Istanbul is a fabulous city, but there comes a point when it’s time to escape the metropolis, if only for a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of Turkey’s largest city. Taking a few day trips from Istanbul are a good way to do this, allowing travelers to see some of the Turkish countryside and farmers at work. Visits to important mosques, ancient Roman ruins, battlefields and bazaars all enhance a traveler’s understanding of this diverse country.
At one time a 10 meter (33 foot) high stone wall with 108 towers surrounded the ancient city of Nicaea, now known as Iznik. While intended for defense, this wall today is the city’s No. 1 tourist attraction. Iznik also is a good place to view old Roman ruins, including a theater in the old town that was built in 112 by Pliny the Younger when he governed the province. Nilüfer Soup Kitchen, built in 1388 by a sultan’s wife, is now a museum with an impressive collection of Greek and Roman artifacts. Perhaps the best known building in Iznik is the St. Sophia Cathedral, a rectangular, red brick building built in typical Byzantine style. Several centuries ago, Iznik was quite famous for its tiles and pottery, so shoppers may want to be on the lookout for reproductions.
Gallipoli is famous as one of the biggest disasters for the Allies in World War I. The battle at the Dardanelles lasted from April to December 1915, and ended with the defeat of the Allies by the Turks. The Gallipoli Peninsula offers many opportunities to learn more about this battle, including the Anzac Walk that covers 14 important sites on the Anzac battlefield. Another 22 sites on the peninsula offer a better understanding of this important land and sea battle. One such site is the Battle of Çanakkale’ that led to the founding of the Republic of Turkey a few years later. Thirty-one cemeteries where the fallen of both sides are buried offer another opportunity for visitors to reflect on the sacrifices made by that long ago generation.
Troy is a legendary city in what is now northwestern Turkey, made famous in Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad. According to Iliad, this is where the Trojan War took place. Troy was destroyed many times since it was founded around the 3rd millennium BC, with a new Troy being built over the top of the previous one. Digging is still going on today, giving travelers a rare opportunity to see the past uncovered. The site also contains a large wooden horse built as a playground for children, shops and a museum.
Edirne, another early capital of the Ottoman Empire, was known as Adrianople, after the Roman Emperor Hadrian, until the 1930s. Located near the border with Greece and Bulgaria, Edirne has a lengthy military history, with 16 battles fought there over the centuries. Edirne is a city of domed mosques, with its Silimiye Mosque having the tallest minarets in Turkey. The Beyazid II Kulliyesi Health Museum provides insight into the history of medical care, including using musical instruments to treat mental illness. Visitors who are in Edirne in June may want to take in the traditional oil-wrestling tournament that has been taking place for centuries.
A long day trip from Istanbul, Bursa is a city that dates back to at least 200 BC. Once part of the Roman Empire, Bursa was the first major capital of the Ottoman Empire back in the 14th century. Today, it is Turkey’s 4th largest city and the center of the Turkish automotive industry, but links to its glorious past still abound, including burial sites of the empire’s two founding sultans. Ulu Cami (Great Mosque), built in the late 14th century, is considered one of the city’s top sights and a prime example of Ottoman architecture. Bursa is known as a green city because of its lovely parks. Visitors in need of a Turkish towel can shop to their heart’s content at Kapalı Çarşı, just one of Bursa’s popular bazaars.
In centuries past, the Prince Islands was a place where out-of-favor princes and other royalty were exiled to. Today, the nine islands are a place to celebrate fun in the sun, as it’s a resort for wealthy Turks. Just a short ferry ride away from Istanbul, the islands represent a slower pace of life, with bicycles, horses and carts providing the only transport services. The largest island is Buyukada, once home to exiled Byzantine empresses as well as Leon Trotsky following his 1929 deportation from the Soviet Union. Besides Victorian cottages, the island is home to the Ayia Yorgi Church and Monastery that was founded in the sixth century.