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Architecture of Turkey

Turkey has been the crossroads of Christian and Islamic cultures for centuries and has been the fortunate recipient of architecture left behind by seemingly every powerful empire Europe has seen, from the ancient Greeks to the Byzantines and Ottomans.

Turkish Architecture - Greek City of Troy
Troy

One of the world's oldest stories is based in modern-day Turkey, as the ancient site of Troy is on the country's western coast. Although many consider the site unimpressive, the 4000 year old site is a fitting beginning to Turkey's architecture. Although other ancient Greek ruins remain, the Romans left a more lasting impact beginning with the Greek-turned-Roman city of Ephesus. This powerful Greek city rose to power and fame under the Romans as its population swelled, it boasted one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and was important in early Christian gospels as it became home to St. Paul (and perhaps Mary as well). Although the ancient wonder, the Temple of Artemis, has since been destroyed, the Library of Celsus (125 AD) is considered one of the best preserved Roman facades.

During the time of the Greeks and early Romans in Turkey, there were a few structures built by the local people that remain to this day. The most impressive of these monuments are at Nemrut Dag, which is perhaps best known to visitors as home to the giant head statues (69-34 BC). This kingdom was descendent of the Greeks, although not truly a Greek kingdom and not truly Greek in the style of the architecture.

Turkish Architecture - Library of Celsus in Ephesus
Library of Celsus

Meanwhile the Roman Empire under both Roman and Greek leadership were expanding as the city of Constantinople (today known as Istanbul) was founded and rose under this leadership. During this time the Roman capital moved to Constantinople and their architectural legacy is a combination of Roman and Greek, but quickly developed into its own style, known as the Byzantine or Byzantium style.

The earliest Byzantine monuments are almost wholly Roman or Greek, such as Constantinople's Hippodrome of Constantine (200-300s), Valens Aqueducts (300s), city walls (400s), and Basilica Cistern (500s). Near Bodrum, the Greek-influenced city of Halicarnassus also exhibits remains from this time and was home to another of the seven wonders, the tomb of Mausolus (since destroyed).

Turkish Architecture - Aya Sophia in Istanbul
Aya Sophia

Over time though, this style evolved into something rather unique and the greatest leap in this transition came in the 500s with the building of Hagia Sofia (or St. Sophia, or Aya Sofia). This church (later a mosque and currently a museum) is widely regarded as one of the most influential buildings in the history of architecture, particularly as the primary model for Eastern Orthodox churches.

During the Byzantium Empire's rule, Christianity spread and some of the most unusual structures from this time are the churches in Goreme, Cappadocia (300s and after), which are carved into the rock and considered another form of Byzantine architecture.

In the 1200s the Seljuk Turks took over much of modern-day Turkey and left their architectural mark throughout the country, but primarily in the east. The city of Konya has a number of structures from this era, including the Ince Minaret Medrese (1200s). In Divrigi, the Great Mosque and Hospital (1228-1299) are also from this period. Finally, the city of Erzurum has some examples, including the Cifte Minareli Medrese (1200s).

After the Seljuk Turks came the Ottoman Turks, who truly altered the architectural landscape in the country as a whole. Although a number of Turkish baths and caravansaries were built by the Ottomans, their most magnificent monuments are mosques and kulliyes (the area surrounding mosques, often including baths, schools, and more). The city of Safranbolu is almost entirely built in this style, including their mosques, bath houses, caravanserai, and more. In the city of Edirne, the Selimiye Mosque (1522) is one of the more impressive mosques in this style.

Turkish Architecture - Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Blue Mosque

The peak of Ottoman architecture though, like Byzantine architecture before it, was focused on Istanbul, which the Ottomans took in the 1400s. These monuments begin with the Fatih Mosque (1463-1470) and the Sultans' residence, Topkapi Palace (first stage completed in 1465). From here though, the empire covered Istanbul with numerous mosques, kulliyes, bazaars, and bath houses, including Bayezid Mosque (1400-1500s), Suleymaniye Mosque (1500s), Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque; 1609-1616), the New Mosque (Yeni Camii; 1597-1663), the Grand Bazaar (1455-1461), and later the Cagaloglu Bath House (Hamam; 1741).

Turkish Architecture - Mt. Nemrut
Mt. Nemrut

In the 1700s the architectural style in the Turkish empire was influenced by Europe as a distinct form of Baroque entered the country. The Nuruosmaniye Mosque (1749-1755) is perhaps the finest example in this style.

Since the 1700s, the Turkish empires have been in decline until relatively recently, meaning little new notable architecture has been constructed. Since the Turkish Revolution in 1923, the capital was moved to Ankara and both the new and old capital began building in a more modern style and design, leading to a modern skyline in Ankara and parts of Istanbul that have the same.

This page was last updated: May, 2014