CULTURAL HIGHLIGHTS PROGRAM
13 nights / 14 days
Day 01: Istanbul – Arrival
Upon arrival to the Istanbul Ataturk Airport, we will meet our guide in the arrivals hall and head to our hotel located near Taksim Square, the bustling heart of modern Istanbul. Dinner and Overnight in Istanbul.
Day 02: Istanbul – Arrival
On our first day in Turkey, we will enjoy an Istanbul intercontinental journey. First, we will spend time on the European peninsula and visit the beautiful Rustem Pasha Mosque. Designed by the extraordinarily prolific Ottoman imperial architect, Mimar Sinan, this mosque features the most lavish use of Iznik tiles in the city. Next, we will embark on a cruise of the Bosphorus, the winding straight that separates Europe and Asia and connects the Black Sea with the inland Sea of Marmara. This is our time to relish the views of the old wooden mansions, Ottoman palaces, and ancient fortresses that dot the river’s coast before the ship drops us off in Asia! Here, we will visit Beylerbeyi Palace, which was constructed between 1861 and 1865 during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz as a summer residence for the Ottoman sultans. Next, we will enjoy impressive views from Camlica Hill. At 268 meters above sea level, it is the highest point in Istanbul, offering panoramic views of the surrounding area. From the top, we can see the Bosphorus Bridge, the Eminonu Peninsula, the Sea of Marmara, and the Princes’ Island. And if the skies are clear this day, we may also see as far as Mount Uludag near Bursa! Then, we will drive across the bridge back to Europe and return to our hotel. Dinner and Overnight in Istanbul.
Day 02: Istanbul – City Tour
After enjoying our Turkish breakfast, we will depart from our hotel and begin our tour of the historical highlights of Istanbul. First, we will stroll through Hippodrome Square, the former sporting and social center of Constantinople that hosted chariot races during the Roman period. Afterwards, we will visit the domed masterpiece of Hagia Sophia, the orthodox patriarchal basilica-turned Ottoman imperial mosque-turned secular museum commissioned by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. Then, we will descend into the cathedral-size Basilica Cistern, which was also constructed by Justinian in the 6th century. This enormous structure’s vaulted ceiling is supported by a forest of recycled columns collected from throughout the Roman Empire. Next, we head to Topkapi Palace. Located on the very cape of the peninsula where Constantinople was founded, Topkapi Palace is the former abode of Ottoman Sultans that still houses their legion of treasures, including an extensive collection of royal jewels. Then, we will end our day with an evening of shopping at the Grand Bazaar, the massive covered market that houses a labyrinth of streets lined with shops selling jewelry, leather products and many other handcrafted souvenirs. Dinner and Overnight in Istanbul.
Day 04: Istanbul / Iznik / Bursa
After breakfast, we will drive to Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. En route, we will stop in Iznik, formerly known as Nicea, the important Roman and Byzantine town where the first Council of Nicaea was held during the reign of Constantine in 325 AD. Upon arrival in Bursa, we will head to the city’s center and visit the Great Mosque (Ulu Cami). A characteristic example of early Seljuk Architecture, this mosque houses a forest of large square columns that hold up a cloud of arches and domes. Afterwards, we will visit the Green Mosque (Yeşil Cami), a Seljuk architectural gem entered through a richly carved marble portal. We will then walk just behind the mosque to visit the Green Tomb (Yeşil Türbe), the mausoleum of Sultan Mehmed I Celebi that proudly stands above the rest of the complex. We will end our evening here at the Covered Market (Kapalı Çarşı), popularly known as the Silk Market. Here, we can wander the narrow streets lined with dozens of hans (caravanserais), which are old Ottoman workshop-and-warehouse complexes that are arranged around a courtyard and sealed by massive armored doors. Dinner and Overnight in Bursa.
Day 05: Bursa / Ankara
This morning, we will drive to the capital of the Republic of Turkey. Upon arrival in Ankara, we will visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, a beautiful museum housed in two Ottoman buildings located near Ankara Castle. Here, we will see the museum’s extensive display of cultural treasures, including examples of the first minted money. Dinner and Overnight in Ankara.
Day 06: Ankara / Cappadocia
After breakfast, we head to Cappadocia. Upon arrival, we will visit the Kaymakli Underground City, the most impressive of the subterranean settlements due to its ventilation system. Afterwards, we will head to Pigeon Valley to enjoy a panoramic view of this region’s unique rock formations, popularly known as fairy chimneys. Formed over many centuries by wind and water erosion on soft volcanic rock, these rock formations rise high from the valley floor like chimneys. Early inhabitants of this region carved these chimney tops with birdhouses to collect pigeon droppings long used by local farmers as fertilizer. Dinner and Overnight in Cappadocia.
Day 07: Cappadocia
On our second day in Cappadocia, we have an early start with a balloon ride taking off at 6:00am. After getting a bird’s eye view of the region’s incredible lunar landscape, we will head to Avanos, a town established by the Hittites on the banks of the Halys River. This town has carried on the Hittities’ tradition of pottery that uses the river’s famous red clay to make ceramics. After enjoying our visit to the potter’s studio, we will explore the Monastic Center of Goreme. This open-air museum is dotted with quaint carved-from-rock churches and chapels embellished with colorful frescoes. Then, we are off to Ortahisar to see its gorgeous valleys and stop at the Three Beauties, the most famous of the region’s many conic rock formations. Today, we will also hike through the valley of Zelve and see its hundreds of carved-from-rock houses and chapels and we will visit Pasabag Valley, also known as Monk’s Valley, to explore its tower-shaped hermitages. After having dinner at our hotel, we will head to Saruhan Cervanseray to watch a Whirling Dervish Ceremony. In this well-preserved cervansaray that was built in 1249 to provide shelter and protection for tradesmen and travellers journeying on the Silk Road, we will watch the ritual dance and meditation practiced by the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi Order. Overnight in Cappadocia.
Day 08: Cappadocia / Konya
This morning we leave Cappadocia bound for Konya. First, we reach Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas spoke boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 14:1-3). Iconium became a center of theology and philosophy for many centuries. Upon arrival in Konya’s city center, we will visit the Mevlana Museum, which houses the tomb of the great 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, who founded the Order of the Whirling Dervishes. We will then end our day at the Karatay Museum. This former medrese was founded in 1251 by the Seljuk emir Celaleddin Karatay. The building is now a museum showcasing the most beautiful examples of Seljuk tile work. Dinner and Overnight in Konya.
Day 09: Konya / Antalya
After enjoying another copious Turkish breakfast spread, we will drive to the town of Aksu to visit the ancient city of Perge, the city that was twice visited by the Apostle Paul and his companion Barnabas. Then we are off to Aspendos to see the best-preserved theatre of antiquity. The ampitheater can seat up to 15,000 people and is still used today for performances and festivals. Dinner and Overnight in Antalya.
Day 10: Antalya / Pamukkale
Today, we will depart from Antalya for a scenic drive from the Mediterranean coast to inner Western Turkey. In this region, we will visit the remains of the ancient city of Laodicea. This city was one of the Seven Churches that the Apostle John chastised the inhabitants for being lukewarm (Rev. 3:14-22). Here, we will see the site’s well-preserved stadium, gymnasium, and theatres, giving us insight into this city’s former prominence. Afterwards, we will head to Pamukkale, “Cotton Castle”, and dip our feet in the thermal waters that flow down the hilltop’s unique white travertine terraces. Here, we will visit the archeological remains of Hierapolis, a significant site of early Christianity thanks to Paul’s missionary efforts here (Colossians 4:13). Because the city sits atop the travertine cascades of Pamukkale (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Hierapolis became a healing centre wherein the site’s thermal pools were used to treat various ailments. Today, we will stroll among a number of important ruins including well-preserved Roman structures like the town theatre and Temple of Apollo. Dinner and Overnight in Pamukkale.
Day 11: Pamukkale / Ephesus / Kusadasi
This morning, we will drive to Ephesus. Located in the modern town of Selcuk, ancient Ephesus is one of the most well-preserved archaeological sites in Turkey. Originally an ancient Greek Ionic city built in the 10th century B.C., Ephesus grew to become the largest metropolis and capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor. This political influence and the city’s large Jewish community attracted the attention of the apostles, including Paul who was born “Saul of Tarsus” before his encounter with Christ and the great missionary journeys that spread Christianity to the West. In addition to Paul, Ephesus was also the old stomping grounds of the Apostle John who was Bishop of the Ephesian Church before he was exiled to Patmos. Today, we will walk on the Marble Road passing numerous historically rich sites including the beautifully ornamented Fountain of Trajan, and the Temple of Hadrian. We will also see the Library of Celsus, which adorns the site’s most impressive square, and sit in the theater (the largest surviving from the Roman period). This massive theatre (capable of entertaining up to 25,000 spectators) was the scene of an uprising provoked by a merchant named Demetrius against St. Paul and his teachings (Acts 19:23). Afterwards, we head to a local restaurant nearby to help the chef prepare today’s lunch. Here, we will learn some tips on how to master the rich (and tasty) culinary tradition of Turkey. Dinner and Overnight in Kusadasi.
Day 12: Kusadasi / Pergamum / Canakkale
Today, we will drive north along the Aegean coast to the town of Bergama to visit Pergamum, one of the most powerful cities in the ancient world. The city rose to prominence following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. and eventually came under Roman control in 133 B.C. Although the city benefited from immense wealth, in the Book of Revelations, the risen Christ instructs John to convey the message that the people of Pergamum, the site of “Satan’s throne”, needed to repent (Rev 2:13-16). Today, we will tour the Acropolis that sits atop a 1000-foot windswept mountain, offering a view of the neighboring modern towns, the azure waters of the Aegean, and the ruins of Pergamum that cascade down from the ancient city center. Here, we will explore the Temple of Trajan, Temple of Athena and the Altar of Zeus. Unfortunately, little is left of the altar, which was once among the grandest monuments of the ancient world. In fact, every stone of the structure, including its 400-foot long frieze depicting the battle of the gods and giants, was shipped off to Berlin by German Archaeologists leaving only the altar’s foundation. Thankfully, much more remains of the Great Theatre. Among the steepest of its kind and an acoustic phenomenon, this theatre could entertain up to 10,000 spectators. Nearby are the remains of the famous Library of Pergamum. Once housing some 200,000 scrolls, the library’s collection even exceeded that of the great library of Alexandria before Mark Anthony gave it to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. Afterwards, we will explore the Asklepion. Allegedly one of the world’s first full-service health clinics, the Asklepion was the ancient world’s version of a spa, attracting health pilgrims from all over the region, including Roman Emperors Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. Moreover, the physician Galen trained at this center and developed the foundation for modern Western medicine. Afterwards, we drive to Canakkale. Dinner and Overnight in Canakkale.
Day 13: Canakkale / Istanbul
This morning, we will head to Troy, the legendary site of the Trojan War on which Homer based the Iliad. Founded 5000 years ago, it became a powerful city through its control of the Dardanelles up until the Roman era. Afterwards, we will drive to Istanbul. Dinner and Overnight in Istanbul.
Day 14: Istanbul – Departure
Today, we say goodbye to Turkey and head to the Istanbul Ataturk Airport to board our flight back home.