I lived and worked in Turkey for a year and, although it was sometimes very tough being a single woman there, I never stopped enjoying learning about the country.
Here’s a list of ten facts I bet you do not know about Turkey!
1. Money was invented in Turkey
The first coins ever made were minted in Turkey at Sardis, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, at the end of the seventh century B.C. The coins featured a lion’s head.
2. Noah’s ark landed in Turkey
The Ark landed on Ağrı Dağı – Mount Ararat- in the east of the country.
3. The first man ever to fly was Turkish
Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi flew, in the 17th century. Using two wings, he glided off the Galata Tower (built in 1348) in Europe and flew over the Bosphorous to land in Usküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul.
4. Turkey is the only secular Muslim country among all the Muslim countries in the world
All the Medreses (Islamist religious colleges) and Dervish lodges were closed by the government in 1924 and religious education was banned in schools in 1927. Turkey is also the only country in the world to have made it illegal for women to cover their heads in public.
5. Turkey has the world’s only city located on two different continents
Istanbul spreads over Europe and Asia. In its thousands of years of history, it has been the capital of three great empires – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.
6. Turkey was the first country in the world to give women equal rights to vote
In 1934, Turkish women were granted the right to elect and be elected – the first women in the world given suffrage. Compare this with Switzerland, for example, where women didn’t get to vote until the 1970s.
7. Tulips are not native to Holland, they come from Turkey
They were introduced from Anatolia in the 16th century by the Dutch ambassador. This started the craze for the flower in England and the Netherlands.
Bulbs brought to Vienna from Istanbul in the 1500s were so intensely popular that by 1634 in Holland it was called “tulipmania”. People invested money in tulips as they do in stocks today. This period of elegance and amusement in 17th century Turkey is referred to as “The Tulip Age.” The economic bubble this created eventually burst and led to a “credit crunch” and then total collapse of the economy. The dykes were neglected, industry collapsed and the place turned into a bit of a muddy old dump.
8. Turkey has been the longest standing country to welcome Jewish refugees during persecution
In the 16th century Turkey opened its doors to Spanish Jews fleeing the Inquisition and thousands of Jews still live in Istanbul today and speak a sixteenth century version of Spanish. Turkey was one of few countries giving refuge to Jews, including Albert Einstein, escaping the Nazis during the second world war.
9. Vaccinations were invented in Turkey
The invention of the smallpox vaccination is usually attributed – at least by the British – to Edward Jenner in 1796. However eighty years earlier, in 1717 Lady Mary Wortley Montague, wife of the British ambassador to the court of the Ottoman Empire, wrote about the practice in Turkey of deliberately stimulating a mild form of smallpox through inoculation, which conferred immunity. She had the procedure performed on both her children. Edward Jenner later cultivated a serum in cattle which eventually led to the worldwide eradication of smallpox.
Lady Mary wrote:
The small-pox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless, by the invention of engrafting, which is the term they give it. There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox; they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nut-shell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what vein you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her, with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch) and puts into the vein as much matter as can lie upon the head of her needle , and after that, binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell, and in this manner opens four or five veins…. Every year, thousands undergo this operation… There is no example of any one that has died in it, and you may believe I am well satisfied of the safety of this experiment, since I intend to try it on my dear little son. I am patriot enough to take the pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England…
10. The world’s first cathedral, possibly the first ever house of Christian worship, is in Turkey
A cave known today as the Grotto of St Peter, or the Church of St Peter, was where the apostle Peter preached when he visited Antioch (Antakya, in southern Turkey). In 1963, the papacy designated the site as a place of pilgrimage and recognised it as the world’s first cathedral. Every year on 29 June, a special service held at the church is attended by Christians from around the world.
Early Christians fleeing from Roman persecution found refuge in the area of this church and hid in Cappadocia’s underground cities and so Anatolia became the heartland of the eastern realm of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire. The Greek Orthodox church is still headquartered in Istanbul. All seven Ecumenical Councils (325 – 787) which shaped Christianity as it is today, were held in Turkey.
Over one hundred Christian churches of many different sects are found in the city of Istanbul. The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse, listed in the Book of Revelation, were all located in Anatolia, Asian Turkey: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.