images of the gods they worshipped line up in a narrow gully at nearby Yazılıkaya.

Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği

The least known and hardest to visit of all Turkey’s world heritage sites is the elaborate complex built in 1228-29 for Ahmed Şah in Divriği, some three hours’ drive east of Sivas in a town that lacks a decent hotel. Sivas itself boasts several fine examples of Selçuk architecture in which almost all the decorative effort is focused on the soaring entrances, but in Divriği that decorative enthusiasm was taken to a whole different level in carving that all but jumps out from the buildings. This is one for die-hard architectural enthusiasts, but it’s none the less remarkable for that.

City of Safranbolu

Many people traveling between İstanbul and Ankara choose to break their journey in Safranbolu which contains the most undamaged 19th-century urban landscape in Turkey. Here you can not just admire the wonderul old Ottoman houses spreading out from the cute little Arasta bazaar but also stay in some of them too as some of the finest houses have been turned into hotels complete with all sorts of hidden quirks such as lounges set up in what were once the stone strong rooms in which people stored their wheat and valuables.

Selimiye Cami, Edirne

The Süleymaniye Cami in İstanbul may be better known but it was the Selimiye Cami in Edirne that the great Ottoman architect Sinan himself regarded as his masterpiece, a choice with which many architectural enthusiasts concur.  Coming to see for yourself will also give you an excuse to explore one of Turkey's more attractive small towns. 

Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük

Not far from Konya, this world heritage site is more important for what it has had to tell archaeologists than for anything especially dramatic to see at the site itself. But, like Troy, Çatalhöyük has a resonance much louder than the rather disappointing structures. Many people associate it strongly with the idea of a Mother Goddess even though the evidence for this is ambiguous at best. Come here if you like to dream of the very distant past. 

Pergamum and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape

The ruins of ancient Pergamum at Bergama were long overdue for inclusion on the WHS list although they are by no means as visited as they deserve to be. Come here to visit the remains of what was once a hugely important medical shrine in the town where parchment was invented and to take a look at the slight remains of the great Altar of Zeus now mostly housed in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin.

Bursa and Cumalıkızık: The Birth of the Ottoman Empire

Keen fans of Ottoman history will want to head east of İstanbul to visit Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire in the days of Osman and Orhan Gazi. In the outskirts the village of Cumalıkızık is a mini-Safranbolu of crumbling wooden houses and a popular destination for leisurely brunches with Bursalı locals.

These are the places that appear on Turkey's tentative world heritage list and are likely to be elevated to full world heritage site status over the coming years:

Ahlat (on Lake Van)

Aizanoi Antique City, Çavdarhisar, nr Kütahya

Alahan Monastery, nr Mut

Alanya (Selçuk remains)

Ancient Cities of Lycia


Antakya (St Peter's church)




Beyşehir, (Eşrefoğlu Cami)


Caravanserais from Denizli to Doğubayazıt

Diyarbakır (Citadel and Walls)

Doğubayazıt (İşhak Paşa Sarayı)




Hacı Bektaş Veli shrine, Hacıbektaş

Harran and Şanlıurfa

Hecatomnus, nr Milas

Karain Cave, nr Antalya

Kekova (Simena), nr Kaş



Mamure Castle, nr Anamur


Myra (St Nicholas Church)


Odunpazarı, Eşkişehir



Sardis and the Bin Tepe tumuli

Sumela Monastery, nr Trabzon

Tarsus (St Paul's Church and Well)

Termessos - Güllük Dağı National Park

Trading posts and fortifications on Genoese trade routes from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea (Yoros Kalesi, Galata Tower, Eski Foça Kalesi, Çandarlı Kalesi, Amasra Kalesi, Akçakoca Kalese, Sinop Walls)

Tüz Gölü (Salt Lake)



Read more about Turkey's world heritage sites: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-211491-exploring-tyrkeys-world-heritage-from-istanbul-to-nemrut-dagi.html

Read about Turkey's intangible cultural heritage as registered by UNESCO: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-309893-from-mesir-macunu-to-oil-wrestling-turkeys-living-cultural-heritage.html

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