The 13 best places to visit in Eastern Turkey

 

In the extreme east of the country close to the border with Armenia is the ruined medieval city of Ani. In the 10th century it was the capital of the Bagratid Armenian Kingdom, situated on various trade routes that included the Silk Road it was renowned for it's splendor and magnificence, at the time it's religious buildings, palaces and fortifications were among the most technically and artistically advanced structures on the planet. Though the area today sits within Turkey, it remains a cultural, religious and national heritage symbol for Armenians and a reminder of their past greatness. With the remains of over seven centuries of medieval architecture the ancient city of Ani has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is Ani Cathedral.

13. Ani

 

Close to the centre of the country near the southern border with Syria are the remains of Göbekli Tepe, meaning Pot Belly Hill. Situated on an artificial mound the site contains circles of enormous T shaped stone pillars thought to represent the human form, some up to a height of 6 metres (20 ft) and weighing as much as 20 tons. Thought to date back to the 10th millennium BC, the stone monoliths at Göbekli Tepe are the oldest ever discovered, with archaeologists regarding the site as one of the greatest discoveries ever made. With only 12% uncovered, it could in time profoundly change what we currently consider to be the line of human evolution, if at the time of hunter gatherers humans were able to erect monumental complexes we would have to question everything we regard as fact from our ancient history.

12. Göbekli Tepe

 

In the extreme north eastern corner of the country close to the border with Georgia is the 30 square kilometre (11 square mile) Karagol-Sahara National Park. With it's steep mountains, alpine forests and rolling green hills this relatively small area of protected parkland holds a landscape more reminiscent of Switzerland or Austria. It's easy to understand why it is considered one of the prettiest national parks in Turkey.

11. Karagöl-Sahara National Park

 

Completed in 386 AD just south of the city of Trabzon is the architecturally and visually striking Sumela Monastery. Nestled within the steep cliff face of Melá Mountain, meaning Black Mountain, this impressive monastery still with it's ancient frescoes is a marvel of 1st century engineering. At an altitude of 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) above sea level it offers a most incredible view over the Altındere Valley, of which the Altındere Valley National Park was named. The monastery is regarded as a site of great historical and cultural significance for the region. 

10. Sumela Monastery

 

Completed in 921 AD on the relatively tiny Akdamar Island on Lake Van is the Cathedral Of The Holy Cross, a medieval Armenian cathedral built for the Armenian kings. Architecturally it is similar to many churches within the region, though the Cathedral Of The Holy Cross is considered unique for it's relief carvings of mostly biblical scenes that cover its external walls. Situated 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) from the shoreline the island also offers fantastic views back to the mountains of the mainland.

9. Cathedral Of The Holy Cross

 

In the north of the country between the towns of Bayburt and Trabzon is a stretch of road simply known as the D915. Unprotected by guardrails with steep drops of hundreds of metres, the main bulk of the road is made of loose gravel. The narrow sections are scarcely wide enough for two cars, with some drivers having to reverse for a few kilometres of winding narrow road just to find somewhere wide enough to pass. The maximum height of the pass reaches 2,330 metres (7,644 ft) above sea level, with the high altitudes prone to heavy mist, dangerously low visibility conditions and sometimes snowfall. These things combined with hairpins so tight they sometimes can't be made in a single turn have led the D915 to become one of the most notorious, difficult and dangerous driving roads in the world.

8. D915

 

In the south of the country west of the amazingly named city of Batman is the fortified city of Diyarbakir, an ancient city of Mesopotamia. Having stood and been adapted through the Hellenistic, Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman periods the castle walls are the second widest and longest continuous defensive wall in the world after the Great Wall Of China. The Diyarbakir Fortress & Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

7. Diyarbakır Fortress

 

North of the infamous D915 road, set between high rising mountains within the deep valley of the Haldizen Stream is the village and lake of Uzungol. Formed by a landslide that created a natural dam, today this picturesque mountain village is considered one of the prettiest in Turkey.

6. Uzungöl

 

Rising steeply above the Black Sea coast in the north east of the country is the Kackar Mountains National Park, encompassing the highest parts within the Pontic Mountains. These alpine mountains of steep rocky peaks, mountain lakes and glaciers form some of the most pristine and beautiful natural landscapes in the country, and is considered one of the best trekking sites in Turkey. The parks highest peak is the Kackar Dagi, rising an impressive 3,937 metres (12,917 ft) above sea level. 

5. Kaçkar Mountains National Park

 

In the eastern centre of the country encompassing 420 square kilometres (160 square miles) is Turkey's largest and most bio-diverse areas of the protected land, the Munzar Valley National Park. The steep volcanic craggy rocks of the Munzar Mountains with the deep valleys and streams provide another of the countries most pristine and naturally beautiful landscapes.

4. Munzur Valley National Park

 

In the extreme east of the country, close to the borders with Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan, with a peak of 5,137 metres (16,854 ft) above sea level is the dormant compound volcano of Mount Ararat, the highest mountain in Turkey. Despite being debunked as the mountains of Ararat in the Book of Genesis, many Christians still believe it to be the resting place of Noah's Ark. Though today within Turkish borders the mountain has remained the national symbol of Armenia, and considered an iconic sacred mountain by Armenians.

3. Mount Ararat

 

In the extreme east of the country, south of Mount Ararat close to the borders with Iran are the ruins of the Ishak Pasha Palace. Dating back to the 17th century, this Ottoman period palace is a rare example of historic Turkish palaces, made all the more spellbinding due to it's stunning surroundings.

2. Ishak Pasha Palace

 

In the south of the country, at the highest point in the Eastern Taurus Mountain range is one of Turkey's most famous sites, Mount Nemrut National Park, encompassing the 2,134 metre (7,000 ft) mountain of the same name. At it's peak, dating to the 1st century BC, is a temple tomb built by the Hellenistic King Antiochos as a monument to himself. One of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period, it's complex design and colossal scale were unique in the ancient world, with nothing of comparison found from this time period. The remains of the huge statues which would have stood 8-9 metres (26-30 ft) high are the most valuable monuments of the Kingdom of Commagene. The entire Mount Nemrut National Park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

1. Mount Nemrut National Park

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