One turns the pages of history on a visit to Turkey and its heritage

By Joe Hilbers, Editor

Turkey, it could be called the timeless land. True, Istanbul and Ankara are modern bustling cities with almost a fifth of Turkey's 60 million people as city dwellers.

But if you want to experience some of the timelessness of this country, at the very crossroads of human experience and civilization for almost 10 millennium, you must journey to the heartland of the country, central Anatola. Here the mountains, plains, lakes, countryside and at least some of the people appear much the same as when the Hittite Empire was supreme a thousand years before Christ and according to Homer the Trojan War was actually taking place to the west at Troy.

Overlooking all in Cappadocia is the extinct volcano, Mt. Hasan, over 10,000 feet high, and along with two neighboring volcanos, responsible for the unique geological formations that have shaped the lives of countless generations of peoples and Empires.

Here are the fabled underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, now with parking lots filled with tour busses with visitors from many nations. The area is a mix of thoroughly modern cities with excellent hotels and services and the agricultural countryside where horse drawn carts and donkeys are still the method of transportation.

Our trip to Turkey started in Istanbul. First Lady Hillary Clinton was also in Istanbul at the same time. And like her we visited the "must see" places--Topkapi Palace with its dazzling display of Otterman Empire wealth, St. Sophia's, the Blue Mosque, the Theodosian walls that surrounded the City of Constantinople and guarded it from invaders for 1000 years, and of course a cruise on the legendary Bosperhous.

Like so many major cities, in all parts of the world, Istanbul is teeming with too many autos and vehicles. But it is also a place to remember the one city that straddles both Europe and Asia, as well as its scenic hills and Golden Horn harbor.

The tourist to Turkey is frustrated with so much to see and do. It is a big country, the size of Texas, and its geography is as diversified and varied as that of California with Mediterranean beaches and cities, alpine peaks, the sites of earlier civilizations as well as legendary Troy and the World War 1 battlefield at Gallipoli, now a Turkish National Park.

Our short stay in Turkey was divided between Istanbul and central Anatolia--Ankara and Cappadocia. We arrived in Istanbul via British Airways and stayed at the five star Hotel Divan in the City. In Cappadocia we stayed at the completely modern Dinler Hotel in Urgup. One of the highlights of our trip to Anatola was a visit to the Anatolian Museum of Civilizations in Ankara. This museum houses a wonderful collection of artifacts dating back almost 10,000 years to the time that man first moved from hunting to agriculture.

In the Museum's collections are showpieces of Paleolithic, Neolithic, Hatti, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian and Roman artifacts.

Kemal Ataturk is the founder of modern Turkey and is to Turkey what George Washington is to Americans. Like Washington he was a successful general, the man to rally his countrymen to force out invaders and then become an outstanding statesman and father of his country. The places where he lived and his Tomb are in Ankara.

Americans are late comers as tourists to Turkey. Last year Turkey played host to some 7.7 million foreign visitors including one million Israelis, one million Finns, and over 1 million Germans, and it is rapidly becoming a favorite with Japanese tourists as well.

Americans have only discovered Turkey as a tourist destination in this decade but the numbers are now rising dramatically. Our tour was arranged by the Ministry of Tourism with the actual tour conducted by Cultural Folk Tours of San Diego. Cultural Folk Tours is headed by Bora Ozkok, Turkish born and educated at U.C. Berkeley. Bora Ozkok personally conducted our tour made up of 40 travel writers from several countries and his knowledge of the history of Turkey and the music and culture of the people made our journeys truly educational experiences.

For Americans making their first trip to Turkey we definitely recommend a guided tour. There is so much to see and so much to learn about both the ancient civilizations and modern Turkey. Turkey, unlike other Islamic States, is completely secular with complete freedom of religion. It is also one of the U.S.'s strongest partners in NATO and the only Islamic State that is a true democracy.

Cultural Folk Tours of San Diego will take over 100 groups of Americans to Turkey this year. Their number is 1-800-935-887.

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Last Update:4/15/96

© 1996 Joe Hilbers All Rights Reserved.
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