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17 Fascinating Ancient Ruins In Turkey

17 Fascinating Ancient Ruins In Turkey

17 Fascinating Ancient Ruins In Turkey

Greeks, Persians and Romans fought over the lands of modern-day Turkey for centuries, building some of the most remarkable buildings ever seen. Here’s our pick of the best ancient ruins in Turkey, each with its own story to tell.

The ancient ruins in Turkey are a remarkable journey through history; evocative places of myth and legend, of power and wealth. They range from ancient Greek towns perched precariously on steep hills, to imperial Roman capitals stretched across open plains.

Some, like Ephesus, demonstrate the wealth and power of a massive empire; others, scattered across remote outposts, tell Trojan stories of myth and legend. Gigantic temples, towering amphitheatres, defensive walls and endless piles of rubble unlock the story of the ancient world confined within the borders of modern-day Turkey.

WHAT IS ANCIENT?

Ancient History roughly covers the period from 3,000 BCE to 500 CE but it is often confused with Classical Antiquity which covers the period from the beginning of recorded Greek History in 776 BCE to the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE.

In this guide, we cover towns and villages from the early ancient period that passed from Greek to Persian hands before the successful invasion of Alexander the Great returned them to Greek rule once again. From the later ancient period, we explore once great cities and temples erected by the Roman Empire before the western empire fell and the capital moved to Constantinople (today’s Istanbul).

From the fall of the Western Roman Empire, we finish with a few ruins in Turkey that are no longer ancient, passing into the Byzantine period.

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Ancient Roman ruins in turkey in long dry grass
IN THIS GUIDE

BEST ANCIENT RUINS IN TURKEY

MAP / ANCIENT RUINS IN TURKEY

Turkey’s ancient ruins are predominately spread around the western side of the country. The best way to see all these sites with the flexibility you will want to enjoy them at your own pace is on a history-fuelled road trip.

We recommend booking your car rental with rentalcars.com who list vehicles from all the major providers so you can check prices across each of them. Before you take off, read tips on driving in Turkey.

For all the details on seeing the ruins and buildings in Istanbul read our 5-day itinerary and our guide to the best things to do in Istanbul.

1 – TROY

Uncover great legends in the most famous Greek ruin in Turkey

There is not a lot to see in Troy. There are no grand theatres or towering temples, no mighty walls or monumental baths. Even the sea that once surrounded this ancient hill town, has receded into the distance.

But what Troy has, is the mystery of legend. In the 8th century BCE, Homer wrote his famous poem the Iliad telling the story of how the Greek kings capture Troy after the ten-year Trojan War.

Wandering around the rubble of Troy it’s easy to envisage Homer’s tale. See the ramp and western gate through which Achilles was shot in the ankle and died and the line of blackened rocks where the Greek kings burnt the defeated city to the ground.

Walk in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Xerxes, Julius Caesar and Augustus, who all came to Troy to honour the Greek heroes and legends of the past.

Troy Visitor Information / 8:30 – 19:00 Apr-Oct; 8:30 – 17:00 Nov-Mar | Price: ₺25 + ₺10 audio-guide + ₺10 parking | Location: 17100 Kalafat Köyü/Çanakkale Merkez


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Rubble from the ancient ruin of Troy in Turkey

2 – APOLLON SMINTHEION

Drive country lanes in search of Greek myth

Strolling the lands south of Troy, a group of Cretans were attacked by an infestation of mice. Recalling an old prophecy which said they should settle where they were overrun by the ‘sons of earth’, they decided to stay and build a temple. They named it Apollo Smintheus (Apollo the Slayer of Mice).

In the 8th century BCE, according to Homer, the daughter of the local priest at the temple was captured by King Agamemnon during the battle for Troy. The priest prayed in anger to the ‘Slayer of Mice’ and the god sent a plague over the Greek army.

The temple that sits on the site today was built by the Romans in the 2nd century. Leaving the motorways and meandering the winding country lanes of the Biga Peninsular, getting to Apollon Smintheion is a beautiful drive through a landscape that has barely changed since ancient times.

Apollon Smintheion Visitor Information / 8:00 – 20.00 Apr-Oct; 8:00 – 17:00 Nov-Mar | Price: ₺5 | Location: 17880 Gülpınar Bucağı

crumbling pillars, ancient ruins turkey, Apollon Smintheion
crumbling pillars, ancient ruins turkey, Apollon Smintheion

3 – MILETUS

Discover a grand city design in this sprawling Greek ruin

Populated as early as 3500 BCE, Miletus became a Mycenaean stronghold from 1450 to 1100 BCE  and later one of the greatest Greek cities in the east. Built on a prosperous wool trade, it developed into a bustling city and seaport which in the 6th century became a hub for literature, science and philosophy.

Over the next couple of hundred years, it would switch between Greek and Persian rule, reaching its apex shortly after Alexander the Great recaptured it in 334 BCE.

Today, it is a sprawling complex offering a grand overview of all these changes. Stroll the grid system of streets (which became a template for future Roman cities); explore the Greco-Roman theatre that is still in excellent condition; and watch the Ionic Stoa of the Sacred Way reflected in the (often) flooded plains.

Miletus Visitor Information / 8:30am – 7pm (summer); 8:30am – 5pm (winter) | Cost: ₺12 + ₺5 for the museum.

Remains of a Roman Ruin at Miletus, Turkey

4 – LYCIAN ROCK TOMBS

Ancient rock-cut tombs and riverside ruined cities.

Before Alexander arrived in southern Turkey, Lycians dominated the area. Experts in stonemasonry, they built tombs hewn into the rock. Believing the souls of the dead would be transported to the afterworld by magic winged sirens, many were constructed into coastal cliffs. Hundreds of these rock-cut tombs still survive today.

The most famous is the Tomb of Amyntas overlooking the town of Fethiye. Others can be found next to the theatre in Myra, but the most fun to visit are at Dalyan.

It’s a wonderful boat ride and a short walk to explore both the rock-cut tombs and the ancient city of nearby Kaunos. The views from the city walls taking in the winding river meandering out to sea is lovely.


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Cave tombs cut high in a cliff, Turkey
Ancient ruin theatre overlooking a river and mountains in Turkey

5 – HERAKLEIA AD LATMOS

Swim to island ruins surrounded amidst rural farming life

The village of Kapıkırı sits on the banks of Lake Bafa under the towering summit of Mount Latmus where villagers live a traditional way of life supported by subsistence farming.

Scattered around the village are the remnants of Herakleia ad Latmos, one of the most evocative and picturesque ancient ruins in Turkey. The original city walls, built around 300 BCE, extended for 6.5 kilometres and supported 65 towers. Today, they remain some of the best-preserved walls in the ancient world. The Temple of Athena occupies a stunning position perched on a promontory overlooking the lake.

Herakleia is a much less-visited ancient ruin in Turkey and the town of Kapıkırı is a wonderful excursion into a very rural and local part of the country. Swim across a small section of the lake to an island where ancient foundations can still be found. Grab a beer from the bar on the beach and soak up this unique Turkey ruin experience.


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Ruin in Turkey overlooking a lake
having a beer overlooking ancient ruins on an island in the middle of a lake

6 – ASSOS

Magnificent views from the ancient home of great philosophers

Assos may be a small town perched on a hill but it packs a historical punch. When Aristotle left the Platonic Academy in Athens he settled in Assos and opened an academy. Working with other philosophers, he explored the nearby lagoons of Lesbos researching zoology and biology, before heading to Macedonia to tutor Alexander the Great.

Today the magnificent views over the Mediterranean are complemented with well-preserved ruins. Six of the 38 columns of the Temple of Athena (530 BCE) are still standing, as is the 4th-century city wall and gate, as well as the 3rd-century theatre built for 5,000 people. 

There is a market along the road to the town with several cafes welcoming guests with hearty Turkish hospitality. It’s a wonderful way to experience Turkey’s ancient ruins.

Assos Visitor Information / 8am – 8pm (summer); 8am – 5pm (winter) | Price: ₺10

Tall ruin pillars overlooking the Mediterranean, Turkey

7 – PRIENE

A Greek hill town almost untouched by Roman influence

Priene was purpose-built, according to plan, as a deep water port. A succession of terraces on a steep hill rose from the bay to a height of 380 metres. Designed on a grid layout which was divided into 80 blocks, shared between four districts, the walled centre had a small but dense urban population.

However, the city only lasted for a few centuries. The bay silted up, the port became inaccessible, and the people abandoned the city.

Today it is one of the best examples of Greek city planning and it’s quite possible to have the entire site to yourself. Don’t miss the Temple of Athena and its five remaining pillars. Sit on the “throne” at The Bouleuterion and summon the power of ancient heads of state.

Priene Vistor Information / 8:30am – 7:30pm (summer); 8:30am – 5pm (winter) | Price: ₺10 | Location: Priene is near the village of Güllübahçe.

8 – THE TEMPLE OF APOLLO

Be overawed by the sheer size of the Temple of Apollo

As you approach the Temple of Apollo it doesn’t seem that impressive. Only three columns are still standing with a pediment across the top of two of them. It is not particularly ornate, nor does it have a dramatic location.

But as you descend into the temple, the reason behind its status becomes obvious. Apollo is colossal. Unlike many of the other historic sites in Turkey, the Temple of Apollo shows the size, power and might with which the Romans honoured their Gods.

The temple was built on a platform over 5,500 square meters, upon which rested 122 columns each with a diameter of 2.5 meters. The walls of the temple itself rose 28 metres above the ground. The whole site is a monstrous undertaking of enormous scale.

The columns rise like mighty redwoods into the sky. One fallen column which now rests on the ground, gives you the opportunity to fully appreciate the scale of this incredible Roman ruin in Turkey.

Temple of Apollo / 08:30 – 18:30 Apr-Oct; 08:30 – 16:30 Nov-Mar | Price: ₺10 | Location: Yenihisar Mh Didim

Standing beside the huge columns of the Temple of Apollo, Turkey
Huge columns from the Temple of Apollo lie on the ground

9 – TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS

See a column from one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World

Of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, only the Great Pyramids of Giza are still standing. However, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to see one that still has a tiny fragment of its former glory.

The Temple of Artemis was built and destroyed three times, with the final version beginning construction in 323 BCE. It would become the largest temple in the ancient world. A platform measuring 137 metres long, 69 metres wide and 18 metres high supported over 127 columns. According to the Acts of St John, the apostle preached here many times.

All that stands today is a single column assembled from the rubble that was found at the site. It takes a lot of imagination to envisage the rest, but its iconic status makes this a Turkey ruin well worth popping into.

Temple of Artemis / 8.00 – 19.00 | Price: Free | Location: Atatürk Mh., Park İçi Yolu No:12, Selçuk

10 – SAGALASSOS

Head to the mountains for these evocative ancient ruins in Turkey

From Antalya, it’s a two-hour drive over rugged hills and wild valleys to reach Sagalassos. For the last twenty minutes, a windy road twists high up into the Western Taurus mountains until the ruins come into sight at a height of 1,500 metres. It may take a bit of effort to get here, but the remote and inaccessible location means it wasn’t looted after its demise and much of the site remains in good condition today. 

Already a wealthy city when Alexander conquered it in 333 BCE, most of the greatest monuments were built by the Romans. The theatre is a wonderful mess of broken blocks and tiered seating, while the imposing arch of Emperor Claudius rises over the lower town. The Heroon (hero’s monument) is a multi-story building thought to have been built by Alexander the Great in honour of himself.

But the most magnificent is the Nymphaeum, an array of ornate fountains built around the upper agora (market square). The statues may have been replaced by replicas, but it does little to detract from the majesty of this place.

Sagalassos Visitor Information / 8:30am – 5:30pm | Price: ₺10


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Ornate fountains on the Nymphaeum at Sagalassos, Turkey
crumbling theatre at Sagalassos, Turkey

11 – PERGAMON (BERGAMA)

Wander through an atmospheric hill town housing the Temple of Trajan

Overlooking the Caicus River which provided access to the Aegean Sea, Bergama (later Pergamon) was an important Greek cultural centre at the top of a hill. Seizing on its strategic and easily defensible position, the Romans briefly made it their first capital of Asia Minor.

Today, this sprawling ruin decaying on the hillside is a testament to its mighty past. High on the hill, the reconstructed Temple of Trajan was dedicated to the emperor after he was awarded God-like status by the Roman Senate. Nearby the Theatre of Pergamon is said to be the steepest in the world and provides spectacular views over the countryside.

Past the scraps of columns abandoned in the overgrown grass lies the region’s most famous relic: The Altar of Pergamon. A shadow of its former self, the altar has been stripped bare and its impressive marble facades now reside in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Nonetheless, the whole site still offers an intriguing insight into how Greek city-states became places of Roman wealth and power.

Bergama Acropolis / 8:00 – 18:45 Apr-Oct; 08:00 – 16:45 Nov-Mar | Price: ₺20 + ₺20 cable-car | Location: The cableway station is located at Kurtuluş Mahallesi, 5. Sk. No:13




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