Off the beaten path: seven unusual tourist attractions in Turkey

As tourists around the world start to plan their summer holidays, many are asking the question, “What is the cheapest Mediterranean beach I can sit on for a week?’’ And Turkey is answering that question with a protracted currency devaluation, which means that a pint of beer costs less than two euros.

"In 2021, we expect a growing number of British tourists coming to Turkey," Firuz Bağlıkaya, the head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB), told the Telegraph

This is good news for the Turkish tourism industry, which has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. With Britain becoming an increasingly grim and dysfunctional place to live, it’s only natural that the tired and exploited proletariat of the British Isles want to get away from it all and remind themselves that Britain is not alone in being a land of misery.

Many European tourists come to Turkey just for the weather, and often do not immerse themselves in the vibrant culture of the country, so we would like to suggest some alternative tourist attractions you can visit to get a flavour of the real Turkey.

1 - Silivri Prison

You might not think of Turkey’s most famous jail as a potential tourist attraction, but that’s because you need to think outside the box, something that many of Turkey’s thousands of political prisoners find difficult!

Famous political prisoner and writer Ahmet Altan, who was given life in prison in 2018 for sending “subliminal messages’’ to the military before the failed coup attempt of 2016, is the jail’s most famous inmate. He has made the prison famous by writing his memoir, I Will Never See the World Again, while behind bars there. 

You might say, “but it’s only got three out of five stars on its Google review,’’ and that would be true, but as you can see, even the negative reviews say that the “ambiance’’ is good.

Bear in mind that the prison has a reputation for being cold, so you may want to dress in warm clothes.

2 - Hagia Sophia

What visit to Turkey could be complete without a trip to the famous church, which became a mosque which became a museum, which is now a mosque again? British director Guy Ritchie went there while shooting his latest action film, Five Eyes, which Daily Sabah notes is starring “talented actor” Jason Statham. 

This description suggests that Daily Sabah have never seen a Jason Statham film before, but the publicity is certainly good for the Turkish tourism sector anyway.

Do you want to remind yourself how history has become a contested site for political ideologies of all kinds? Well there’s no better place than Hagia Sophia to witness the discursive realities of Turkey’s ongoing battle between secularists and religious conservatives. Come and see how the Turkish government has turned a UNESCO World Heritage Site into an exercise in political point scoring. 

Turning Hagia Sophia back into a mosque is a great way to distract people from the ongoing economic problems in Turkey. So if your young children are constantly complaining about the fact that the exploitative nature of capitalism means they have no chance of ever owning property, just take them to the Hagia Sophia and tell them not to worry about any of that stuff.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to media after attending Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey August 7, 2020. REUTERS

3 - Erdoğan’s palaces

President Erdoğan already has a 1100-room palace in Ankara, but going for a picnic outside it is not advisable, since you could get arrested. Instead, why not take a virtual tour, or visit one of the other palaces being built for the president, like the one on Lake Van in eastern Turkey?

Despite Turkey’s top court ruling that the new palace on Lake Van should not be built, construction has been going ahead anyway, in what many consider to be a monument to the legal unaccountability enjoyed by Turkey’s president. After all, the main palace in Ankara was also ruled to be illegal but its construction went ahead anyway.

You might think that it’s not a good look for the president to be building two new palaces at public expense while the real GDP of Turkish citizens continues to fall, but you would be wrong. Erdoğan has not stopped thinking about Turkey’s poorer citizens, despite living in luxury. He has recently told them to “enjoy a nice cup of tea’’ if they cannot afford food. If there is an election coming up, he might even throw some tea at you if you’re lucky. 

4 - Mount Ida

The famous mountain on Turkey’s Aegean coast became the centre of protests in 2019 when Canadian company Alamos Gold chopped down thousands of trees in the area, part of which is a national park. Alamos Gold eventually pulled out of the project, having destroyed a large area of forest, and were compensated by the government.

This area is perfect for those interested in history. Mount Ida is only 20 kilometres from the archaeological site of Troy, and is mentioned frequently in Homer’s Odyssey. You will definitely want to check this place out before another mining company comes along to totally destroy it by pumping cyanide into the rocks to extract gold!

General view of the gold mine site project by Canada-based Alamos Gold, in a deforestated area in Turkey's northwestern province of Canakkale, near the town of Kirazli, on August 18, 2019. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

5 - Historic Diyarbakir

In 2015 and 2016, much of the historic Sur district of the southeastern province of Diyarbakır was destroyed in clashes between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The government has since said it is rebuilding the area, but has been criticised for the way in which it expropriated land and demolished houses. Architects also fear that the rebuilt with a “completely different look” and a “defence centred approach.”

While the historic Sur district no longer exists, but you can see where it once was, and see the progress that the Turkish government is making in pacifying the Kurdish minority through securitising the whole southeastern region. If you’re lucky, you might get detained by the Turkish military, wondering what you’re doing in the area, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The frisson of excitement you get as you are threatened with arrest by an angry gendarme may be the closest you ever get as a white person to experiencing police brutality. 

Metin Arslan, a muhtar candidate, gestures towards damaged buildings in the historical Sur district, a UNESCO world heritage site, in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir on February 27, 2019 (Photo by ILYAS AKENGIN / AFP)

6 - Boğaziçi University

At the start of 2021, the Turkish government imposed an appointed rector on the famously liberal Boğaziçi University. Protests are still ongoing and dozens of students have been arrested. 

“Are you students or terrorists trying to raid the rector’s room?” President Erdoğan asked the protesters, proving that he seems to be constantly terrified of any kind of protests, except the ones he organises himself.

If there are no protests on that day, you may be able to visit the famous Boğaziçi campus, which police tried to arrest in January by locking the gates with handcuffs. You can experience what it’s like to be young and have progressive political beliefs in Turkey by flying a gay pride flag and being immediately arrested.

Some of the more cynical opponents of the Turkish government say that the appointment of a government rector is the first step to selling off land on the well placed Boğaziçi campus for construction projects. There is very little green space in Istanbul, and the government loves to build all over it, so check out Boğaziçi University before it becomes a car park!

Police in riot gear clash with students of Bogazici University, in Istanbul, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Zeynep Kuray)

7 - Ankapark

Ok, this no longer exists. Ankapark, or Wonderland Eurasia, was the brainchild of former Ankara mayor Melih Gökçek. It ended up costing $750 million, and closed after a year because of the pandemic, in addition to its ridiculous premise. It featured lots of big model dinosaurs, which led to some great photographs of President Erdoğan like this.

March 20, 2019. A large dinosaur seen at the opening of Ankapark, and also a Tyrannosaurus Rex. (Photo by Handout / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP)

It’s a shame it’s closed really, because what could be more exciting than being on a broken roller coaster which you are forced to abandon in the middle of a ride?

The Ankara municipality has since taken over the park after finding the company in charge in breach of contract. As far as Ahval is aware, the dinosaurs remain on the site, albeit falling apart, while acting as a perfect monument to the world-class levels of corruption exhibited by the Turkish government.