Turkish Culture And Tourism

Turkish Culture

Geographically Turkey is located on two continents – Europe and Asia – separated by the Bosporus and the Dardanelles Strait.

Turkey has been a leader culturally for the past millennium. Other nations always looked towards the Turks to set the trends. Turkey is a country with both cultures – Eastern and Western. The territory that now constitutes the republic has been subject to a striking range of cultural influences still visible in the landscape, from the civilizations of Islamic Middle East and Europe. Under the Ottomans, not only did the Turks rule most of the Arab lands, but the entire region of Balkans, Bulgaria, Hungary, and other principalities were under their suzerainty. Europeans adopted many of Turkish cultural norms and values as a result and benefited from the superior civilizational aspects of the Turks.

The advances in Europe from the nineteenth century onwards changed the sequence. Europe had developed and had overtaken the Turks. It is impossible to summarize in a few words the material culture of the towns and cities, which not long ago were the central part of a great empire and have since been profoundly influenced by Western technology. Despite this, Turkey has retained much of its basic cultural values. It chose to retain its language for education and all government affairs, although the script was Latinized. It retained its folk dances and music and social norms.

The modern Republic of Turkey is constitutionally a secular country with a majority Muslim population. While asserting their Muslim identity, Turks continue to display their political and social norms as being the most secular in the Muslim world. They align themselves spiritually and morally with Muslims all over the world which is a continuation of their magnanimity over the past centuries.

Europe copied the Ottoman Turkish form of clothing and dressing, eating, dining and other cultural ways. Some people erroneously think that shirts, trousers and other clothes originated in Europe. It was the other way around. Eating utensils like forks, spoons, and knives were also exported to Europe from Turkey.

Turks only drink their version of coffee on few days during the week. The national drink is tea, served black in tulip-shaped glasses that people consume few times a day.

Cleanliness is an important component of Turkish culture. It is normal practice to take shoes off before entering someone’s house or apartment. Turks strongly believe their homes should not be polluted with dust and dirt from the streets especially in winter. It is also considered a gesture of respect for the home and the family.

Turks are a proud nation and display this in every aspect of their lives and culture.


Turkey is one of the most desirable places for tourism due to its history, topography, natural beauty, and climate. Tourism is focused largely on a variety of historical sites, and on seaside resorts along its Aegean and Mediterranean Sea coasts. This land has been the center of civilization for many empires over the past five thousand years or more. The archeological sites of each past nation have been preserved.

Aya Sofia Mosque with METU alumni as tourists

Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, previously known as Constantinople, is the most important tourist destination. It has numerous major attractions derived from its historical status as capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Its history is replete with monuments and structures left behind by empires of the past. During the Roman period, the city was known as Byzantium. Emperor Constantine the Great had it renamed as Constantinople. Some of the main Roman and Byzantine structures are Aya Sofia (Hagia Sophia) built in 360 CE, the Yerebatan and Basilica underground water storage Cisterns, the Aqueduct, Dikilitaş (Egyptian Obelisk) set up by Tutmoses III in 1479-1425 BC), Hagia Irene Church (Aya Irini Kilesi), Great Palace Mosaic Museum (Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi), the Hippodrome.

Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul

Istanbul was conquered by Sultan Mehmet II Al-Fatih in the year 1453, which became the capital of the Ottomans. The art and architecture left behind from this period is immense. Aya Sofia was bought by Sultan Mehmet from the Christian Church, and he converted it into a mosque. During the most of the twentieth century, the Kemalists had converted it into a museum. In recent years, it has been reconverted into a mosque with the museum on the side. The Ottomans built hundreds of mosques, the most famous ones being Sultan Ahmet Mosque (the "Blue Mosque") and Süleymaniye Mosque. Recently, the government of Turkey constructed the largest mosque on Çamlica Hill on the Asian side of the city. Due to its altitude and size, it is visible from most parts of the city.

A visit to Topkapı Sarayı Palace is a must. It is located right behind Aya Sofia and it used to be the seat of power of the Ottomans until the middle of the nineteenth century. At present it is a museum with immense treasures of the Ottoman period displaying their armor, guns, dresses, calligraphy, mosaics, art, and many other wonders. The most precious is the section of the Sacred Relics which has the personal possessions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ like his clothes, his seal, his sword, his hairs, his tooth, his banner, his letter, and other articles. It also has swords and other possessions of the khulafa-e-rashideen and other great sahabah like Khalid ibn al-Walid. Old doors, locks, and keys of the Ka`aba, casings of the Black Stone, and many other amazing old artifacts are preserved.

Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul

Other key historical buildings and structures include the Dolmabahçe Palace, Galata Tower, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Eyüp Sultan (shrine of the sahabi Hz. Abu Ayyub Ansari). Eyüp Sultan is located along the northern ramparts of the Istanbul fort. It is said that this great sahabi was martyred at the age of 90 trying to fight against the Byzantines. His grave was identified in a dream of a sultan several centuries later. Mausoleums of all the Ottoman sultans after the conquest of Istanbul are located in the city. One can also find the old hammams (Turkish baths) as well in the vicinity. Dolmabahçe Palace was the last seat of power of the Ottomans until their demise in 1924. This palace contains immense treasures of art, paintings, furniture, crockery, cutlery, dresses, chandeliers, armor, and many other artifacts. The Grand covered bazaar has a variety of stuff for tourists and non-tourists. One can find beautiful ceramics, carpets, woodwork, brass and silver articles, crystal ware, clothes and other things on sale.

Bridge over Bosporus with Ortakoy Mosque in foreground

Three bridges and a tunnel cross the Bosporus and connect the European and Asian side. The historical Haydarpaşa railway station is on the Asian side. This station used to be the end point of the Istanbul-Madinah railway line until it was destroyed by the Arab traitors and British forces during the First World War. Ferries crisscross across the Bosporus providing essential transport with a beautiful view. Cruises to some of the most beautiful islands also emanate from Sirkeci and other boat terminals. The Golden Horn and the Bosporus give a unique dimension and beauty to the city. Hotels, restaurants, night clubs and other forms of entertainment abound, providing the best of hospitality and excellent Turkish food. A visit to Taksim Square is essential to enjoy the high life and hustle and bustle of activity. One needs to stay at least a week or two in the city to barely see all that the city has to offer.

There are many more attractions all over the country. We shall try to describe some of these.

Ruins of Celcius Library in Ephesus(Efes)

Ruins of many of the old Roman and Byzantine cities and buildings have been preserved very well. Efes (Ephesus) – located a few miles south of Izmir – was the second largest city of the Roman Empire and its ruins are worth seeing. The other major Roman city that has preserved its buildings well is Bergama (Pergamon). One can also see the ruins of Troy, Hierapolis, and other Greek and Roman cities. Some of the famous Wonders of the Ancient World existed on this peninsula but were destroyed before the Ottomans came to power. These included Colossus of Rhodes and the Statue of Artemis.

Homes of churches carved into the fairy chimneys at Göreme in Cappadocia

Byzantine Rome patronized the Orthodox Church. During those times, all sects that did not conform to the official sect were persecuted and Christians belonging to other denominations and sects used to take refuge in outlying areas. Central Anatolia offered such a refuge in the Cappadocian region. The Fairy Chimneys at Göreme and Ürgüp and the underground city of Derinkuyu in Cappadocia are simply a marvel and a reminder of how marginalized Christian communities were persecuted by major Christian sects that ruled the Roman and Byzantine empire, and how they built their defenses against the onslaught of their enemies.

Mausoleums (turbesi) of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi in Konya

Seljuqs were the first Turks to rule over the peninsula. Their capital was at Konya. The city still has many buildings and monuments of the Seljuq period. The most famous building in town is the mausoleum (türbesi) of Mevlana Rumi, one of the greatest of sufi masters. His followers still perform the whirling dervish dance in spiritual ecstasy.

Mausoleums of Ertuğrul Gazii, his family and his alps in Söğüt

The first Ottoman capital was at Bursa which is on the other side of the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul. The ferry ride to Yalova or Mudanya and then a taxi or bus to Bursa is very scenic. However, one can take the land route all the way as well. Bursa has preserved many buildings of the early Ottoman period including the mausoleum of the earliest sultans starting with Osman I, the founder. Prior to the establishment of the Ottoman Empire by Osman, the leader of their Kayi tribe was Ertuğrul Gazi who is highly venerated by the Turks. His mausoleum is located in Söğüt, which is an hour’s drive from Bursa towards Eskişehir. One will find other towns in that region with castles, mausoleums and other buildings of that early period, which were built either by the Turks, the Crusaders or the Byzantines. The Iznik Lake (gölü) is in the vicinity and the entire region is prime olive producing area. The Town of Iznik is the ancient Nicaea where the First Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church was held under Emperor Constantine the Great in the year 325 CE where Trinity was finally declared as the creed of the Church and the books of the New Testament were finally canonized. All other sects and beliefs, particularly the Arian sect were denounced and banned. Some parts of the main wall of the castle at Nicaea are still in existence.

Very close to Efes (Ephesus) up in the mountains are the House of the Virgin Mary and the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. It is believed that Mother Mary spent her last days in the vicinity of Ephesus and died here. This house of Mary was discovered by a Christian priest a couple of hundred years ago. Muslims and Christians visit the shrine in her memory. There is a chapel and a mosque built for the worshippers. The Cave of the Seven Sleepers (ashab-e-Kahf) is not far from this location. It is one of the few places claimed by tour operators as being the cave where these 7 men and their dog slept for over 300 years.

Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) is another famous resort. It is located in the Denizli province not far from Izmir. The carbonate mineral deposits on the mountainside left by flowing hot spring water gives the hills the look of snow or cotton. Tourists sit in the warm water pools of these springs expecting to ease their arthritis and other pains.

Warm water pools and mineral springs in Pamukkale

Beach vacations and Blue Cruises are a favorite for tourists and are central to the Turkish tourism industry. Most beach resorts are located along the southwestern and southern coast, called the Turkish Riviera, especially along the Mediterranean coast near Antalya. Antalya is also accepted as the tourism capital of Turkey. Major resort towns include Bodrum, Fethiye, Marmaris, Kuşadası, Çeşme, Didim and Alanya.

In 2019 Turkey attracted around 51 million foreign tourists, ranking as the sixth-most-popular tourist destination in the world. Turkey's tourism revenue stood at $34.5 billion in 2019 as per Turkish Statistical Institute.