By Shaan Khan (04/09/21)
A place as delightful as it’s national sweet—the Turkish Delight. Where grandiose mosques bolster over culturally-rich cities and hawks roam the vastly diverse rural landscape from West to East—known as a natural bridge between Europe & Asia where early humans migrated through and empires used to invade & conquer.
Turkey to me is more like a handshake between continents. For millennia, goods and culture have been passed between the Roman-influenced routes of Europe where all roads lead to Rome and the infamous silk road of Asia that stems all the way into India and China.
The country reminds me of one ginormous gas stop, the most popular in the world, but instead of stopping to grab a snickers bar or some diesel, you come for splendorous herbal tea and world-class kebabs—the food ‘for’ and harvested ‘by’ the nation’s people that are predominately Muslims and ethnically Turkish or Kurdish.
The official language is Turkish, spoken by the large majority and used in widely popular folk music and the tv series ‘Dirilis Ertugrul’ that is internationally renowned—telling the historical tale of the nation’s origins founded by the Seljuk Turks.
From Turkic tribes to establishing the Ottoman empire and now a controversial democratic republic run by president Erdoğan. Here are 50 fascinating facts about one of the most influential nations in the world:
- The AKP (Justice and Development Party) govern the republic nation with Islamic and Nationalist centric ideals and are credited for socioeconomic developments over the years but criticised for authoritarian rulership for the plans to centralise power to the Turkish state. The government promise major economic development by 2023, detailed in their project plan known as ‘Vision 2023’.
- No, the capital city is NOT Istanbul. Despite being larger in size and population, Istanbul lost its claim as the capital city in 1920 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Ankara became the new capital city that is 275 miles away from Istanbul and Europe.
- Speaking of cities, there are 81 major cities in the country and 81 provinces. A nice equal match!
- So, you know that Trojan War in Greek Mythology? Where they used that wooden horse as a decoy to enter the fort? A whole movie was based on it called ‘Troy?’ with Hollywood actor ‘Brad Pitt’? Yeah, supposedly the real thing happened in present-day Turkey. Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the ruins of Troy in the Çanakkale province of Western Turkey.
- Within the first decade of The Republic of Turkey’s formation, the first president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk transformed the nation into a secular state and it has remained that way ever since, but the now-governing AKP party have been slowly dismantling secular policies such as removing the ban on hijabs. Despite being a secular state, 98% of the population identify as Muslims according to a recent government census.
- There are estimated to be 150 – 200 ancient underground cities in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, with only 36 of them being discovered! Thousands of humans lived down there like mole people and created multiple levels with shops, chapels, homes—you name it! A perfect place to explore and feel like a modern-day Francis Drake…minus the slave trading.
- The scrumptious’ Turkish Delight was born in 1777 and became so globally sensational that Western jellybeans are spouted as being inspired by them.
- Mosques in Turkey stand boldly over cities, its why they make for great postcard photos! In fact, the country has roughly 85,000 mosques, although 60,000 are said to be village mosques.
- Turkey has 33 official national parks covering mountains, caves, canyons and pine forests, etc.
- 397 blue flag beaches cover the expansive 4970-mile coastline of Turkey.
- Cappadocia is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Turkey. Yeah, the place with underground cities also has a lot going on at the surface. With perhaps the most unique geological formations in the world thanks to pre-historic volcanic activity creating rock formations known as ‘fairy chimneys’. Many ancient civilisations carved homes and sculptures into them.
- Adding to the unusual quirkiness of Cappadocia is ‘Balloon Fest Cappadocia’, a festival where hundreds of vibrant hot balloons float up into the sky together above and beyond the fairy chimneys—how very fairy-like.
- The nation has a women-only beach known as Sarisu Beach; only a few of its kind exists in the world. Women manage the restaurants, gardens and shops around the beach. So, if you want to test your look at entering with a wig and a bikini then be my guest—just be prepared to sleep overnight in a jail cell wearing that interesting attire.
- Turkish dramas & cinema are becoming increasingly popular, but did you know that kissing and love scenes are usually cut or simplified in shows & movies for being considered ‘too obscene’? Might come as a shocker for many Westerners. You’re not a true North American Netflix drama without some raunchy content shoved in.
- The sixth most-visited tourist destination in the world is Turkey. Well, the country does have 13 world heritage sites on the UNESCO list and a whopping 62 places on the tentative list. So, lots of cool places to check out, wouldn’t you say?
- Anatolia is the ancient regional name for the strip of land that makes up most of modern-day Turkey, but its Turkish cultural identity was brought to the land by ethnic Turkic peoples from the central Asian steppes that lived nomadically and formed a group known as the ‘Seljuk Turks’ who conquered Anatolia and surrounding lands and began the centuries-long ‘Turkification’ & ‘Islamic conversion’ of the native peoples.
- Long before the Seljuk Turks arrival into Anatolia, the land had first been Hellenised after Alexander the Great’s conquest of the region then subsequent to Roman expansion with both instances and developments wiping out the native language, culture and religion for a Greco-Roman cultural identity and Christianity—until the Seljuk Turks arrived.
- While being a land under rule from many foreign invaders, Istanbul has been the central city of all of its ruling empires for its strategic position as a gateway between Europe & Asia and an access point for naval trade between The Mediterranean and The Black Sea. Its name has changed over the centuries from Byzantium, Constantinople and now Istanbul.
- Historically Russia and Turkey have been one another’s arch-nemesis, having fought in twelve wars. Anyone willing to make a 12-part tv series on these wars? Anyone?…
- Speaking of TV series, Dirilis Ertugrul is the most globally popular Turkish show to exist, with Pakistan having the largest viewer base in 2019 that has almost 4x more viewers than the Turkish audience!
- The most popular musical instrument in Turkey is the Long Neck Lute, also known as the ‘saz’, which is commonly used in classical music but even modern music with the introduction of the electric saz.
- Istanbul is home to the largest bazaar in the world known as The Grand Bazaar, founded in 1455 after the fall of Constantinople to The Ottomans. You will find 61 streets with over 3,000 shops! Safe to say you wouldn’t be able to explore this whole bazaar that covers an eye-blinking 333,000 square feet!
- Turkey borders three seas: the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Aegean Sea.
- There are over 130 mountain peaks above 9,800 feet high. The tallest being Palandöken that stands over 10,200 feet and claims to have the longest natural ski run in Europe.
- Turkey is prone to many earthquakes for being located in the collision zone between the Arabian Plate, African Plate and the Eurasian Plate.
- Healthcare and primary/secondary school education is free in Turkey!
- Speaking of education, it’s not mandatory to attend secondary school or high school! That might sound amazing to many youngsters, but you’re not going to have many opportunities in life with just a primary school education…
- Newspapers list the Islamic time of prayer each day. How convenient!
- An authentic Turkish breakfast supposedly consists of butter, eggs, olives, muhammara, tomatoes, jam, cucumbers, honey and kaymak! Wow, that’s a lot.
- Despite many attempts at joining, Turkey is still not a full member of the EU. At the rate of the current bureaucratic process for Turkey becoming fully-fledged members, it would take until the year 2390 for the official completion. So not anytime soon…
- The biggest exporter of hazelnuts globally is Turkey, the largest supplier for company Ferrero Group that produces the mouth-watering chocolate’ Ferrero Rosher.
- The mysterious man with the white beard and big belly who brings you gifts every Christmas is from Turkey! Okay, well more specifically, Saint Nicholas, who Santa Claus was supposedly based on, was actually born in Turkey and not the North Pole. C’mon, you think anyone would want to live all the way up there. Being surrounded by just elves and reindeer all the time would drive anyone crazy!
- A reason why Santa would probably love living in Turkey is for the herbal tea such as Turkish tea with its alluring ruby-red colour. In fact, 96% of Turkish people supposedly drink a cup of tea each day! Turkey is also the 6th largest producer of tea, even higher than Iran!
- A great sweet dish to have on the side with Turkish tea would be Halva! This flaky snack is so integral to Turkish culture that Halva is usually gifted to those that gave birth or even served at funerals, strangely enough!
- Contrary to popular belief about the Middle East, Turkey is one of the few countries not native to camels. In fact, you will rarely find camels in Turkey apart from amusement attractions.
- Holland is rich in tulip fields; one would believe they originated from there. However, tulips were first introduced to Holland in the 16th century and were brought over from, you guessed it, Turkey!
- There are ongoing tensions between the Turkish government and followers of the PKK, a group fighting for independence for Kurdish people living in Turkey. Bad blood between the two groups escalated between 1984 to 1995 in a conflict where 15,000 Kurdish people were reported as being killed at the hands of the Turkish military.
- For the size of the Turkish population, the country has one of the lowest elderly populations in the world with only 9% reported to be over the age of 60.
- For all males aged between 20 to 41, you must carry out mandatory military service. Basic training usually takes up to a month, whereas military service can take up to a few months or a year max, depending on the individual’s level of education.
- Turkey is turning Istanbul into an island. Yep, going to Istanbul will sound a lot more exotic now when you call it ‘Istanbul Island’. The reason why is to create a canal that’s adjacent to the Bosporus Strait on the other side of the city, having two naval trading passages exists to cut down congestion in the area. Also, allowing Turkey to charge traders to use the new canal, which they cannot do with the Bosporus Strait due to a war treaty the country signed after WW1.
- A new Istanbul airport is being built and is expected to be the largest airport in the world!
- The nation is currently in the midst of developing several hydropower plants across the country for sustainable energy and its first nuclear plant in Akuyu to possibly build its own nuclear weapons someday. So, plans to be less destructive and more destructive at the same time. Got it.
- Okay, so the question sitting on everyone’s tongues! What was named Turkey first, the bird with a saggy red chin or the 302,455 square miles of land? Well, it was the nation, Turkey! That was the first to begin importing the Turkey bird into Europe from Asia. Not to be crude, but Europeans used to refer to the bird as ‘Turkey cocks’ *giggles to self*.
- The largest mosque in Turkey is the Grand Çamlıca Mosque that houses its own library and gallery.
- Turkey is known for its marvellous Greek & Roman ruins with many still intact enough to appreciate this skeleton culture that once thrived, but now, a lingering ghost of the land.
- The oldest temple found in Turkey is said to be 11,000 years old! Roughly 7,000 years before the Pyramids of Giza were under construction!
- Turkey has been part of NATO since 1952.
- It’s tradition for Turkish Ice Cream Men to commit to a teasing show of tricks by making you believe they are about to hand you ice cream, but then they don’t. This can go on for quite a long time till you’re shedding a few tears or being entertained by the show before they actually hand you the ice cream you’re oh-so craving!
- Turkey borders the following countries: Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Azerbaijan (just barely, like seriously, you’ll have to take a close look on Google Maps to figure that last one out).
- While Football is the most popular sport in Turkey, many Turks have a deep-rooted love for wrestling—the ancestral sport of the people.