Turkey's rich architectural heritage has been moulded by the rise and fall of countless civilisations who have settled here over millennia. From a neolithic temple-complex through to the imperial monuments of both the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, the dizzying array of architectural styles on display reveals how diverse cultural influences have inspired and shaped the human-built history stamped across this land.
The earliest Anatolian architectural remnants, the carved megaliths of Göbekli Tepe, date back to approximately 10,000 BC. The mud-brick constructions of Çatalhöyük, which were accessed through their roofs, were first constructed around 7500 BC. Alacahöyük, dating from 4000 BC, was characterised by more complex buildings. By the time Troy was established (3000 BC), temple design began to advance while in the treeless southeast, a distinctive 'beehive' construction technique developed, which can still be seen at Harran.
Later, the remnants of hefty gates, walls and ramparts of Hattuşa (Hittite capital from 1660 BC) reveal an increasing sophistication in working with the landscape.
Greek & Roman (550BC-AD330)
The architects of ancient Greece displayed a heightened sense of planning and sophistication in design and construction, incorporating vaults and arches into their buildings. Later the Romans built upon the developments of the Greeks. The Romans were also accomplished road builders, establishing a comprehensive network linking trading communities.
Fine examples of classical Greco-Roman architecture can be seen today at the theatre of Aspendos, the nymphaeum at Sagalassos, Bergama's Acropolis area, and Letoön's fine temples. Other superb sites include Afrodisias, Termessos, Patara and Hierapolis.
Ecclesiastical construction distinguishes Byzantine architecture from that of the pagan Greeks. The Byzantines developed church design while working in new media, such as brick and plaster, and displaying a genius for dome construction, as seen in the Aya Sofya.
Mosaics were a principal Byzantine design feature; fine examples can be seen in the Hatay Archaeology Museum or in situ at the Chora Church (now called the Kariye Museum) in İstanbul, which features a sumptuous array of mosaics. An example of the burgeoning skill of Byzantine civil engineers is the Basilica Cistern, also in İstanbul.
In the east, Armenian stonemasons developed their own distinctive architectural style. The 10th-century church at Akdamar is a stunning example, while the site of Ani includes fascinating ruins and remnants.
The architecture of the Seljuks reveals significant Persian influences in design and decorative flourishes, including Kufic lettering and intricate stonework. The Seljuks created cosmopolitan styles incorporating elements of nomadic Turkic design traditions with Persian know-how and the Mediterranean-influenced architecture of the Anatolian Greeks.
The Seljuks left a legacy of magnificent mosques and medreses (seminaries), distinguished by their elaborate entrances; you can see the best of them in Konya, Sivas and Divriği. As patrons of the Silk Road, the Seljuks also built a string of caravanserais through Anatolia; two of the best examples are Sultanhanı, and Sultan Han. The Anatolian countryside is also stippled with the grand conical türbe (tombs) of the Seljuks, such as those at Konya, Battalgazi and on both shores of Lake Van.
In the southeast, competitors to the Seljuks, the Artuklu Turks created the cityscapes of Mardin and Hasankeyf, featuring distinctive honey-toned stonework and brick tombs, while also embellishing and adding to the imposing black basalt walls of Diyarbakır.
From the 14th century, as the Ottomans expanded across Anatolia, they became increasingly influenced by Byzantine styles, especially ecclesiastical architecture. Ottoman architects absorbed Byzantine influences, particularly the use of domes, and incorporated them into their existing Persian architectural repertoire to develop a completely new style: the T-shape plan. The Üç Şerefeli Mosque in Edirne became the model for other mosques. One of the first forays into the T-plan, it was the first Ottoman mosque to have a wide dome and a forecourt with an ablutions fountain.
Aside from mosques, the Ottomans also developed a distinctive style of domestic architecture, consisting of multistorey houses with a stone ground floor topped by protruding upper floors balanced on carved brackets. These houses featured separate women's and men's areas (haremlik and selamlık respectively), and often included woodwork detailing on ceilings and joinery, ornate fireplaces and expansive rooms lined with sedirs (low benches) ideal for the communal interaction that was a feature of Ottoman life. Cities including Amasya, Safranbolu, Muğla and Beypazarı still feature houses of this design.
In later centuries in İstanbul, architects developed the yalı (grand seaside mansions constructed solely of wood) to which notable families would escape at the height of summer. Prime examples are still visible on the Bosphorus.
Turkish Baroque & Neoclassical (1750-1920)
From the mid-18th century, rococo and baroque influences hit Turkey, resulting in a pastiche of curves, frills, scrolls and murals, sometimes described as 'Turkish baroque'. The period's archetype is the extravagant Dolmabahçe Palace. Although building mosques was passé, the later Ottomans still adored pavilions where they could enjoy the outdoors; the Küçüksu Kasrı in İstanbul is a good example.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, foreign or foreign-trained architects began to concoct a neoclassical blend: European architecture mixed in with Turkish baroque and some concessions to classic Ottoman style. Vedat Tek, a Turkish architect educated in Paris, built the capital's central post office, a melange of Ottoman elements and European symmetry. His style is sometimes seen as part of the first nationalist architecture movement, part of the modernisation project of the early Turkish republic. This movement sought to create a 'national' style specific to Turkey by drawing on Ottoman design elements and melding them with modern European styles. Notable buildings in this style include the Ethnography Museum in Ankara and Bebek Mosque in İstanbul. Sirkeci Train Station, by the German architect Jachmund, is another example of this eclectic neoclassicism.
The rapid growth that Turkey has experienced since the 1940s has seen a profusion of bland, grey apartment blocks and office buildings pop up in Anatolian cities and towns. Yet even these, taken in context of the Turkish landscape, climate and bustle of convivial neighbourhood interaction, have a distinctive quality all their own.
During the 1940s and '50s a new nationalist architecture movement developed as Turkish-trained architects working on government buildings sought to create a homegrown style reflecting Turkish tradition and aspirations of the new republic. This architecture tended to be sturdy and monumental; examples include the Anıt Kabir in Ankara and the Çanakkale Şehitleri Anıtı (Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial) at Gallipoli.
Since the 1990s there has been more private-sector investment in architecture, leading to a diversification of building styles. The Levent business district in İstanbul has seen the mushrooming of shimmering office towers, and other futuristic buildings have arisen, such as the Esenboğa Airport in Ankara.
The most interesting development in recent decades is that Turks have begun to take more notice of their history, particularly the Ottoman era. This has meant reclaiming their architectural heritage, especially those parts of it that can be turned into dollars via the tourism industry. These days many restoration projects – in Sultanahmet and other parts of İstanbul, but also in cities across the country such as Antakya, Antalya and Tokat – are focused on classic Ottoman style.
Feature: Capital of Roman Asia
Ephesus (Efes) is the pre-eminent example of Roman city construction in Turkey; its flagstoned streets, gymnasium, sewerage system, mosaics and theatre form a neat set-piece of Roman design and architecture.
A prosperous trading city, Ephesus was endowed with significant buildings. The Temple of Artemis, boasting a forest of mighty columns, was one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, but was later destroyed under orders of a Byzantine archbishop. The Great Theatre, one of the biggest in the Roman world, is evidence of Roman expertise in theatre design and acoustics, while the Library of Celsus is ingeniously designed to appear larger than it actually is.
Feature: Imperial Mosques
The rippling domes and piercing minarets of mosques are the quintessential image of Turkey for many travellers. The most impressive mosques, in size and grandness, are the imperial mosques commissioned by members of the royal households.
Each imperial mosque had a külliye, or collection of charitable institutions, clustered around it. These might include a hospital, asylum, orphanage, imaret (soup kitchen), hospice for travellers, medrese (seminary), library, baths and a cemetery in which the mosque's imperial patron and other notables could be buried. Over time, many of these buildings were demolished or altered, but İstanbul's Süleymaniye Mosque complex still has much of its külliye intact.
The design, perfected by the revered Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent, proved so durable that it is still being used, with variations, for mosque construction all over Turkey.
Sidebar: Master Builders of Byzantium
For a scholarly investigation of the challenges faced by Byzantine architects see The Master Builders of Byzantium by Robert Ousterhout.
Sidebar: Ottomans in the Balkans
Ottoman architectural styles spread beyond the boundaries of modern Turkey. There are still Ottoman constructions – mosques, fortresses, mansions and bridges – throughout the Balkans.
Sidebar: Modern in History
Turkey: Modern Architectures in History, by Sibel Bozdoğan and Esra Akcan, examines the philosophy and impact of architecture in the new Turkey.
Sidebar: Istanbul's Historical Heritage
The visually stunning Constantinople: Istanbul's Historical Heritage, by Stéphane Yerasimos, provides history and context to many of the city's magnificent buildings.
Turkey's rich and diverse artistic traditions display influences of the many cultures and civilisations that have waxed and waned in Anatolia over the centuries. Internationally, it may still be best known for its textile and ceramic artisan heritage but the country's contemporary artists, writers, and filmmakers are making a name for themselves by finding inspiration in Turkey's long history and commenting in their work on the country's role in the world today.
The art form that travellers are most likely to associate with Turkey is the carpet – there are few visitors who do not end up in a carpet shop at some time.
The carpets that travellers know and love are the culmination of an ages-old textile-making tradition. Long ago Turkic nomads weaved tents and saddle bags and established carpet-making techniques on the Central Asian steppes.
As in many aspects of their culture, the Turks adopted and adapted from other traditions. Moving ever-westward, the Turks eventually brought hand-woven carpets, into which they incorporated Persian designs and Chinese cloud patterns, to Anatolia in the 12th century.
Within Anatolia, distinctive regional designs evolved. Uşak carpets, with star and medallion motifs, were the first to attract attention in Europe: Renaissance artist Holbein included copies of them in his paintings. Thereafter, carpet-making gradually shifted from cottage industry to big business. Village women still weave carpets but usually work to fixed contracts, using a pattern and being paid for their final effort rather than for each hour of work.
Fearing the loss of old carpet-making methods, the Ministry of Culture has sponsored projects to revive weaving and dyeing methods. One scheme is the Natural Dye Research and Development Project (Doğal Boya Arıştırma ve Geliştirme Projesi). Some shops keep stocks of these 'project carpets', which are usually high quality.
Only in the last century has Turkey developed a tradition of novel writing, but there is a wealth of writing by Turks and about Turkey that offers insight into the country and its people.
The Turkish literary canon is made up of warrior epics, mystical verses (including those of Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi order of whirling dervishes), and the elegies of wandering aşık (minstrels). Travellers may encounter tales of Nasreddin Hoca, a semi-legendary quasi-holy man noted for his quirky humour and left-of-centre 'wisdom'.
Yaşar Kemal was the first Turkish novelist to win international attention, writing gritty novels of rural life. His Memed, My Hawk, a tale of impoverished Anatolian villagers, won him nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Recently, the prolific Turkish-American writer and academic Elif Şafak has attracted an international following. Her controversial and acclaimed The Bastard of Istanbul centres on the Armenian tragedy while The Forty Rules of Love retells the story of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. Both were bestsellers in Turkey. All her work, including her most recent novel The Three Daughters of Eve, deal with issues confronting modern Turkey as well as its historical richness.
Ayşe Kulin has a huge following and her novels have been translated widely. Last Train to İstanbul is her novel of Turkish diplomats' attempts to save Jewish families from the Nazis, while Farewell is set during the era of Allied occupation after WWI.
Irfan Orga's autobiographical Portrait of a Turkish Family, set during the late Ottoman/early Republican era, describes the collapse of his well-to-do İstanbullu family. In The Caravan Moves On Orga offers a glimpse of rural life in the 1950s as he travels with nomads in the Taurus Mountains.
Hakan Günday is one of the rising stars of Turkey's literary scene. His novel More is an unflinching look at the refugee crisis and human trafficking.
Feature: Orhan Pamuk: Nobel Laureate
The biggest name in Turkish literature is Orhan Pamuk. Long feted in Turkey, Pamuk has built a worldwide audience since first being translated in the 1990s. He is an inventive prose stylist, creating elaborate plots and finely sketched characters while dealing with the issues confronting contemporary Turkey.
His Black Book is an existential whodunit told through a series of newspaper columns, while My Name is Red is a 16th-century murder mystery that also philosophises on conceptions of art. In his nonfiction İstanbul: Memories and the City, Pamuk ruminates on his complex relationship with the beguiling city. Cevdet Bey and His Sons, one of his earliest works, was translated into English for the first time in 2014.
His 2008 novel, The Museum of Innocence, details an affair between wealthy Kemal and shop girl Füsun in İstanbul. In 2012 Pamuk opened a museum in İstanbul based on that in the novel and displaying the ephemera of everyday life. His latest novel A Strangeness in My Mind again returns to the city to track the life of an İstanbul seller of boza (drink made from water, sugar and fermented grain) over four decades and illustrates Pamuk's uncanny ability to evoke the ambience of modern Turkey.
Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006, becoming the first Turk to have won a Nobel Prize.
Sidebar: Evliya Çelebi
One of the giants of Turkish literature was Evliya Çelebi, who travelled the Ottoman realm for 40 years and produced a 10-volume travelogue from 1630. A recent edition, An Ottoman Traveller, presents a selection of his quirky observations.
Even in the era of YouTube and pervasive Western cultural influences, Turkish musical traditions and styles have remained strong and home-grown stars continue to emerge.
Pop, Rock, Experimental
You'll hear Turkish pop everywhere: in taxis, bars and long-distance buses. With its skittish rhythms and strident vocals, it's undeniably energetic and distinctive.
Sezen Aksu is lauded as the queen of Turkish pop music, releasing a string of albums in diverse styles since the 1970s. However, it is Tarkan, the pretty-boy pop star, who has achieved most international recognition. His 1994 album, A-acayıpsin, sold mightily in Turkey and Europe, establishing him as Turkey's biggest-selling pop sensation. 'Şımarık', released in 1999, became his first European number one. He continues to release albums and his metrosexual hip-swivelling ensures he remains a household name in Turkey.
Burhan Öçal is one of the country's finest percussionists. His seminal New Dream is a funky take on classical Turkish music, and his Trakya All-Stars albums are investigations of the music of his native Thrace.
Mercan Dede has released a string of albums incorporating traditional instruments and electronic beats. In a similar vein, BaBa ZuLa create a fusion of dub, saz (Turkish lute) and pop – accompanied by live belly dancing.
Notable rock bands include Duman and Mor ve Ötesi. maNga create an intriguing mix of metal, rock and Anatolian folk. Their 2012 album e-akustik is worth seeking out.
Turkish folk music includes various subgenres that may be indistinguishable to Western ears. Ensembles consist of saz (a traditional stringed instrument, similar to a lute) accompanied by various drums and flutes. Arrangements include plaintive vocals and swelling choruses. Names to look out for include female Kurdish singers Aynur Doğan and the ululating Rojin, whose hit 'Hejaye' has an addictive, singalong chorus.
Fasıl is a lightweight version of Ottoman classical. This is the music you hear at meyhanes (taverns), usually played by gypsies. This skittish music is played with clarinet, kanun (zither), darbuka (a drum shaped like an hourglass), ud (Arabic lute) and violin.
Feature: A Beginners' Guide to Turkish Music
These are our picks to start your collection.
- Turkish Groove (compilation) Must-have introduction to Turkish music, with all the big names.
- Crossing the Bridge: the Sound of İstanbul (compilation) Soundtrack to a documentary about İstanbul's music scene.
- Işık Doğdan Yükselir – Sezen Aksu (contemporary folk) Stunning collection drawing on regional folk styles.
- Nefes – Mercan Dede (Sufi-electronic-techno fusion) Highly danceable synthesis of beats and Sufi mysticism.
- Duble Oryantal – Baba Zula (fusion) Baba Zula's classic, 'Belly Double', mixed by British dub master Mad Professor.
- Gipsy Rum – Burhan Öçal and İstanbul Oriental Ensemble (gypsy) A thigh-slapping introduction to Turkey's gypsy music.
A favourite of taxi drivers across Turkey is arabesk, an Arabic-influenced blend of crooning backed by string choruses and rippling percussion.
The two biggest names in arabesk are the hugely successful Kurdish singer İbrahim Tatlıses, a burly, moustachioed, former construction worker who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, and Orhan Gencebay, a prolific artist and actor.
Turkey has long been a favoured location for foreign filmmakers: the James Bond pic Skyfall (2012) and the Liam Neeson thriller Taken 2 (2012) include scenes shot in İstanbul while Russell Crowe's The Water Diviner (2014) is both set and shot in Turkey.
The Turkish film industry itself came of age in the 1960s and '70s, when films with a political edge were being made alongside innumerable lightweight Bollywood-style movies, labelled Yeşilcam movies. During the 1980s, the film industry went into decline as TV siphoned off audiences, but during the 1990s Turkish cinema re-emerged.
Yılmaz Güney was the first Turkish filmmaker to attract international attention. Joint winner of the best film award at Cannes in 1982, his film Yol explored the dilemmas of men on weekend-release from prison, a tragic tale that Turks were forbidden to watch until 2000. Güney's uncompromising stance led to confrontations with authorities and several stints in prison. He died in exile in France in 1984.
Turkish directors have comedic flair, too. Yılmaz Erdoğan's Vizontele is a wry look at the arrival of the first TV in Hakkari, a remote town in the southeast. Düğün Dernek is similarly quirky and entertaining. Ferzan Özpetek received international acclaim for Hamam (Turkish Bath), which follows a Turk living in Italy who reluctantly travels to İstanbul after he inherits a hamam.
Fatih Akin captured the spotlight after winning the Golden Bear award at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival with Duvara Karşı (Head On), a gripping telling of Turkish immigrant life in Germany. He followed this with Edge of Heaven, again pondering the Turkish experience in Germany. In 2010 Semih Kaplanoğlu won the Golden Bear award with Bal (Honey), a coming-of-age tale in the Black Sea region; while Reha Erdem's Jîn is an intriguing allegory.
In 2015 Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven caused quite a stir with her critically acclaimed and controversial debut film Mustang, which tells the story of five sisters rebelling against their family's conservatism. The film went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Feature: A Cinema Auteur in Anatolia
Internationally, Nuri Bilge Ceylan has become the most widely recognised Turkish director. Since emerging in 2002 with Uzak (Distant), a meditation on the lives of migrants in Turkey, he has been a consistent favourite at international film festivals. Uzak won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2003; he also won best director at Cannes in 2008 for Üç Maymun (Three Monkeys).
His 2011 release, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, with brooding landscape shots and quirky dialogue, is an intriguing all-night search for a corpse in the Turkish backwoods. In 2014 he won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival with Winter Sleep. He is the first Turkish director to win since Yılmaz Güney.
Sidebar: Magnificent Century
One of Turkey's biggest cultural exports in recent years has been Muhteșem Yüzyıl (literally 'Magnificent Century'), a sumptuous TV series detailing the life and loves of sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, which has attracted an enormous audience in Turkey and elsewhere.
Sidebar: International Antalya Film Festival
The biggest cinema event in the Turkish calendar, the International Antalya Film Festival (www.altinportakal.org.tr) brings together film industry figures, glitterati and a range of Turkish and international films, for a week in December.
Turkey does not have a long tradition of painting or portraiture. Turks channelled their artistic talents into textile- and carpet-making, as well as ebru (paper marbling), calligraphy and ceramics. İznik became a centre for tile production from the 16th century. The exuberant tiles that adorn İstanbul's Blue Mosque and other Ottoman-era mosques hail from İznik. You'll find examples of ebru, calligraphy and ceramics in bazaars across Turkey.
İstanbul is the place to see what modern Turkish artists are up to. İstanbul Modern is one of the country's best modern art galleries, but the small private art galleries along İstiklal Caddesi are worth seeing, too.
Ara Güler is one of Turkey's most respected photographers. For almost 60 years he has documented Turkish life; his Ara Güler's İstanbul is a poignant photographic record of the great city.
Sidebar: Nomads in Anatolia
A magnificent collection of images gathered over decades, Nomads in Anatolia by Harald Böhmer and Josephine Powell looks at the lost nomadic traditions of textile- and carpet-making in Anatolia. Difficult to find but hugely rewarding.
Turkey boasts a range of folk dances, ranging from the frenetic to the hypnotic, and Turks tend to be enthusiastic and unselfconscious dancers, swivelling hips and shaking shoulders in ways entirely different from Western dance styles.
Folk dance can be divided into several broad categories. Originally a dance of central Anatolia, the halay is led by a dancer waving a handkerchief, and can be seen especially at weddings and in meyhanes (taverns) when everyone has downed plenty of rakı. The horon, from the Black Sea region, is most eye catching – it involves plenty of Cossack-style kicking.
The sema (dervish ceremony) of the whirling dervishes is not unique to Turkey, but it's here that you are most likely to see it performed.
Sidebar: Belly Dancing
Belly dancing may not have originated in Turkey, but Turkish women have mastered the art, reputedly dancing with the least inhibition and the most revealing costumes.
Sidebar: Panoramic Photographs of Turkey
Panoramic Photographs of Turkey, by noted film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is a limited-edition book of stunningly beautiful images of Turkish landscapes and cityscapes.
Turkey has a population of almost 80 million, the great majority of whom are Muslim and Turkish. Kurds form the largest minority, but there is an assortment of other groups – both Muslim and non-Muslim – leading some to say Turkey is comprised of 40 nations. Whether Muslim or Christian, Turkish, Kurdish or otherwise, the peoples of Turkey tend to be family-focused, easy going, hospitable, gregarious and welcoming.
The first mentions of the Turks were in medieval Chinese sources, which record them as the Tujue in 6th-century Mongolia. The modern Turks descended from Central Asian tribes that moved westward through Eurasia over 1000 years ago. As such the Turks retain cultural links with various peoples through southern Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, the nations of Central Asia and western China.
As they moved westward Turkic groups encountered the Persians and converted to Islam. The Seljuks established the Middle East's first Turkic empire. The Seljuks' defeat of the Byzantines in 1071 opened up Anatolia to wandering Turkish groups, accelerating the westward drift of the Turks. Over succeeding centuries, Anatolia became the core of the Ottoman Empire and of the modern Turkish Republic. During the Ottoman centuries, Turkish rule extended into southeast Europe so today there are people of Turkish descent in Cyprus, Iraq, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Ukraine.
Shared ancestry with peoples in Central Asia and the Balkans means that Turks can merrily chat to locals all the way from Novi Pazar in Serbia to Kashgar in China. Turkish is one of the Turkic languages, a family of languages spoken by over 150 million people across Eurasia.
Kurds have lived for millennia in the mountains where the modern borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria meet. Turkey's Kurdish minority is estimated at over 15 million people. Sparsely populated southeastern Anatolia is home to perhaps eight million Kurds, while seven million more live elsewhere in the country, largely integrated into mainstream Turkish society. The majority of Turkish Kurds are Sunni Muslims.
Despite having lived side by side with Turks for centuries, the Kurds retain a distinct culture and folklore and speak a language related to Persian. Some Kurds claim descent from the Medes of ancient Persia. The Kurds have their own foundation myth which is associated with Nevruz, the Persian New Year (21 March).
The struggle between Kurds and Turks has been very well documented. Kurds fought alongside the Turks during the battle for independence in the 1920s, but they were not guaranteed rights as a minority under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The Turkish state was decreed to be homogeneous – inhabited solely by Turks – hence the Kurds were denied a cultural existence. After the fragmentation, along ethnic lines, of the Ottoman Empire, such an approach may have seemed prudent, but as the Kurds were so numerous problems swiftly arose.
Until the start of the 21st century, the Turkish government refused to recognise the existence of the Kurds, insisting they were 'Mountain Turks'. Even today the census form and identity cards do not allow anyone to identify as Kurdish. However, this lack of recognition has begun to be addressed in recent years and there are now Kurdish newspapers, books and media outlets, and the Kurdish language is taught in some schools.
The results of the June 2015 elections, when the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples' Democratic Party) led by Figen Yüksekdağ and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş won 13% of the vote, seemed indicative of a greater acceptance of Kurdish voices within Turkey as a whole but resulted in the AKP government turning its back on many of the political concessions it had previously offered to the Kurdish community, leading to a resurgence in Kurdish anti-government feeling and political activism.
Turkey is home to several other Muslim minorities, both indigenous and recent arrivals, most of whom are regarded as Turks, but who nonetheless retain aspects of their culture and native tongue.
Laz & Hemşin
The Black Sea region is home to the Laz and Hemşin peoples, two of the largest Muslim minorities after the Kurds.
The Laz mainly inhabit the valleys between Trabzon and Rize. East of Trabzon you can't miss the women in their maroon-striped shawls. Laz men were once among the most feared of Turkish warriors. Once Christian but now Muslim, the Laz are a Caucasian people speaking a language related to Georgian. They are renowned for their sense of humour and business acumen.
Like the Laz, the Hemşin were originally Christian. They mainly come from the far-eastern end of the Black Sea coast, although perhaps no more than 15,000 still live there; most have migrated to the cities where they earn a living as bread and pastry cooks. In and around Ayder, Hemşin women are easily identified by their leopard-print scarves coiled into elaborate headdresses.
The last link to the wandering Turkic groups who arrived in Anatolia in the 11th century, the Yörük maintain a nomadic lifestyle around the Taurus Mountains. Named from the verb yürümek (to walk), the Yörük move herds of sheep between summer and winter pastures.
In Turkey's far southeast, along the Syrian border, there are communities of Arabic speakers. Throughout Turkey there are also various Muslim groups that arrived from the Caucasus and the Balkans during the later years of the Ottoman Empire. These include Circassians, Abkhazians, Crimean Tatars, Bosnians, and Uighurs from China.
The Ottoman Empire was notable for its large Christian and Jewish populations. These have diminished considerably in the last century.
There has been a Jewish presence in Anatolia for over 2000 years. A large influx of Jews arrived in the 16th century, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Today most of Turkey's Jews live in İstanbul, and a few still speak Ladino, a Judaeo-Spanish language.
Armenians have lived in Anatolia for a very long time; a distinct Armenian people existed by the 4th century, when they became the first nation to collectively convert to Christianity. The Armenians created their own alphabet and established various kingdoms in the borderlands between Byzantine, Persian and Ottoman empires. Until 1915 there were significant communities throughout Anatolia. The controversy surrounding the Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire means that relations between Turks and Armenians remain predominantly sour. About 70,000 Armenians still live in Turkey, mainly in İstanbul and in pockets in Anatolia, particularly Diyarbakır.
Turkish-Armenian relations are tense, but there are signs of rapprochement. In the last decade Armenian churches on Akdamar Island and in Diyarbakır have been refurbished. There have been services held in the refurbished churches (annually on Akdamar) attracting Armenian worshippers from across the border.
The Greeks are Turkey's other significant Christian minority. Greek populations once lived throughout the Ottoman realm, but after the population exchanges of the early Republican era and acrimonious events in the 1950s, the Greeks were reduced to a small community in İstanbul.
Rugged southeastern Anatolia is also home to ancient Christian communities. These include adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who speak Aramaic and whose historical homeland is Tür Abdin, east of Mardin. There are also some Chaldean Catholics remaining in Diyarbakır.
Feature: In the Family Way
Turks retain a strong sense of family and community. One endearing habit is to use familial titles to embrace friends, acquaintances and even strangers. A teacher may address his student as çocuğum (my child); passers-by call elderly men in the street amca (uncle); and elderly women are comfortable being called teyze (auntie) by strangers.
Males and females of all ages address older men and women as abi (older brother) and abla (older sister), which is charming in its simplicity. It's also common for children to call elder male family friends dede (grandfather).
These terms are a sign of respect but also of inclusiveness. Perhaps this intimacy explains how the sense of community persists amid the tower blocks of sprawling cities, where most Turks now live.
Feature: Islam in Turkey
For many travellers, Turkey is their first experience of Islam. While it may seem 'foreign', Islam actually shares much with Christianity and Judaism. Like Christians, Muslims believe that Allah (God) created the world, pretty much according to the biblical account. They also revere Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets, although they don't believe Jesus was divine. Muslims call Jews and Christians 'People of the Book', meaning those with a revealed religion (in the Torah and Bible) that preceded Islam.
Where Islam differs from Christianity and Judaism is in the belief that Islam is the 'perfection' of these earlier traditions. Although Moses and Jesus were prophets, Mohammed was the greatest and last, to whom Allah communicated his final revelation.
Islam has diversified into many versions over the centuries; however, the five 'pillars' of Islam – the profession of faith, daily prayers, alms giving, the fasting month of Ramazan, pilgrimage to Mecca – are shared by the entire Muslim community.
Islam is the most widely held belief in Turkey, however many Turks take a relaxed approach to religious duties and practices. Fasting during Ramazan is widespread and Islam's holy days and festivals are observed, but for many Turks Islamic holidays are the only times they'll visit a mosque. Turkish Muslims have also absorbed and adapted other traditions over the years, so it's not uncommon to see Muslims praying at Greek Orthodox shrines, while the Alevis, a heterodox Muslim minority, have developed a tradition combining elements of Anatolian folklore, Sufism and Shia Islam.
Feature: Separatism or the 'Brotherhood' of Peoples?
In 1978 Abdullah Öcalan formed the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which became the most enduring – and violent – Kurdish organisation that Turkey had seen. The PKK remains outlawed. Many Kurds, while not necessarily supporting the demands of the PKK for a separate Kurdish state, wanted to be able to read newspapers in their own language, teach their children their language and watch Kurdish TV. The Turkish government reacted to the PKK's violent tactics and territorial demands by branding calls for Kurdish rights as 'separatism'. Strife escalated until much of southeastern Anatolia was in a permanent state of emergency. After 15 years of fighting and suffering and the deaths of over 30,000 people, Öcalan was captured in Kenya in 1999.
In the early 2000s, following Öcalan's arrest, an increasingly reasoned approach by both the military and government went some way towards making progress on the 'Kurdish question'. In 2002 the Turkish government approved broadcasts in Kurdish and gave the go-ahead for Kurdish to be taught in language schools, and emergency rule was lifted in the southeast. The government's 2009 'Kurdish opening' was an attempt to address the social and political roots of the issue.The creation of TRT6, a government-funded Kurdish-language TV channel, was hailed as a positive initiative. In early 2013 the government entered into negotiations with Öcalan, which resulted in both sides announcing an end to the armed struggle.
But the ceasefire wouldn't hold. By mid-2015, with the war in Syria spilling over Turkey's border, violence between government forces and the PKK erupted again. By the end of the year tit-for-tat skirmishes had descended into drawn-out urban clashes in several cities in eastern Turkey. More than 200,000 people have been displaced by the current fighting, irreparable damage has been caused to historic city centres such as Diyarbakır, and the conflict reverberated through the entirety of Turkey in 2016 with a series of deadly bomb attacks on Ankara, Bursa and İstanbul claimed by TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Falcons; a PKK splinter group). In the current climate, the hope of finally resolving and ending the 40-year conflict seems a long way off.
Sidebar: International Turkish Language Olympiad
The International Turkish Language Olympiad, run annually since 2003, attracts students from over 130 countries to compete in poetry recitations, theatrical productions and essay writing competitions – all in Turkish.
Sidebar: Descendants of Japheth
Various (not exactly academically rigorous) theories state that the Turks are descendants of Japheth, the grandson of Noah. The Ottomans themselves claimed that Osman could trace his genealogy back through 52 generations to Noah.
Sidebar: The Turkic Speaking Peoples
The Turkic Speaking Peoples, edited by Ergün Çağatay and Doğan Kuban, is a monumental doorstop of a volume investigating, in full colour, the traditions and cultures of Turkic groups across Eurasia.
Sidebar: A Modern History of the Kurds
A Modern History of the Kurds by David McDowall investigates the plight of Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, examining how they have fared over the last two centuries as modern states have arisen in the Middle East.
Small numbers of Turkish Kurds profess the Yazidi faith, a complex mix of indigenous beliefs and Sufi tradition, in which Melek Taus – a peacock angel – is seen as an earthly guardian appointed by God.
Sidebar: Syriac People
The short documentary Mountain of Servants by Daniel Lombroso takes a look at how the Mardin region's dwindling community of Syriac Christians attempt to keep their heritage alive.
Sidebar: Urban Drift
Since the 1950s there has been a steady movement of people into urban areas, so today 70% of the population lives in cities. Cities such as İstanbul have turned into pervasive sprawls, their historic hearts encircled by rings of largely unplanned new neighbourhoods.
Turkey hosts the largest refugee population in the world with an estimated 2.5 million refugees within its borders. Most are from Syria but there are also substantial communities from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Turkey has one foot in Europe and another in Asia, its two parts separated by İstanbul's famous Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles. Given this position at the meeting of continents, Turkey has a rich environment with flora and fauna ranging from Kangal dogs to purple bougainvillea. Unfortunately, the country faces the unenviable challenge of balancing environmental management with rapid economic growth and urbanisation, and to date it's done a sloppy job.
Boasting 7200km of coastline, snowcapped mountains, rolling steppes, vast lakes and broad rivers, Turkey is stupendously diverse. Eastern Thrace (European Turkey) makes up a mere 3% of its 769,632 sq km land area; the remaining 97% is Anatolia (Asian Turkey).
The country's western edge is the Aegean coast, lined with coves and beaches and the Aegean islands, most belonging to Greece and within a few kilometres of mainland Turkey. Inland, western Anatolia has the vast Lake District and Uludağ (Great Mountain, 2543m), one of over 50 Turkish peaks above 2000m.
The Mediterranean coast is backed by the jagged Taurus Mountains. East of Antalya, it opens up into a fertile plain before the mountains close in again after Alanya.
Central Anatolia consists of a vast high plateau of rolling steppes, broken by mountain ranges and Cappadocia's fantastical valleys of fairy chimneys (rock formations).
Like the Mediterranean, the Black Sea is often hemmed in by mountains, and the coastline is frequently rugged and vertiginous. At the eastern end, Mt Kaçkar (Kaçkar Dağı; 3937m) is the highest point in the Kaçkar range, where peaks and glaciers ring mountain lakes and yaylalar (mountain pastures).
Mountainous and somewhat forbidding, the rest of northeastern Anatolia is also wildly beautiful, from Yusufeli's valleys via the steppes around Kars to snowcapped Mt Ararat (Ağrı Dağı; 5137m), dominating the area bordering Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Southeastern Anatolia offers windswept rolling steppe, jagged outcrops of rock, and the extraordinary alkaline, mountain-ringed Lake Van (Van Gölü).
In theory, you could see bears, deer, jackals, caracal, wild boars and wolves, although you're unlikely to spot any wild animals unless you're trekking.
Some 400 species of bird are found in Turkey, with about 250 of these passing through on migration from Africa to Europe. Spring and autumn are particularly good times to see the feathered commuters. Eager birdwatchers flock here to spot wallcreepers, masked shrike and Rüppell's warbler, and to tick the elusive Caspian snowcock off their list. There are several kuş cennetler (bird sanctuaries) dotted about the country.
Anatolia's lions, beavers and Caspian tigers are extinct, and its lynx, striped hyena and Anatolian leopard have all but disappeared. A leopard was shot in Diyarbakır province in 2013, following a dramatic clifftop battle with a shepherd; the only previous sightings were in Siirt province in 2010 and outside Beypazarı in 1974. Another feline, the beautiful, pure-white Van cat, often with one blue and one amber eye, has also become endangered in its native Turkey. In good news, a rebreeding program at Birecik's semi-wild colony of northern bald ibis has managed to raise population numbers of this critically endangered bird up to 205.
Rare loggerhead turtles nest on various Mediterranean beaches, including Anamur, Patara, İztuzu Beach at Dalyan, and the Göksu Delta. A few rare Mediterranean monk seals live around Foça, but you would be lucky to see them. Greenpeace has criticised Turkey for not following international fishing quotas relating to Mediterranean bluefin tuna, which is facing extinction.
Turkey is one of the world's most biodiverse temperate-zone countries. Not only does its fertile soil produce an incredible range of fruit and vegetables, it is blessed with an exceptionally rich flora: over 9000 species, over a third endemic and many found nowhere else on earth.
Common trees and plants are pine, cypress, myrtle, laurel, rosemary, lavender, thyme and, on the coast, purple bougainvillea, introduced from South America. Isparta is one of the world's leading producers of attar of roses, a valuable oil extracted from rose petals and used in perfumes and cosmetics.
National Parks & Reserves
In recent years, thanks to EU aspirations, Turkey has stepped up its environmental protection practices. It has 14 Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance) and is a member of Cites, which covers international trade of endangered species. There are now almost 100 areas designated as milli parkıs (national parks), nature reserves and nature parks, where the environment is supposedly protected, and hunting controlled. Sometimes the regulations are carefully enforced, but in other cases problems such as litter-dropping picnickers persist.
Tourism is not well developed in the national parks, which are rarely well set up with facilities. It is not the norm for footpaths to be clearly marked, and camping spots are often unavailable. Most of the well-frequented national parks are as popular for their historic monuments as they are for the surrounding natural environment.
Inadequate enforcement of environmental laws, lack of finances and poor education have placed the environment a long way down Turkey's list of priorities. But there are glimmers of improvement, largely due to the country endeavouring to comply with EU environmental legislation.
The government's plan to build two nuclear power plants by 2023 is one of the biggest current issues for Turkey's environmentalists. Despite local protests, the initial construction phase for the site of the Akkuyu plant (on the eastern Mediterranean coast) has begun while the second site, at the Black Sea town of Sinop, remains in the proposal stage. The community-run organisation Sinop is Ours (www.sinopbizim.org) remains a vocal opponent to the project. The country's seismic vulnerabilities increase the risk posed by nuclear reactors, but more plants are set to follow.
The government says the plants will aid economic growth and and reduce dependency on natural gas supplies from Russia and Iran. Electricity consumption is increasing by about 6% a year in Turkey, which only has significant domestic supplies of coal.
One of the biggest environmental challenges facing Turkey is the threat from maritime traffic along the Bosphorus. The 1936 Montreux Convention decreed that, although Turkey has sovereignty over the strait, it must permit the free passage of shipping through it. At that time, perhaps a few thousand ships a year passed through, but this has risen to over 45,000 vessels annually; around 10% are tankers, which carry over 100 million tonnes of hazardous substances through the strait every year.`
There have already been serious accidents, such as the 1979 Independenta collision with another vessel, which killed 43 people and spilt and burnt some 95,000 tonnes of oil (around 2½ times the amount spilt by the famous Exxon Valdez in Alaska). Following the Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010, the Turkish government renewed its efforts to find alternative routes for oil transportation. Its ambitious plans include a US$12 billion canal to divert tankers, which would see the creation of two new cities by the Bosphorus and the world's largest airport. There is already an 1800km-long pipeline between Baku, Azerbaijan and the Turkish eastern Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, and another pipeline is planned between Samsun and Ceyhan.
Rampant development is taking a terrible toll on the environment. Mega-construction projects, including İstanbul's recently completed Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge and the ongoing construction of the city's third airport, are contributing to mass deforestation in the Bosphorus region. On the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, spots such as Kuşadası and Marmaris (once pleasant fishing villages) have been overwhelmed by urban sprawl and are in danger of losing all appeal.
Short of water and electricity, Turkey is one of the world's major builders of dams. There are already more than 600 dams and many more on the way, with controversy surrounding new and proposed developments. The gigantic Southeastern Anatolia Project, known as GAP, is one of Turkey's major construction efforts. Harnessing the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, it's creating a potential political time bomb, causing friction with the arid countries downstream that also depend on this water. Iraq, Syria and Georgia have all protested, and a UN report said the project is in danger of violating human rights.
Inside Turkey itself, one of the most controversial components of the GAP project is the İlisu Dam, which is scheduled to submerge the historic town of Hasankeyf by 2019. Due to the project plans, the town featured on the World Monuments Watch list of the planet's 100 most endangered sites in 2008 (not the first or last time Turkey has appeared on the list). Despite both local and international opposition, work towards the dam completion continues to steamroll ahead. Although the town's major monuments – relics of a time it was a Silk Road commercial centre on the border of Anatolia and Mesapotamia – are now hidden under a layer of scaffolding, readying to be moved to higher ground, it's estimated that 80% of the town's ruins will vanish under the dam water, along with their atmospheric setting on the Tigris river and dozens of other villages. Up to 80,000 people will be displaced, many of them Kurds and minority groups.
In northeast Anatolia a separate dam project harnessing the Çorah River has already changed the face of the region's valley landscapes and signalled the end of the river's white-water rafting activities. The opening of the project's Yusefeli Dam (scheduled for 2019) will see the current town of Yusefeli disappear beneath the water.
The ruins of the world's oldest-known spa settlement, Allianoi, disappeared beneath the waters of the Yortanlı Dam in 2011. A last-ditch appeal from the tenor Plácido Domingo, president of the European cultural heritage federation Europa Nostra, failed to save the 2nd-century Roman spa near Bergama.
Turkey's environmental shortcomings are vast. Blue recycling bins are an increasingly common sight on the streets of İstanbul, but the government still has a long way to go in terms of educating its citizens and businesses.
The country's once-rich fishing waterways are in rapid decline due to commercial overfishing and water pollution. A recent seasonal fishing ban enforced during the summer months is seen by many as shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Despite the potential for renewable energy in Turkey, 80 new coal-fired power plants are on the proposal table to keep up with the country's expanding development needs.
Issues for Turkey to address as part of its bid to join the EU include water treatment, waste-water disposal, food safety, soil erosion, deforestation, degradation of biodiversity, air quality, industrial pollution control and risk management, climate change and nature protection.
The documentary Polluting Paradise is a poignant comment on Turkey's environmental issues, telling the heartbreaking story of director Fatih Akın's father's village, which was wrecked by a waste landfill site.
Feature: Earthquake Danger
Turkey lies on at least three active earthquake fault lines: the North Anatolian, the East Anatolian and the Aegean. Most of Turkey lies south of the North Anatolian fault line, which runs roughly parallel with the Black Sea coast. As the Arabian and African plates to the south push northward, the Anatolian plate is shoved into the Eurasian plate and squeezed west towards Greece.
More than 25 major earthquakes, measuring up to 7.8 on the Richter scale, have been recorded since 1939. A 7.6-magnitude quake in 1999 hit İzmit (Kocaeli) and Adapazarı (Sakarya) in northwestern Anatolia, killing more than 18,000. A 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook Van in 2011, killing more than 600, injuring over 4000 and damaging over 11,000 buildings, with thousands left homeless.
If a major quake struck İstanbul, much of the city would be devastated, due to unlicensed, jerry-built construction. When a 4.4-magnitude earthquake hit in 2010, no deaths or damage were caused, but it highlighted how ill-prepared the city was, with many locals hitting the phone and social networking sites rather than evacuating their houses.
Feature: Popular Parks
The following are among the most popular parks with foreign visitors to Turkey. Visit the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism (www.turizm.gov.tr) for more information.
- Gallipoli Historical National Park Historic battlefield sites on a gloriously unspoilt peninsula surrounded by coves.
- Göreme National Park An extraordinary landscape of valleys speckled with fairy chimneys.
- Kaçkar Dağları Milli Parkı (Kaçkar Mountains National Park) Stunning mountain range with excellent trekking trails.
- Köprülü Kanyon National Park (Bridge Canyon National Park) Dramatic canyon with spectacular scenery and white-water rafting facilities.
- Nemrut Dağı National Park (Mt Nemrut National Park) Pre-Roman stone heads surmounting a man-made mound with wonderful views.
- Saklıkent National Park Famous for its 18km-long gorge.
Feature: Top Birdwatching Spots
- Çıldır Gölü (Çıldır Lake) Important breeding ground. Well off the beaten track, north of Kars in northeastern Anatolia.
- Göksu Delta Over 330 species have been recorded here, including the rare purple gallinule. Near Silifke.
- Sultan Marshes Vast wetland Ramsar site near Kayseri, boasting 250 species which over-winter or breed in the area.
The action of wind and water on tuff (rock composed of compressed volcanic ash, thrown for miles around by prehistoric eruptions) created Cappadocia's fairy chimneys. As traditional agriculture declines, the pigeon houses dotting the rock formations, once used to harvest the birds' droppings for use as fertiliser, are increasingly disused.
Sidebar: Nature Monuments
Turkey's 58 'nature monuments' are mostly protected trees, including 1500- to 2000-year-old cedars in Finike, southwest of Antalya; a 1000-year-old plane tree in İstanbul; and a 700-year-old juniper at 2100m near Gümüşhane, south of Trabzon.
Sidebar: Clean Beaches
Despite its environmental shortcomings, Turkey is doing well at beach cleanliness, with 444 beaches and 21 marinas qualifying for Blue Flag status; see www.blueflag.org. Dolphins survive in İstanbul's Bosphorus and the Anatolian wild sheep, unique to the Konya region, has protected status. Turkey also ratified the Kyoto protocol in 2009.
Sidebar: Kangal Dogs
Kangal dogs were originally bred to protect sheep from wolves and bears on mountain pastures. People wandering off the beaten track, especially in eastern Turkey, are sometimes startled by these huge, yellow-coated, black-headed animals, with optional spiked collar to protect against wolves. Their mongrel descendants live on Turkey's streets.
Southwest Turkey, especially around Köyceğiz, is one of the last remaining sources of Liquidambar orientalis (frankincense trees). Their resin, once used by the Egyptians in embalming, is exported for use in perfume and incense. The world's last remaining populations of Phoenix theophrastii (Datça palm) grow in southwest Turkey and Crete.
Food & Drink
In Turkey, meals are events to be celebrated. The national cuisine is made memorable by the use of fresh seasonal ingredients and a local expertise in grilling meat and fish that has been perfected over centuries. Here, kebaps are succulent, mezes are made daily, and freshly caught fish is expertly cooked over coals and served unadorned, accompanied by Turkey's famous aniseed-flavoured drink, rakı. When you eat out here, you're sure to finish your meal replete and satisfied.
What to Eat
Local produce makes its way from ground to table quickly here, ensuring freshness and flavour.
Mezes (small, tapas-like dishes) aren’t just a type of dish, they’re a whole eating experience. If you eat in a local household, your host may put out a few lovingly prepared mezes for guests to nibble on before the main course is served. In meyhanes (taverns), waiters heave around enormous trays full of cold mezes that customers can choose from – hot mezes are ordered from the menu. Mezes are usually vegetable-based, though seafood dishes can also feature.
Overall, the Turks are huge meat eaters, which can be a problem if you're a vegetarian. Beef, lamb, mutton, liver and chicken are prepared in a number of ways. The most famous of these is the kebap – şiş and döner – but köfte, saç kavurma (stir-fried cubed meat dishes) and güveç (meat and vegetable stews cooked in a terracotta pot) are just as common.
The most popular sausage in Turkey is the spicy beef sucuk. Garlicky pastırma (pressed beef preserved in spices) is regularly used as an accompaniment to egg dishes; it's occasionally served with warm hummus (chickpea, tahini and lemon dip) as a meze.
Fish is wonderful here, but can be pricey. In a balık restoran (fish restaurant) you should always try to do as the locals do and choose your own fish from the display. After doing this, the fish will be weighed, and the price computed at the day's per-kilogram rate.
Popular species include hamsi (anchovy), lüfer (bluefish), kalkan (turbot), levrek (sea bass), lahos (white grouper), mezgit (whiting), çipura (gilthead bream) and palamut (bonito).
Vegetables & Salads
Turks love vegetables, eating them fresh in summer and pickling them for winter (türşu means pickled vegetables). There are two particularly Turkish ways of preparing vegetables: the first is known as zeytinyağlı (sautéed in olive oil) and the second dolma (stuffed with rice or meat).
Simplicity is the key to Turkish salata (salads), with crunchy fresh ingredients being adorned with a shake of oil and vinegar at the table and eaten with gusto as a meze or as an accompaniment to a meat or fish main course.
Sugar, Spice & Everything Nice
Turks don't usually finish their meal with a dessert, preferring to serve fruit as a finale. Most of them love a mid-afternoon sugar hit, though, and will often pop into a muhallebici (milk-pudding shop), pastane (cake shop) or baklavacı (baklava shop) for a piece of syrup-drenched baklava, a plate of chocolate-crowned profiteroles or a fırın sütlaç (rice pudding) tasting of milk, sugar and just a hint of exotic spices. Other Turkish sweet specialties worth sampling are kadayıf, dough soaked in syrup and topped with a layer of kaymak (clotted cream); künefe, layers of kadayıf cemented together with sweet cheese, doused in syrup and served hot with a sprinkling of pistachio; and katmer, thin layers of pastry filled with kaymak and pistachio and served hot.
What to Drink
Turkey's most beloved tipple is rakı, a grape spirit infused with aniseed. Similar to Greek ouzo, it's served in long thin glasses and is drunk neat or with water, which turns the clear liquid chalky white; if you want to add ice (buz), do so after adding water, as dropping ice straight into rakı kills its flavour.
Bira (beer) is also popular. The local drop, Efes, is a perky pilsener that comes in bottles and cans and on tap.
Turkey grows and bottles its own şarap (wine), which has greatly improved in quality over the past decade but is quite expensive due to high government taxes. If you want red wine ask for kırmızı şarap; for white ask for beyaz şarap. Popular local varietals include boğazkere, a strong-bodied red; kalecik karası, an elegant red with an aroma of vanilla and cocoa; emir, a light and floral white; and narince, a fruity yet dry white.
Drinking çay is the national pastime, and the country's cup of choice is made with leaves from the Black Sea region. Sugar cubes are the only accompaniment and you'll find these are needed to counter the effects of long brewing, although you can always try asking for it açık (weaker).
The wholly chemical elma çay (apple tea) is caffeine-free and only for tourists – locals wouldn't be seen dead drinking the stuff.
Türk kahve (Turkish coffee) is a thick and powerful brew drunk in a couple of short sips. If you order a cup, you will be asked how sweet you like it – çok şekerli means 'very sweet', orta şekerli 'middling', az şekerli 'slightly sweet' and şekersiz or sade 'not at all'.
Ayran is a refreshing drink made by whipping yoghurt with water and salt; it's the traditional accompaniment to kebaps.
Sahlep is a hot milky drink that takes off the winter chill. Made from wild orchid bulbs, it's reputed to be an aphrodisiac.
Vegetarians & Vegans
Though it's normal for Turks to eat a vegetarian (vejeteryen) meal, the concept of vegetarianism is quite foreign to some locals. Say you're a vegan and many Turks will either look mystified or assume that you're admitting to some strain of socially aberrant behaviour.
The meze spread is usually dominated by vegetable dishes. Meat-free salads, soups, pastas, omelettes, pides and böreks, as well as hearty vegetable dishes, are all readily available. Ask 'etsiz yemek var mı?' ('is there something to eat that has no meat?') to see what's on offer.
acılı ezme spicy tomato and onion paste
Adana kebap spicy köfte wrapped around a flat skewer and grilled
alinazik eggplant puree with yoghurt and ground köfte
balık ekmek fish sandwich
beyti sarma spicy ground meat baked in a thin layer of bread
börek filled pastry (usually savoury)
büryan lamb slow-cooked in a pit
çacık yoghurt with cucumber and mint
çiğ köfte raw ground lamb mixed with pounded bulgur, onion, clove, cinnamon, salt and hot black pepper
çoban salatası shepherd’s salad
döner kebap spit-roasted lamb slices
fava salatası mashed broad-bean paste
fıstıklı kebap minced lamb studded with pistachios
gözleme stuffed flatbreads
haydari yoghurt with roasted aubergine (eggplant) and garlic
hünkâr beğendi beef cubes on a bed of pureed aubergine
imam bayıldı aubergine (eggplant), onion, tomato and peppers slow-cooked in olive oil
içli köfte ground lamb and onion with a bulgur coating
işkembe çorbası tripe soup
İskender (Bursa) kebap döner kebap on fresh pide and topped with tomato sauce and browned butter
karıışık izgara mixed grilled lamb
kısır bulgar salad
kokoreç seasoned lamb or mutton intestines wrapped around a skewer and grilled over charcoal
köfte meatballs; izgara köfte means grilled meatballs
kuru fasulye haricot beans cooked in a spicy tomato sauce
lahmacun Arabic-style pizza
mantı Turkish ravioli
mercimek çorbası lentil soup
muhammara dip of walnuts, bread, red peppers and lemon juice; also known as acuka or civizli biber
pastırma pressed beef preserved in spices
patlıcan kebap cubed or minced lamb grilled with aubergine (eggplant)
patlıcan kızartması salad of fried aubergine [eggplant] with tomato
perde pılavı a wedding dish made with chicken, rooster, rice and almonds and encased in pastry
pide Turkish-style pizza
piyaz white-bean salad
sigara böreği deep-fried cigar-shaped pastries, often stuffed with cheese
şiş kebap roast skewered meat
su böreği lasagne-like layered pastry laced with white cheese and parsley
tavuk şiş chicken kebap
testı kebapı meat and vegetable stew slow-cooked in a sealed terracotta pot
tokat kebap 'pottery kebab'; garlicky lamb, potato and eggplant kebap
Urfa kebap a mild version of the Adana kebap served with lots of onion and black pepper
yaprak sarma/yaprak dolması stuffed vine leaves
The Turks say 'Afiyet olsun' ('May it be good for your health') before starting to eat. After the meal, they say 'Elinize sağlık' ('Health to your hands') to compliment the host or hostess on their cooking.
Sidebar: Culinary Descriptions
The Ottomans were masters of the evocative culinary description, inventing such delights as 'Ladies' Thighs', 'The Sultan's Delight', 'Harem Navel' and 'Nightingale Nests'.
Sidebar: Turkey's Favourite Tipple
What is the Turks' favourite tipple? That depends on your political persuasion. Many Western-oriented Turks says it is the aniseed-flavoured, alcoholic rakı, while more religious Turks, including the prime minister, say it is yoghurt-based ayran.
- 'Yes' is a slight downward nod.
- 'No' is a click of the tongue ("tsk") accompanied by raised eyebrows and a slight upward nod.
- Turks are tactile. Body contact with someone of the same gender isn't necessarily a come on.
- The 'OK' sign (an "o" with your thumb and forefinger) is a rude gesture indicating homosexuality.