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An Introduction to Turkey – the ‘Cradle of Civilization’

Whilst the modern day Republic of Turkey is relatively young, having been founded upon the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, it is an ancient land, often referred to as the ‘cradle of civilization’. It is the site of the first human settlement – Çatalhöyük, first settled around 7.500 BC; the seat of numerous, powerful empires, including Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman; the birthplace of both Homer and Santa Claus and the site of the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary; the originator of currency and introducer of coffee and tulips to the West – just a microscopic sampling of Turkey’s extraordinary heritage. Today, Turkey – with its spectacular coastline, majestic mountains, cosmopolitan cities, quaint rural villages and mysterious ancient ruins – is one of the world’s most desirable destinations, a captivating blend of East and West, antiquity and contemporary, the exotic and the familiar.

Turkey has a diverse, natural landscape and almost 8.400 km of coastline, with the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts bathed in sunshine for most of the year. Turkey enjoys a variety of climates – from the temperate climate of the Black Sea Region, the continental climate of the interior to the almost sub-tropical climate of the southern Mediterranean coastal region.

Turkey’s landmass is 783.562 km2 (around 3 times larger than the UK), with the European and Asian sides divided by the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits.

The European portion of Turkey, called Thrace, accounts for less than 5% of the country’s total land mass, whilst Anatolia, the most western protusion of the Asian continent, accounts for more than 95%. Anatolia is a plateau that rises progressively towards the east – there are many rivers and lakes, the most prominent of which are the rivers Tigris and Euphrates and Lake Van, one of the largest saltwater lakes in the world. In the north, the Eastern Black Sea mountain chain runs parallel to the Black Sea; in the south, the Taurus Mountains run parallel to the coastline that connects the Aegean and southern Mediterranean regions, with this coastline known affectionately as the Turkish Riviera.

With its mountain ranges, forests, lakes, rivers, a multitude of plant and wildlife species (many of which are endemic), Turkey is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. The opportunities for activities such as cycling, trekking, horse-riding, bird-watching and watersports are almost endless. In addition, with a history than spans 10.000 years, Turkey is, perhaps, unrivalled in the countless number of ancient sites that are the legacy of several of history’s most important civilizations –   it is not so much the sheer number of sites that impresses, but that so many remain remarkably preserved.

The beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean and Aegean regions attract visitors from all over the world, whilst, further inland, particularly in the Mediterranean region, the fertile soil is intensively used for agriculture. Antalya province, in the southern Mediterranean, contributes significantly to this particular sector of the economy – a diverse range of crops, fruits and vegetables are grown here, including olives, citrus fruits, bananas, pomegranates, peppers and tomatoes, much of which are exported. This region also accounts for around 35% of all of Turkey’s cut flower production.

Tourism has always been very important for the Turkish economy, contributing more than 10% (through both direct and indirect revenues) to the total GDP. In 2018, with a total of 46 million visitors, Turkey was the 6th most visited country in the world. Whilst the majority of visitors come here to relax on the beaches or to explore the numerous ancient and historical sites, the tourism industry is becoming increasingly diverse – rapidly emerging ‘new’ sectors include medical, thermal and halal tourism. (According to Medical Travel Magazine, Turkey is now one of the top medical tourism destinations in the world).

A country rich in history, a guaranteed friendly welcome, stunning and diverse natural landscape, world renowned cuisine and golden sandy beaches, Turkey surely has something for everyone.