The view before us was so marvellous that the description of it,
to bear even faint resemblance, ought to appear romantic.
—Richard Chandler, Pamukkale, 1765
Turkey’s glittering Aegean coast is truly a magical place, home to four thousand years of human civilizational history and some of the most spectacularly beautiful natural vistas in the world. Marvel at the ruins of the capital of Roman Asian minor, Ephesus, where the Virgin Mary is believed to have spent her final days atop a hill known as Bülbül Daǧi. Tour the twentieth-century battlefields of Gallipoli and the site of ancient Troy, site of the great siege recounted in Homer’s Iliad. Troy sits alongside Bergama, Pamukkale, and Hierapolis on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. The Book of Revelation’s Seven Churches—at Ephesus, Sardis, Tyatira, Pergamon, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and Collosae—all lie in this Aegean region. Turkey’s most glamorous seaside resort is Bodrum, a whitewashed town beneath a fifteenth-century castle whose museum houses the world’s greatest collection of amphora and glass. Be sure to take time to swim, snorkel, and relax on a traditional Turkish yacht or gulet. So inviting were the waters of the Aegean to medieval European travelers that they coined the term “turquoise” just to describe them.
The second largest city in the Roman Empire, one of the greatest seaports of the ancient world, commerically prosperous, and an important center of early Christian practice, Ephesus was first established at the mouth of the Cayster River (Küçükmenderes, “Little Meanderer”) between 1500 and 1000 BCE.
Christian tradition has long held that the Virgin Mary spent her last days in the hills above ancient Ephesus, under the tender care of her son’s inner circle of followers. In the mid-nineteenth century, the recorded visions of a nun some decades before—Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824)—led to the discovery of the Virgin’s home atop Bülbül Daǧi, nine kilometers from Ephesus.
Pamukkale (literally “Cotton Castle”) is an absolutely unique natural wonder, as well as a spectacular archaeological site with unusually well-preserved ancient ruins. The name derives from the cottony appearance of the site’s travertines, white or light-colored calcareous rock deposited by the area’s rich mineral springs. The mineral composition of the thermal water creates and fills the white travertine pools.
Bergama, more famously celebrated as the ancient Greek city of Pergamon, served as the Hellenistic capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon under the Attalid dynasty (281-133 BCE). A major center for culture, commerce, and medicine, and teeming with philosophers, scientists, and artists, Pergamon boasted an outstanding library, a famous school of sculpture, excellent public buildings and monuments, and numerous celebrated art works of the ancient world.
The Roman city of Aphrodisias, set among beautifully scenic mountains, in one of the most picturesque and ancient sacred sites in Turkey. Evidence suggests that, as early as 5800 BCE, Neolithic humans came here to worship the Mother Goddess.
Famous the world over as the site of the epic siege recounted in Homer’s Iliad, Troy has been a continuous site of human settlement for at least three millennia, a cosmpolitan city at the juncture of ancient Anatolia, the Aegean, and the Balkans Fully nine civilizational layers extend beneath the surface, all atop a hill with sweeping views of the Aegean Sea.
The cluster of World War I battlefields collectively known as Gallipoli are just 15 kilometers west of Çanakkale. Soldiers from around the world were stationed here for about eight months in 1915 and fought against the Ottomans to open the Dardanelles Strait to Allied warships. The Ottoman army eventually prevailed, but the losses on both sides were enormous.
Turkish gulets are traditionally designed two-masted wooden sailing vessels, offering a luxurious way to experience the Aegean coastline from Bodrum to Fethiye and beyond. Whether spending a day cruising and snorkeling, or embarking on a longer voyage up or down the western shore, every visitor to Turkey will surely savor time spent aboard a gulet.
Fethiye’s natural harbor is the region’s most breathtaking, tucked into the southern end of a broad bay scattered with lovely islands. Site of the ancient Greek city of Telmessos, today’s Fethiye is a hub for gulet (traditional Turkish yacht) travel, sun, and fascinating history.
One of the true gems of Turkey’s Aegean coast, Bodrum has attracted human settlement for millennia. The site of the ancient city of Halikarnassus, Bodrum was home to the famous Mausoleum of Halikarnassus (the tomb of King Mausolos, built after 353 BCE), one among the celebrated Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Herodotus, known as the father of Greek history, was born in Bodrum in 484 BCE.