Turkey is a land which has been the home of many civilizations since the beginning of history. It is difficult to find another land on earth in which one civilization leads to another. Turkey, with its rich past, stands as a challenging resource for both art historians and archeologists; it is a real open-air museum of art and architecture. The artistic history of Turkey is very rich and goes back to the beginning of history.
The Hittites rose to prominence in Anatolia in 1800 BC and reigned until 1200 BC. They were experts in metal-work and have left behind delicate statues made from gold, bronze and copper, particularly of the fertility goddess they worshipped. Many examples of these are on exhibition at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. Metal tablets written in Hittite hieroglyphics give us some clues about the daily, and ceremonial, lives of the Hittites. The capital of the Hittites, Hattusas (Bogazkoy), still preserves the remnants of the temple, the "Royal Gate" and especially the "Lion Gate", from which, when passing through, you can sense the splendor of the Hittite Empire.
The intensity and the quality of the remains from the Greek and Roman Empires in Turkey, especially in the southern Mediterranean coast, imparts the feeling that you have traveled through a time-machine and arrived in the Hellenistic Era. The remaining artistic and architectural pieces provide us with information about the daily life of the ancient Greek and Roman. Most of the cities have museums preserving the artifacts, such as sculptural reliefs, statues, jewelry, household utensils, frescoes and mosaics. Besides these, the ruins of the period still standing, exhibit their treasures as an open-air museum. The most memorable of these are; Pergamum, on the Aegean coast, Aphrodisias with the Temple of Aphrodite, and Ephesus, with its wide streets bordered by Corinthian columns, with its amphitheaters, and with its world famous Temple of Artemis; one of the seven ancient wonders of the world.
By the 4th-century, the Roman Empire had been divided into East and West, and Christianity was firmly rooted in both, giving rise to the numerous churches and monasteries spread all over the country. Cappadocia especially, displays magnificent examples of these monuments, carved into rock and decorated with colored frescoes. The Byzantine churches have their own style that is an integration of Roman and oriental influences and they are termed as "basilica". The great Saint Sophia in Istanbul, built during the reign of emperor Justinian, is the largest Christian basilica on earth. Its interior is marble and decorated with mosaics of rich colors like deep blue and red. The Sumela Monastery near Trabzon is another important Byzantine ruin.
In 1071, The Seljuk Turks won a decisive victory over the Byzantine Empire and from then on, the Turkish presence in Anatolia was permanent. The Seljuks brought with them new artistic elements from Asia. The outstanding characteristics of the Seljuk architecture were tall gateways with ornamental stalactites, ogival archways and ceramic tiling. The exterior of the mosques of the Seljuk period are impressive, although not as decorative as Ottoman mosques. The Alaeddin Mosque in Konya is one of the most typical of Seljuk mosques. The Ulu Mosque in Konya is also a memorable Seljuk mosque with its interior elaborately patterned and ornamented. The "medrese"s (universities of that time), mosques, inns, bridges and roads and many other artifacts of the daily life of the Seljuks can be observed in any part of the country.
After the Seljuks, came the world famous Ottoman Empire which contributed considerably to Turkish art and architecture. They built mosques with rich, elaborate interiors. The Green Mosque in Bursa carries all the characteristics of the Ottoman art and architecture, its tiles are very specific of the age and Ottoman artistic style. After the Ottomans took over Istanbul, they contributed the great architect Mimar Sinan, to the architectural world. His mosques, among which Suleymaniye in Istanbul and Selimiye in Edirne are the most famous, are masterpieces in themselves. The Ottomans also made nacreous ornamentation's which were used in interior decoration, weapons and helmets. Precious examples of Ottoman arts and crafts, such as carpet weaving, tile-making, miniature and many other arts, are exhibited in the Turkish Islamic Arts Museum and in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.