Story and Photographs By Sultan Jessa
Ankara – TURKEY: With more than 99 per cent of the population Muslim, Turkey, a secular republic, is very different compared to other Islamic states. This country, roughly the size of Quebec but crammed with 80 million people, has nearly 83,000 mosques.
Istanbul, a bustling city with 12 million people and the starting point for tours, alone has 3,000 mosques. Five times a day, you hear the call for prayers no matter where you are. The timing of the prayers is calculated according to the movement of the sun. Far less strict than other Islamic countries, Turkey, where secular ideas flourish, give people freedom to choose.
That is why you don’t see women clad in burkhas, niqabs or hijabs.
A few women you may see in burkhas and niqabs are probably tourists from Pakistan and other Muslim countries. Instead, young women are tastefully and elegantly dressed in skirts, pant suits, miniskirts and washed up tornjeans. This is modern Turkey thanks to the far sightedness of its revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who made drastic and controversial changes in order to delink itself from its Islamic heritage. Official measures were gradually introduced to eliminate the wearing of religious clothing and other overt signs of religious affiliation.
Istanbul, located in Asia and Europe, was declared the most popular place in the world. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque – also known as the blue mosque in Istanbul is a masterpiece. This architectural wonder is famous for its six minarets and adorned with 20,000 blue, green and white Iznik tiles. Turkey, a progressive and rapidly growing nation, has more Greek and Roman ruins than Greece and Italy. It has the best of the new and old world. It has the Trojan horse, ancient cities including an underwater city and bustling bazaars and a lot more to offer to tourists and visitors from around the globe.
Turkey was once the centre of the great Ottoman Empire. Turkey’s strategically important location has given it major influence in the region – and control over the entrance to the Black Sea. Joining the European Union has been a longstanding ambition. To enable it to join the European Union, Turkey has introduced substantial human rights and economic reforms. Tourism in Turkey is mainly focused largely on a variety of ancient historical sites and also on seaside resorts along its Aegean and Mediterranean Sea coasts.
In recent years, Turkey has also become a popular destination for culture, spa and health care tourism. According to latest information obtained from reliable tourist guides, the country welcomed nearly 41 million tourists in 2014. The figure for in 2015 will show a big increase. In 1995, Turkey welcomed only seven million tourists. The vast majority of tourists come from Germany followed by Russia and the United Kingdom.
It is a known fact that many Turks have been living in Germany for numerous years. Turkey ranks as the sixth most popular tourist destination in the world and the current government is working extremely hard to improve this by new infrastructure, roads and encouraging private investors to invest heavily in new and modern hotels, motels and restaurants.
One tour operator told me Turkey will see huge losses for 2015 due to heightened security risks due to its proximity to wartorn Syria and resurgence of violence inflicted by ISIS or the Islamic State. In fact our tour had just left Ankara when it was rocked by a suicidal bombing that resulted in the loss of more than 100 lives at a peace rally.
Istanbul is one of the most important spots not only in Turkey but also in the world. There are thousands of hotels and other touristoriented industries in the city. The blue mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, the Galata Tower, the grand bazaar, the spice bazaar and mammoth shopping centers are among the favorites for tourists.
The grand bazaar has 4,000 shops and 22 entrances. You can find anything you are looking for from Turkish delight to designer shirts and famed leather products. It has the largest mall in Europe and seventh largest shopping centers in the world. In January 2013, Turkey announced it will build the world’s largest airport in Istanbul at a staggering cost of almost 10 billion Euros.
The country’s most beach resorts are located along the southwestern and southern coast, often referred as the Turkish Riviera, especially along the Mediterranean coast near Antalya. Antalya is also accepted as the tourism capital of Turkey. This is where you see one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the world. Konya is where the Mevlana, the famous mystic poet and founder of the Sufi order of the whirling dervish’s sect, is located. Some of the major resort towns include Bodrum, Fethiye, Marmaris, Kusadasi, Cesme, Didim and Alanya. Other cultural attractions include the sites of Ephesus, Troy, Pergamon, House of the Virgin Mary, Pamukkale, Hierapolis, Konya (where poet Rumi had spent most of his life), Church of Antioch, and the ruined cities and landscapes of Cappadocia. Pamukkale is famous for white “cotton castles” formed by limestoneladen thermal springs. The Antikabir is located in Ankara. It is the mammoth mausoleum of Ataturk, the father of the nation and its founder.