Republic of Turkey

Capital: Ankara

  • Population 79.5 million
  • Area 779,452 sq km (300,948 sq miles)
  • Major languages Turkish (official), Kurdish
  • Major religion Islam
  • Life expectancy 72 years (men), 79 (women)
  • Currency Turkish lira


President: Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003 in the wake of a sweeping electoral victory by the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), of which he was a founding member.

He spent 11 years as Turkey’s prime minister before becoming the country’s first directly-elected president in August 2014 – a supposedly ceremonial role.

To his supporters Mr Erdogan has brought Turkey years of economic growth, but to his critics he is an autocratic leader intolerant of dissent who harshly silences anyone who opposes him.

In July 2016, the AKP government survived an attempted coup which saw clashes on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara that left 256 people dead. The authorities subsequently detained thousands of soldiers and judges on suspicion of involvement in the attempt that President Erdogan said was inspired by his exiled opponent Fethullah Gulen.

A referendum in April 2017 narrowly backed switching to a presidential system of government, which would significantly increase Mr Erdogan’s powers. Critics say the move could usher in authoritarian rule, and amounts to a power grab.


1453 – Sultan Mehmed II the Magnificent captures Constantinople, ending Byzantine Empire and consolidating Ottoman Empire in Asia Minor and Balkans.

15th-16th centuries – Expansion into Asia and Africa.

Istanbul's iconic Bosphorus Bridge links Asia and EuropeIstanbul’s iconic Bosphorus Bridge links Asia and Europe

1683 – Ottoman advance into Europe halted at Battle of Vienna. Long decline begins.

1908 – Young Turk Revolution establishes constitutional rule, but degenerates into military dictatorship during First World War, where Ottoman Empire fights in alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary.

1918-22 – Partition of defeated Ottoman Empire leads to eventual triumph of Turkish National Movement in war of independence against foreign occupation and rule of Sultan.

1923 – Turkey declared a republic with Kemal Ataturk as president. Soon afterwards it becomes secular.

1952 – Turkey abandons Ataturk’s neutralist policy and joins Nato.

1960 – Army coup against ruling Democratic Party.

1974 – Turkish troops occupy northern Cyprus, partitioning the island.

1984 – Kurdish PKK group launches separatists guerrilla campaign which develops into a major civil war that simmers on for decades.

2011 – Syrian civil war breaks out, resulting in tension along the countries’ border and a huge influx of refugees into Turkey.

2016 – Attempted coup fails.

2017 – Referendum approves switch to presidential system.

Worshippers pray inside the Blue Mosque in IstanbulWorshippers pray inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul


Flag of Turkey.svg

The flag of Turkey (Turkish: Türk bayrağı) is a red flag featuring a white star and crescent. The flag is often called al bayrak (the red flag), and is referred to as al sancak (the red banner) in the Turkish national anthem. The current design of the Turkish flag is directly derived from the late Ottoman flag, which had been adopted in the late 18th century and acquired its final form in 1844.


Istanbul protest in support of media freedom

Turkey has a poor record on media freedom

Turkey’s airwaves are lively, with hundreds of private TV and radio stations competing with the state broadcaster, TRT.

Television is by far the most influential news medium; both press and broadcasting outlets are operating by powerful business operators.

For journalists, the military, Kurds and political Islam are highly-sensitive topics, coverage of which can lead to arrest and prosecution.

Some of the most repressive restrictions have been lifted on the path to EU entry, but it remains a crime to insult the Turkish nation and president, and a wave of prosecutions of journalists under Recep Tayyip Erdogan has prompted new concern for press freedom.


Human rights in Turkey have been the subject of some controversy and international condemnation. Between 1998 and 2008 the European Court of Human Rights made more than 1,600 judgements against Turkey for human rights violations, particularly regarding the right to life, and freedom from torture. Other issues, such as Kurdish rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and press freedom, have also attracted controversy. Turkey’s human rights record continues to be a significant obstacle to future membership of the EU.


Turkey is a founding member of the United Nations (1945) and the G-20 (1999).


The Turkish Armed Forces consists of the Land Forces, the Naval Forces and the Air Force. The Chief of the General Staff is appointed by the President and is responsible to the Prime Minister. The Council of Ministers is responsible to the Parliament for matters of national security and the adequate preparation of the armed forces to defend the country. However, the authority to declare war and to deploy the Turkish Armed Forces to foreign countries or to allow foreign armed forces to be stationed in Turkey rests solely with the Parliament.


Turkey is a transcontinental Eurasian country. Asian Turkey, which includes 97 percent of the country, is separated from European Turkey by the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles. European Turkey comprises 3 percent of the country. The territory of Turkey is more than 1,600 kilometres (990 miles) long and 800 kilometres (500 miles) wide, with a roughly rectangular shape. Turkey is divided into seven geographical regions: Marmara, Aegean, Black Sea, Central Anatolia, Eastern Anatolia, Southeastern Anatolia and the Mediterranean.


Turkey is a secular state with no official state religion; the Turkish Constitution provides for freedom of religion and conscience.

According to the latest sources by Ipsos in 2016 Islam was the major religion in Turkey comprising only 82% of the total population, followed by the unaffiliated people who comprised 13% of the population, and Christianity with 2%.


The country’s official language is Turkish, which is spoken by 85.54 percent of the population a first language. 11.97 percent of the population speaks the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish as mother tongue. Arabic and Zaza are the mother tongues of 2.39 percent of the population, and several other languages are the mother tongues of smaller parts of the population.

CUISINEöner kebab being sliced. 80-layer dough baklava. coffee with Turkish delight.

Turkish coffee is a UNESCO-listed intangible cultural heritage of Turks.


The most popular sport in Turkey is association football (soccer). Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 2000. The Turkish national football team has won the bronze medal at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup and UEFA Euro 2008. Other mainstream sports such as basketball and volleyball are also popular.


Music of Turkey includes mainly Turkic elements as well as partial influences ranging from Central Asian folk music, Arabic music, Greek music, Ottoman music, Persian music and Balkan music, as well as references to more modern European and American popular music.ğlama, a traditional stringed musical instrument.ış Manço was among the founders of the genre Anatolian rock in the 1960s, which combines rock music with Anatolian folk tunes.


Turkish painting, in the Western sense, developed actively starting from the mid 19th century. In the late 19th century, human figure in the Western sense was being established in Turkish painting, especially with Osman Hamdi Bey. 13th century Turkish carpet from the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate period,

originally at the Alâeddin Mosque in Konya.

Carpet weaving represents a traditional art, dating back to pre-Islamic times. During its long history, the art and craft of the woven carpet has integrated different cultural traditions.

Turkish miniature is an art form, which can be linked to the Persian miniature tradition, as well as strong Chinese artistic influences. They followed closely the context of the book they were included in, resembling more illustrations rather than standalone works of art.

The earliest examples of Turkish paper marbling are thought to be a copy of the Hâlnâme by the poet Arifî. The text of this manuscript was rendered in a delicate cut paper découpage calligraphy by Mehmed bin Gazanfer and completed in 1540, and features many marbled and decorative paper borders.


Turkish literature is a mix of cultural influences. Interaction between the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic world along with Europe contributed to a blend of Turkic, Islamic and European traditions in modern-day Turkish music and literary arts.

The first radical step of innovation in 20th century Turkish poetry was taken by Nâzım Hikmet, who introduced the free verse style. Another revolution in Turkish poetry came about in 1941 with the Garip movement led by Orhan Veli, Oktay Rıfat and Melih Cevdet.

The mix of cultural influences in Turkey is dramatised, for example, in the form of the „new symbols of the clash and interlacing of cultures” enacted in the novels of Orhan Pamuk, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature.


Air ballons over Cappadocia, TurkeyAir ballons over Cappadocia / Michael Day

Turkey is located at the crossroads of civilizations (even in two continents – Asia and Europe) and has one of the richest and most diverse arrays of archaeological and architecture landmarks.
Few countries in the world have experienced the rise and fall of that many distinct cultures as present-day Turkey did. Highlights of Turkey are:

  • Hellenistic heritage. Hellenistic civilization was comparatively short-lived – it lasted for few centuries but had immense influence on the development of modern civilization. Greeks and successors of their cultural traditions, such as Phrygians, Lycians, Carians left numerous amazing and even mysterious landmarks in Turkey – Pergamon, Ephesus, Lycian rock-cut tombs and many others.
  • Neolithic settlements. In Turkey are found remnants of some of the oldest towns in the world (Çatalhöyük), oldest temples (Göbekli Tepe and Nevalı Çori) and other unique landmarks.
  • Rock cut structures in Cappadocia. Truly unique is the cultural landscape of Cappadocia, where in the soft volcanic rock have been cut houses, churches, monasteries and whole towns and cities – more than 200 cities! As if this is not surprising enough – these rock cut churches are adorned with some of the best frescoes ever!
  • Byzantian heritage. During the times of Byzantine Empire – for more than 1000 years – İstanbul City (Constantinople) was one of most important centres in the world – politically, in religion and culture. Some of most outstanding architectural landmarks of all times were created here, mostly in Constantinople. Especially high achievement was Hagia Sophia – one of most important architecture landmarks.

Natural landmarks

Travertine terraces in Pamukkale, TurkeyTravertine terraces in Pamukkale / Antoine Taveneaux

  • Cennet and Cehennem sinkholes – Mersin. Two interesting sinkholes. Cennet (Paradise) sinkhole is 70 m deep and 200 m long, contains ruins of the 5th century Byzantine chapel. Cehennem (Hell) sinkhole is just 70 m wide but 120 m deep.
  • EGMA (Peynirlikönü) – Mersin. Deepest known cave in Turkey, 1,429 m deep and 3,118 m long.
  • Göreme fairy chimneys – Nevşehir. Thousands of amazing, 8 – 22 m tall rock spires, formed from soft volcanic rock – ignimbrite, overlaid with boulders of harder lava. In these rock spires often are hewn premises – houses, household rooms, churches and even whole cities.
  • Karaca Cave – Gümüşhane. 1,550 m long cave, used as a settlement by prehistoric people. Contains a set of rimstone pools which towards the end of cave are up to 1 m deep.
  • Pamukkale – Denizli. Some of the best known travertine terraces in world, colored in bright white, 2700 metres wide and up to 160 metres high. It has been shaped by 17 hot springs.

Man made landmarks

Hattusa, city gate, TurkeyHattusa, city gate

Prehistoric monuments

  • Çatalhöyük – Konya. One of the earliest towns in the world, this Neolithic settlement had some 1,000 inhabitants already around 7000 BC and, possibly, up to 10,000 sometimes around 6500 BC. During the excavations have been found multiple valuable items – sculptures, frescoes, home utensils.
  • Göbekli Tepe – Şanlıurfa. This oldest place of worship in the world (the 10th millenium BC, late Mesolithic – early Neolithic) has several monolithic stone pillars, up to 3 meters in height with carved reliefs and pictograms.
  • Hattusa (Hattusha) – Çorum. Ancient Hittite city, established as urban centre in the Late Bronze Age before 2000 BC, although inhabited since at least 6000 BC. Flourished in the 14th century BC, when here were living some 40 – 50 thousand inhabitants. Destroyed around 1200 BC.
  • Nevalı Çori – Şanlıurfa. Remnants of early Neolithic settlement with some of the oldest temples in the world. Now inundated under the dammed Euphrates.
  • Yesemek Quarry sculpture garden – Gaziantep. One of the oldest sculpture industries in the world. Here, near the basalt quarry are located more than 300 sculptures, mostly made in 900 – 800 BC for Hittites.

Library of Celsius in Ephesus, TurkeyLibrary of Celsius in Ephesus / Ken & Nyetta

Ancient Greek heritage

  • Aphrodisias – Aydın. One of most interesting ancient Greek cities in Turkey, built next to important marble quarries. High quality architecture was created in the city, using this excellent construction material.
  • Ephesus – Izmir. Ruins of ancient Greek – Roman city, with remnants of many outstanding buildings. Little remains of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – Temple of Artemis, but beautiful are the remains of the Library of Celsius (177 AD), Theatre of Ephesus with 24,000 seating capacity was the largest known outdoor arena of antiquity.
  • Hierapolis – Denizli. Ancient Greek and Roman resort city, built at hot springs, which have formed the famous Pamukkale terraces. City developed since the 2nd century BC and had such impressive structures as theatre, the mysterious Ploutonian, other temples, necropolis, pools.
  • Perga (Perge) – Antalya. Impressive ruins of once beautiful city. Founded by Greeks around 1000 BC. Most presently visible buildings were constructed in Roman times after 188 BC. Early Christian centre in the 5th and 6th centuries.
  • Pergamon – Izmir. Ruins of ancient Greek city, former capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon in 281 – 133 BC. Contains ruins of numerous unique and beautiful structures – impressive theater with a place for 10,000 seats, library, sanctuary of Asclepius (Asclepion) – a predecessor of hospitals and others.
  • Ploutonian at Hierapolis – Denizli. Ancient temple dedicated to the god Pluto. Temple is built over the cave which emits toxic gases and was seen as entrance in the underworld. Cave is filled with carbon dioxide – thus it is deadly for those who try to breathe in the cave. Due to this cave was used for rituals, e.g. sacrifice of animals. Temple was founded around the 2nd century BC and was abandoned in the 6th century AD.
  • Troy – Çanakkale. Ruins of legendary city, which was rebuilt in this place nine times, from the 3rd millenium BC (Bronze Age) to the 4th century AD. The site has special importance as the central place where the legendary Trojan War took place, as described by Homer.

Lycian tombs in Myra, TurkeyLycian tombs in Myra

Lycian, Phrygian, Pisidian heritage

  • Dolchiste in Kekova – Antalya. Ruins of ancient town which is partly submerged in Mediterranean after an earthquake in the 2nd century AD.
  • Gordium – Ankara. Ruins of the ancient capital of Phrygia. Flourished in the 12th – 8th century BC. Very impressive are the burials of royalty – mounds or tumulus. The largest – the Great Tumulus is more than 50 m high and it is possible that here was buried king Midas or his father Gordias.
  • Letoon – Antalya. Lycian site – sanctuary of Leto, one of most important religious centres in Anatolia. The shrine was active since prehistoric times till the late 6th century BC. Later here was developed Roman sanctuary, site includes rock-cut tombs. Important trilingual incription, which helped to decypher Lycian writing.
  • Lycian thombs near Dalian – Muğla. Group of architectonially impressive rock cut Lycian thombs from sometimes around 400 BC, located in vertical cliff. Rock cut tombs is one of characteristic monuments of this culture.
  • Myra Lycian tombs – Antalya. Ruins of Lycian and Roman town, mostly buried under river sediments. Most interesting are two groups of rock-cut tombs in vertical cliffs.
  • Termessos – Antalya. Some of most impressive ancient ruins in Turkey, located high in the mountains in beautiful natural setting. City started to develop before the 3rd century BC by Pisidians. Ruins include rock-cut tombs, amphitheatre, six temples and other buildings.
  • Xanthos – Antalya. Ruins of ancient Lycian city, former centre of commerce and culture. Established around the 8th century BC, known due to the description of Herodotus about the desperate fight of Lycians agains Persians in 425 BC. City was inhabited until the 7th – 8th century AD. Remnants of acropolis and other public structures.

Armenian heritage

  • Nemrut Dağ – Adıyaman. 2,134 m tall mountain with a group of enormous, ancient statues near its summit. It is assumed that these statues belong to a royal tomb of Antiochus I from the 1st century BC. Statues represent enormous heads of heroes, eagles, lions. Burial mound itself is 49 m tall, with a diameter of 152 m.
  • Tushpa and Van Fortress – Van. Ruins of the ancient capital of Urartu – Iron Age Armenian kingdom, flourished in the 9th century BC. City was built on a steep sided bluff, later turned into enormous fortress.

Amasya, TurkeyAmasya / acizane nacizane

Ottoman towns and villages

  • Cumalıkızık – Bursa. Authentic early Ottoman village with some 270 historical houses.
  • Harran – Şanlıurfa. Ruins of very old and once important city. It is known that important centre in Harran existed already by the 19th century BC, later it was important Assyrian and Persian city. Some of the first dedicated Christian churches were built here. Here evolved the world’s first Islamic university in the 8th – 9th centuries.
  • Odunpazarı – Eskişehir. One of the best preserved Turkish historical cities with numerous historical buildings along cobblestone streets. Houses here have specific local design, urban landscape has colourful, harmonious character.
  • Safranbolu – Karabük. Historical city with more than 1000 houses which have authentic Ottoman architecture.
  • Şanlıurfa, old town – Şanlıurfa. One of most authentic old towns in Turkey with romantic passages, bazaar and historical acrhitecture.

Winery in Derinkuyu underground city, TurkeyWinery in Derinkuyu underground city / José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro,

Underground cities of Cappadocia

  • Derinkuyu Underground City – Nevşehir. Historical underground city which could sustain up to 20 thousand people. Tunnels with premises extend up to 60 m deep. City can be closed with enormous stone disc. Development of city started in the 8th – 7th centuries BC, it often served for refugees. In total in this area are some 200 such underground cities.
  • Kaymaklı Underground City – Nevşehir. One of the historical subterranean cities in Central Anatolia, with more than hundred tunnels and rock-hewn houses around them. These underground premises are used for practical purposes up to this day.
  • Özkonak Underground City – Nevşehir. Historical underground city, built in ten floors up to 40 m deep. Here could live up to 60 thousand people. Rediscovered in 1972.

Medieval fortifications and castles

  • Diyarbakır city walls and citadel – Diyarbakır. Almost intact medieval fortification wall around the old city, 5.5 km long and 10 – 12 m high. The massive wall has four gates and 82 watchtowers.
  • Galata Tower – İstanbul. Amazing medieval stone tower, built in 1348 by Genoese. Tower is 66.9 m high, with nine floors.
  • Mamure Castle – Mersin. Impressive seaside castle with 39 towers and bastions, three courtyards. Developed since the Roman times, largely extended by Seljuk Turks.

Dolmabahçe Palace, TurkeyDolmabahçe Palace / Patrick G.


  • Dolmabahçe Palace – İstanbul. Administrative centre of Ottoman empire in 1856 – 1922. Large palace in Eclectic style, built in 1843 – 1856. Adorned with 14 tons of gold, many rooms have opulent interiors. Contains the largest collection of crystal in world.
  • Palace of the Porphyrogenitus – İstanbul. One of the few remaining secular buildings in Byzantine style in the world. Constructed in the late 13th – early 14th century, now in ruins.
  • Topkapı Palace – Istanbul. Important historical landmark, a seat of Ottoman Sultans in 1465 – 1856. Constructed in 1459 and later modified. Contains numerous relics, such as Muhammed’s cloak and sword, huge amount of art values. Consists of numerous buildings, with four main courtyards.


  • Chora Church – İstanbul. One of the best examples of Byzantine architecture, built in the early 5th century AD, largely rebuilt in 1077 – 1081. Adorned with fine mosaics and other decorations.
  • Hagia Sophia – İstanbul. Former Orthodox basilica, now museum. Possibly – highest achievement of Byzantine architecture, largest cathedral in world for nearly 1,000 years. Built in 532 – 537.
  • St. Peter Church near Antakya – Hatay. One of the oldest churches in the world, constructed the latest in the 3rd or 4th century AD. Rock hewn buildings, with fine facade built by Crusaders sometimes around 1100 AD. Rock-cut passages extend from the church.

Christian monasteries

  • Mor Hananyo Monastery – Mardin. Founded in 493 AD, seat of Syriac Orthodox Church from 1160 to 1932. Monastery got 365 rooms – one for each day of year.
  • Sümela Monastery – Trabzon. Very old monastery, founded in 386 AD. Enormous building high in the cliffs in the front of cave. Monastery contains frescoes of superior quality.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, TurkeySultan Ahmed Mosque


  • Great Mosque of Diyarbakır – Diyarbakır. One of the holiest sites of Islam, built in 1091. Ornate building of huge cultural and historical importance.
  • Selimiye Mosque – Edirne. One of most beautiful Ottoman mosques, built in 1568 – 1574. Adorned with some of the best Iznik tiles.
  • Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) – İstanbul. One of the largest mosques in the world, completed in 1616. In many respects it is modeled after the Christian Hagia Sophia, which is nearby. It was an imperial mosque of the Ottoman Empire.

Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, TurkeyBosphorus Bridge in Istanbul


  • Bosphorus Bridge – İstanbul. Steel suspension bridge, longest span is 1,074 m long, pylons are 165 m high. Opened for traffic in 1973. The 4th longest suspension bridge at the time of construction. 5 km from it is even larger suspension bridge – Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, longest span is 1,090 m, constructed in 1988.
  • Karamagara Bridge – Elâzığ. Late Roman built bridge, possibly the oldest pointed arch bridge in the world. Constructed in the 5th or 6th century AD, span – 17 m.

Other man made landmarks

  • Column of Constantine – İstanbul. Monumental Roman column, built in 330 AD. This monument commemorates the designation of Byzantium as the new capital city of Roman Empire. Originally 50 m tall, now – 35 m tall.
  • Grand Bazaar – İstanbul. One of the largest covered markets in the world, built in 1455 – the 18th century. Structure includes 61 covered streets and more than 3000 shops. Rich social life and traditions have evolved in this enormous building.
  • Sultan Han – Aksaray. The largest caravanserai in Turkey, one of the best examples of Seljuk architecture. This fortified structure was built in 1229. Not too far is another beautiful caravanserai – Agzikara Han.


Elia Kazan – director, actor, producer

Orhan Pamuk – writer

St Paul – religious preacher

Murad IV – Ottoman Sultan

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – former president of Turkey

Emre Can – football player


1. It has one of the world’s oldest and biggest malls.

Istanbul‘s Grand Bazaar, or Kapalı Çarşı, dates to 1455 and was established shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Over the centuries it has grown into a warren of 61 streets lined by more than 3,000 shops and currently occupies a nearly incomprehensible 333,000 square feet. You’ll never possibly be able to explore it all, but that doesn’t keep people from trying — according to Travel + Leisure, the Grand Bazaar was the world’s #1 attraction in 2014, drawing over 91 million people.

2. You might find chicken in your dessert.

The signature Ottoman treat is tavuk göğsü, or chicken breast pudding. It’s a strange blend of boiled chicken, milk, and sugar, dusted with cinnamon. And it’s delicious. Look for it on menus across the country.

3. Turkey is packed with cultural heritage.

In fact, there are 13 spots in Turkey inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, and a whopping 62 on the tentative list. They range from a Mesolithic temple (Göbekli Tepe) to a Biblical city (Ephesus) to a World War One battlefield (Gallipoli), and help make Turkey the sixth most-visited tourist destination in the world.

4. Santa Claus is from Turkey.

Saint Nicholas was born far from the North Pole, in Patara. And he’s not the only saint with connections to Turkey — the Virgin Mary’s resting place could be near Ephesus, while Saint Paul was from Tarsus in the south. Other Biblical figures include the Prophet Abraham, born in Şanlıurfa. And after the deluge, Noah may have run his ark aground at Mount Ararat.

5. One of the Mediterranean’s primary sea turtle nesting beaches is here.

İztuzu Beach, just west of Fethiye, is a major breeding ground for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle. The turtles arrive between May and October, climbing ashore at the exact site of their birth to lay a new generation of eggs. The beach sees around 300 nests dug each year, and government regulations have succeeded in balancing tourism with the need to protect and conserve this precious natural resource. Just down the coast, Patara is the longest beach on the Mediterranean (12 miles of pristine white sand dunes).

6. Turkey gifted tulips to the world (you’re welcome, Netherlands).

It’s uncertain where the first tulips were grown, but what is known is that the Ottomans popularized the flower and facilitated their introduction to Europe. A simultaneous export? Tulipmania. The seeds of the world’s first speculative bubble were sown when a Flemish ambassador to the 16th-century court of Süleyman the Magnificent brought back the bulbous flowers to Holland. Other commodities for which Europe owes a debt of gratitude to Turkey are coffee and cherries.

7. More than 130 peaks reach over 9,800 feet (3,000 meters).

Don’t let the balmy coastal climate fool you. Turkey is home to spectacular mountain ranges, and wintertime visitors can hit the slopes at nearly a dozen resorts. Palandöken, in the eastern province of Erzurum, is Turkey’s highest at 10,200 feet (3,125 meters) and claims Europe’s longest natural ski run.

8. Istanbul has one of Europe’s most exciting art scenes.

The edgy Istanbul Biennial, now in its 14th edition, is a must-see for the international art crowd, and with more than 300,000 visitors in 2013, it ranks among the top contemporary art shows in the world. In 2015 the show will occupy 30 venues on both sides of the Bosphorus.

9. You can cross continents underground.

Istanbul may be Europe’s largest city, but half of it actually extends into Asia. More than a century after a sultan dreamed of a rail link beneath the Bosphorus Strait, Turkey opened the Marmaray metro line in 2013. The former imperial city is also home to the Tünel, a short funicular that’s the second-oldest continuously running underground railway after London’s.

10. The seeds of agriculture were first sown in Turkey.

Historians believe agriculture began in these lands some 11,000 years ago. At sites like Çatalhöyük, in south-central Turkey, there’s evidence that the residents of this proto-city added crops like wheat and barley to their diet, and wild grasses genetically identical to those first domesticated grains still grow in southeastern Turkey. Even today, the country is the world’s 10th-biggest grain producer.

11. It’s home to some of the most important sites in Christendom.

Turkey’s population may be 99% Muslim, but these lands draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year. The Ecumenical Patriarch, spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox, lives in Istanbul, a vestige of the Byzantine Empire. The grotto dug by the Apostle Peter in Antioch was the first Christian house of worship, while a 1st-century patriarchal church is said to have been located underground in today’s unprepossessing Istanbul district of Fındıklı. Istanbul is also home to the 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia cathedral, now a museum. And the Armenian Apostolic Church was founded 1,700 years ago in what’s today the city of Kayseri.

12. Oil wrestling is the national sport.

The spectacle of two bulky men stripped to the waist, doused with olive oil, and grappling under the hot Thracian sun is a 654-year-old sporting tradition and sight to behold. Camel wrestling tournaments, held throughout the Aegean region in the winter, and bull wrestling near the Black Sea, are also popular.

13. People were building temples here back in the hunter-gatherer era.

Prior to the mid-1990s, it was assumed that large-scale human constructions weren’t undertaken until early peoples mastered agriculture and established permanent settlements. But then the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe was discovered in southern Turkey, with evidence of monumental construction taking place at least 2,000 years before the accepted timeframe of the agricultural revolution. Building at Göbekli Tepe also predated the inventions of pottery, written language, and the wheel.

14. Turkey’s film industry is booming.

When director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, it crowned a decade-long revival in Turkish cinema that’s seen productions rise five-fold to about 100 films per year. Turkey is one of the few countries where domestic films rake in more at the box office than Hollywood’s offerings, and its movies and television series are a major soft-power export in the Middle East.

15. A new type of plant is discovered every 10 days.

And Turkey’s 10,000 plant and 80,000 animal species help rank the country among the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots. Twitchers can visit more than a half-dozen bird sanctuaries for sightings of some of the country’s 475 aves, or 5% of the global variety. It’s a great place for flower lovers, too — see highlights like the native Fritillaria imperialis, above.

16. Turkey really is the center of the world.

You can fly to just about everywhere from Istanbul Atatürk Airport, thanks to flag carrier Turkish Airlines’ 260-and-counting destinations. A modern fleet of aircraft served by kid-friendly crew has helped the fast-growing airline win Best Airline in Europe for four years running.

17. Despite appearances, Turkish is surprisingly easy to learn.

The tongue-twisting, 70-letter Muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine, or “as if you are from those we may not be able to easily make a maker of unsuccessful ones,” is thought to be the longest word in Turkish, an agglutinative tongue whose dialects are spoken across a swath of Asia all the way to western China. Yet Turkish is pretty easy to pick up, following a language reform in the 1920s that simplified the vocabulary and moved from the Arabic script to the Latin alphabet.