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From the Hittites to King Midas, the vast steppes of Central Anatolia have hosted some of the land’s greatest civilizations and ancient kings. Its underground cities and rock cut dwellings served as refuge for the earliest Christians, while Selçuk and Ottoman caravansaries provided respite for weary travelers along the Silk Road.
At Anatolia’s heart is the modern Turkish capital of Ankara. Monuments and museums to the founding of the Turkish Republic line the boulevards, and Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is buried at his final resting place in Anitkabir.
Ankara attracts non-political visitors for the remarkable Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which shows the history of man in a triumphant parade of extraordinary archaeological artifacts dating back 50,000 years to the 2nd century AD, and the finest collection of archaeology in the country. Two of the more important archaeological sites represented in the museum are Hattusas, the capital of the great Hittite Kingdom, and the nearby Phrygian city of Gordion, where Alexander the Great is said to have tackled the fated knot and famed for its burial chambers and tumuli. The tomb of the Phrygian king Midas, who according to legend turned everything he touched into gold, is located near Gordion. Reliefs of all of the Hittite gods and goddesses can be seen in the open air temple at Yazilikaya, adjacent to Hattusas, which was an important site of religious rites for the Hittites.
Central Anatolia was also pivotal in the development of faith. Cappadocia, with its captivating and romantic scenery of fairy chimneys, monastic valleys and underground cities, became the first place of refuge for the earliest believers of Christianity. The region houses more than 200 chapels carved into rock cliffs, embellished with arches, apses and columns and decorated with remarkable frescoes. The best-preserved collection of these churches is found in Göreme, with its National Park now listed as a World Heritage Site.
Cappadocia’s valleys also provide a treasure trove of trekking and mountain biking opportunities. Floating high above the golden hued valleys and vineyards in a hot air balloon is an equally unforgettable way to experience the region. The Kizilirmak River, the longest in the country, is the source of the precious clay used for millennia in the making of Cappadocia’s traditional earthenware pottery. In Avanos, you can try your hand at the pottery wheel in exactly the same way the Hittites, and those before them, produced their wares. Wine has been produced in this region for 4000 years.
Konya represents the spiritual base for followers of the great Turkish philosopher Mevlana, who preached of human love and said that mystical unity with God could be reached through the Sema, a whirling dance to music performed by the dervishes to this day. Mevlana lived and established a following in Konya, and both he and his father, Bahaeddin Veled, are buried in the Green Tomb (Yesil Turbe) in the Mevlana Museum, which has become the symbol of the city.