Turkey has always been - politically and geographically - a country at the crossroads, where East meets West. That's still the case, with the wars ravaging the Middle East on one side threatening the security of Europe on the other. The new show Simon Reeve’s Turkey examines the powerful and moving human stories unfolding amid these crises.
But Turkey has also been a place of revolution, innovation and creation. Here are 10 things we have to thank Turkey for...
If you’re mighty glad you no longer have to pay for your groceries in spices, shells or livestock, you can thank the Turks - well, the ruler of Lydia, now western Turkey - who issued the first official currency back in the 7th century BC. The earliest coins featured different pictures of animals, which denoted how much they were worth.
The first recorded flight was in 1630, according to 17th-century writer Evliyâ Çelebi, when Ottoman aviator Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi used "eagle wings" and the wind to fly safely (and without crashing into the ground). The Sultan was watching and thought he could be a threat to his power, sending him into exile with a bag of gold. Things went better for his brother Lagari Hagen, who three years later apparently flew in a rocket powered by gunpowder - he was given silver and an army rank.
Most people would associate tulips with Holland but in fact they are native to Turkey and Central Asia, and were introduced to Europe from Istanbul in the 1500s. People went so mad for the flowers they invested money in tulips leading to one of the great speculative bubbles in history, when a tulip bulb could be worth more than a house... before the market collapsed.
Vaccination in its modern form is attributed to Englishman Edward Jenner, doctor to Queen Victoria and (fun fact) a distant relative of yours truly. In actual fact, my rello can’t take the credit: the Turks claim credit for the innovation of deliberately stimulating a mild form of smallpox - and certainly predated the Brits, though there's evidence the Chinese got there even earlier.
Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching bands in the world, beginning in the late 1200s when musicians began to accompany soldiers into battle to help rouse the Ottoman troops and unnerve the enemy.
Did you know that jolly St Nicholas was actually born in Turkey? Saint Nicholas of Myra was a Greek Christian bishop, born in the third century, famous - in one version - for climbing onto the roofs of poor people in secret and dropping bags of coins down their chimneys. He lived in Lycia in the Byzantine Empire, which is now part of Turkey.
The vacuum and the flushing toilet
Genius 12th-century Turkish inventor Al-Jazari was responsible for a number of products that seemed ridiculous at the time but are still in use today. He’s known for inventing suction pumps (the earliest form of a vacuum), automatic gates and doors and a hand-washing unit with a flush mechanism - predating the European invention of the flushing toilet by about 400 years. It featured a primitive female robot holding a lever while standing by a basin filled with water. When you pulled the lever, the water drained and the robot refilled the basin.
The world’s first Christian church
Some believe the cave church of St Peter in Antioch was dug by the Apostle Peter himself as a place for early Christians to meet, making it the first Christian church anywhere.
The birth of everyone from your year-10 history book
Biblical Abraham, the poet Homer, St Paul the Apostle, Aesop and his fables and the father of history himself, good old Herodotus were all said to be born in Turkey.
Simon Reeve’s Turkey premieres on Monday April 3 at 8.30pm on SBS.