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As the birthplace of Homer and Herodotus and the adopted land of Aristides and Thales, the Aegean could easily be characterized as the gateway to Ancient Greece. Yet add to the stunning and fertile Mediterranean panoramas, two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, all seven of the Churches of the Revelation and a dose of Turkey’s celebrated hospitality and it becomes very clear that Turkey offers something completely different: a bit of the exotic yet familiar, where the ancient and the modern converge to form one, unique, monumental and irresistible cultural experience.
The most famous archeological site in the region is Ephesus. As the capital of Roman Asia Minor, Ephesus is still richly endowed with marble temples, mosaics and a 25,000-seat Great Theater. The city, whose wealth and patronage supported its splendid architectural program, was dedicated to the goddess Artemis, and her enormous temple was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. St. Paul spoke here, and later wrote his famous Epistle to the Ephesians. The ruins are less than 40 miles south of Izmir, and a short trip from one of the best harbors in all of Turkey, Kusadasi, which welcomes cruise ships throughout the year.
As custodian to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, located in the ancient cities of Smyrna (Izmir), Pergamon (Bergama), Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea and Ephesus, the Aegean region played a central role in the evolution of Christianity, permanently altering the way an entire civilization perceived the faith. St. Peter’s sermon to the Ephesians took place in the Great Theater at Ephesus, while tradition holds that the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven upon her death from her final home at Ephesus. The tomb of St. John the Baptist is said to be on the site of the Basilica of St. John, also built in Ephesus by Justinian to honor the saint.
Pamukkale’s blinding white travertine pools, fed for millennia by calcium-rich underground springs, seduces prospective guests not only with thermal spas and soothing treatments, but with the outstanding ruins of Hierapolis, site of the martyrdom of St. Peter and home to the best-preserved ancient theater in Turkey.
In the nearby site of Aphrodisias, archaeologists have been working since 1961 to uncover a city that since has revealed extraordinary temples, amphitheatres, agoras, sculptures and a remarkably preserved stadium that rivals anything you will see at Ephesus.
It was in Pergamon, home of the original Great Library, where parchment was first created. Civilization’s first coins were minted in Sardis, and it was from this thriving city that the expression “Rich as Croesus,” was inspired.
As the gateway to the region and its defacto capital, Izmir took over where ancient Smyrna left off. Today, this sprawling city of palm-lined boulevards and waterfront promenades is a vital commercial and cultural center, proudly upholding its role as “Turkey’s Second City.” With nary a snap of the finger, you can find yourself relaxing in a thermal spring in Çesme, participating in one of the city’s celebrated international festivals, windsurfing on the Bay of Alaçati or conducting business at an industry congress.
To the south, past the bustling resort town and cruise ship port of Kusadasi, lie the impressive remains of Miletus, once a great center of commerce and thought in the ancient world, and birthplace to pre-Socratic philosophers such as Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. The nearby site of Didyma served as the religious outpost for Miletus and is famous for its magnificent temple dedicated to Apollo.
For active pursuits, visitors can enjoy the Blue Voyage in a traditional broad-beamed wooden gulet or go scuba diving into the Aegean recesses of Çanakkale, Kusadasi or Bodrum to glimpse the watery graves of ancient and contemporary shipwrecks.
The ancient and the modern seem to fuse together perfectly in tanned and tony Bodrum, where the home of Halicarnassus of Herodotus resides together with Byzantine basilicas, Ottoman era cisterns, tranquil bays and purely cosmopolitan revelry. As Turkey’s own home-grown St. Tropez, Bodrum has become synonymous with the kind of get-away-from-it-all day and nightlife, that is sure to sooth all of your senses.