We have just returned from a fly-drive trip round Turkey which took in all 13 (as of May 2015) of its inscribed and 19 (including the soon-to-be inscribed Ephesus) of its 62 T List sites (Turkey’s T List is longer than any other country - “beating” China at 54 and Iran at 51). Amazingly, 2 of the inscribed sites are even among the mere 35 which don’t yet have a review on this Web site and Turkey doesn’t even have its own “Topic” on this Forum! It therefore seems worth starting one for this country which is currently so “active” in attempting inscriptions as well as in adding to its T List and being a member of the WHC.
And its sites don’t seem that popular among visitors to this site - Istanbul comes in at 19th in our “most visited” list with 281 but you have then got to go way down to Hierapolis/Pamukkale with 123 and Goreme with 111. Edirne’s Selemiye Mosque gets 52 and the rest are scattered at 40s or lower. I find this surprising, given the ease of travel to and within Turkey and its popularity as a European holiday destination. Nor are its sites exactly uninspiring - Nemrut Dag, Hattushas, Çatalhöyük, Goreme, Pammukale, Selemiye, Pergamon, Troy and of course Istanbul are all undoubtedly “world class”.
One issue might be the size of the country. Turkey covers 768k sq kms. In comparison Fr is 547 and Germany 348 (source World Bank). Only Ukraine and Russia are larger in Europe. And its WHS are very spread out around it with (until Ani and Diyabakir gain inscription) only the furthest East of the country not represented. Indeed it took us almost 6000 kms to cover the 13 inscribed sites in a pretty “natural” circuit. The 19 T List sites were, for the most part, taken “en passant” with only the incomparable Gobeklitepe (surely a shoo in for 2017?) really requiring much of a detour. Given the very large number of Hellenistic/Roman sites situated within reach of the main touristic areas it is perhaps also of note just how relatively few of these have been pursued for nomination. Turkey can’t exactly be accused of only nominating sites within easy reach of the coastal resorts. There is Troy and the somewhat underwhelming Xanthos-Letoon but a look at the day trips on offer in the resorts will identify a whole host of others with potential Ephesus of course, but also many others which elsewhere in Europe might have been expected to have been inscribed e.g Aspendos, Perge, Assos, Side, Halicarnassus, Telmessos
Turkey’s WHS activity
Over the years Turkey’s WHS activity has been sporadic
a. Major - between 1983 and 1988 with membership of the WHC across this period, submission of an extensive T List of 61 sites in 1984 and inscription gained for 8 sites between 1985-8
b. Minor - between 1994 and 1998 with 1 inscription in 1994 (Safranbolu after a deferral in 1992) and another in 1998 (Troy). In 1994 Turkey scrapped its remaining T List and reduced it to just 3 sites
c. Extension of its T List to 18 sites in 2000
d. Resumption of major activity in 2009 with a peak being reached after 2011 during which period it has increased its T List to 62 by adding 38 sites, gaining 4 more inscriptions (with more planned for 2015, 16 and 17) and removing zero. It also rejoined the WHC (2014).
Turkey’s first T List in 1984 consisted of 38 Cultural sites and 23 Natural. This lasted through to 1994 when Turkey seems to have completely scrapped what remained and left in just 3 - Troy, Ephesus and Karain Cave.
The current T List stands at 62 and all but Ephesus and Karain Cave have been added at or since the major revision in 2000 before which Troy had gained inscription in 1998. However, many of these added were in the original 1984 list except that Turkey has been very reluctant to add many of the original 23 Natural sites. So it has no inscribed Natural sites at all and only Goreme and Pamukkale are Mixed, whilst its current T List consists only of 3 Mixed and 1 Natural sites (Lake Tuz)
But Turkey does of course have a lengthy and varied cultural history and plenty of sites to choose from. The list of “cultures” which have existed within its boundaries and have left their remains includes significant neolithic peoples, Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Thracians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Lycians, Armenians, Byzantines and others even before the arrival of the Seljuk Turks and the development of the Ottoman empire. And of course Christianity, Islam and Judaism have all left significant remains. The current 13 inscribed sites spread themselves reasonably widely across this history with perhaps a slight numeric bias towards the Ottoman period (Safranbolu, Selemiye and Bursa). Istanbul of course is significantly “Ottoman” also but really needs to be excluded from such analysis since it covers so many periods. The T List entries are very eclectic both in terms of period and culture with most of the above cultures getting a look in. I might suggest a slightly disproportionate leaning towards those Turkish “founding fathers” the Seljuks but perhaps that was just the result of our route - we did seem to look at a lot of Seljuk carvings on entrances to mosques, caravanserais, bazaars, madrassahs etc! But often they were indeed very fine.
It was suggested to me that the flurry of activity in the early years was due almost entirely to the enthusiasm of a few individuals in academia. It could not then be known just how significant the scheme would become and the government just let them get on with it. A truer picture of central government’s attitude is to be seen in the low activity period after those individuals had retired etc. As the potential value of the UNESCO inscription, both financially and in terms of national pride and influence, became clearer things changed, but again I was told that the impetus for a nomination still needs very much to come from local government with little or no central planning. Also that the reason for the notable lack of inscribed and T List Natural sites is due to the fear of interference over potential development schemes which might thus be prevented. Turkey of course has a record of mega development projects in the form of GAP (The South East Anatolia Project) with its 22 dams and major city and industrial construction.
Condition of sites and visits
All the inscribed and T List sites we saw were reasonably well maintained and some were receiving significant investment in Visitor Centres etc. It would seem that, once a site is inscribed, Turkey takes its responsibilities seriously. The guy at the info centre at Safranbolu told us how they had been unable to develop a new one as they wished because of “UNESCO restrictions”. We met the lady who put together the Bergama inscription and they have “UNESCO department” of some 3 staff (?) to help keep things under control. Some of the T List sites appeared to be being prepared for nomination. At Aphrodisias new walkways were being laid and at Gobekiltepe a new visitor centre and picnic area had been constructed. Nemrut appeared to have a new visitor centre not yet open and development of paths and signs was under way. Laodikia and Perge were also getting new visitor centres and archaeological reconstruction.
There is a tremendous difference in volume of visitor numbers at sites from East to West. At Nemrut we were the only 2 visitors (although there had apparently been 100 at the morning sunrise) and at Hattushas there was just one bus of Chinese tourists. Catalhouyuk had a just a handful of visitors. Bergama, Goreme, Pamukkale, Troy and Ephesus however were packed and were reaching the “uncomfortable” level. Whilst Istanbul has queues at Topkapi and Hagia Sophia to gain entry from opening through to closing and yet more to enter certain areas!
Ticket prices too increase from East to West. Catalhoyuk is free. Nemrut and Hattushas are 12 and 8 TL (3 = 1 Euro). At the moment Gobekiltepe is only 5 whilst Troy is 20. Pamukkale creeps up to 25 whilst Bergama is 45 to visit both the Akropolis and Ascepleion. Ephesus is 45 for the main site and the houses. To visit the Topkapi and Harem costs 45. We were told that prices can be expected to rise still further!
Once in the sites the signage was usually pretty good (and at least bilingual Turk/Eng) but we were never given any literature about the site/route in the form of a flyer, map or brochure and the visitor centres were thin on “interpretation” being mainly shops, toilets and cafes. One must have some sympathy with Turkey on this as the vast majority of visitors at the busy sites will arrive on coaches to a short fixed time table and with a guide. Given the number of visitors and the money being taken some of the facilities inside were rather poor - the Akropolis at Bergama for instance with half a million visitors pa didn’t have any toilets inside the site.
The visiting hours were usually long also - in summer often from 8 am to 7 pm. Only in Istanbul was there the annoying closure of 1 day per week (different days for different sites too!). Unfortunately Turkish hotels often don’t start breakfast until 7.30 or 8 am, so, if like us, you value that meal above all others it becomes difficult to get to the sites at opening before the crowds and the heat!