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Turkey: General Information

Popular Attractions

A tour of the popular sights of Istanbul is a must if you are touring Turkey for a short period. One of these is the Blue Mosque, the landmark building of Istanbul. The walls of the mosque is lined with blue tiles and hence the name. Built in the early 17th century, the tall spires and the massive dome of the mosque are visible from all parts of Istanbul. The inside of the structure is supported by large pillars. After you have seen the Blue Mosque, make a visit to the Church of Saint Sophia standing opposite the mosque. The Dolmabahce Palace constructed in the mid 19th century was the lovely home of the Sultans. Besides the Throne Room of the Palace where a huge chandelier hangs, there are beautifully decorated rooms and ‘hamams’. The saying goes that the Throne Room was so large that it took three days to heat the entire room when used for royal occasions. Tourists have to wear plastic covers on their shoes to protect the precious rugs and pathways in the Palace. On the ground floor of the Palace is a Clock Museum. Another great attraction of Istanbul is the architectural marvel known as Hagia Sofia. This 6th century historic structure was initially built as a Church but became a Mosque in 1453. The building was in 1935 converted into a museum. Large walls support the massive dome of the structure and the columns are hidden inside the walls unlike the Blue Mosque where the pillars can be seen. The Topkapi Palace built by the Ottomans in the 15th century is another must see sight of Turkey. The Palace has three sections, viz. the main palace, the Harem and the Treasury and if you want to visit all which are worth visiting, it will take up an entire day. If you want to have a grand view of Istanbul, take a boat from the Anatolian side of the city and hike to the top of the Maiden Tower located on a small island in the Sea of Marmara. This romantic getaway was built more than 2600 years ago. Do not forget to experience the world famous Turkish Bath called ‘Hamam’ either at Istanbul’s Hyatt Regency Hotel or at the Cagaloglu Hamam in Sultanahmet. The Hamams demonstrate Ottoman architecture made from richly decorated marble. The Hippodrome at Meydani at Sultanahmet, Istanbul is another old historic and cultural sight from the Ottoman period. You can also allow yourself to be lost in the Grand Bazaar at Istanbul, a shopper’s paradise and the world’s largest covered market. If there is still some time left, take a cruise to Bosphorus on the Black Sea.

Nature & Geology

Nature crafted Turkey beautifully as reflected in her amazing landscapes and mountains. The Anatolian peninsula is surrounded on one side by the mountains and on the other three sides by seas. Cappadocia (present name Kapadokya) is a picturesque region of rocks lying between Hasan Dagi and Erciyes Dagi volcanoes. The rocky but fertile region is a nature’s wonder. Old civilizations flourished here and the place has an aura of legend and mystery. Another natural wonder of Turkey is the mystical landscape of Pamukkale located in the Aegean region of the country. Nature has gifted the city of Pamukkale with beautifully structured deposits of limestone. Tourists find this limestone landscape an irresistible attraction and the city is appropriately named Pamukkale meaning “cotton castle”. The diversity in the Anatolian landscape is due to earth movements like earthquake and volcanism in the geologic past. Turkey is geologically a part of the Alpine Belt extending from the depth of the Atlantic Ocean to the heights of the Himalayas. From the Tertiary Period starting from 65 million years ago, the continental plates of Arab, Africa and India started to collide with the Eurasian plate causing folding and faulting of the sedimentary layers in the ancient Sea of Tethys. This in turn resulted in volcanic activities in the region. The Turkish and Aegean plates are still colliding making Turkey an earthquake and volcanism prone area. Turkey’s land surface is mostly mountainous. Mount Ararat (5,166 m), the highest mountain peak, is located near Turkey’s borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran.


The Turkish history was dominated from the 13th century by the Ottoman Empire that ruled the country for 600 years. The Turkish heritage of Islamic art and architecture is derived largely from the Ottomans. The decline of the Ottoman Empire started from the late 16th century with Russia taking an active role in the Balkan territories of Turkey. The Crimean War (1854-56) put an end to Russian domination of Turkey but the country continued to be balkanized after the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) that liberated Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia from the Ottoman rulers of Turkey. The gradual weakening of the Ottoman Sultanate inspired a revolt by the young Turkish liberals in 1909, this group of rebels being historically known as the “Young Turks”. The Sultan was forced to hand over power to a liberal government. This however did not prevent Turkey from losing her territories through successive wars including World War I that saw the country lose further territory after the defeat of Germany with which Turkey allied. At the conference of Lausanne in 1923, the present geographical boundaries of Turkey were drawn and the country was made a republic. Kemal Ataturk, the first President of the Turkish Republic abolished the Ottoman Sultanate and Caliphate and started the process of modernizing and industrializing Turkey. Ataturk brought about many important changes in Turkey like secularizing the society by reducing the dominance of Islam and introducing use of Latin alphabet in Turkish language instead of Arabic. A political system of parliamentary multiparty government was getting established in Turkey notwithstanding small periods of military rule. Turkey did not take any active part in World War II and remained neutral. After the War, the country joined NATO in 1952 and in 1963 became part of the European Common Market. Following a conflict between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, Turkey invaded Cyprus in July, 1974 and helped in establishing Turkish Cypriots as a separate country in 1975. The U.S. installations in Turkish Cypriot were taken over by Turkey in July, 1975. The country passed through continuous turmoil till in 1980 it was controlled to some extent by a military government. In November, 1982, a new Constitution was adopted by a referendum that overwhelmingly voted for withdrawal of martial law. However, the military still has control over the administration of the country.


The Turkish culture has emerged from combined influences of Ottoman, European and Islamic cultures. Even under Western influence, the Turkish people have retained the religious and historical traditions and customs. History of Ottoman rule and consequent secularization of Turkish society by Ataturk has created a unique fusion of eastern and western cultures in Turkey. The efforts of the Turkish Republic since its establishment in 1923 to homogenize the multi-ethnic state to create a national Turkish identity never really succeeded. The conflict remained between the conservative Islam dominated Anatolian culture and the modern western culture of cosmopolitan Istanbul. Turkish music is both classical and folk. The former has Greco-Roman influence whereas the latter has a Central Asian form. Turkish literature had influence of Persian culture till it adopted western styles in the 19th century. Turkish literature has got a fillip with Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish novelist winning the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature. The best example of Islamic architectural style is found in Turkey’s Blue Mosque. Turkish cuisine is dominated by Ottoman tradition. It is a refined mixture of Arabic, Armenian, Persian and Greek cuisines. Olive oil is used as cooking medium in western Turkey. Vegetable and fish are dominant in Mediterranean cuisine. Kebab is a specialty in southeast Turkey.


The Turkish Constitution according to the law of which the country is administered has defined Turkey as a secular parliamentary republic. The Constitutional powers have been divided into three categories- legislative, executive and judiciary. The Turkish parliament is known as the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) or the “Meclis”. The President of the Republic who is the head of the state is elected for a 7 year term by the TGNA. At least two-thirds members of TGNA must vote in favor of the candidate to be elected as the President. The President is Commander-in-Chief and head of the National Security Council. The role is changed during a war when the Chief of the General Staff assumes the role of the Commander-in-Chief on the President’s behalf. The President of Turkey is empowered to either promulgate the laws or refer them back to the parliament for the government’s reconsideration. The functions of the President include appointing or accepting resignation of the Prime Minister, appointing or removing ministers, ratifying international agreements and calling for public referendum or parliamentary elections. The Executives of Turkish government comprises the President and the Prime Minister heading the Council of Ministers. The Meclis or the TGNA is a unicameral body elected for a term of five years by proportional representation through adult suffrage. Parties getting more than 10% national vote can only be represented in the Assembly. Sitting in Ankara, the 550-seat TGNA is vested by the Constitution with legislative powers of enacting, amending or revoking legislations, monitoring the performance of the Council of Ministers, etc. The Turkish Judiciary has civil as well as military courts with an apex court of appeal for each in Ankara.


The three major international airports in Turkey are Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, Esenboga Airport in the Turkish capital Ankara and Adnan Menderes Airport in Izmir. There are many more airports handling international traffic. The airport terminal in Istanbul for international passengers is one of the largest international passenger terminal in Europe. In addition to the national Turkish Airlines (THY), more than 300 international airlines operate in Turkey. Apart from THY, numerous other public and private domestic airlines operate flights within Turkey. Turkey has a vast coastline of 8,430 km which is no wonder since more than 70% of the country’s boundaries are covered by the 4 seas- the Mediterranean in the south-southwest, the Aegean in the west, the Marmara in the northwest and the Black Sea in the north. Along this vast coastline are numerous large and small ports of which 21 are international. Turkish economy is thus heavily dependent on shipping. In contrast to this, the railway network in Turkey is not as developed. Out of the total railway network between the eastern and western borders of Turkey, only small portions are electrified. The government is however extending the railway lines every year to improve this infrastructure. Roadways in Turkey are extensive and handle majority of traffic. Additional roads are continuously being built and the standards of metalled roads and highways are quite good.

Dos & Don’ts


i) Dress very carefully if you are a woman and especially if you are alone on the streets of Turkish cities. Your dress should cover legs, arms and shoulders.

ii) When staying in smaller hotels, take bath in the evening. This is because the solar heated water in Turkish hotels still remains warm in the evening. Prospect of getting warm water for shower in the morning is not very bright in smaller hotels of Turkey.

iii) Bargain real hard while shopping. Otherwise you may end up losing considerable money purchasing articles at a price that may be up to 60% inflated.

iv) Carry enough supply of toilet paper.

v) Carry more films than you think is needed.

vi) Check correctness of calculations in hotel bills. Mistakes are frequent.

vii) Remove shoes before entering mosques and observe silence. Women should cover their heads with scarves.

viii) Carry a flashlight.

ix) Keep in mind the complications if you travel by ferry to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that will prevent your entrance to Cyprus or Greece.


i) Fall into the traps of touts.

i) Be deceived into thinking that all shops with logo of tourist office are trustworthy.

iii) Back away once you have accepted a price after bargaining. It is unacceptable in Turkish customs.

iv) Talk about politics especially with pro-Greek views.

v) Take drugs or violet law.

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