East greets West on this comprehensive tour of Turkey that embraces the many facets of this diverse nation. Experience the exotic allure of Istanbul at the monumental Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Enter the fascinating underground dwellings in Cappadocia. And explore some of the oldest—and best-preserved—ruins of ancient empires along the deeply carved Turquoise Coast, including those in beautiful Antalya and fascinating Ephesus. Throughout your European guided tour, your Turkish Program Director provides insights as only a native can, drawing back the curtain to reveal the drama of everyday life in both bustling cities and tiny villages.
Depart the U.S. for Istanbul, Turkey. Please refer to your personal air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.
Arrive in Istanbul this morning or afternoon. A Grand Circle representative meets you at the airport and helps you with the transfer to your hotel, where you'll meet your fellow travelers, including those who have completed their Athens, Greece pre-trip extension.
Turkey sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Approximately 97% of the country sits in Asia, and is called Anatolia. Though only 3% of Turkey (the part called Thrace) is in Europe, it is accepted in the European community, and the country participates in many European associations and contests. At present, Turkey is in the negotiating process to become a full member of the European Union.
Enjoy dinner on your own this evening.
After breakfast, enjoy an orientation walk with your Program Director. Then begin your European guided tour with some sightseeing in this city on the Bosporus—formerly Constantinople and the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire. In the morning, visit the Spice Market and Topkapi Palace, the maze of opulent buildings that was the center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. The Topkapi was a city-palace with a population of approximately 4,000 people. It housed all the Ottoman sultans from Sultan Mehmet II to Abdulmecit—nearly 600 years and 25 sultans. This palace, where the sultans and their courts lived and governed, is now one of the world's richest museums. You'll see its magnificent gardens, courts, and galleries exhibiting the imperial collection of crystal, silver, fabled jewels, and Chinese porcelain.
After a lunch break on your own in the historical center of the city, your included tour continues at the Hagia Sophia, a museum that was once an Islamic mosque and the largest church in the world. It is the single most famous example of a Byzantine structure, and contains breathtaking mosaics and frescoes.
Next, visit the supremely elegant Sultan Ahmet Mosque, with its six heavenly minarets. Built between 1609 and 1616 by the architect Mehmet, under the orders of Sultan Ahmet I, the building is more familiarly known as the Blue Mosque, because its interior gleams with a magnificent paneling of blue-and-white Iznik tiles. The mosque is part of a large complex consisting of tombs, medreses (theological schools), fountains, a health center, homes, storehouses, and other buildings.
Finish the tour with a stroll through Istanbul's bustling Grand Bazaar, exploring a labyrinth of streets and passages housing more than 4,000 shops. The street names recall the days when each trade had its own quarter: goldsmiths' street, carpet sellers' street, and the street of the skullcap-makers. Browse among world-renowned Turkish carpets, brilliant hand-painted ceramics, copper and brassware, gleaming gold jewelry, and antiques. You have about an hour of free time to explore and shop in the bazaar.
This evening, enjoy a Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers at a local restaurant.
Enjoy a day at leisure to explore Istanbul on your own. Perhaps you'll want to see Turkey in a more recent light: Visit the Istanbul Modern, a new museum at dockside of the Bosporus. The museum is dedicated to an awareness of traditional and contemporary Turkish art, as well as a desire to integrate with the international art world.
Or join us for a full-day optional East Meets West tour. First, you visit the extraordinary Dolmabahce Palace, built in the mid-19th century by order of Sultan Abdul Mecit I. The Sultan's architect was given the order that this building should "surpass the palace of any potentate anywhere in the world." The architect certainly fulfilled the order, as the facade of the palace stretches for more than 1,200 feet on the European shores of the Bosporus. Its vast reception salon, with 56 columns and a huge crystal chandelier (weighing four and a half tons and lit by 750 lights), never fails to astonish visitors.
Next, you'll board a private boat for a cruise on the Northern Bosporus. Sail back to the European side at Tarabya and disembark for lunch at a seafood restaurant overlooking the Bosporus. Afterwards, visit the Sadberk Hanim Museum, a privately funded collection of furniture, art, and antiquities housed in a villa decorated in a traditional Ottoman style.
Tonight, you have the evening to enjoy as you wish.
This morning, you'll depart for Canakkale. After lunch on your own en route, you'll visit the World War I battlefields of Gallipoli in the early afternoon.
Gallipoli was the scene of famous and often tragic World War I battles in 1915 and 1916. Allied troops (mainly "ANZACS," Australia and New Zealand combined forces) landed in April of 1915, and there was fierce fighting across the peninsula through January of 1916. At Gallipoli National Park, you'll see war memorials, along with Turkish and Allied cemeteries. The natural beauty of this area, with its green hills rolling down to sparkling blue waters, is surely a fitting resting place honoring the 500,000 soldiers who were wounded or died here.
Then, you'll ferry across the Dardanelles to the Asian side of Turkey, and arrive at your hotel in the early evening.
Dinner is at your hotel tonight, and your evening is at leisure.
This morning, transfer to Izmir, your home for the next three nights. Your full-day scenic drive offers dramatic seaside views of the Dardanelles, the narrow strait between Europe (the Gallipoli Peninsula) and Asia.
In mid-morning, you'll stop to visit legendary Troy, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the city where, in Homer's monumental Iliad, Helen's face is said to have launched a thousand ships. Until 1870, it was thought that Troy was a fictional place. In this year, the German businessman Heinrich Schliemann began excavations in a location he deduced from his readings of the Iliad. Remarkably, he uncovered the historical city of Troy.
Then, continue to a nearby village to enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series event—lunch in the home of a local family. Connect with your hosts as you exchange stories and share a traditional meal.
Once you arrive in Izmir, enjoy a brief orientation of the city by bus. Then, enjoy dinner at your hotel and the evening at leisure in Izmir.
In the first millennium BC, Izmir, then known as Smyrna, ranked as one of the most important cities of the Ionian region. Legend has it that Homer, poet and author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, was born here.
Enjoy a tour of the city, the third-largest in modern Turkey. The city lies at the head of a long and narrow gulf furrowed by ships and yachts. Behind the palm-lined promenades and avenues that follow the shoreline, the city ascends the slopes of the surrounding mountains in horizontal terraces. The original city of Izmir was established in the third millennium BC, at which time it shared with Troy the most advanced culture in Western Anatolia.
Early this evening, enjoy a special Discovery Series slide show with music, Our Land, Our People, presented by the internationally known photographer Yusuf Tuvi, who was born in Izmir in 1938. Later, dinner is at the hotel.
Spend the day at leisure exploring Izmir’s landmarks, perhaps including the Velvet Fortress built by Alexander the Great.
Or, join us on an optional full-day tour to Pergamum, an important cultural center built high on a hilltop. Pergamum became one of the most important cities of the Hellenic era when it was willed to Rome in the second century BC. It was known as a center of medicine, where the famous doctor of antiquity, Galen, worked in the Asklepeion (sanatorium) and wrote several hundred medical books. During the Christian period, its Temple of Serapis was converted to a basilica dedicated to St. John, and the city is featured in the saint's Book of Revelation.
During your tour, you’ll stop to view the remarkably well-preserved ancient city and fascinating ruins at Pergamum, which was home to a library of more than 200,000 parchment volumes. Learn about the history and culture during a visit to the Museum of Pergamum, and get a glimpse of the modern-day city when you break for an included lunch.
Enjoy dinner at your hotel this evening.
After breakfast, you'll begin your journey to Pamukkale.
On the way, stop to explore Ephesus, the best-preserved and most extensive (2,000 acres) classical Roman city in Asia. Located 60 miles from Izmir, Ephesus dates to at least 1300 BC and was once the commercial center and capital city of Roman Asia Minor, with a population that once numbered more than 300,000. One ancient legend attributes the founding of Ephesus to the Amazons of Greek mythology. Another credits the Athenian Androclus, who received advice from an oracle to establish a colony at the "place of the fish and the boar." And so, when he and his crew saw a wild pig charge out of underbrush set ablaze inadvertently by locals grilling fish, he staked his claim on the Anatolian shore.
At Ephesus, see the Great Theater, where Paul of Tarsus stood trial for bringing Christianity to the area. This is the largest structure in Ephesus, a huge semi-circular theater that was the central meeting place, and focus of social and cultural life of the city.
The city's fame in antiquity is indisputably due to its great Temple of Artemis (Diana), built in 550 BC, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In addition to seeing other highlights, walk the Marble Way from the theater to central Ephesus and view the two-story facade of the Library of Celsus. You'll also explore the Tomb of St. John the Apostle. Since 1992, Grand Circle Foundation has been contributing to the preservation of this remarkable site.
After lunch on your own, depart for Pamukkale, where you'll arrive in the early evening with time to relax before dining at the hotel tonight.
After breakfast this morning, you'll visit Pamukkale, which is famous not only for its unique geological formations, but also for its historical remains. Hot, calcium oxide-rich waters flowing down the slopes that overlook the fertile river valley have, over the millennia, built up deposits of white travertine, or limestone deposits, on the plateau. From a distance, the stalactites—overflowing terraces and unusual shapes—glisten like white ice and dominate the landscape. The Romans established Hierapolis (Holy City) here, primarily as a luxury health resort and thousands made use of health benefits of the calcium-rich thermal spas and pools. Hierapolis itself contains a mix of structures—baths, temples, theaters, and churches—dating from Roman, Hellenistic and Christian times. Both the ancient city's name and its modern Turkish name—Pamukkale (Cotton Castle)—fit the area perfectly.
Your visit starts at Hierapolis' Necropolis (graveyard), which, as one of the largest in Asia Minor, reveals the gravity of the health problems Romans hoped to heal here. As you'll discover late this afternoon, it is still a popular spa resort. You'll also visit the city's ancient commercial center and the Byzantine Basilica. Finally, your tour ends at the natural travertine formations—believed to have formed more than 14,000 years ago.
Continue to the town of Buldan, where you can enjoy lunch on your own and then visit a clothing cooperative, for a look into the town's local textile industry. You'll also have the opportunity to meet some of the town's residents during a visit to a local coffee shop before heading out for a tour of Buldan's bustling marketplace.
Leaving Buldan, return to your hotel, where, if you like, you can relax in the therapeutic waters of the on-site spa.
Dinner tonight is at your hotel.
Today's transfer to Antalya reveals the beauty of Turkey's fabled Taurus Mountains. En route, you’ll stop and visit ancient Aphrodisias, named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. On a guided tour of this city, you’ll discover fascinating ruins, including the Temple of Aphrodite and its tetrapylon, or monumental gate. Tour the adjacent museum to learn more about the history of the Temple, its original construction from marble, and its later conversion into a Christian basilica. While in Aphrodisias, you’ll also visit the ancient Council House and the stadium, both of which remain well-preserved today. After an included lunch, continue on to Antalya.
You arrive in Antalya in the early evening, and have some time to relax after dinner at your hotel.
After breakfast, enjoy a walking tour through the winding streets of the old harbor quarter of Antalya, the jewel of Turkey's Mediterranean Turquoise Coast. Set on a crescent-shaped bay, it is bounded by citrus groves, valleys, and the Taurus Mountains.
During your tour, you'll see the ramparts, Hadrian's Gate, slender minarets, and restored harbor area. Then visit the Archaeological Museum of Antalya. The artifacts here trace the path from the Stone and Bronze ages, through the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and up to the Ottoman Empire. You'll also see Ottoman ethnographic exhibits. The museum is one of Turkey's largest, and has nearly 5,000 works of art on exhibit.
You'll have the afternoon free for your own discoveries. Or, join us for an optional Magic of the Mediterranean tour to Aspendos, an ancient city dating to the fourth and fifth centuries BC. Here is the stunning ancient theater in Turkey—so well-preserved that you can see the names of Roman spectators carved into the backs of the seats—a bit of ancient graffiti. Not far from the theater are the remains of a large aqueduct from ancient times. (Please note: Departures prior to September 2014 will visit the ancient Greek city of Side, including its ancient Greco-Roman theater, in lieu of Aspendos.)
You'll also visit Perge, where St. Paul gave some of his first sermons. Originally settled by the Hittites in 1500 BC, Perge thrived during the Roman Empire. The ruins here, which include a theater and stadium, create an excellent impression of how an ancient city looked and felt.
Later, you are invited to attend a Discovery Series discussion on Turkey's Lost Antiquities, led by a university professor. Turkey is a land that is steeped in history, abounding with ancient artifacts—unfortunately, much of it has been lost or even stolen over the years. A professor from a local university will lead the discussion, and describe to you some of the things that have gone missing. After the discussion, you can relax over dinner at the hotel.
After a leisurely breakfast, you'll enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series cooking lesson and learn how to prepare Turkish specialties with instructions from an Antalyan chef. The chef will describe the most popular dishes in Turkey, such as eggplant salad and halva (a popular dessert typically made from semolina and honey).
The balance of the day is at leisure. You may want to return to spend some more time in the giant open-air museum that is the Old Town. You could walk through one of the city's parks, such as the palm tree-lined Ataturk Park, or Karaalioglu, with its marvelous views over the sea. Or, just spend some time relaxing in your hotel.
Your evening is at leisure. Dinner is included at your hotel.
This morning, depart Antalya for Cappadocia. Your drive takes you over a scenic route through the Taurus Mountains.
At around mid-day, you'll reach the historic holy city of Konya. You'll have time for an included lunch in Konya or en route. Once known as Iconium, Konya is one of Turkey's oldest continually inhabited cities, and was home of the Whirling Dervishes. This Muslim ascetic order performed vigorous chanting and whirling dances as acts of ecstatic devotion.
Here, you visit the Mevlana Museum, containing the mausoleum of the founder of the Whirling Dervishes. Each year in December, the Dervishes mark the death of their founder, the great poet Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, selected "Mystic of the [13th] Century" by Time magazine. Though not of the orthodox Muslim faith (a follower of Mohammed), he preached tolerance towards all peoples and religions. Rumi is revered in the world of Islam and studied widely by those of other religions—his beautifully lyrical poems have a wide appeal, and he is one of the best-selling poets in the U.S.
Then, continue along the road to Cappadocia, stopping on the way at Sultan Han, the largest Seljuk caravanserai in Turkey. The caravanserai was established as a way point for camel caravans along the Silk Road by Sultan Keykubat in the 13th century, and has grown to prominence in the years that followed. Over time, a village, then a town sprung up around it, surrounded by immense fortress-like walls served by an intricately-decorated portal.
You arrive in Cappadocia in the early evening, and have some time to relax before dinner at your hotel.
When you first see the landscape of Cappadocia, it might just take your breath away. Ten million years ago, volcanic eruptions from Mount Erciyes and Mount Hasan blanketed this limestone plateau in central Turkey with ash and lava. When they mixed with water, the result was a mud-like substance that slowly hardened into a soft rock called tufa.
Centuries of erosion from rain, wind, and flooding from the Kizilirmak River shaped this tufa into a striking, surreal moonscape of cone-shaped pinnacles and towers, all in a variety of lovely hues. Some 300 beautifully frescoed churches and dwellings for 30,000 people were carved from the soft volcanic pinnacles between the fourth and 14th centuries. The maze of cones, windows, and chimneys is built directly into the malleable rock. Beneath these fanciful shapes lie even more wonders—underground chambers, even entire villages, some 14 stories deep.
During an included morning tour, you'll discover the city of Kaymakli, once a refuge from Arab, Roman, and Mongolian aggressors, as well as the Goreme Open-Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There, you'll view the ancient rock-hewn churches sculpted in the hillsides almost 1,000 years ago. Medieval Christian monks established a community of monasteries by carving their churches out of the soft volcanic stone that is part of this terrain. On the stone walls of the caves, they depicted the New Testament with paintings and vibrant frescoes. Then, continue on to the small town of Urgup, which has many carved dwellings that are still inhabited.
After your tour of Cappadocia, you’ll visit a local primary school, supported by Grand Circle Foundation, where, when class is in session, you’ll have the opportunity to meet the friendly children who study here.
This afternoon, after enjoying lunch on your own, join a Discovery Series Art of Pottery in Asia Minor event, offering you the opportunity to visit a cave pottery atelier. During a discussion at this workroom, you will learn about the artisans' skill and techniques used to produce the traditional pottery of the region. You will also be able to see some of the local pottery creations in the atelier. You then stop along the way to visit a caravanserai. This old inn was a gathering spot in the 13th century for the traders and camel caravans that made their way along the legendary Silk Road between Asia and Europe, setting up trading for their goods.
You return to the hotel in the late afternoon, and join your fellow travelers for dinner at a local restaurant tonight.
You can enjoy the rest of your evening at leisure to make your own discoveries. Or, join us on an optional tour, where you have the opportunity to witness a ritual dance performance by the Whirling Dervishes, monks of the Mevlevi sect of Islam founded in the 13th century. During the dance, called a sema, the dervishes believe that their souls are released from their earthly ties and are free to joyfully commune with the divine.
You can rise early this morning (weather permitting) and get a new perspective on the intriguing tufa landscapes while gliding smoothly above them on our optional hot-air balloon excursion. Sip a cup of hot coffee or tea as the crew prepares the balloon, then climb aboard. See the soft light of dawn spread over Cappadocia, as the balloon flight varies from low contour to get a good look at the sculpted tufa, to a somewhat higher altitude to give you a panoramic view of this strangely shaped landscape of eroded pillars and cones. After landing, enjoy a light breakfast on-site and celebrate your adventure with a glass of Champagne. Please note: Between November and March, this optional ballooning excursion may not be available due to weather conditions.
Later this morning, discover why the village of Avanos is known for its carpet-making. Here, you'll enjoy an informative exclusive Discovery Series discussion on the Turkish tradition of hand-looming. After lunch on your own, visit the vast Uchisar Kale (Fortress) that dominates the skyline for miles. You'll then visit the tufa formations of Pashabag, conical formations capped with basalt that are still used as storage units today.
By late afternoon, you return to the hotel, where you can enjoy an included dinner this evening.
Travel overland to Ankara today. En route, stop to delve into a civilization that rivaled Egypt's during the second millennium BC. Begin your explorations at ancient Hattusas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and capital of the great Hittite Kingdom—a powerful empire of the Ancient Near East that ruled from about 1600 to 1200 BC. Located high on a rocky summit, Hattusas offers a wealth of archaeological treasures that have been recovered from this former center of the kingdom, including records offering extensive details on political and religious aspects of the culture.
After an included lunch at a village in Bogazkoy, continue on to Yazilikaya, a sacred Hittite sanctuary of two chambers enclosed by natural rock formations. Hewn out of the rock are depictions of deities and a stone relief of King Tudhaliya IV that stands twelve feet high. Archaeologists estimate that the Hittites used this locale as a revered shrine as early as 1250 BC.
Here, you'll walk through an open-air cultural center featuring representations of the Hittite pantheon. The Hittite people revered up to 1,000 gods and goddesses—but you'll find the major spiritual beings—such as Teshub, the Thunderstorm God, and Hepatu, the Goddess of the Sun—depicted more frequently in sacred sites throughout the region. You'll arrive at your hotel by early evening.
Enjoy your evening at leisure.
Ankara is a very old city, founded in 2000 BC, and there are several Roman ruins scattered throughout the metropolis. Archaeologists have also found artifacts that date back to pre-Roman periods. But you'll find that much of Ankara's character is sophisticated and modern, from the educational institutions to the art galleries, from the music to the architecture. There are three symphony orchestras and five theaters offering classic performances of ballet, opera, modern dance, and drama. On many levels, Ankara has become the cultural and political center of Turkey.
Enjoy a city tour this morning. Your first stop is at the Mausoleum of Ataturk, a tribute to the founder of modern Turkey. Ataturk (originally named Mustafa Kemal) helped lead the nation during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and transformed it into the secular republic that stands today. He was Turkey's first president and is now considered its most revered historic leader. Local artisans created the statues, adornments, and reliefs you see throughout the complex that combine ancient and modern architectural styles. It is an impressive site, with a large colonnaded courtyard, a Hall of Honor with mosaics of gold leaf on the ceiling, floors of colored marble, and a 40-ton sarcophagus. A group of statues near the towered entrance represent the three strengths of a nation—defense, productivity, and education.
Then, visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, the finest Hittite museum in the country. It details the many cultures that have inhabited this region, starting as far back as the Paleolithic Age. The museum houses a priceless collection of artifacts from Neolithic, Hatti, Hittite, Phrygian, Persian, Galatian, and Roman times. The two buildings themselves, a caravansary (an overnight site for caravans) and a bedesten (covered bazaar), are Ottoman structures that date to the 15th century. Vendors abound in this area, adding to the local color with their fragrant spices, dried fruits, and traditional Turkish handcrafts for sale.
Your tour continues to the oldest part of the city where you'll explore Ankara Castle, perched high on a hill overlooking the city. Little remains of the original complex, built by the Galatians, but much of the architecture from its Roman, Byzantine, and Selcuk eras may still be admired. You'll tour the Old Town just inside the castle walls, an area where the traditional housing was concentrated during the 16th century for protection within the fortifications. Other highlights of the castle district include the Roman theater, the Temple of Augustus, the Roman Bath, and the Column of Julian.
Enjoy lunch on your own and the remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Though Ankara's origins are from ancient times, most of the city is modern and well-planned. You can stroll its wide boulevards, take a quiet walk in a groomed park, or browse its elegant boutiques.
Savor your remarkable journey over a Farewell Dinner with your travel companions this evening.
After breakfast, you are transferred to the airport for your flight home. Or, if you've chosen to extend your European Guided tour in Urfa & Adana, you'll begin your post-trip extension today.