Destination Guide to Turkey

History of Turkey

Turkey’s history is as extensive as it is diverse, and whichever part of the country you find yourself in will certainly offer an abundance of ancient sites to amble over and museums to peruse. If you were to complete an in-depth study of Turkish or Anatolian history, you could fill a library with books, so here is just a brief sample of what this fascinating country has to offer in terms of both ancient and modern history.

It is understood that the world’s oldest settlement, Cakal Hoyük, approximately 60 km from modern day Konya, was inhabited as early as 7500 BC in the early part of the Stone Age, and throughout this age and the Copper Age, more settlements were erected in Hacılar on the outskirts of Burdur, in the northern part of the Mediterranean.

During the old Bronze Age (2600-1900BC) civilisation continued developing and people known as the Proto-Hittites settled further in to Anatolia, building cities and establishing themselves as rulers, dominating the middle Bronze age between 1900-1600 BC. In fact the Hittite empire was secured right up to the Trojan War in 1250 BC.

As the decline of the Hittite empire continued after the war, the great Hellenic period (1200-600BC) was surfacing and kingdoms such as Ionia, Pamphylia, Lycia, Lydia and Caria were formed.

2Throughout the centuries, these kingdoms grew, until 550BC when they were invaded by the Persians, and their emperor Cyrus conquered city after city as he stampeded through Anatolia.

Relatively speaking, the Persian control lasted only a short time, as in 334 BC, Alexander the Great swept (from Macedonia) through the entire Middle East, from Greece to India, conquering all on his way.

After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, many small wars continued within Anatolia until the next invaders, the Celts, arrived in 279BC. They created the kingdom of Galatia with Ancyra (Ankara) as her capital and in fact parts of the citadel in Ankara today date back to this period.

Also at this time, further kingdoms were flourishing, such as Pergamum, modern day Bergama, in the province of Izmir.

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The next major invasion was that of the Romans in 129 BC, who established their Asian capital of Ephesus on the western coast. The Romans offered amity and good fortune for well over 2 centuries, but more significantly encouraged the promotion of a brand new world religion called Christianity. Saint Paul arrived in 47 AD to ‘spread the word’ on Jesus and visited modern-day places such as Side, Antalya, Demre (Myra), Konya and Troy. He also famously visited Ephesus, causing riots in the city as he preached his faith.

4In 330 AD an emperor named Constantine established a new capital, Constantinople, and the city flourished. In 527 AD, an empire known as Byzantium – the new Rome – was born as the great emperor Justinian defeated Italy, the Balkans, Eygpt and North Africa.

5He also ordered the construction of the Haghia Sophia in Constantinople, thought to be the greatest church in the world.

The next most significant date in this varied history is 570 AD when a man named Muhammed was born in a city called Mecca, and the Islamic faith was formed. Then the Seljuk Turks arrived, ruling Anatolia between 1037 and 1109 AD, from Persia, now modern-day Iran. But in 1288, what most Turks consider to be the greatest empire of all was formed, The Ottoman empire.

6In 1326, Bursa became the capital city, as Constantinople was still in Byzantine hands, although it was defeated in 1453 by Mehmet the Conqueror.

The greatest period for the Ottomans was during the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent between 1520-1566, who ruled land as far as Vienna.

For centuries, the Ottomans successfully ruled, though there was not a more powerful Sultan than Suleyman the Magnificent, and slowly the Empire began to fall behind the times in terms of social, military and scientific progress.

Apart from a slight improvement between 1876 and 1909 with the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid, the Empire had all but diminished. The final straw was the invasion of the Greeks in 1919. The Turkish war of Independence lasted 2 years with the very near defeat of Ankara. A man named Mustafa Kemal finally overpowered the Greeks and renegotiated treaties of WW1 were discussed which resulted in the mass movement of Greeks and Turks between the two countries back to their homeland.

The Republic of Turkey was formed in 1923, and a constitution was endorsed. New western-style decrees were established, the Arabic alphabet was replaced by an adapted Latin one, the Fez (a traditional Ottoman symbol) was banned, civil marriage rather than just a religious ceremony was now compulsory and women were granted the right to vote. Mustafa Kemal insisted all Turks should choose a family name, a surname, and he became Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Father of the Turks). In 1930 the city of Constantinople became Istanbul, and Ankara was declared the new capital, chosen for its more central position in the country.

7Ataturk is a national icon, and you will quickly realise this as every Turkish home, office, shop and business will have a photograph of him displayed for all to see. A statue or bust of him can be found in public places such as parks and squares and his speeches and quotations are written across many public buildings. His foresight in the introduction of new reforms, resulting in the modernisation and progression of Turkey, has left his face and his words embedded in the minds of Turks forever.

In recent years, the Turkish democracy has been continuously threatened, particularly after a coup d’etat in 1970 and in 1980, when civil unrest and political fighting almost brought the country to a halt. The military took over and restored order, although at the same time inflicting strict authority and sadly, abusing human rights.

At this time the head of the military government resigned his commission and became Turkey’s president. Since the 1980s there have been a number of presidents and prime ministers, including Tansu Çiller, the first female prime minister, between 1993 -1996.

The current government, the Akparty (the moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party), was elected in 2002 with Recep Tayip Erdoğan as the prime minister. One of his main areas of work at present is the discussion of Turkey’s entry into the European Union, though this is unlikely to happen until 2015 if it does. Erdoğan is promoting global peace and the eradication of terrorism around the world, though he has also expressed his concern at Turkey being the only Muslim country in the Union and how both the Union and Turkey can benefit from joining. These discussions will continue long into the future, but it is fair to say that Turkey as a country has developed and is certainly still developing into a more modern, forward-thinking country.