In many ways, Turkey’s history is that of mankind.  With ruins of countless cultures scattered throughout this remarkable land, it is clear Turkey played an integral role in the development of organized society.  From the world’s first known human settlement circa 6500 B.C. at Çatalhöyük, where artwork first appeared in the form of murals and painted relief sculptures of dwellings and domestic shrines, to mighty Ottoman fortresses, Turkey bears the remnants of many of the world’s major civilizations - Hittites, Phrygians, Urartians, Lycians, Ionians, Lydians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans. 

The Hittites

The first state run by a central authority was established in Anatolia, the Asian peninsula of Turkey, in 1750 B.C. by the Hittites.  Of Indo-European origin, they entered Anatolia over the Caucasus during the great migrations, which began around 3000 B.C. and probably continued for the next thousand years over a vast territory extending from Western Europe to India.  They founded a feudal state that constituted the only one capable of challenging Egypt’s hegemony.  Excavations have uncovered many impressive ruins of Hittite settlements in Anatolia; fascinating artifacts dating from this period are on display in the Ankara Archaeological Museum.  The empire was contemporary with Troy on the western coast of Anatolia.

The Trojans

The power of Troy, which had been an outpost against invasions from the Balkans for centuries, ended with the Trojan War at about 1250 B.C.  The Trojans repelled attack after attack from Greek invaders, only to succumb to the ingenuity of the wooden horse made famous in Homer’s Iliad.  Archeological excavations have revealed nine separate periods of settlement at this site, including ruins of city walls, house foundations, a temple and a theater.  A symbolic wooden Trojan horse remains at the site today, commemorating the legendary war.  Following the destruction of Troy, the Greeks established cities all along the Western Anatolian shore.  The continuing colonization of Anatolia by Balkan peoples led to the ultimate collapse of the Hittite Empire, which formally collapsed around 1200 B.C. with the arrival of the Phrygians. 

The Phrygians

The Phrygians occupied part of Anatolia during 1200 - 700 B.C., but they first appeared on the scene as a strong political entity after the year 750 B.C. when Midas founded the Phrygian Empire.  The Hellenic world knew of the Phrygian King Midas as a legendary figure who turned everything he touched to gold.  The most important Phrygian remains have been found in Gordion, the Phrygian capital, near Ankara.  The site is still under excavation.   

The Lycians, Lydians and Carians

These civilizations in West Central Anatolia also peaked during the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. The Lydians, who established a state in the Aegean region in about 700 B.C. with Sardes as the capital, produced the first gold and silver coins in history.  The most important architectural works discovered during excavations at the Lydian capital include the Temple of Artemis, a restored gymnasium and a third-century A.D. synagogue, and Xantos, the Lycian capital building, one of the most beautiful ruins in all of Anatolia.

The Persians

Anatolia was occupied by the Persians during 545 - 333 B.C. followed by the Hellenistic period (333 - 30 B.C.) with Alexander the Great’s conquest of the region.  Throughout these centuries, Milletus, Priene, Ephesus and Teos were among the finest cities in the world and the Anatolian architecture of this era greatly influenced that of Rome. 

The Romans

With the Roman occupation of Anatolia in the first century B.C. the region became known as Asia Minor.  The Roman Age (30 B.C. - 395 A.D.) brought new building techniques and engineering methods to Anatolian architecture and witnessed the spread of Christianity.  Marble became the principal material for building, and a newly invented style of construction using bricks bound with mortar was used for the first time to build functional structures.  Roman engineers crafted masterpieces of architecture throughout Anatolia, including arches, vaults and domes.  The invention of central heating, by circulating hot air under floors and through hollow bricks in walls, encouraged the construction of huge thermal buildings.  Large baths, often combined with gymnasia, were built into all major Roman cities of Asia Minor.  The colonnaded streets the Romans constructed have survived to this day in several cities, and Roman stone bridges and aqueducts highlight the skyline of many Turkish towns.  

Christian structures were also part of the architectural landscape during this period. St. Paul established a number of churches, the most important of which were in Pergamum, Thyatira, Smyrna, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea and Ephesus.  These are referred to in the Bible as the Seven Churches of Asia Minor (from the Book of Revelation).  And in Antioch, St. Peter gathered his congregation in a small cave, designated the world’s first cathedral by the papacy in 1963. 

The Byzantines

The era of the Byzantines began in 330, when Constantine moved his capital to Byzantium (now Istanbul) during the division of the Roman Empire.  He first named the city New Rome, then

Constantinople, which served as the capital of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire for over a thousand years after the fall of Rome in 476.  During the Byzantine age, Turkey witnessed the further advancement of Christianity.  Masterful works of architecture commemorate this empire, the most impressive of which was Justinian’s Church of Hagia Sophia.  This building, the largest church in Christendom for nearly a thousand years, remains an engineering marvel, with a tremendous supported dome and colorful mosaic interior.  The Byzantine period came to an end with the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 by the Turks.

The Turks Arrive on Anatolia

The history of the Turks covers more than 4,000 years and two continents.  They first emerged in Central Asia around 2000 B.C, later spreading throughout Asia and Europe with the establishment of many independent states and empires.  

The Seljuks

The Turks started to settle in Anatolia during the period of the Great Seljuk Empire in the early 11th century, following the 1071 victory over the Byzantines in the vicinity of Malazgirt.  With time, the Turks conquered most of Anatolia and established the Anatolian Seljuk State as a part of the Great Seljuk Empire (1075 - 1318), the first Turkish Empire in Anatolia. 

The Seljuks left Turkey with a rich cultural legacy.  The Anatolian Seljuk State enriched the country with monumental mosques, medreses, hospitals, fortresses, tombs and caravanserais, often covered with the finest in stone carving and tiles. Mevlâna Celaleddin Rumi, the mystic poet and philosopher and founder of the Whirling Dervish order, flourished in Konya, capital of the Anatolian Seljuk Empire during the 13th century.

The Ottomans

When the Turkish Seljuk State collapsed under the strain of repeated Mongol attacks, several beylics from various Turkish tribes emerged in Anatolia toward the end of the 13th century.  Of these, the Ottoman beylic succeeded in establishing the union of the beylics in Anatolia in a short period of time and thus arose the Ottoman Empire.  The Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453, during the reign of Sultan Mehmet II (1451 - 1481) putting an end to the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman State then entered an era of rapid development that would last until the end of the 16th century.  The borders of the empire extended from the Crimea in the north to Yemen and Sudan in the south, and from Iran and the Caspian Sea in the East to Vienna in the Northwest and Spain in the Southwest. 

The Ottomans made great additions to the already rich heritage of Istanbul and Anatolia.  The architecture of Mimar Sinan is still admired today. Suleymaniye Mosque and Sultanahmet Mosque (The Blue Mosque) in Istanbul and the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne are the finest examples of his work.  Several palaces that are now museums were also built during Ottoman period, including Topkapi, Beylerbeyi and Dolmabahçe, as was The Grand Bazaar.  Traditional Turkish art, such as miniatures, tiles and ceramics, calligraphy and weaving, flourished and reached its peak during this period. 

The Ottoman Empire slowly began to lose its economic and military edge to the emerging European powers from the 1600s up into the late 19th century.  During World War I (1914-1918), the Ottoman Empire sided with the German and Austria-Hungarian Empires, and was consequently defeated by invasion.  After the War of Independence (1919 - 1923), Mustafa Kemal Atatürk led the nation to create the Turkish Republic, which was formally established on October 29, 1923. 

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced a broad range of reforms - virtually unparalleled in any other country - to Turkey’s political, social, legal, economic and cultural spheres.  He created a new political and legal system based on the principles of parliamentary democracy, division of powers, secular administration, nationalism and modernization.  Almost overnight, Turkey became a modern nation-state and remains an important model for countries looking to become part of the modern world.     

Source: Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism


History Of Turkey
Reading List


about us l tours l Turkey l services l guestbook l contact

All guiding and consulting services are conducted in cooperation with Turkishmoon.
This web site has been written by Aydin Kudu and designed by NOI.
Copyright © 2007 Aydin Kudu. All rights reserved.