Turkey Facts
Turkey Facts

65 Interesting Facts about Turkey

By Jill Bartholomew, Junior Writer
Published January 31, 2017
  • The name of the country Turkey may come from Turchia, which is the word Italian observers used to refer to Anatolia—Turkey’s Asian portion—as early as the 12th century. The Turks didn’t use the name Türkiye (Land of the Turks) officially until the republic was established in 1923.[3]
  • Gazi Mustafa Kemal, a.k.a. Atatürk (Father of the Turks), was actually born in Greece. The founder of modern Turkey was born in 1881 in what was then the Ottoman city of Selanik, now Saloniki, in Greece. Though, his mother and his father’s ancestors were Turks from Anatolia.[2]
  • Turkey has the third highest number of Facebook users in the world, with 14 million users, after the U.S. and U.K.[5]
  • Istanbul’s Kapalıçarşı, or Grand Bazaar, may be the world’s largest outdoor market, with 64 streets, 4,000 shops, and 25,000 workers. It also may be one of the oldest, having been built in the 15th century on the order of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.[20]
  • The first Christian church to be built by man—the Cave Church, or Grotto, of St. Peter—was built between A.D. 1098 and 1268 in Antioch, Turkey.[3]
  • Interesting Jelly Bean Fact
    Jelly beans began as an American version of the “Turkish Delight”
  • Jelly beans began as an American version of the “Turkish Delight” (lokum) confection.[19]
  • Santa Claus, also known as St. Nicholas, was born in Patara, Turkey, in the 3rd century A.D.[20]
  • In 1503, Leonardo da Vinci submitted plans to build a bridge across the Bosporus Straits. It was not built until almost 500 years later in 2001 and named the Galata Bridge.[18]
  • While nearly all of the Turkish population is Muslim, Turkey is not officially a Muslim country. Turkey has officially been a secular nation since 1927.[20]
  • The oldest known human city is Çatalhöyük in Turkey, which shows signs of settlement from the 7th century B.C.[20]
  • Turkey is the 6th most popular tourist destination in the world and had 35 million foreign visitors in 2013 alone.[26]
  • There are at least 150 archaeological digs going on in Turkey each year.[10]
  • The stones found at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey in 1994 mark it as the world’s first temple and one of the most important archaeological sites ever discovered. Carbon dating shows the 45 stones may be as old as 13,000 years old—which makes it the oldest site by an amazing margin, considering Stonehenge was built around 2,000 to 3,000 years ago and the pyramids of Giza 2,500 years ago.[8]
  • Istanbul is the world’s only city spanning two continents. Three percent is in Europe and 97% in Asia. The part that lies in Asia is called Anatolia (Turkish: Anadolu).[22]
  • Interesting Fact about Turkey
    Noah’s Ark is purported to have landed on Mount Ararat
  • Noah’s Ark is purported to have landed on Mount Ararat (Ağri Daği) in Eastern Turkey. The mountain is actually a dormant volcano and the highest point in the country at 16,949 feet (5,166 m).[20]
  • Turkey is home to the world’s oldest sporting event, grease wrestling, which is also its national sport. Wrestlers cover themselves with olive oil and attempt to either pin their opponents on the ground or lift them up and walk three steps. The first grease wrestling game was hosted in 1362. In the past, these matches could last days, but there is now a time limit of 40 minutes. Held during the summer months, wrestlers are not allowed to stop for breaks or even drink water.[20]
  • One way of protecting a newborn baby in Turkey is by “salting,” which is a custom where the baby’s body is rubbed all over with salt in the belief that will give the child strength to resist harmful influences. Another practice that is no longer as common is the placing of a tortoise under a baby’s pillow at night. It is believed the tortoise will protect the child.[22]
  • Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is the father of the modern Turkish nation. When he rose to power in 1921, he lifted the ban on alcohol, adopted the Gregorian calendar instead of the Islamic, made Sunday a day of rest instead of Friday, changed the Turkish alphabet from Arabic letters to Roman, and mandated that the call to prayer be in Turkish rather than Arabic. He even banned the iconic red Turkish fez hat.[22]
  • The word “harem” comes from the Arabic for “forbidden” and refers to the private rooms where the sultan’s wives and concubines lived with their children. During the reign of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, there were 1,000 women living in 250 rooms of the harem at Topkapi Palace.[22]
  • The Turks invented parchment—paper made out of calfskin—when the Egyptians stopped exporting papyrus to Pergamum, Turkey, because they were afraid that Pergamum’s library would become larger than the library at Alexandria, the world’s largest at the time.[24]
  • Interesting Turkish Tulip Fact
    The word “tulip” comes from the Turkish word for turban, tülbent
  • Tulips were introduced to Europe through Dutch traders by the Turks in the 17th century. The word “tulip” comes from the Turkish word for turban, tülbent.[15]
  • The fez is a traditional, short, conical, red felt cap worn by Turkish men, but they are almost never worn today. They were banned by the government in 1925.[21]
  • Turkey is the largest grower of hazelnuts in the world; it is responsible for 80% of the world’s hazelnut exports.[28]
  • Most Turks did not have surnames until a law was passed requiring it in 1934. The most common last names in Turkey are Yılmaz (never gives up, undaunted), Kaya (rock), Demir (iron), Şahin (falcon or hawk), and Çelik (steel).[20]
  • Turkey is the birthplace of such historical figures as Aesop; Homer; St. Paul; King Midas; Galen, noted physician, surgeon, medical researcher, and philosopher in the Roman Empire; and Herodotus, the father of history.[22]
  • More journalists are imprisoned in Turkey than any other country in the world.[4]
  • The Asklepion at Pergamum, Turkey, has been called one of the world’s first full-service health clinics.[28]
  • Turkey’s Istanbul Tünel is the world’s second oldest underground railway, after the London Underground, and the oldest on the European continent. It began operating in 1975.[27]
  • One of the world’s earliest civilizations, the Hittites, flourished in Turkey around 1600 B.C. They were among the first people to work iron and use a system of writing.[20]
  • The legendary city of Troy—of the Trojan horse, Achilles, and Paris and Helen—is located on the Aegean coast on Turkey.[3]
  • Turkey has 82,693 mosques, more than any other country per capita in the world.[16]
  • Interesting Turkish Mosque Fact
    Turkey has more mosques per capita than any country in the world

  • Constantinople, previously known as Byzantium and which would later be renamed Istanbul in the 20th century, was the capital of the Roman Empire for a brief time under the Emperor Constantine.[22]
  • The last meal on Noah’s ark, a sweet and sour pudding called “ashure” (Turkish aşure), is still served as a dessert throughout Turkey. It supposedly contained 40 different ingredients, which were the remainders of his supplies.[12]
  • Turks introduced coffee to Europe, during the Ottoman raids into Central and Eastern Europe in the 16th century.[22]
  • According to Turkish tradition, all major life events begin with eating sweets. A baby is welcomed at birth with halva, and it is also made again for a funeral. When a woman gives birth, she is given sweet fruit drinks to drink.[12]
  • Julius Caesar pronounced his famous words, “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”) in Turkey when he defeated Pontus, a kingdom of the Black Sea region of Turkey.[3]
  • The cherry tree was first introduced to Rome, and then to Europe, from Giresun in northern Turkey in 69 B.C. It is thought to be one of the earliest domesticated plants, around 10,000 years ago.[9]
  • The oldest known shipwreck on earth was found and examined in Uluburun in the Mediterranean region of Turkey, about 6 miles SE of Kaş. It was dated to be at least 3,300 years old.[20]
  • Interesting Camel Wrestling Fact
    Camel wrestling is a popular sport in Turkey, and they will only wrestle during mating season, which lasts from November to March
  • Camels are not native to Turkey, despite the local popularity of camel wrestling and their popularity at Turkish resorts. Camels will wrestle only during their mating season, which lasts from November to March, and a female camel is paraded around in front of two males to provoke them.[28]
  • Istanbul is the home of the Sirkeci Train Station, which was the last stop on the Orient Express, which ran between Paris and Istanbul from to 1883 to 1977. British mystery author Agatha Christie was one of the famous passengers on this famous train.[1]
  • The first coins in world history were made of electrum and used by Lydian King Alyattes in Sardis, in the Aegean region of Turkey, in 640 B.C.[29]
  • Turkish Delight, or lokum, is one of the oldest sweets in world history, dating back 500 years. Napoleon and Winston Churchill were particularly fond of the ones with pistachio filling, and Picasso used to consume it daily while painting.[6]
  • The Turkish baths, or hammam, was an export of the Roman Empire to Turkey in the 7th century, derived in part from Greek, Roman, and Byzantine bathing, or purification, traditions. Turkish bath attendants are called tellaks, or scrubbers.[7]
  • The Turkish Mediterranean resort city of Antalya holds the world record for having the highest number of “Blue Flag” certified beaches in the world, awarded for highest water quality, beach cleanliness, and highest environmental standards.[3]
  • The most valuable silk carpet in the world, with 144 knots per square centimeter, is in the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey.[25]
  • Hezârfen Ahmet Çelebi was the first man to fly a significant distance, using artificial wings to fly across the Bosporus Straits in the 17th century, thus making the world’s first intercontinental flight 270 years before the Wright Brothers.[11]
  • Most Turks drink 10 or more cups of tea per day, and the country has the highest per-capita consumption of tea in the world at nearly 7 lbs. per person per year. Ninety-six percent of the population drinks tea every day. Turkey also ranks in the top 5 tea producers in the world. Tea in Turkey is called çay (pronounced “chai”).[17]
  • Interesting Turkish Tea Fact
    Turks love their tea, and each person drinks nearly 7 lbs. per year, the highest per-capita consumption in the world

  • The word “turquoise” comes from turc, meaning “Turkish,” and was derived from the beautiful color of the Mediterranean Sea on the southern Turkish coast.[10]
  • Turkey is the site of the world’s first beauty pageant, with Paris of Troy as judge and Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite as contestants. Paris chose Aphrodite, who promised him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, who was already married—which led to the Trojan War.[29]
  • Turkey has been producing wine since 4000 B.C.[14]
  • Turkey has had equality for women going back a millennium to the Hittite civilization, and it gave women the right to vote before most European countries and the United States (1930 for local elections, 1934 for national elections).[22]
  • The term “Whirling Dervish” actually refers to Turkish dancers who follow the mystic Rumi. They spin during their religious meditative whirling ceremony, known as the Sema, which represents the spiritual ascent of man.[20]
  • The turkey bird is called hindi in the country of Turkey because they believe it originated in India.[13]
  • The word for “lion” in Turkish is aslan, which is also the name of the great lion in C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s series The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. One of the treats featured in the series is the dessert Turkish delight, which originated in Turkey.[23]
  • Gaziantep, Turkey, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.[3]
  • Interesting Gaziantep Fact
    Gaziantep is informally called Antep

  • One-third of the 9,000 plant species found in Turkey are endemic, meaning they grow only in that country and nowhere else. Turkey is also home to five unique mammal species, 13 reptile species, and 52 freshwater fish species not found anywhere else on Earth.[20]
  • About one-quarter of the roses grown in the world come from Turkey.[20]
  • Turkey is the world’s fourth largest producer of tomatoes. In 2011, Turkish farmers grew more than 11 million metric tons of tomatoes.[20]
  • The Hagia Sofia (Turkish: Ayasofya), or Church of the Holy Wisdom, cathedral in Istanbul was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years. Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, it was turned into a mosque, and it has been a museum since 1935.[20]
  • Turkey is one of the few countries in the world that refers to sports directly in its constitution, in Article 59, which reads, “The State takes measures to develop the physical and mental health of Turkish citizens of all ages and encourages the spread of sports among the masses. The State protects successful athletes.”[20]
  • Turkey has had more than 25 major earthquakes, measuring up to 7.8 on the Richter scale, since 1939.[3]
  • One of the most beloved Turkish athletes is retired weight lifter Naim Süleymanoğlu, also called Pocket Hercules because he stands only 4 feet 11 inches (1.5 m) tall. He won Olympic Gold Medals in 1988, 1992, and 1996.[20]
  • Interesting Turkish Tavla Fact
    Turkish tavla, or backgammon, is one of the most ancient of all board games, dating back to 3000 B.C.
  • Backgammon, or tavla, is deeply rooted in Turkish culture. It is one of the most ancient of all board games, with origins dating as far back as 3000 B.C, and Turks take playing it very seriously.[22]
  • İmam bayıldı is a Turkish dish made from eggplant cooked with olive oil and filled with onions, garlic, and tomatoes and served at room temperature. It translates as the “imam swooned,” suggesting that the dish was so delicious that the imam, or prayer leader of the mosque, fainted at the sight and taste of it.[31]
  • Mimar Sinan is Turkey’s best known architect. Born in 1497, he was a Christian who became a Muslim and was eventually appointed chief of the imperial architects under Süleyman the Magnificent. He went on to design 321 buildings, 85 of which are still standing. His best known work is the Süleymaniye Mosque.[3]
  • Important Dates[3][20][22][30]
    DateEvents
    6500 B.C.Çatalhöyük, arguably the world’s first city, is established.
    2,000Hittite civilization begins.
    1250Trojan War takes place.
    500Persian Achaemenid empire controls Anatolia.
    333Alexander the Great conquers Anatolia.
    133Anatolia becomes the Roman province of Asia Minor.
    A.D. 7Greeks establish the colony of Byzantium.
    45–58John the Divine and Paul the Apostle evangelize in Asia Minor.
    325Council of Nicaea codifies Christian doctrine and condemns heresies.
    330Emperor Constantine makes Byzantium the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and renames it Constantinople.
    532Work begins on the Hagia Sofia cathedral.
    1000Seljuk Turks arrive in Anatolia from East Asia.
    1243Mongols defeat Turkish Seljuk armies.
    1290Ottoman Empire begins after the fall of the Turkish Seljuk state.
    1453Constantinople falls to the Ottomans. Mehmet II renames it Istanbul.
    1520Suleiman the Magnificent begins his long and glorious rule of the Ottoman empire, ending in his death in 1566.
    1683Ottoman Empire is defeated at Vienna, Austria.
    1826The Janissaries’ revolt and thousands of them are killed under the sultan’s order.
    1876Ottoman Empire adopts its first constitution.
    1918Ottoman Empire is defeated in World War I.
    1920-1922Turkish War of Independence.
    1923Turkish Republic is declared and Atatürk begins his social and political reforms in the country.
    1934Turkish women gain the right to vote.
    1950–1952Turkey holds first free elections and joins United Nations and NATO.
    1960Military rule of Turkish state.
    1974Turkish troops invade Cyprus.
    1990sKurds struggle for their rights in eastern and southeastern Turkey.
    1993Tansu Çiller becomes Turkey’s first woman prime minister.
    1999Turkey is accepted as a candidate for membership in the European Union. An earthquake near Izmit kills more than 17,000 people.
    2001Turkish lira plummets as the economy tumbles. The AK party (AKP) comes into power with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as prime minister; party opposes Kemalist secularism and begins societal and governmental changes to increase Islamic influence.
    2003Turkey denies U.S. permission to use air bases in the war with Iraq.
    2011Turkish government ends a ban on head scarves at universities.
    2013Kurdish separatists and the Turkish government announce a cease fire.
    2014After his constitutionally limited 3 terms as prime minister, Erdoğan is elected president. Peaceful protests spiral in Istanbul, and all totaled, 8 people die and about 8,000 are injured, over 100 seriously.
    2015Erdoğan campaigns to change the constitution to turn Turkey more towards Islamic law, which is viewed unfavorably by the Turkish people.
References

1Aran, Lale Surman and Tankut Aran. Rick Steves’ Istanbul. Berkeley, CA: Avalon Travel, 2012.

2Ataturk’s House in Salonika.” Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism. 2005. Accessed May 5, 2015.

3Bainbridge, James et al. Turkey (Lonely Planet). Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet. 2013.

4Beiser, Elana. “Second Worst Year on Record for Jailed Journalists.” CPJ. December 18, 2013. Accessed May 5, 2015.

5Butcher, Mike. “Turkey: The Land that Embraced Facebook, FriendFeed, and Startups.” TechCrunch. January 23, 2010. Accessed May 5, 2015.

6Calcott, Katy. The Food Lover’s Guide to Seattle. Seattle, WA: Sasquatch Books, 2001.

7Calvert, Robert Noah. The History of Massage: An Illustrated Survey from around the World. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2002.

8Curry, Andrew. “Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?Smithsonian Magazine. November 2008. Accessed May 5, 2015.

9Darke, Diana. Eastern Turkey (Bradt Travel Guides). Chalfont St. Peter, UK: Bradt Travel Guides, 2011.

10Did You Know That...?Consulate General Republic of Turkey. 2006. Accessed May 5, 2015.

11Dwyer, Sean G. STEM for All Ages. Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2014.

12Edelstein, Sari. Food, Cuisine, and Cultural Competency for Culinary, Hospitality, and Nutrition Professionals. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishing, 2010.

13Goldhammer, Zach. “Why Americans Call Turkey ‘Turkey’.” The Atlantic. November 26, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2015.

14Hall, C. Michael et al. Wine Tourism around the World. Oxford, UK: Routledge, 2009.

15Hobbie, K.R. et al. The Little Giant Book of Weird and Wacky Facts. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Company, 2005.

16Istanbul Home to Most Mosques in Turkey.” Hürriyet Daily News. March 5, 2013. Accessed May 5, 2015.

17Klein, Hannah. “Çay ister misiniz?: Would You Like to Drink Some Tea?Time Out Istanbul. July 2014. Accessed May 5, 2015.

18Leonardo Bridge Opens 500 Years Late.” BBC News. October 31, 2001. Accessed May 5, 2015.

19Origin of the Jelly Bean or, Why Are They Called Beans?Jelly Belly. November 8, 2013.

20Orr, Tamra. Turkey (Enchantment of the World). New York, NY: Children’s Press, 2015.

21Paldi, Ronen. “10 Things You May Not Have Known about Turkey.” Huffington Post. Updated July 25, 2011. Accessed May 5, 2015.

22Sheehan, Sean. Turkey (Cultures of the World). Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2003.

23Simpson, Paul. A Brief Guide to C.S. Lewis: From Mere Christianity to Narnia. New York, NY: Little, Brown Book Group, 2013.

24Stone, Lawrence M. The Story of the Bible: The Fascinating History of Its Writings, Translation, and Effect on Civilization. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012.

25“The Most Valuable Silk Carpet in the World.” Turkish Culture and Tourism Office. Accessed May 5, 2015.

26Turkey: 6th Most Popular Tourist Destination.” Turkish Press. March 1, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2015.

27Turkey (DK Eyewitness Travel Guides). London, UK: Dorling Kindersley, 2012.

28Turkey (Fodor’s Travel Guides). New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 2012.

29Turkey (Insight Guides). Singapore: APA Publications, 2011.

30Turkey Profile–Timeline.” BBC News. June 9, 2015. Accessed June 18, 2015.

31Villers Jr., James, ed. Turkey (Travelers’ Tales). San Francisco, CA: Travelers’ Tales, Inc., 2002.

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