Turkey is a large peninsula that bridges the continents of Europe and Asia. Turkey is surrounded on three sides by the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Aegean Sea. Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, is built on land in the Bosporus seaway. The city is partly in Europe and partly in Asia. Turkey is larger than the state of Texas.
Turkey is one of the most earthquake prone areas on Earth and has suffered from 13 earthquakes in the past 70 years. The North Anatolian Fault extends hundreds of miles from the Sea of Marmara in the western part of the country to the Eastern Anatolian Highlands. The fault moves back and forth about 8 inches (20 centimeters) a year.
Turkey's highest mountain, Mount Ararat has two peaks, with Great Ararat reaching 16,945 feet (5,165 meters). The mountain is considered sacred by many people and is believed to be where Noah beached his ark after the great flood.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
The Turkish people are from diverse backgrounds, a reminder of the many different groups that conquered Turkey over thousands of years. The majority of the population lives in cities, and children who want to go to high school must move to a city. The people are primarily Sunni Muslim. One fifth of the population is Kurdish.
Children who live in the European side of Istanbul may cross the Bosporus by ferry to visit grandparents in Asia. Turks are family oriented and are very hospitable people. They invite visitors to their homes and make sure they have something to eat and drink before they leave.
One of their favorite meals is kebab made from grilled lamb. Their diet includes lamb, eggplant, and yogurt. A sweet flavored candy with rose petals called Turkish delight, or lokum, is sold in many flavors and colors.
To find work, about two million Turks are currently guest workers in Germany and have formed their own communities there.
Soccer is the most popular sport in Turkey. There are three popular teams based in Istanbul. Turks excel at weightlifting and a form of wrestling called Turkish wrestling.
Turkey is a resting location for birds on their migratory journey between their summer and winter homes. They flock to Kus Golu, or Bird Lake in a protected national forest that is surrounded by reed marshes. The first national park in Turkey opened in 1958.
Today there are 39 parks where rare species and their habitats are protected. Several species are at risk, including the northern bald eagle which is critically endangered.
At one time, Turkey was home to jackals, lynx, wolves, and bears but those animal species are rare now. The Turkish horned viper snake has spikelike scales that poke upward near their eyes.
Once known as Cotton Castle, the white cliffs in Pamukkale in western Turkey are made of a calcium-rich mineral called travertine. The cliffs look like a sheet of ice covering a hillside from a distance. A spring flows from pool to pool. The cascade is 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) long.
The prime minister is considered the head of the government and is in charge of the country. The Grand National Assembly is a 550-member body that is elected by the people. The Assembly elects the president, a position that is largely ceremonial.
Turkey was a founding member of the United Nations, which was created after World War II. Turkey has been an associate member of the European Union since 1963, but it has not been accepted as a full member. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which is a defense alliance. Because of its location in the Middle East, Turkey is strategic in world affairs.
Kurds in southern Turkey started a guerrilla war in 1984 to create a Kurdish state. In 1995, Turkish troops invaded northern Iraq to attack Kurds.
Turkey is home to one of the earliest settlements in the world. Built 8,800 years ago, Catal Hoyuk was a labyrinth of 150 mud homes joined together. There were no streets in between, so people had to enter the homes through holes in the roof!
About 4,000 years ago, the Hittites created an empire in the central part of what is now called Turkey in Anatolia. They ruled for hundreds of years. The Trojan War took place when the Hittites were losing power. The ruins of the city of Troy are believed to be in the city of Hissarlik in Anatolia.
King Midas ruled western Turkey around 700 B.C. In 334 B.C., Alexander the Great took Anatolia under Macedonian Greek rule until Rome took over and Anatolia became part of Roman Asia Minor. In A.D. 330, Constantine became the Roman emperor and formed a new capital called Constantinople. After the fall of the Roman Empire it became part of the Byzantine Empire.
The city of Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453 and Turkey became part of the Ottoman Empire. After World War I, the country was invaded by Greece, which led to the Turkish war of Independence in 1920, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In 1923, the Turkish assembly declared Turkey a republic.
The city formally became Istanbul in 1923. Turkey became a secular country, meaning there is a separation between religion and government. Women gained the right to vote in 1934.