This is a very exciting historical and cultural 17 – night Turkey itinerary that visits destinations from the western to the eastern parts of Turkey. Visit mosques, churches, spice markets, museums, and much more. Enjoy a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, meet interesting people and eat great food.
Arrive Istanbul. Meet the English-‐speaking representative. Transfer to the hotel in a comfortable van. The rest of the day is at leisure.
Begin your full day tour with a visit to the Roman Hippodrome, which was the scene of chariot races and the great public occasions throughout the immensely long history of the Byzantine Empire. Visit the Blue Mosque, one of the most important temples of worship in the world. It is named for the blue Iznik tile work that decorates its interior and its dome can be seen from all over the Sultanahmet district.
Next, you will visit the extraordinary Hagia Sophia Church. Built in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian, this church stands as a testament to the sophistication of the former Byzantine capital and influenced architecture in the medieval world for centuries. Its original design was supposedly created as a mirror image of the heavens. Converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in the 15th century under the Sultan Mehmet II, this vast edifice now includes minaret and Turkish Rococo fountains. Take your time exploring the huge galleries and beautiful mosaics. Given its age, the church is in remarkable condition and the interiors are full of important frescoes and mosaics depicting holy subjects.
Continue your guided exploration of Istanbul with a visit to the Topkapi Palace Museum, lavish home to the Ottoman Sultans. For centuries this was the place from which the Sultans ruled over an empire that stretched from Eastern Europe to the Atlantic Ocean. It contains a priceless collection of jewelry, porcelain and costumes. Legend claims that the ancient rod on display in the treasury is the one used by Moses to part the Red Sea. Other artifacts of similar fame include John the Baptist’s gilded arm and Mohammad’s beard, fingernails and foot imprint. Visit the treasury section, which contains jewel encrusted thrones; the world’s largest emerald, the famous Topkapi dagger, and the kitchen that currently houses the greatest collection of Chinese porcelain.
Visit the dramatic and beautiful Underground Cistern, built in the 6th century as a secure water reservoir for the city. It is one of Istanbul’s most unusual tourist attractions. It was laid out in 532 under the rule of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Do not miss the 336 Corinthian columns resting on busts of Medusa’s Head, which are believed to be a shrine to the water nymphs. This sunken palace has so much to hold that they shot scenes of Hollywood movies in it.
Your last visit will be the 17th century Spice Bazaar also called the Egyptian Bazaar, because in the 17th century it was built with money paid as duty on Egyptian import goods. From medieval times, spices were an important and expensive part of Oriental cooking and they gradually became the bazaar’s main focus, taking advantage of Istanbul’s strategic position on the main trade route between the East and Europe.
Visit the Suleymaniye Mosque, one of the key landmarks on the skyline of the old city of Istanbul. This is a classic building by the classic architect of the classical Ottoman age. Few visitors realize that the mosque, a lofty structure of space and geometry, is just one part of a vast complex of buildings designed by Sinan in the 1550s for the sultan whose name it bears.
Continue your tour with a visit to the Chora Church with its 14th century mosaics and frescoes of almost supernatural beauty demonstrating the finest Byzantine art forms and parallel, in time, developments in Italian renaissance art. Dedicated to Christ the Saviour, it was originally outside the Constantine Walls, hence ‘in Chora’, meaning in the country. Built in the 6th century by St. Teodoros, the basilica you see was renovated in 1321 by Theodore Methochite, the Treasury Minister of Byzantine Emperor II Andronikos Paleolog. It was converted into a mosque in 1511 and Ataturk declared it a National Museum in 1935.
The next stop will be the Sveti Stefan Church, one of the most important structures of the Bulgarian Orthodox community all over the world. It is the first prefabricated building constructed in Turkey, while also being the only iron church in the world. Previously there were two iron churches in Argentina and Austria, but when these two were demolished, the Sveti Stefan Church remained the only example of its kind in the world.
Next wander around Balat, one of Istanbul’s oldest neighborhoods. This part of town is a melting pot of immigrants, including Jews, Orthodox Christians, and of course Turks. During your walking tour, you will view the Ayios Nikola Church. Continue the walking tour viewing the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which has been the spiritual center of the Greek Orthodox world since around 1600. Officially the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, it is known locally as the Fener Rum Patrikhanesi (Fener Greek Patriarch). It could be considered the Vatican of the Eastern Orthodox church. The 18th century Aya Yorgi Kilisesi (Church of St. George, Istanbul), is located on its grounds.
Complete your tour at the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar’s first phase of construction began under Mehmet the Conqueror, but it was added to many times over the centuries. The end result is an enormous labyrinth of covered streets lined with thousands of shops selling, for example, hand woven carpets and kilims, gold and silver jewelry, hand painted ceramics, leather goods, antiques and illuminated manuscripts.
After breakfast, transfer to Istanbul Airport for the flight to Izmir.
Upon arriving into Izmir, drive to Sardis in the valley of the gold bearing river, Pactolus.
After lunch at a local restaurant, visit the impressive ancient remains of Sardis that have been unearthed since 1958 by American archaeologists. Sardis was the capital of the Lydian kingdom and home of Croesus, the legendarily wealthy Lydian king, long credited with the invention of coinage.
Continue your touring in Izmir with a visit to the Roman Agora, the open – air museum of Izmir which was used as a square shaped market place during the Roman rule of the city followed by the visit of the Antique Bazaar one of the most crowded corners where you can taste a great variety of delicious street and local food. Nearby is the Clock Tower, the symbol of the city, located in the heart of town in Konak Square.
Today, you will visit Ephesus, which was considered one of the most complete cities of antiquity. It was supposed to contain everything for education, politics, entertainment and sports. It boasted the Library of Celsus, the Roman Baths, the Gate of Hadrian and Roman Terrace Houses. Ephesus is still the best-‐preserved classical city on the Mediterranean, and perhaps the best place in the world to get the feeling for what life was like in Roman times. As a strategic coastal gateway to the Eastern World, this Ionian refuge grew to be the second largest city in the Roman Empire, the site of a Christian shrine, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Visit the pastoral village of Sirince. Located on a hillside surrounded by apple and grape orchards is the neighboring village of Sirince. Originally settled by Greeks, the village was inhabited by the Ephesian Christians, who during the Selcuk conquests, moved up into the surrounding hills. In the Greek exchanges of 1924, Muslims from Salonica resettled here, creating a farming community highly adept at winemaking. Apple wine is a local specialty.
This afternoon, visit the Basilica of St. John and the Ephesus Archeological Museum which is actually located in Seljuk, and is definitely worth a visit. One of the more interesting sights in this museum is the row of marble statues of Cybele, later called the goddess Artemis. Varying scholars have interpreted what she wears draped around her neck to be breasts, eggs, or bulls’ testicles.
Today travel to Pamukkale via Aphrodisias. Explore the remains of Aphrodisias, the city dedicated to the goddess of love and home to a school of sculpture that made its way across the Roman world. Visit the Temple of Aphrodite and one of the finest ancient stadiums ever built.
In the afternoon, visit the ancient city of Hieropolis (“Holy City”), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will see the large roman necropolis which is filled with sarcophagi, also the great baths, theater, Martyrion of St. Phillip, Cleopatra’s pool and travertines, (the terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water) on which you will take an enjoyable barefoot walk.
After breakfast, check out and depart from the hotel. Upon arriving into Antalya, explore the old part of Antalya called Kaleici, with the gate of Hadrian, the clock tower, fluted minaret, Palm Street and the ancient harbor. There are many beautiful picturesque old houses in Kaleici.
This morning, start touring with a visit to Perge Antique site, which is one of the most impressive remains of antiquity. It was an important city in Pamphylia (today’s Mediterranean region). Perge is famous for its agora and its theater seating 10,000 people. Legend holds that Perge was founded after the Trojan War by Greek settlers. Perge developed from a Hellenistic hilltop settlement into a Roman city. The town had one of the oldest Christian communities in Asia Minor. Paul and his companions visited Perge on their first missionary journey. It was here that John left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem.
Lunch is at a local restaurant.
Afterwards, visit Aspendos (Belkis) that is one of Pamphylia’s most ancient cities. It was founded by the Greeks around 1184 BC. Aspendos is famous for its incredibly well – preserved theater built in the 2nd century AD with a capacity to seat 15,000 people. It is still used today for classical performances and festivals; the theater’s galleries, stage decorations and acoustics all testify to its fabulous architectural design and construction.
Your last visit will be the Antalya Archaeological Museum whose different rooms display a variety of pottery, coins, mosaics, sculptures, costumes, sarcophagi and numerous artifacts found in nearby caves. A nomad’s tent and several rooms from a typical Ottoman household showcase the lifestyle of the region. Statues of the Greek gods, the Emperors Hadrian and Septius Serverus and their Empresses are in the Classic Hall. A stunning mosaic from Xanthos depicts the infant Achilles being dangled by his mother over the River Styx. Other exhibits include Stone Age relics from the Karain Caves, and a comprehensive ethnographical collection.
After breakfast, drive to Konya. On arrival at Konya, visit the Mevlana Museum which houses the tomb of the world – famous mystic philosopher Mevlana. This is a sacred Islamic shrine and object for pilgrims from all over Turkey. Continue the tour to Ince Minareli Madrasa. The Ince Minareli Madrasa takes its name from what was once its extremely tall minaret. It was constructed between the dates 1260 -‐ 65 and is a work of the architect Koluk bin Abdullah whose name is inscribed as “Amel-‐i Koluk bin Abdullah inside of the two symmetrical rosettes on the portal. This building was used as a theological school (Dar’ul Hadis) in the Seljuk period. The minaret sits slightly removed from the monumental portal to the madrasa. This entrance is testament to the skill of Seljuk stoneworkers. Afterwards, visit the Karatay Madrasa which was founded by Celaleddin Karatay, a vezier of Sultan Izze Keykevus. It was built in 1251 and is adjacent to the citadel. Its portal displays alternating stones of light and dark, a hallmark of Syrian influence
After breakfast, depart from the hotel to Cappadocia. On the way, visit the Sultanhan caravanseray (imposing important fortification used for protection and shelter of merchants and travelers).
Enjoy a lunch break in Avanos, a center of terra cotta work of art since 3000BC. See a demonstration in a traditional pottery workshop.
Visit one of Cappadocia’s underground cites, Derinkuyu or Kaymakli, which were cut out of volcanic rock as deep as 300 feet during the period from the 6th to the 10th centuries. You can go as deep as seven floor levels of the underground city through an intricate labyrinth of tunnels. These underground cities were used by the local population to hide when invading armies were passing through and are believed to have housed thousands of people.
This afternoon, your guide will take you to see the Pigeon Valley, where for centuries the locals used to keep pigeons in niches carved in the rock for their valuable fertilizing manure. You may also be able to climb the rock-‐carved Ulchisar Castle and enjoy from its peak the breathtaking views over the valley.
If you do not mind getting up before sunrise, you will be able to take a hot air balloon ride. This is one of the most popular activities in the Goreme Valley. Typically these rides last around an hour and a half and literally go wherever the wind may blow in the valley. The balloon carriages hold around ten people with the pilot following the air currents and floating along the valleys, often below the ridge line and close to the famous natural phenomena, the chimney rocks.
This morning, your driver and guide will meet you for a full day of touring in the Goreme National Park, a UNESCO Heritage Site.
After a volcano eruption about 2000 years ago, the lava and ashes formed soft rocks in the Cappadocia Region. The rain and wind gradually eroded these soft rocks to form the famous fairy chimneys of Goreme. The local people realized that these soft rocks could be easily carved out to form houses, churches, and monasteries and not before long Goreme became a cultural and religious center. Nowadays, the Goreme Open Air Museum is the most visited site of the monastic communities in Cappadocia and is one of the most famous sites in central Turkey.
It is a complex comprising more than 30 rock-‐carved churches and chapels containing some superb frescoes, dating from the 9th to the 11th centuries. Unremarkable from the outside, the interiors are in a typically Byzantine style with a central dome and a floor plan in the shape of a cross or a rectangle. The largest and best preserved of the churches in Goreme is the Tokali Church. Its interior walls are covered in some of the richest frescoes in the region depicting scenes from the New Testament.
After passing the villages of Ortahisar, Urgup and Mustafapasa (Sinassos), you will continue touring the area with a visit to the rock formations beyond belief in the Dervent Valley; then the Zelve Open Air Museum, which was one of the earliest monastic settlements in the area. Nearby Pasabag, also known as Monk’s Valley, has amazing examples of hermitages hollowed out of volcanic rock formations.
Later today, you will have a chance to visit some local villages and craftspeople possibly including a traditional rug workshop.
After breakfast, drive from Cappadocia to the capital city of Ankara via the Salt Lake.
Your first visit is to the Mausoleum of Ataturk, which stands on top of a small hill in a green park about two km west of Kızılay. Its design seeks to capture the spirit of Anatolia; monumental, spare but beautiful. Echoes of several great Anatolian empires, from the Hittite to the Roman and Seljuk, are included in its design. The final effect is modern but timeless.
Next visit the Anatolian Civilizations Museum, being among exceptional museums with its unique collection, has Anatolian archaeological artifacts and artifacts from the Palaeolithic Age to the present.
After breakfast, take the morning flight to Van, the largest lake in Turkey. Upon arrival visit Van’s museum. Here you will have the opportunity to see a well-‐displayed collection of 7th and 8th century B.C. Urartian finds. These include fragments of murals, mosaics, gold jewelry, children’s toys, pottery vessels and bronze plaques. The Mystery Stelae from the Hakkari district are a recent discovery and they fortunately have been brought to the Van Museum. The stelae may depict the rulers of Hubushkia, a kingdom known from the Assyrian annals.
After lunch at a local restaurant, continue to Van Kalesi (Van Castle). The settlement of Van, once called Tushpa, is hoary with age, stretching back to the days of Gilgamesh and the great flood. It was the capital of the Urartu Empire during the reign of Sarduni I (764-735 B.C) and it was he who built the long castle on the lakeshore. Walk in the city of Eski Van (Old Van).
Van is also famous for its Van cat, a pure white, longhair cat, which has the strange feature of one blue eye and the other green. If the time permits, you can visit the Van Kedi Evi (the cat house).
Morning departure for your visit of the 9th century Church of the Holy Cross on the Akdamar Island. Cross to the island by private boat. The church dates from the period of the Armenian king, Gagil I Artunsi, and was built in the standard Armenian style with a conical dome atop four axes. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the ornate relief work on the façade of the church; a veritable zoo of animals and birds ring the roof, door and wall iconographies.
Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant nearby Lake Van, which is the largest body of water in Turkey and the second largest in the Middle East. The lake is located in the region of eastern Anatolia near the border of Iran. Known to the ancient Greek geographers as Thospitis Lacus, or Arsissa Lacus, its modern Turkish name, Van Golu, is derived from Van, or Chauon. This is the name of the capital of the Urartian kingdom that flourished on the lake’s eastern shore between the 10th and 8th centuries BC. Roughly triangular in shape, the lake lies in an enclosed basin. Its brackish waters are unsuitable for either drinking or irrigation. The salt water allows for no animal life save the darekh (related to the European bleak, a small soft-‐finned river fish of the carp family). It is a fresh water fish that has adapted to a saline environment.
Later drive to Cavustepe, this royal Urartian citadel is the second largest after Van Kalesi. The buildings on the summit were for the royal family only, while ordinary Urartians lived on the plain below. As well as the temple buildings, palaces, and sacrificial altar, notice the extraordinarily advanced water system, with its series of large cisterns hollowed out of the rock for collecting the rain and snow.
End the day at the Van carpet weaving center supported by EU funds. Here you have the opportunity to learn about the beautiful Kilims woven in blue, red and white patterns produced by women of Van.
Set off on a drive along the ancient caravan route towards the spectacular sights of Mount Ararat in Dogubeyazit. Stop at the Muradiye Waterfall and admire the landscape formed by the extinct volcano Tendurek Mountain (3542 metered high) before reaching Ishak Pasha Palace nestled in a high valley above Doğubeyazıt. The grand construction dates to the 18th century. It is a unique fusion of Selcuk, Ottoman, Georgian, Persian and Armenian architecture.
You will have the opportunity to see Mt. Ararat from all sides. The volcanic peak of Mt.Ararat, (Ağrı Dağı in Turkish), stands at 16,700 feet, taller than any point in Europe. Its relative elevation over the surrounding plain is over 13,000 feet, making it one of the sheerest profiles in the world, comparable to Colombia’s Sierra da Santa Marta or New Guinea’s Mount Carstensz. The search for the remains of Noah’s Ark has been a passion for many, ever since the French nobleman, Pitton de Tourne, first scaled the mountain in 1707. The former astronaut, James Irwing, has initiated several efforts to prove that this is the site of the ark as written in the Bible.
Enjoy a simple lunch in the town. Afterwards set off from the Palace of Ishak Pasa and drive to Kars, that served as capital to the Bagratid Dynasty during the early part of the 10th century. This is a city of contrasts and one is struck first by the grid layout of the city, so unlike other cities you have seen in Turkey.
After breakfast, visit the skeleton of the medieval metropolis of Ani. Spanning across the endless meadows of the high plateau this is one of the most impressive sights of the Near East. This was a city of 100,000 inhabitants and the legendary 1,000 churches. The Gamsaragan Dynasty of Armenian lords held the city for several years before the Bagratids acquired it in the 9th century.
Return to the center to visit Kars’s museum to see its small collection of archaeological finds from the surrounding area, notably from Ani. Also, on display are impressive ethnographic articles such as clothes, household utensils, jewels, carpets and kilims. Next visit the Church of the Holy Apostles.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel. After an orientation tour of the city center, visit the citadel of Kars before taking your flight to Istanbul.
Upon arriving into Istanbul, transfer to your hotel.
After the breakfast, check out of the hotel and transfer to Istanbul International Airport For your flight back home.