A small town in the rocks of Cappadocia |  <i>Erin Williams</i> Watching the whirling dervishes in Bursa |  <i>Szymon Szukalski</i>
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  • Cappadocia, Turkey

    Taurus Mountains: The Taurus Mountains are part of the “Alp - Himalaya zone’ along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. It features limestone that is imbued with a Karstic system of rock formations sinkholes, underground river systems and high plateau caves. The landscape of the region varies from rolling green hills, forests, high snow-capped peaks, impressive canyons and unbelievable rock formations. During the trekking season the vegetation can splash the hills with colour - masses of purple vetch, blue cornflowers and brilliant red poppies.

    Cappadocia: Cappadocia is a surreal landscape of conical shaped, limestone formations. Its contrasting moonscapes and valleys filled with rock-hewn churches and dwellings and fairy chimneys are nestled under the snow-capped mountains of Mount Aergius. It is primarily an agricultural region due to its rich, mineral laden soil; however, much wealth is generated from its famous carpet weaving and tourism.

    Gallipoli: Gallipoli has become iconic for younger Australian travellers keen to maintain a connection with the Anzac legend. Combining a visit for your school to the Gallipoli Peninsula along with tours of Troy and sites from the Byzantine Empire is a popular itinerary for students of Ancient History students.

    Historic places: Turkey also provides an intriguing destination for history students. With the exception of Pompeii, Ephesus is the largest and best preserved ancient city around the Mediterranean while the charmingly preserved city of Assos, where local authorities are not allowing any new buildings to be constructed and ensuring all old buildings are only restored using the local stone, as well as Troy, the site of the legendary Trojan wars, are well worth a visit.

    The beautiful 'Blue Mosque' in Istanbul, Turkey&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Ian Williams</i>

    Turkey is an incredibly diverse country with so much to offer: ancient ruins and magnificent architecture, dazzling natural beauty, world-class cuisine, friendly people, one of the world’s greatest cities and a unique culture combining European, Asian and Middle Eastern influences. It’s safe, affordable, easy to get around and remarkably family friendly. Turkey is an outstanding travel destination that should be high on your wish list!

    Turkey’s position as a land bridge between Europe and Asia has made it the scene of battle and civilisation for waves of people throughout history—a juncture between the great empires of the east and west. Istanbul was the imperial capital of the powerful Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and Turkey is littered with incredible ancient ruins that bear witness to the country’s rich history. Rock engravings, cave paintings, figurines and tools found in various cave sites throughout the country chart different Paleolithic cultures, but it is the well-preserved Neolithic site of Catalhoyuk near present-day Konya that is recognised as Anatolia’s first major settlement. The hub of a sophisticated agricultural civilisation, Catalhoyuk flourished in the region for two thousand years from the 8th millennium BC. By the beginning of the Bronze Age in the mid-4th millennium, improvements in technology and the resulting prosperity had enabled the rise of civilisations in Troy, Beycesultan, Mersin and Elazig regions. By the start of the Middle Bronze Age in 2,000 BC, Anatolia was home to many prosperous cities, and merchants from the Assyrian Kingdom of northern Mesopotamia had established trading stations throughout Anatolia to take advantage of the region’s mineral wealth.

    It was around the same time that the Hittites first appeared in the area. The Indo-European Hittites established a kingdom that ruled Anatolia and northern Syria and become one of the dominant powers in the Middle East, until the Hittite empire collapsed in the 12th century BC, most likely as a result of large-scale invasions by various groups including the Sea People. The centuries that followed the fall of the Hittite empire were a complicated mess of disparate states and kingdoms, including various neo-Hittite states in Anatolia, several Greek city-states along the Aegean coast (including Ephesus), Phrygian states in central and western Anatolia (which eventually became a powerful kingdom spanning much of Anatolia) as well as the Assyrians, Cimmerians, Lydians and many others. By the mid-6th century BC, Greek influence had thoroughly penetrated the country, however, Anatolia had become politically dominated by Persia’s Achaemenian empire. The Greek states fought the Persian empire in a series of wars that spanned the first half of the 5th century BC, before fighting finally ended with the signing of the Peace of Callais in 449 BC.

    The Persians’ grip on Anatolia continued until Alexander the Great led the Macedonians to conquer Anatolia in 333 BC, destroying the Achaemenian empire. Alexander’s reign was short lived, and upon his death in 323 BC Greek civilisation entered the Hellenistic Age. By 275 BC, three dynasties descendant from Alexander’s empire were established in territories once under his control: the Seleucid dynasty in Syria, the Antigonid dynasty in Macedonia and the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt; with Anatolia divided between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. Facing the expanding power of the Seleucid dynasty, rival kingdoms petitioned to Rome for an intervention, and from around 188 BC the Romans had begun reorganising the Anatolian states, with the whole peninsula under Roman control by the 1st century BC. From the 4th century, Anatolia was part of the largest Roman administrative division—the praetorian prefecture—with Constantinople (now Istanbul) as the capital of the late Roman empire. By now the West Roman empire was crumbling, but the East Roman empire—also known as the Byzantine empire—was richer and stronger and would flourish for another thousand years.

    Apart from a couple of brief periods of civil war, Anatolia was peaceful and politically stable during the Roman period, until the Persian Sasanian dynasty executed a hostile invasion and military occupation in the 7th century. The loss of Middle Eastern and North African territories made Anatolia the new heartland and frontier of the state, and the effects of plagues and constant raids dramatically changed the economic, social and settlement profile of the region. The Romans restructured their territories into military states called themes, allowing them to withstand any permanent conquests. During the late Byzantine era of the 9th and 10th centuries, the cities of the coastal plains flourished with a renewed urban prosperity, and the central plateau remained largely an agricultural/pastoral economy.

    By the mid-11th century, the Turkic Seljuk (Seljuq) dynasty had invaded and snatched control of central and eastern Anatolia, leaving the Byzantines to the coastal fringes. The Seljuk period was marked by division between Turkmen tribes and interference from the Mongols, and both the 1335 collapse of the Mongol empire and the 1390 loss of the Byzantines’ final territory provided the perfect conditions for the rise of the Ottoman empire. Formed by an alliance of Turkish Anatolian tribes, the Islamic Ottomans continually expanded their power, overpowering the last of the shrinking Christian Byzantine empire and growing to become one of the most powerful states in the world. The 15th and 16th centuries were the height of the Ottoman expansion, during which the Ottomans came to control most of southeast and Mediterranean Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Arabian peninsula, and many large-scale architectural and engineering projects were undertaken. The siege of Constantinople in the mid-15th century, and its transformation into the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, represented a watershed in Ottoman history.

    The Ottomans ruled under a policy of religious tolerance, with major religious groups allowed to administer their own communities. The flowering of art, architecture, culture and Islamic religion that occurred under the Ottoman empire had a profound and lasting influence on what would become the modern nation of Turkey. Between 1520-1566, the Ottoman empire experienced its golden age under Sultan Suleyman, aka Suleyman the Magnificent. It was during this period that Ottoman law was codified, art and architecture flourished and the empire continued its legacy of military supremacy. Following Suleyman’s death in 1566, the Ottoman empire began to unravel under inferior leadership and the growth of a new nationalism. Within a few centuries the empire had shrunk significantly as nations reclaimed their independence, and the once-revered Ottoman empire came to be known as the “sick man of Europe”. By the time of the start of the first World War, the empire was in very poor shape and looking to align with a stronger ally, and the hasty decision was made by the Ottoman war minister to side with the Germans.

    The proclamation of war against the empire led to a particularly bloody campaign between the Ottomans and invading British and ANZAC troops on the Gallipoli peninsula, a battle that signified the first major war casualties for Australia and New Zealand, and the beginnings of the fight for Turkish independence. From the battle of Gallipoli rose a military leader who championed for reform and galvanised his weary people against the invading Greeks. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a skilled military strategist whose bravery and energy won him the support and respect of his people, and his reform of the country’s legal, political and education systems created the modern republic state of Turkey and finally delivered its people their independence. After avoiding World War II, Turkey emerged from its first democratic elections in 1950 with the Democratic Party victorious. Turkey experienced economic and political successes under the Democrats during the 1950s, however, a military coup in 1960 saw Democrat party leaders imprisoned and the party abolished. A new constitution and parliament were created, with the military relinquishing its control of government by the following year. The decades that followed were marked by political and social unrest, guerrilla attacks by extremist groups—including those fighting for the rights of Turkey’s Kurdish minority—and increasing violence between supporters of left- and right-leaning parties.

    Despite ongoing political tensions, the economic growth that began in 1950 has seen Turkey continue to develop into a modern and prosperous nation. Turkey’s unique fusion of cultures, ancient cities and ruins, diverse natural beauty and its proud and friendly people make this an irresistible travel destination.

  • Muslim (mostly Sunni) 99.8%; Other (mostly Christian and Jewish) 0.2%.

    Turkey has officially been a secular state since a 1928 amendment of the constitution removed Islam as the state religion. Regardless, almost the entire population is Muslim—both Turks and Kurds

    As elsewhere in the Islamic world, Turkey’s observant Muslims pray five times a day, strive to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives and observe the annual holy month of Ramazan (Ramadan).

    The poet and Sufi master Rumi started the Mevlevi order of Sufism in Konya, Turkey. It is the Turkish Mevlevi who are commonly known as the “whirling dervishes”, due to the distinctive dance-prayer ceremony they perform, spinning in circles while wearing traditional tall hats and long full robes

    Marriage and family are absolutely central to Turkish culture. Children are an essential and adored asset to the family, and Turkey is a remarkably child-friendly travel destination. Turkish people tend to take their own children with them wherever they go, and are accommodating of the needs of traveling children. The Turks are forward about their love for children, so don’t be surprised if your child is showered with attention

    Life in rural areas is centred on agricultural work, with each season having a specific set of tasks. Men are traditionally responsible for heavy agricultural work, looking after livestock and making all economic and official arrangements outside of the home. Women are traditionally responsible for caring for children, looking after the home and preparing food, in addition to various agricultural tasks including milking cows, caring for chickens and tending to some crops. Many educated middle and upper class women in urban areas have transcended traditional female roles to enter the workforce and academia, however life is much more traditional in rural areas and for working-class urban women

    By outward appearances, Turkey is a very liberal example of an Islamic country, but the government’s staunch secularism has often put it at odds with religious leaders and the public. The wearing of headscarves has long been forbidden in some public places, and the 2008 constitutional amendment allowing women to wear headscarves on university campuses was met with controversy

    Despite this liberalism, relations between men and women are still extremely conservative. Women are traditionally expected to be modest and demure, and couples are forbidden from showing romantic interest in each other in the presence of others

    Shoes should always be removed before entering a mosque or someone’s home

    Only use your right hand for passing or receiving food—as in many cultures, the left hand is reserved for bodily hygiene

    Swimwear and revealing clothing are common on beaches and in Istanbul nightclubs, but men and women should dress conservatively in rural areas or near mosques and other sacred places

    Turks display modest behaviour (especially women), and overt public displays of affection are unacceptable

    The holy month of Ramadan is a time of prayer and sacrifice for Muslims, during which people abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. Travelers visiting Turkey during the month of Ramadan should show respect to locals by empathising with fasting locals, and by not eating, drinking, smoking or kissing in the streets during daylight hours

    Men dancing in front of ruins on Lycian way

    Contrary to other countries in the Islamic world, Turks celebrate New Year’s Eve on 31 December in line with the Gregorian calendar, and with as much gusto and revelry as in the West

    Turkey’s Muslim majority observe the holy month of Ramadan (Ramazan) each year, a time of prayer and sacrifice during which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations—breaking their fast only for a meal each night

    Seker Bayrami or “Sugar Feast” is the breaking of the fast at the end of the holy month of Ramadan (known elsewhere as Eid al-Fitr), a time for celebration that spans three days, during which schools and businesses close. People dress in new clothes; gather with loved ones to share special foods (mostly sweet, hence the name!) and children receive sweets and small gifts of money from relatives and neighbours

    In addition to Ramadan, “The Feast of the Sacrifice” (known in Turkey as Kurban Bayrami and elsewhere as Eid-al-Adha) is another important Islamic holiday, honoring the willingness of Abraham to agree to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God’s command

    After years of being banned by the government, Turkey’s Kurdish minority may once again celebrate the traditional Kurdish/Iranian New Year holiday of Newroz between 18 and 21 March

    Secular holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January); International Workers Day (1 May); Victory Day (30 August) and Republic Day (28-29 October)

    Total population of 77,695,904 (2014 estimate).

    The median age is 29.6 years, with 25.5% aged 0-14 and 6.6% aged 65+

    Sex ratio is 1.02 males to 1 female

    71.5% of the total population live in urban areas (2011), with an average annual rate of urbanisation at 2.4%

    Fabulous Turkish cuisine in Uchisar Cappadocia&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Kate Baker</i>

    Turkish 70-75%, Kurdish 18%, Other minorities 7-12%

  • The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

    Turkey experiences a varied climate owing to the influence of mountains throughout the interior and oceans to the north, west and south.

    Many areas have climate conditions typical of the Mediterranean—dry, hot summers and wet, mild winters—however winters are harsher and contrasts between summer and winter more pronounced in the interior due to higher elevations.

    The higher peaks of the interior receive snowfall each winter (several weeks for the warmer western mountains and several months for the colder eastern mountains), and the country’s highest peak, Mount Ararat, is crowned in permanent ice and snow.

    In Istanbul, average daily temperatures vary from a minimum of 2.9°C (37°F) to a maximum of 8.7°C (48°F) in January; to a minimum of 18.7°C (66°F) to a maximum of 28.5°C (83°F) in August.

    In Ankara, average daily temperatures vary from a minimum of -3.5°C (25.7°F) to a maximum of 4.1°C (39°F) in January; to a minimum of 15.4°C (60°F) to a maximum of 30°C (86°F) in August.

    In Van, average daily temperatures vary from a minimum of -7.9°C (18°F) to a maximum of 1.6°C (35°F) in January; to a minimum of 14.4°C (58°F) to a maximum of 28.3°C (83°F) in August.

    The Black Sea to the north; Georgia and Armenia to the northeast; Azerbaijan and Iran to the east; Iraq and Syria to the southeast; the Mediterranean Sea to the southwest; the Aegean Sea to the west; Greece and Bulgaria to the northwest

    783,562 sq km/ 302,535 sq mi (37th largest country by total area)

    Boat moored at the ruins of 'Cleopatra's baths' on our Turkey Walk & Sail&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Kate Baker</i>

    Turkey is ranked 66 out of 178 countries (with an improving trend) on the Environmental Performance Index (2014), which quantifies and benchmarks performance of government environmental policies and outcomes

    Environmental issues include air pollution, water pollution from chemical and detergent dumping, deforestation and risk of oil spills due to increasing ship traffic in the Bosporus strait

    Natural hazards include severe earthquakes, especially in northern Turkey

    Natural hazards include severe earthquakes, especially in northern Turkey

    Walking in the Cirali region of Turkey

    Turkey is home to a huge biodiversity of plant life owing to its variety of different soil types, elevations and climatic zones. Of this high number of plant species, many of these are endemic. Turkey’s two major vegetation types are steppe grassland and woodland/forest

    The true steppe of central, east and southeast Anatolia is devoid of trees and other woody vegetation, dominated instead by extensive grasslands

    Woodland and forest covers the balance of the country, with the richest forests being found in the well-watered Pontic Mountains of northeast Turkey. Species found in this region include Oriental spruce, alder, hornbeam, laurel, holly and rhododendron. Other parts of the Black Sea region are covered with humid deciduous forests of spruce, beech, alder, oak, fig, oak, pines and conifers. Mixed forests of oak, pine, fir and juniper are found in the drier region to the east and west of the central steppe. The Taurus Mountains are covered with forests of oak, fir, pine, cedar, beech, maple and juniper. The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts are fringed with a lowland belt of maquis vegetation including shrubs like laurel and myrtle and small trees like olive and olive and fig, and occasional stands of cypress, pine and oak

    Steppe wildlife includes small rodents, badgers, marbled polecats and the gray wolf. Remote forests and woodlands are home to a wide range of wild animals including bears, wolves, wildcats, foxes, deer, gazelles, jackals, hyenas, mountain goats, boars, beavers and game birds such as geese, quail, partridge and bustards

    Domesticated herd animals include cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys, water buffalo, camels and goats

    A third of Turkey’s land area is used for agriculture, with major crops including cereal grains (wheat, barley, oats, rye, corn maize and rice), tobacco, cotton, fruits and vegetables, nuts and livestock fodder crops

    Cappadocia's distinct landscape makes it instantly recognisable&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Ian Williams</i>

    Turkey is blessed with a huge diversity of different natural environments: spectacular coastlines, rugged snowcapped peaks, rolling steppes and fertile plains, rivers, lakes and waterfalls, lush forests, surreal rock formations and terraced hot springs

    Turkey is a land bridge connecting Europe and Asia. European Turkey and Asian Turkey (aka Anatolia or Asia Minor) are separated by a narrow passage of water called the Bosporus, with everything west of the Bosporus strait being part of Europe

    Turkey’s geography is dominated by a high central plateau punctuated with mountain ranges, fringed with a narrow lowland strip along its coasts. Interior Turkey can be divided into four major geographic regions: the northern folded zone, the southern folded zone, the central massif and the Arabian platform

    The northern folded zone is a 200 km-wide (125 mi) horizontal belt running parallel with the Black Sea across northern Turkey. Within this region is a series of mountain ranges that rise abruptly from the Black Sea coast, known as the Pontic Mountains. Cut through by river gorges, the ranges trend in an east-west orientation, increasing in elevation towards the east

    The southern folded zone is the region occupying the southern third of the country, comprising several mountain systems including the massive Taurus (Toros) range that runs parallel with the Mediterranean coast. The northern and southern folded zones converge in eastern Turkey to form a mostly mountainous region broken by valleys and basins

    The central massif occupies the western half of the country, between the Pontic Mountains of the north and Taurus Mountains of the south. The central massif is also called the Anatolian Plateau, although this elevated region has a much more varied geography than the word plateau would imply, comprising extensive alluvial plains, river basins, hills and volcanic peaks over 2,000 m (6,500 ft)

    The Arabian platform occupies southeast Turkey between Gaziantep and the Tigris River, with a broad plateau descending gently towards the south

    Turkey is fringed in extensive coastline to the north, west and south, with a total coastline of 7,200 km (4,474 mi). The colder waters of the Black Sea coast to the north are edged in forested slopes and steep mountains that rise sharply from the coast. The Aegean coast has uncrowded beaches and historic sites to the north, and the juncture between the Aegean and the Mediterranean in southwest Turkey is home to the ever-popular Turquoise Coast (aka the Turkish Riviera), a stunning stretch of coastline famous for its sparkling waters, pristine beaches and ancient ruins. Further east along the Mediterranean coast, and beaches sit in the shadows of dramatic mountain ranges. The country’s territory including the Aegean islands of Gökçeada and Bozcaada, the Princes’ Islands near Istanbul, and many tiny islands and islets

    An intriguing feature of central Anatolia is the unique volcanic formations found in the Cappadocia region. Clusters of rock known as ‘fairy chimneys’ rise dramatically from the earth, and the region is also known for the caves and chapels carved out of soft volcanic rock by ancient inhabitants

    Pamukkale in southwest Turkey’s Denizli province is an unforgettable sight: spectacular terraced travertine shelves formed by mineral deposits from natural hot springs, overflowing with turquoise water and spilling into one another. This World Heritage Listed property has been a beloved site for bathing and relaxing since ancient times, and although stricter controls have been enforced to protect the site, visitors and locals alike still flock to Pamukkale to bathe in its delightful pools

    Turkey’s highest peak is Mount Ararat, known in the Book of Genesis as the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. Situated in far eastern Turkey near the borders of Iran and Armenia, the snow-capped Ararat massif is actually two separate extinct volcanic cones: Greater Ararat (5,137 m / 16,854 ft) and Lesser/Little Ararat (3,925 m / 12,877 ft). Turkey’s relief is predominantly mountainous, with mostly steep slopes. Several other peaks have significant elevation, including Uludoruk Peak (4,744 m / 15,563), Demirkazik Peak (3,755 m / 12,320 ft) and Mount Aydos (3,479 m / 11,414 ft)

    Most of eastern Turkey is drained by the great Tigris-Euphrates river system. Both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers rise in eastern Turkey, flowing southeast through Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. Apart from some inland regions that drain into various lakes, most of Turkey’s remaining land area drains into the Black, Marmara, Aegean and Mediterranean seas

    Turkey has hundreds of lakes with the largest saltwater lakes being Van and Tuz, and the largest freshwater lakes being Aksehir, Egridir, Beysehir and Iznik

    The thermal pools of Pamukkale, Turkey&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Ian Williams</i>

    Great Mosque and Hospital of Divrigi (1985)

    Historic Areas of Istanbul (1985)

    Hattusha: the Hittite Capital (1986)

    Nemrut Dag (1987)

    Xanthos-Letoon (1988)

    City of Safranbolu (1994)

    Archaeological Site of Troy (1998)

    Selimiye Mosque and its Social Complex (2011)

    Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük (2012)

    Bursa and Cumalikizik: the Birth of the Ottoman Empire (2014)

    Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape (2014)

    Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia (1985)

    Hierapolis-Pamukkale (1988)

  • World Youth Adventures can tailor make a school expedition to Turkey to your school’s budget and curriculum requirements.

    Talk to us about your next school expedition, or if you need some ideas check out the trips below.

  • Capital City:  Ankara
    Time zone:  Ankara is +3 hours ahead of UTC/GMT
    Language:  Turkish (official)
    Currency:  Turkish Lire
    Highest Mountain:  Mount Ararat
    Highest Mountain Elevation:  3896m / 12,782 ft
    Red flag with a solid white crescent moon and solid white pentagram (five-pointed star). The crescent moon and star are traditional symbols of Islam, and the flag resembles the banner of the Ottoman empire that preceded modern Turkey.