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Turkey FAQ

Basic information is provided by Turkish Embassy at Washington DC below. You may find updated info by visiting www.turkey.org

1. Do I need a visa to visit Turkey?

U.S. citizens must have a visa to enter Turkey. U.S. citizens may obtain a visa upon entry into Turkey or in prior to departure from one of the five Turkish Consulates in the United States.

Visas issued upon entry are valid for three months. Visas for longer stays and for study, research or employment must be obtained in advance.

Non-U.S citizens must apply for tourist or business visas before traveling to Turkey. Applicants should contact the relevant Turkish Consulate in person, by mail or by a courier service.

Applicants outside the united States should contact the nearest Turkish Embassy or Consulate to learn their visa requirements and procedures. Turkish missions abroad are listed at www.mfa.gov.tr

2. Is it safe to travel in Turkey?

Turkey is one of the safest countries in the world in which to travel, and its crime rate is low in comparison to many Western European countries. Interpol ranked Turkey as the safest holiday destination in Europe for travelers. Naturally, we recommend that travelers to Turkey exercise the same precautions they would elsewhere, and be aware of security concerns that affect all international travelers.

The Turkish Government takes air safety very seriously, and maintains strict oversight, particularly on international flights. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has places Turkey's civil aviation authority in Category 1-in full compliance with international aviation safety standards in overseeing Turkey's air carrier operations. In the days following the September 11 attacks, Turkish Airlines was one of the first international airlines cleared by the FAA to fly into the United States.

3. When is the best time to travel in Turkey?

The high season for travel in Turkey generally runs between mid-April and late-October. During the off-season, temperatures are much cooler and snow is possible in mountainous areas. Many visitors enjoy the spring and fall, with their mild weather and small crowds.

Coastal regions are particularly popular with tourists during the summer. These include resort areas along the Aegean and Mediterranean coast with beaches and yachting facilities. The coastline, especially between Izmir and Antalya, features numerous coves and bays and many nearby ancient cities and is perfect for yachting. A large number of international-quality marinas provide services for the yachtsman. For active travelers, swimming, fishing, water-skiing, surfing and diving are available.

Turkey also enjoys many spectacular rivers. They are ideal for canoeing, skiing and rafting. Mountaineering is also popular in mountain ranges throughout Turkey in spring and summer.

The high plateaus of the Eastern Black Sea Region are covered by colorful flowers and green pasture during spring and summer. Naturalists will enjoy the diversity of fauna and flora as well as the heart-stopping splendor of the surrounding landscape.

Central and Eastern Turkey can receive large accumulations of snow, and snow skiing is a favorite winter pastime. Turkey has several ski centers, which are generally open from December through April depending on snow conditions.

4. What are the most popular travel destinations in Turkey?

From the perfect beaches and ancient ruins of its coast to the pulse of its cosmopolitan cities, Turkey is a study in contrasts. Visitors can lose themselves in the magic of a historic palace before enjoying a world-class meal, or swim amidst Roman ruins before continuing their journey in the comfort of a state-of-the-art yacht.

Whatever your fancy, there are countless things to see and do in Turkey. Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, serves as the gateway for most travelers. Istanbul is the only city in the world that sits on two continents and it offers an abundance of fascinating attractions for visitors. Some of Istanbul's most popular sites include the Bosphorus Strait, the Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, the Kariye Museum, the Underground Cistern, Galata Tower, the Tower of Leander, the Princes' Islands and the Grand Bazaar.

From Canakkale Bogazi, also known as the Dardanelles, to the fairytale Crusader castle and sunny beaches of Bodrum, the Aegean shores of Turkey are among the loveliest landscapes in Turkey. The highlights of an Aegean tour are Troy, the site of the legendary Trojan War and its wooden horse; ancient Pergamon, once a great center of culture and now one of Turkey's finest archeological sites; Ephesus, the capital of Roman Asia Minor, dedicated to the goddess Artemis whose temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; Aphrodisias, the center of the greatest school of sculpture in antiquity; Pamukkale, a unique fairyland of dazzlingly white calcified castles; and Bodrum, a charming coastal town with a long, palm-lined waterfront and beautiful beaches.

Antalya province on the Mediterranean coast is Turkey's principal holiday region. It is a paradise for sunbathing, swimming and sports. Best of all, Antalya serves as a convenient hub for nearby archeological attractions. Ancient theatres can be found in a remarkable state of preservation at Aspendos and Perge and visitors can tour the sunken city of Simena in Kekova. Remains of ancient Lycian cities such as Patara, Letoon, Xanthos, Myra and Apollonia are also within easy traveling distance. These are among the most fascinating sites on the Anatolian Peninsula.

Cappadocia in Central Anatolia is one of the most fantastic landscapes in the world and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Turkey. The area's early Christian inhabitants utilized its remarkable rock formations to create more than 220 churches and numerous underground cities in which they took refuge from their persecutors.

Other popular destinations include Safranbolu in the Black Sea Region, an open-air museum of traditional Turkish houses; Mount Nemrut in southeastern Turkey, where enormous stone statues of deities commemorate the first century BC Commagene Kingdom. Konya in Central Anatolia was home to the great Islamic philosopher Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi who in the 13th century founded the Mevlevi Order known as the Whirling Dervishes. Each year in early December, the white-robed Mevlevi commemorate the death of Mevlana with their trance-like turning dance or sema - an amazing sight to behold.

5. What attractions does Turkey offer related to religious history and issues of faith?

History has been incredibly generous to Turkey, which has been vital in the history of the three major Western religions -- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Turkey is one of a few countries where all three religions have co-existed peacefully for centuries. There are a many important sites in Turkey of interest to people of all faiths.

Christianity
More and more people are discovering the important role Turkey played in the history of Christianity. Travelers can discover many magnificent churches, some nearly as old as Christianity itself, and can retrace the footsteps of Saints Peter and Paul from the Biblical city of Antioch to the underground churches of Cappadocia. Many of the most important events in Christian history occurred in Turkey.

Born in Tarsus, the Apostle Paul spread the word of Jesus Christ across Anatolia, expanding Christianity's reach from a predominantly Jewish base to Gentile communities.

Not far from Tarsus on Turkey's Eastern Mediterranean coast is Antakya, known in biblical times as Antioch. This ancient city was founded around 300 B.C. and was home to the first important Christian community, founded in 42 AD by St. Paul. Jesus' followers were first called "Christians" in Antioch and from here Christianity spread to the world. St. Paul departed from Antioch on his three missionary journeys. The city holds the Church of St. Peter, a cave-church where the apostles Peter and Paul are believed to have preached. In 1963, the Vatican designated the site a place of pilgrimage and recognized it as the world's first cathedral.

The "Seven Churches of Asia Minor," a series of communities located near the Aegean coast, is where St. Paul visited, preached and built the early church. Their ancient names - Ephesus (Efes), Smyrna (Izmir), Thyatira (Akhisar), Sardis (Sart), Philadelphia (Alasehir), Laodicea (Eskihisar) and Pergamon (Bergama) are familiar from the New Testament's Book of Revelation.

Ephesus, perhaps the most prominent of the Seven Churches, is where St. Paul wrote his letters to the Ephesians, and where St. John the Evangelist brought the Virgin Mary to spend her last years. The Vatican recognizes the Virgin Mary's house, located in the hills near Ephesus, as a shrine. Just outside Ephesus, in Selcuk, is the Basilica of St. John where he preached and is believed to be buried.

Many other regions in Turkey offer a wealth of attractions to the Christian traveler. St. Nicholas was born and lived in Demre on the Mediterranean coast. A church dedicated to the original Santa Claus still stands. Visitors to the biblical area of Cappadocia, located in Central Anatolia, can explore more than 200 carved rock churches beautifully decorated with frescoes depicting early Christian motifs, and a seven-story underground city where Christians took refuge from their persecutors.

The stunning Monastery of the Virgin Mary located near the Black Sea in Trabzon is a well-known monastic center dating to the 4th century. Built on the edge of a l200 foot cliff and accessible only by foot, it housed some of the Orthodox Church's greatest thinkers.

Istanbul became the center of Christianity in 330 AD and it was here that the largest church in Christendom at the time, Haghia Sophia or the Church of the Divine Wisdom, was dedicated by Emperor Justinian in 536 AD. The Kariye Museum, a Greek Orthodox Church from the 11th and 14th centuries, is famous for its incomparable Byzantine frescoes and mosaics.

Judaism
Judaism has had a continuous presence in Turkey since ancient times. Signs written in Hebrew and menorahs carved into stone at historical sites such as Ephesus, Kusadasi, Priene, Hieropolis, and Pamukkale attest to long history of Jews in Turkey. In Sardis, near Izmir, the remains of the largest ancient synagogue in existence date to the 3rd century AD. Its frescoes and mosaics suggest a large, well-established and successful Jewish community in Sardis.

According to the legend of the great flood, Noah's Ark ran aground at Mount Agri (Ararat). When the floodwaters receded, Noah and his family descended from the mountain to the fertile Igdir Plain and repopulated the world.

Jewish Patriarchs Abraham and Job also made their mark in eastern Turkey. Sanli Urfa in southeastern Turkey is known as the city of Prophets. A cave there is said to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. It has become a place of pilgrimage and is now surrounded by the Halil Rahman Mosque. The Prophet Job, who was famed for his patience, is believed to have spent seven years recovering from illness inside another cave located in the district of Eyyübiye two kilometers south of Sanli Urfa.

Jews have enjoyed tolerance and peace in Turkey for centuries. After the Jewish communities in Spain and Portugal were exiled in 1492 during the Inquisition, Sultan Beyazit II welcomed them to the Ottoman Empire. As a result, many Jewish communities still thrive in modern Turkey.

Istanbul is of particular significance to Jewish visitors. In the city's old Jewish Quarter is the 19th century Neve Shalom Synagogue, the Zulfaris Jewish Museum and nearby, the 15th century Ahrida Synagogue. The first Jewish printing press began operating in Istanbul in 1493 and Jewish literature and music flourished during this period.

In Bursa, a short drive south of Istanbul, visitors will find the Gerus Synagogue, built at the end of the 15th century by the first Jews who settled in the city after being expelled from Spain. The name of the synagogue in Hebrew means, "Expelled". Izmir, located on the Aegean coast, has several synagogues, including Beth Israel Synagogue; Bikour Holim Synagogue, named in memory of an epidemic when city hospitals were so full that synagogues were used to house the sick, and Giveret Synagogue, rebuilt after an 1841 fire.

Islam
Visitors to Turkey are often touched by the call to prayer from lofty minarets. The call is heard five times a day, inviting the faithful to face towards Mecca and pray from the Koran. Although Turkey is a secular democracy which guarantees freedom of religion for all people, Islam is the country's predominant religion. People of all faiths may visit Turkey's mosques.

Islam's roots in Turkey date to the 10th Century. In the ensuing centuries Seljuk and Ottoman Turks constructed impressive mosques with elegant interior decorations and imposing domes and minarets. Virtually every Turkish city has a mosque of historical or architectural significance. Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul stands as perhaps the most impressive. Built between 1609 and 1616 in the classic Ottoman style, the building is more familiarly known as the Blue Mosque because of its magnificent interior paneling of blue and white Iznik tiles. The Suleymaniye Mosque is the largest in Istanbul. It was built between 1550 and 1557by Suleyman the Magnificent, the greatest sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Other cities also have impressive Islamic architecture. The Ulu Cami (Grand Mosque) with its 20 domes and Yesil Cami (Green Mosque) in Bursa, was constructed between 1419 and 1420. The mosque derives its name from the exquisite green and turquoise tiles in its interior. Haci Bayram Mosque in Ankara was built in the early 15th century in the Seljuk style and was subsequently restored by the master Ottoman architect Sinan in the 16th century. Selimiye Mosque in Edirne reflects the classical Ottoman style and Sinan's lasting genius.

Konya ranks as one of the great cultural centers of Turkey. As the capital of the Seljuk Turks from the 12th to the 13th centuries Konya was a center of cultural, political and religious growth. During this period, the mystic Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi founded a Sufi Order known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes. Mevlana's striking green-tiled mausoleum is Konya's most famous attraction. Attached to the mausoleum, the former dervish seminary now serves as a museum housing manuscripts of Mevlana's works and various artifacts related to the mystic sect.

6. How should visitors dress in Turkey?

Casual wear is appropriate for most tour excursions. Women wear pants or skirts, but when visiting mosques it is recommended that they cover their heads with a scarf and both sexes should not wear shorts out of respects for religious customs.

7. Should I exchange money before I go to Turkey?

The highly favorable exchange rate makes travel to Turkey extremely affordable. Most banks in the U.S. do not have Turkish Lira. However, Turkish currency is easily obtainable upon arrival in Turkey at any exchange office or bank. Daily exchange rates can be obtained from the Turkish Central Bank web site at www.tcmb.gov.tr. This site is in both Turkish and English, and gives links to all Turkish Banks. Turkish daily newspapers also publish daily exchange rates.

There are ATM machines throughout Turkey, particularly in larger cities and tourist centers. Credit cards are accepted by hotels and most merchants.

8. Are any vaccinations required for tourists entering Turkey?

There are no vaccination requirements for any international traveler.

The World Health Organization web site, www.who.org, provides vaccination certificate requirements by country, geographic distributions of potential health hazards to travelers and information on health risks and their avoidance (click on "Travelers' Health").

9. Is it safe to drink tap water in Turkey?

Turkey practices safe sanitation standards, and tap water is suitable for bathing and regular tasks such as brushing teeth. However, as is customary in most Mediterranean countries, the majority of locals and visitors drink bottled water. We recommend that visitors follow local custom and drink bottled water, which is routinely served with any meal.

10. What is a Turkish bath (Hamam)?

Communal baths were used in Roman and Byzantine times, but as the name "Turkish Bath" suggests, they played a significant role in Ottoman culture. At a time when the concept of cleanliness was not yet accepted in Europe, the Turks were very fastidious due to Islam's emphasis on cleanliness. Countless baths were built in the typical Ottoman architectural style throughout the empire. Unfortunately, few have survived to the present. Cagaloglu Hamami and Cemberlitas Hamami, both in Istanbul, are very popular with tourists.

A classic bath usually has three sections: changing rooms, a hot room and a cold room. After entering the hamam and exchanging one's clothes for a "pestamal" or towel, you then proceed to the "gobek tasi", a large heated stone where you perspire and are rubbed down by a bath attendant. If the heat proves too much, you can retire to a cooler room. This method of bathing is the most refreshing.

11. What to buy in Turkey and where to buy it?

Shopping is one of the great pleasures of a trip to Turkey and the rich variety of Turkish crafts makes it impossible to resist buying something. Fine apparel of silk, cotton, leather and wool; artful jewelry; leather accessories; brilliant faience (colored tiles); vessels of copper, brass, marble, meerschaum and alabaster worked by master artisans; and of course heirloom-quality Turkish carpets and kilims, are among the most popular purchases. Great value and an enjoyable shopping experience can be found everywhere, from small towns to big cities.

Unique regional handicrafts make shopping that much more enjoyable. Traditional Turkish handicrafts crafts including carpets, ceramics and pottery, tiles, copper items, woodcarvings, decorative glass, and embroidery are a major component of Turkish culture. They are a stunning reflection of Turkey's diverse cultural heritage and thousands of years of history.

The Grand Bazaar, or "Kapalicarsi," in Istanbul is a unique combination of fantastic merchandise and a memorable shopping experience. The Grand Bazaar is a maze of some 4,000 shops, selling treasures of every type. Still the commercial center of the old city, the Grand Bazaar's 80 roads and streets form the original shopping mall.