Turkey is a vast peninsula, covering an area of 814,578 square kilometres or 314,510 square miles and linking Asia to Europe through the Sea of Marmara and the Straits of Istanbul and Canakkale. Across the Sea of Marmara, the triangular shaped Trace is the continuation of Turkey on the European continent. Anatolia is rectangular in outline, 1500 kilometres long and 550 kilometres wide.
Turkey is characterised by a central plateau surrounded by chains of mountains on the north, west and south and a rugged mountainous region in the east with an average elevation of 1050 metres. In the west, the mountains descend gently towards the sea. The northern Anatolia mountain range, and the Taurus range in the south, stretches like arcs, becoming ever denser in the east. Turkey's highest mountain peak at 5165 metres or 16,946 feet is Agri Dagi (Mount Ararat), situated in the north east. It is believed to have been the resting place for Noah's Ark.
Turkey has a quite large river system that allows for important hydroelectric power generation and irrigation. The country's longest rivers, the Sakarya, the Kizilirmak and the Yesilirmak, flow from the Central Anatolia towards the Black Sea. The famous Dicle (Tigris) and Firat (Euphrates) flow from the eastern Anatolia south into Syria and Iraq. Four other rivers: the Buyuk Menderes and Gediz flow from the Anatolian Plateau into the Aegean Sea; the Meric, which forms the border between Turkey and Greece; and the Seyhan, which runs from the eastern highlands all the way into the Mediterranean, all round out the major rivers of Turkey.
Turkey has over 300 natural and 130 artificial lakes. In terms of numbers of lakes, the Eastern Anatolian region is the richest including Lake Van, (the largest of the country with its 3,713 square kilometres surface), and the lakes of Ercek, Cildir and Hazar. There are also many lakes in the West Taurus Mountains area: the Beysehir and Egirdir lakes, Burdur and Acigoller lakes. The lakes of Sapanca, Iznik, Ulubat, Manyas, Terkos, Kucukcekmece and Buyukcekmece are in Marmara region, and the second largest lake of Turkey, Tuzgolu, is located in the Central Anatolia region. A number of dams have been constructed during the past thirty years, which have resulted in the formation of several large dam lakes including the Ataturk, Keban and Karakaya lakes.
Turkey is like a mosaic made up of many different reliefs and formations: parallel mountain ranges, extinct volcanoes, plateaux fissured by valleys and plains. Surrounded on its three sides by warm seas, it falls in the temperate climate zone. The climate varies considerably however from region to region: a temperate climate in the Black Sea Region, a Mediterranean climate on the southern coast and the Aegean, a continental and arid climate on the central plateau and a harsh mountain climate in eastern Turkey. Because of these variations in climate, the fauna and flora are some of the richest in Europe and the Middle East.
Turkey is separated into seven geographical regions, which are, in order of size: East Anatolia (21 %), Central Anatolia (20%), Black Sea (18%), Mediterranean (15%), Aegean (10%), Marmara (8.5%) and Southeast Anatolia (7.5%).
There are more than 10,000 species of plants in Turkey, 20% of which are found only in these lands. The abundant rainfall in the Black Sea region allows the growth of rich forest vegetation. The Canakkale Strait forms a transition between the Black Sea and the Aegean regions and therefore has a mixture of temperate and Mediterranean type of vegetation. Thrace has fine forests which are subject to the continental influence of the Balkans. The coasts of the Aegean and the Mediterranean, from the Canakkale Strait to the Gulf of Iskenderun, have typically Mediterranean vegetation which extends to the plains and western slopes of mountains as high as 1000 metres. The southern coast has very hot and dry summers and the vegetation in some places is subtropical with banana trees and date palms. In the Taurus Mountains, the vegetation consists of pine and cedar forests, with even junipers at higher altitudes.
Central and eastern Anatolia are isolated from all maritime influence by mountains. Rainfall is low, the summers hot and dry and the winters harsh. In certain areas, the vegetation is steppe-like but also with forests of pine, oak and beech. The region around the Salt Lake is almost entirely barren. The climate in eastern Turkey is even harsher, although the rainfall in the Southeast allows birches, walnuts and oaks to thrive.
Turkey has a great variety of wild animals, with over 114 species of mammals. The forest belt in the north is home to grey hears and in the south to wild goats. Sea turtles and seals play in the waters of the Mediterranean and the Aegean, just as in other parts of the world, some species have become extinct or on the verge of extinction such as the wild Asian donkeys, lions and tigers. Some 400 species of indigenous or migratory birds live in Turkey, some of which are extinct in Europe such as the black vulture.
Turkey is an important stopover for birds migrating between Africa, Asia and Europe, with the predatory birds stop in these places before continuing on Istanbul Strait and Artvin being the preferred sites. According to the International Office of Aquatic Birds and Areas, there are some 800 aquatic species in Turkey spanning sixty different areas.
The shores of Lake Manyas near Balikesir are home to over 200 species of indigenous or migratory aquatic birds. This lake is considered to be one of Europe s richest aquatic bird centres. Over 250 indigenous or migratory birds live in the Sultan Marshes (Sultan Sazligi) near Kayseri; 20 of these are considered endangered species, although they come here to mate and breed. The Sultan marshes are thought to be the only place where flamingos, cranes, herons and pelicans breed together. The protected salt marshes near Izmir are like a natural museum, with some 190 species of birds living in its marshes, lakes and hills. The hills also shelter rabbits, foxes and even boars. The Iztuzu sand beaches near Dalyan are the main breeding area for sea turtles.