The history of Turkey covers a wide geographic swathe that extends much farther than Asia Minor and the Anatolian Peninsula where it is located. This was especially true during the height of the Ottoman Empire, when Turkish influence extended as far as Sicily and reached the gates of Vienna. Turkey history and culture were also exported to Greece after the region was conquered by Alexander the Great before the Christian Era.
The interesting fact about Turkey that contributes to its wide influence is that it is located at the crossroads between Asia and Europe. It was the hub of the ancient Silk Road, receiving and distributing exotic Far East spices and silks from caravans that trekked from China. The Anatolian Peninsula is an important piece of real estate that has also figured prominently in modern conflicts—from the battlefields of Gallipoli during World War I to today. The city of Constantinople, which is today’s Istanbul, remains an important trade center. Most visitors see this first hand when they visit the bustling bazaars of the city.
The history of Turkey reaches very far back, as this region is one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth. As long ago as twenty centuries, this was the empire of the Hittites. Ancient Hittite artifacts fill the country’s museums and other museums around the world. The Hittites ruled supreme from about the eighteenth through the thirteenth century BC. Then the Persians arrived, followed by the Greeks and then the Roman Empire.
When the Western Roman Empire fell, Turkish history reached an apex, supplanting Rome as the center of the known world. This is the period of the Byzantine Empire that ruled for 1,000 years with Constantinople as its capital. The Byzantine kingdom covered most of the Mediterranean, including Italy, the Middle East, and the holy Christian city of Jerusalem, northern Africa, and southern Spain.
The Golden Age of Turkey history begins with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, especially during its height during the sixteenth and seventeenth century. But this great empire that stretched across three continents and ruled for more than 800 years, all the way into the twentieth century and the creation of the modern Republic of Turkey. The history of Turkey and its Golden Age can be seen in the places of worship it left behind. The Byzantine Empire gave the world incredible churches with glittering mosaics, such as the beautiful early Christian churches of Ravenna in Italy. The Ottoman Empire saw the erecting of elegant mosques, like the otherworldly Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It wasn’t until after World War I that the region was divided up by victorious Allies and the modern state of Turkey was born.
After World War I, large parts of the region were occupied by Allies, including the two important cities of Istanbul and Izmir. Dissatisfaction with this situation saw the founding of a national movement. An interesting fact about Turkey concerns the man who would be considered the father of the modern nation—Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk actually means “Father of Turkey”. He was a distinguished military leader during World War I and led the nationalist movement after the war. In 1923, he established the country’s new capital at Ankara and became its first president.
Today many know only of Turkey history that has made it one of the most modern, peaceful, and progressive of all Islamic countries. This is largely due to Ataturk’s efforts at modernization during the 1930s and 1940s that led to that result. His motto was “peace at home and peace in the world,” and Turkey became a friend to both the Soviet Union as well as the United States during the Cold War era. When you visit the country, you will witness the long scope of Turkish history from the ancient Greek ruins at Ephesus and the cave churches of Cappadocia to fabulous Dolmabahce Palace.