Turkey occupies a truly unique geographic position as a transcontinental country that lies partly in Asia and partly in Europe, and boasts coastal shores of the Aegean Sea, Mediterranean Sea to the south, Greek Peninsula to the west, and Anatolia and part of Thrace to the east. It is also connected to the Sea of Marmara by the Dardanelles Strait to the northeast. Ancient ruins are scattered throughout the country and a variety of natural landscapes offer a seemingly endless array of alluring places to discover among Turkey’s approximate 783,562 square kilometers (roughly twice the size of Germany). While Turkey may be more commonly renowned for its popular cities like Istanbul and tourist hot spot Cappadocia, following the cross-country travels of local photographer Murat Dağaslanreveals Turkey to be a compelling country to explore far beyond its “main attractions”.
Born in 1993 in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara, Dağaslan lived there for twenty years before moving to Bolu to attend İzzet Baysal University. He enjoyed the city life during his school years, but not long after graduating, his discovery of photography would beckon him out of the city to travel the country. After he began traveling, Dağaslan became inspired by nature and wanted to capture it with his camera; this further fueled the desire to expand his exploration. As 2017 wound to a close, Dağaslan decided to chase his dreams; he quit his job and committed to fully exploring natural phenomena in a unique way. He has traveled all over Turkey discovering historical ruins of ancient past, quaint and quiet rural villages, and stunning coastal regions and landscapes. In this majestic tour of Turkey, Dağaslan shares the joy and beauty of landscape photography and sheds light on many alluring places to experience for yourself!
Sasha Frate: Seeing your photography of Turkey and its natural landscapes opened my eyes to a beautiful part of the world I never knew existed. What have been some of your favorite locations to unveil to the world that otherwise tend to go virtually unseen and untouched?
Murat Dagaslan: I don’t think there is necessarily an undiscovered side, although there are still some places that I don’t even know. Once place I have just discovered is Burdur Yarisli lake. Yarisli lake is located on the borders of Yeşilova district in Burdur. It is a lake with a width of sixteen square kilometers and a depth of four meters between the villages of Harmanli, Yarisli, Sazak, Kocapinar, and Düğer. There is a small island in the lake and because the lake is rich in sodium phosphate, sodium chloride, and sodium sulfate, the waters are bitter.
It is also one of the most important wetlands for migratory birds including flamingos. It’s visually stunning to see flamingos in the lake which is fed by seasonal flowing streams. The water level is reduced in the summer months and is a perfect feeding ground for flamingos and other birds. The lake is home to 262 bird species including cuckoo, Warbler, owl, woodpecker, egret, and many more varieties.
SF: Turkey is renowned for its striking Ottoman, Byzantine, and Seljuk influenced architecture with famous structures like the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet), Süleymaniye Mosque, and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. While you’re known to leave the city life behind to take to the lesser-known, yet impressive naturescapes around the country, what do you love that the cities have to offer? Which cities or villages would you most recommend visiting in Turkey?
MD: In terms of cities, I much prefer to read about them and learn about historical ruins of the past. General photography does not bring me happiness in the same way as landscape photography, so I tend to avoid the cities. There are some village locations that I can recommend such as Old DoğanBey village in Aydın’s Söke district, and Ortan Village in Rize city in the Black Sea region, which are the two villages that have impressed me the most. Both of them have not deteriorated in historical texture and you can truly feel the past in their ruins.
The residents of Doğanbey village are such humble, simple, and natural people. What makes this place utopian is that it can live as an unpretentious, self-sufficient, and ecological village even in today’s world. The intention, effort, will, and resistance of civilized and idealistic peasants and intellectuals wanting to protect the calm and tranquility of this place is admirable. The village in the Black Sea region is surrounded by lush forests, and wooden buildings were built on a high plateau at the end of the 1700s. Since then, it is known as a village that is preserved and can still survive. If you visit Ortan Village, you must eat “mihlama” and “laz” pastry.
SF: If you were to tell me why someone needs to visit Turkey, what would your reasons be?
MD: Yes, there are many countries with magnificent natural beauty such as Switzerland, Italy, and many others. These places have been discovered and visited by countless tourists, but there are many natural beauties that are unknown in my country. If you want to explore a place and get lost, I recommend that you visit Turkey. Apart from that, the regions of Cappadocia, Mardin, and Pamukkale are very popular.
SF: Pamukkale, otherwise known as “Cotton Castle” in western Turkey is home to stunning mineral-rich thermal waters that flow down white travertine terraces. Making this area even more intriguing, it neighbors the ancient Roman spa city Hierapolis, founded around 190 B.C. where ruins include a well-preserved theater and a necropolis with sarcophagi that stretch for two kilometers. What can you tell us about these thermal waters that sets it apart from other well-known sites around the world?
MD: Pamukkale travertines were formed by a series of earthquakes 400 thousand years ago. It is a visual feast of thermal waters in the Big Menderes basin located in Denizli. Pamukkale is famous for its snow-white travertines that are visited by millions of people every year, including the charming Cleopatra Pool and the ancient city of Hierapolis. The terraces of this natural masterpiece, which has been serving as a spa for 1000 years, consist of carbonate minerals precipitated from the spa water. It is one of the twenty-nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world because of its natural and cultural features.
SF: Cappadocia has become one of the most tantalizing destinations to photograph, heavily popularized through social media and travel bloggers. Aside from showing up to capture one’s own magical, picture-perfect scene, what would you recommend seeing and doing to experience this unique location more like a local?
MD: My mother and father were born here and I visit it often. It’s a region that welcomes many tourists because of its visual history, culture, and wonder. Although it’s not like the Black Sea region, the cuisine is very good!
SF: While much of the ancient city remains buried under sand, Patara is valued today as an important archeological site of Turkey. Can you share what Patara is like and the best way to experience this city?
MD: This region has recently become one of the most popular locations thanks to its unspoiled natural structure and windy environment. You can explore Patara Ancient City, Athena Temple, and Xanthos in the area beyond the beach, which provides a very suitable environment for surfing. You can have a pleasant day by participating in horse safari tours on the desert dunes also known as the Patara sand dunes. The beach is a popular photo-spot on social media!
SF: Once a powerful fortress on the river Euphrates, Rumkale has been home to various civilizations throughout history including Gaziantep’s Roman Castle. The whole area is remarkable! Where can people go to experience this site from a distance and up close?
MD: Gaziantep Rumkale is located on a hill covered with high rocks where the Euphrates River and Merzimen Stream meet. The architectural ruins of Rumkale, have been called many names such as Şitamrat, Kal-a Rhomayta, Hromklay, Ranculat, Kal-at el Rum, Kal-at el Muslim, and Kale-i Zerrin (Golden Castle) bears. Among the structures that can be seen in the castle today are Saint Nerses Church, Barşavma Monastery, numerous building remains, water cisterns, wells, and ditches. During the Roman period Hz, this settlement played an important role in the history of Christianity since Yohannes, one of Jesus’ apostles, came to Rumkale and settled there to spread the word of Christianity. It is told that Yohannes kept a copy of the Bible in a cave in Rumkale and then copies were taken to Beirut. You can reach the area by boat which is a beautiful way to travel because you can see not only the Rumkale region, but also the Urfa Halfeti region.
SF: Far from the crowds of the city, rural Turkey has lots to see and offer. What are some of the best countryside areas you recommend that offer a variety of interesting things to see and places to visit?
MD: If you visit the Sultan Reeds, Hörtmetçi Reeds, and Kapuzbaşı waterfalls in Kayseri Region, you will closely see village life and have a sincere journey.
SF: Turkey borders with the Mediterranean, Aegean, Black Sea, and the Sea of Marmara, offering quite the variety of beautiful beach destinations. What do you recommend as one of the best destinations and what is it known for?
MD: One incredible site among the coastal regions of Turkey is Faselis (Phaselis) in Antalya. Phaselis is an ancient city dating back to 700 BC. Right next to this ancient city is Paradise Bay. You can visit the historical ruins while enjoying the sea in this bay, with mountain and forest views. Phaselis meets the clear blue Mediterranean as the pine trees reach the sea—it’s a spectacular landscape. In the bays where green meets blue, the beaches are fine pebbles. Intertwined with history, swimming in these ancient harbors, bays, and beaches offers a uniquely enjoyable experience.