Although I might have been a little “ruined out” by the end of our Turkey Trip, seeing the ruins of Turkey was an experience I will never forget. It’s not just the amazing sights or the fascinating history that makes visiting Turkey ruins worth while. It’s being able to visualise the stories of people within that history and the feeling of standing in the exact place where such important events took place that makes it special.
Over the course of our two weeks in Turkey, we visited Troy, Ephesus, Pergamon and Hierapolis. Although all were great to visit, I definitely had my favourites. But first, here’s an overview of each ruin of Turkey.
You may have watched the movie Troy or heard about the Trojan war. The Trojan war took place over a 10 year period, and was an attempt by the Greeks to take over the city of Troy. Troy had an important trading role, and taking over Troy meant gaining control of the Dardanelles and trade with the black sea. There are lots of theories as to exactly what happened in the take over of this city by the Greeks in what is estimated to be in 1250BC. The most famous one being that a large wooden horse was given to the city of Troy as a gift, however it was a trick and the enemy were inside the horse , and this is how they got into the city. Troy also had to be re-built a number of times, sometimes due to earthquakes.
I had heard that Troy was a little disappointing, so I didn’t go with high expectations. When we first arrived and saw the big wooden horse, I wasn’t impressed. The horse was gimmicky. They actually don’t even know if there was a horse in the Trojan war, or if it was symbolic. But, when we actually walked around the ruins, it was a real eye-opener. I had never seen ruins like this before, and I found it so interesting. The ruins of Troy were quite small in comparison to others we visited, but you could definitely envisage the city that was. Our guide was great, and the history of Troy, and even the stories surrounding the first excavations, were fascinating.
Pergamon was a major centre of learning, with the second largest library in the world at the time. The city of Pergamon sits high up on a hill, and featured temples, a stadium, a theatre, a forum, a huge amphitheatre and a healing centre that was one of the most recognised in the roman world. They were also known for the development and mass production of parchment (an alternative to paper, made from animal skins). Throughout history it was capital of the Hellenistic Attalid dynasty, and later became capital of the Roman province of Asia.
Pergamon was fascinating in every way. Firstly, it’s position on top of a hill just makes it feel grand and really allows you to feel the impact it would have had. I didn’t know much about Pergamon before visiting, and probably would have skipped it if it wasn’t on our day tour. I am so glad that I went! Pergamon Ruins still seemed fairly in tact (compared to others), the area was large and there was a lot to see and walk around. It was easy to get a feel for the place and having a guide obviously helps bring the city to life and learn the history. One of the highlights was walking down (but not so much back up) all the stairs to the amphitheatre, which is one of the steepest in the world.
Ephesus was an important trade centre and religious centre of early Christianity. It is believed that it may have been the place where Mary spent the last of her days, and where the Apostles Paul and John may have written 1 Corinthians and the Gospel of John respectively. Ephesus was also the capital of the Roman province of Asia for a period. The city had temples, a library, bath complexes and a theatre. Ephesus is home to one of the seven ancient wonders of the world: The Temple of Artemis.
Ephesus was also fairly intact compared to Troy and Hierapolis. Highlights for me were the library and seeing where the Nike symbol originated. There is a statue of the Goddess of Nike (aka the goddess of Victory), which is were the Nike swoosh came from.
I loved walking around this city, but so does everyone else… it was so busy. The number of people there took away from the experience. Also, The Temple of Artemis, aka one of the seventh wonders of the ancient worlds, was a little disappointing, with only one column left (that some birds had made their home… prime real estate).
Hierapolis is adjacent to the site of Pamukkale, where the travertine thermal springs are which you may have seen in photo’s of Turkey. Because of its thermal springs, Hierapolis became a healing centre. Unfortunately there is not much of Hierapolis that is still in tact, and the major attraction here is the thermal springs of Pamukkale.
There is not a lot to see in the way of ruins at Hierapolis, so for that reason, I found the other ruins of Turkey to be more worthwhile, however it was still interesting. Pamukkale and the thermal springs were great to see, but were fairly packed with tourists. I found looking up at Pamukkale from the town at the bottom was stunning, as you really see why it’s name means “Cotton Castle”.
Which Ruins of Turkey Should You See?
If you are a history buff you will want to see all the ruins of Turkey, but if you are trying to decide between them, we will give you an overview of which ruins you should see.
In terms of location, Troy is nearest to Canakkale (which is closet to Istanbul out of the ruins listed here). We did Troy and Pergamon in the one day, on a day trip from Canakkale and finishing in Kusadasi. It was a very long day, but if you want to do Troy, Pergamon and Ephesus this is a great way to do it, as Ephesus is near Kusadasi. We saw Ephesus the following day, as part of a day trip from Kusadasi. Ephesus is also close to Izmir, if that was your base.
Hierapolis (and Pamukkale) is about 3 hrs one way from Kusadasi, and I would not make this journey for the ruins alone. If you are interested in seeing Pamukkale and the thermal springs, than Hierapolis will be worthwhile. We stayed overnight in the town of Pamukkale, and although one night is definitely enough, this tiny town was a great place to have some time out.
My Favourite Ruins of Turkey
My favourite ruin was… Pergamon! There was just something about it, the feeling you got when there, the size and location, the history and how much was still intact all made it a memorable experience. I also liked Troy, in part because it was smaller (and also because they were known to be short in stature and as I’m just under 5 foot tall I felt like I was with my people)! Ephesus was great as it had so much intact and by far the busiest of the ruins, but this also took away from the experience (it was a little harder to try and visualise the city when it was filled with tourists). And Hierapolis was more a side attraction to Pamukkale as there was not a lot left intact.
So if you want to see a fantastic ruin and not have to drive far, you could always get a flight from Istanbul to Izmir, and take a drive to see Ephesus. But if you want to do Troy, Pergamon and Ephesus, it is best done on the road, and for this I would recommend organised day trips/tour, as then you have both your transport and your guide, and spread it out over 2 – 3 days.