Surprising facts about Turkey

Straddling Western Asia and Southeast Europe, Turkey is not only beaches, summer, and sun. It is also an ancient country with fascinating traditions and rich history. Are you looking for facts about Turkey? Keep reading. Here is a list of 15 surprising Turkey facts you probably didn't know.

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1. Tulips are native to Turkey

Yellow tulips

Tulip cultivation began in the 10th century in Turkey and reached its peak between the 15th and 18th centuries. Tulips were introduced to Europe in the 16th century and soon became the most valuable ornamental plant there. From the 17th century to the present day, the Netherlands is the world center of selection, cultivation, and the international trade of tulips.

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2. Turkey has no official religion

In most public buildings in Turkey, you can find a black arrow on the ceiling. It indicates the direction to Mecca. However, Turkey is a secular state with no official religion.

3. Turkey uses the Latin alphabet

Turkey uses the Latin alphabet, but there are no letters Q, W, X. The transition from the Arabic alphabet to Latin took place in the 20th century. The longest Turkish word is muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine, consisting of 70 letters. In English, it means "as if you would be from those we can not easily make a maker of unsuccessful ones.". 

4. Dervishes dance is a historical-cultural heritage of Turkey

Whirling dervishes in Istanbul

In Turkey, one of the most amazing dances is the dance of the dervishes. The history of this dance dates back to the distant 13th century, when, with the help of movement meditation, ascetic monks of the Mevlevi order entered a trance, trying to approach God. The Dervish dance was originally a Sufi Islam temple ritual, part of an official ceremony called Sama.

The dervish dance lasts at least 15 minutes, and the constant whirling and rhythmic music immerse the audience in a state of hypnosis. In 2008, UNESCO confirmed the "Mevlevi Sama Ceremony" of Turkey as a site of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

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5. The cradle of Christianity

In Antioch (now Antakya), located in the southernmost province of Turkey, the final separation of Christianity from the religion of the ancient Jews took place, as directly stated in the Bible.

Acts 11:26, ESV: "and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians."

The city is home to the Cave Church of St. Peter, the oldest Christian church in the world. Between 37 and 45 years, Peter the Apostle was the head of the local Christian community and preached his sermons in the cave.

6. Against capital punishment

In 2004 Turkey abolished the death penalty, though no executions have taken place since 1984.

7. Istanbul lies on two continents

Istanbul is the only city in the world that lies on two continents. An exciting adventure awaits you in the metropolis: traveling by metro from Europe to Asia and back!

8. Cats' land

A cut homeless cat in Gaziantep

Undoubtedly, all homeless cats dream of getting to Turkey. A benevolent attitude towards them exists here since the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Cats freely flatter to passers-by and walk wherever they want. They are allowed absolutely everything. The municipalities provide free services for people to bring in stray cats that need medical care.

9. Turkish surnames appeared in the 20th century

Surnames appeared in Turkey in 1934. Previously, the Turks only got along with names. By law, the surname must follow the name in the signature, speech, and writing. 

10. Oil wrestling is the Turkish national sport

Turkey has its kind of wrestling: oil wrestling. Turks have been watching this sporting tradition for over 600 years, and it is still common in the country.

The wrestlers wear leather shorts and smear themselves with olive oil. The essence of the competition is that two participants are trying to fight in this form. The sight is impressive, as it is almost impossible to grab hold of the shiny body with oil.

11. Turkey is the leading hazelnut producer in the world

Nuts and leaves on a hazel tree

Turkey is a homeland of hazelnut culture, it produces approximately 75% of the world's production. Hazelnut is grown in the northern regions of the country.

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12. Turkey is the birthplace of Saint Nicholas, the prototype of Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas was born and lived in Myra (today Demre), on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, between the 3rd and 4th centuries. He used his considerable fortune to the poor by walking the city streets at night and handing them various gifts over the fence.

In the Middle Age, on behalf of this saint, Europeans gave gifts to children on St. Nicholas Day, celebrated on December 6. During the Reformation, which opposed the veneration of saints, Martin Luther introduced an angel-like Christ Child in Germany and postponed the gifts giving to Christmas fairs.

Sinterklaas, the main character of a children's festival celebrated on December 5 in the Netherlands, on December 6 in Belgium, is the Dutch name for a figure based on Saint Nicholas. According to the tradition, Sinterklaas travels from Spain every year. In New York, founded by the Dutch, Sinterklaas became Santa Claus, which finally broke away from its historical and ecclesiastical prototype, becoming a commercial project.

13. Turkey has two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The Temple of Artemis and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in Turkey are two of the Ancient World's Seven Wonders. They both have vestiges visible today.

14. Turkish coffee is on the World Cultural Heritage List

Turkish coffee

Similar to the British tradition of tea drinking, coffee has an important place in Turkish society. Turks usually drink it between morning and afternoon meals. The drink is highly concentrated and is served in small cups without a handle, with or without sugar.

Turkish coffee culture and tradition have been part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2013. 

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15. Trojan War took place in Turkey

The famous Trojan War took place in the northwestern part of Turkey. For a long time, there were doubts about Troy's legendary ancient city, which Homer wrote in his epic poem Iliad. However, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann's excavations in the 19th century found the city ruins near the village of Tevfikiye. 

Since 1998, the site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. To attract tourists, a full-size model of the Trojan Horse stands in the archaeological area.