Great societies have lived in Turkey for millennium. No matter where you go there are ruins of these past empires and civilizations. When making a circular route within a country by motorcycle the primary objective changes. Our normal mode is to head in a general direction and burn up miles on our way around the world but for Turkey we are sightseeing for the joy of it and we ended up where we started, Istanbul. Our loop around western Turkey is like a string of pearls. Each pearl is something we want to see and the string is the choice of roads to connect each pearl. The sights we chose in Turkey were primarily historically significant ancient cities with a few natural wonders thrown in for good measure.
We left Istanbul and headed northeast for the Black Sea, then south to Cappadocia (see On the Road in Turkey for the pearls of the Cappadocia area), west through the mountains of Central and Western Anatolia, and finally north to the Sea of Marmara and back to Istanbul. We will airfreight our bikes (and ourselves) to Nepal from Istanbul. We took a month to make our Turkey circuit and felt like we had barely scratched the surface.
Special thanks to Lonely Planet Turkey for the help with dates, some of the historical contexts, and a wee bit of paraphrasing on my part.
Hattusa was the capital of the Hittie kingdom. At its zenith it was one of the most powerful empires in the world stretching from Syria to Europe. The great temple of Hattusa dates from the 14th century BC, very old indeed! The ruins are located in a stunning mountain valley and the scenery alone was worth the trip.
This city was founded around 1200 BC and grew from there. Alexander the Great took it in 300 BC and the city prospered under Roman rule. Plague, earthquakes, and disasters over the centuries took their toll and by the 7th century AD Sagalassos was abandoned. The ruins are high in the mountains and rarely visited. We had the entire city to ourselves on the day we visited, the solitude making this our favorite historical city on our tour of Turkey.
This ancient Roman/Byzantine spa city was famous for its baths and healing waters. Greeks, Romans, Jews, Pagans, and Christians peacefully co-existed here. The region is prone to earthquakes and after repeated disasters the city was finally abandoned in 1334 AD, 1500 years after it was founded.
The museum at Aphrodisias is one of the best we have seen in Turkey and most of the significant artistic finds from the city are actually on-site rather than being carted away to museums in Istanbul or foreign nations. The city began around 5000 BC as a prehistoric mound and by the 3rd century AD Aphrodisias became the provincial capitol of Roman Caria. The site is remote and even on the busiest day not many tourists make it out here. The site is large and somewhat unkempt, perfect for exploring in solitude and wonder.
Ephesus was the capital of Roman Asia Minor and was a vibrant city of more than 250,000 people. This ancient site is one of the most visited by tourists and you will not relish in the solitude found at other sites in Turkey. The upside to the tourist masses is a lot of time and effort has been put into restoring this site and 150 years of excavations have made Ephesus one of the most completed classical city in Europe, and that is with only 20% of the city uncovered so far!
Sardis (or Sardes) is a little visited ruin that was once the capital of the powerful Lydian kingdom that dominated much of the area before the Persians arrived. It is also the site of one of the Seven Churches of the Revelation (or Apocalypse). There is a large synagogue that includes beautiful geometric mosaic paving and colored stone on the walls. Jews settled here as early as 547 BC. This was a roadside stop in the middle of nowhere and once again we were the only visitors at the site.
Between the period of Alexander the Great and Roman domination of Asia Minor Pergamum was one of the richest and most powerful small kingdoms. The ruins of Pergamun are a UNESCO World Heritage site and its mountain top splendor is magnificent.
We toured the Pergamum Acropolis, which sits high on a hill and is about five kilometers from the Red Church (another of the seven churches of the Apocalypse). Fortunately there is a cable-car gondola that makes the trek uphill to the Acropolis a breeze. We chose to take the ride one way up and explore our way back to the town of Bergama over the course of a few hours.