Print

Day by Day Itinerary

Join us on a unique Turkish coast and Greek Island cruise that sails the legendary waters of the Aegean—Homer's "wine-dark sea"—and captures all the glory of mythic heroes of the past. Discover the enchantment and scenic beauty of the Greek Islands dotting Turkey's breathtaking Aegean coastline on a week-long cruise aboard a private Grand Circle Small Ship. Your vessel is the M/V Artemis, a 50-passenger ship that was ranked #1 on Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 20 Small Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll. Along the way, you and your fellow travelers will explore classical ruins, delve into ancient legends, and immerse yourselves in the charm and traditions of life in the Greek Islands. You'll also visit monumental sites of classical history—from the hilltop sanctuary where Hippocrates wrote his famous oath to the great battlefield of ancient Troy, immortalized by Homer in The Iliad. See the cave where St. John the Evangelist dictated the Book of Revelation, marvel at the crusader palaces of ancient Rhodes, and above all, revel in the timeless beauty of the blue waters of the Aegean on this Small Ship Cruise Tour—an epic voyage in every sense of the word.

  • hidden

    Fly from the U.S. to Istanbul, Turkey.

  • hidden

    Arrive in Istanbul this afternoon and meet your Program Director, who will take you on a short orientation tour of the neighborhood surrounding your hotel. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers.

  • hidden

    Explore the Bazaar while touring Istanbul

    Spend the day getting to know Istanbul, the great romantic city straddling the Bosporus Strait. This morning, you’ll visit a few of the great landmarks of the city’s historic center, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. First, explore the Roman Hippodrome, where thundering chariots once competed in races. Wrestling, boxing, and other athletic events were also held here, as were political rallies. Women will be glad that times have changed, as they were not admitted when the arena was built, in AD 203.

    You’ll also visit the supremely beautiful Sultan Ahmet Mosque, which is part of a large complex consisting of tombs, medreses (theological schools), fountains, a health center, homes, storehouses, and other buildings. But it is best known for its courtyard, elegant domes, and six heavenly minarets. As you remove your shoes to enter the mosque, you’ll see how it earned the name “Blue Mosque:” its interior gleams with a magnificent paneling of blue and white Iznik tiles.

    Next, discover the sprawling Topkapi Palace, the maze of opulent buildings that served as the seat 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. Today, it is the world’s oldest and largest surviving palace, one of the world’s richest museums, and a masterpiece of Turkish architecture—a complex of shady courtyards overlooking the Golden Horn, where the Sea of Marmara meets the Bosporus.

    After lunch on your own, your tour continues with a visit to the magnificent Hagia Sophia. Constructed as a Christian church during the sixth century, this Church of the Holy Wisdom served as the mother church of the Orthodox religion for more than 1,000 years. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks seized control of Istanbul and converted the church into a mosque, which it remained until 1935. Today, it is a museum. Entering the sanctuary, look up to admire its immense vaulted ceiling that soars above the four arches on which it rests.

    Conclude your discoveries with a stroll through one of the largest (and with its origins in the 15th century, the oldest) covered markets in the world, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. As you browse among the 4,000 shops stretched along miles of labyrinthine passageways, you’ll find that 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. You’ll also visit the nearby Spice Market to survey a broad panorama of authentic and exotic Turkish cuisine.

    This evening, gather for an included dinner at a local restaurant.

  • hidden

    Discover the beautiful Greek island of Symi

    Explore Istanbul at your whim today. Or, perhaps you’ll join a full-day optional Sailing Between Continents tour. First, 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.” You can decide for yourself if he succeeded. The facade of the palace stretches for more than 1,200 feet on the European shores of the Bosporus, behind which lies its vast reception salon, with 56 columns and a huge crystal chandelier (weighing four and a half tons and lit by 750 lights).

    Next, we’ll travel by ferry to Kadikoy, an ancient city on the Sea of Marmara, on the outskirts of Istanbul. There, we’ll visit a local market and enjoy lunch. Then, board a private boat, to cruise the Northern Bosporus back to the European side. The cost of this optional tour includes a seafood lunch at a local restaurant.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    View Kilitbahir Castle in Canakkale

    Set out overland for Canakkale, an important source of ceramics and woodworking during the Ottoman Empire. You’ll stop for lunch on your own along the way, and then visit the site of a famous military battle: legendary Troy, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Paris’ abduction of the beautiful Helen of Troy and subsequent siege of the city during the 13th century BC were immortalized by Homer in The Iliad. Until 1870, it was thought that Troy was a fictional place—but that 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, and continuing excavations have revealed the remains of a total of nine subsequent cities of Troy rising above the “windswept plain of Ilium.” The site’s west gate is thought to be where Odysseus’ clever ruse of the Trojan Horse was brought through to finally defeat King Priam’s city.

    Check into your hotel this evening, where dinner with your fellow travelers is included.

  • hidden

    Explore the Bazaar while touring Istanbul

    After breakfast, depart for Dikili. Travel through the Kozak Valley, past ruggedly beautiful landscapes filled with goats and olive groves. Your first destination is a Turkish mountain village, where you’ll join a local family for a Home-Hosted Lunch. Enjoy warm hospitality and delicious homemade specialties during this unique opportunity to experience rural Turkish life firsthand.

    Then, set out for the fascinating ruins at Pergamum, known today as the farming village of Bergama. Yet in its heyday, this site hosted a great Hellenistic city, renowned as an intellectual and medical center. Pergamum took its name from the Greek word for “citadel,” because it was built atop a 1,000-foot-high conical hill by one of the generals of Alexander the Great in 301 BC. Its 150-year reign as a cultural center was reflected in its graceful architecture, whose ruins you’ll explore. Among these is the Acropolis, which housed the Temple Athena and the famous 200,000-volume library, whose books are said to have been given by Marc Antony to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. Near the Acropolis lies the Theater of Pergamum—one of the steepest in the world. After a visit to the Acropolis, you'll enjoy some free time in the Bergama marketplace.

    In the seacoast port of Dikili, you’ll embark your private small ship, meet the crew, enjoy a Welcome Cocktail and your first dinner onboard. This evening, begin your overnight cruise to the island of Lesbos.

  • hidden

    Explore the Bazaar while touring Istanbul

    Today, begin your seven-night cruise—a scenic journey that weaves among the beautiful Greek Islands scattered along Turkey’s Aegean coastline. Your ship’s small size allows you to moor overnight in many of the islands’ protected yachting harbors, nestled among the traditional boats and private yachts—and well away from the big cruise ships.

    Your first stop is Lesbos, an idyllic island that was the birthplace of the ancient poet Sappho. Little is known about this influential artist’s life, but she was known to run an academy for young women on the island city of Mytilini—Lesbos’ current capital, which you’ll enjoy a full-day tour of during your time here. Much of Sappho’s poetry was lost to the ages as well—only fragments remain today, which reveal works touching upon intimate, personal themes of love and heartbreak, in contrast to the epic verses that were so prevalent in her day. Sappho’s works were so influential that Plato considered her to be the tenth Muse.

    Lesbos is also famous for the production of ouzo, an iconic Greek aperitif with a taste reminiscent of licorice or absinthe. In fact, approximately half of the world’s supply of this milky-white liquor is produced on this island.

    After your tour of the island and its picturesque capital city, you’ll return to your ship for your overnight cruise to Chios.

  • hidden

    Explore the Bazaar while touring Istanbul

    Today, your small ship carves into the blue waters of the northeast Aegean Sea bound for the island of Chios. Nicknamed Mirovolos, or “fragrant island,” for its intoxicating melange of scents of jasmine, wild tulips, thyme, and mastic trees, Chios is also known for its rugged terrain and well-preserved medieval villages. Throughout the centuries, this strategically positioned island has been coveted by the Ionians, Persians, Byzantine Greeks, Saracens, Venetians, Turks, and more. It finally became a part of the Greek nation in 1912.

    First, enjoy a morning visit to Nea Moni, an eleventh-century monastery with an impressive display of Byzantine mosaic art. Then explore Mesta, one of the picturesque medieval fortified settlements in southern Chios collectively known as the mastichochoria, or “mastic villages.”

    Then, discover how past and present converge here as your tour of this delightful island continues after lunch onboard. Explore the island’s cultural center and capital city during a walking tour of Chios Town, set on the island’s east coast. Inhabited continuously since 6000 BC, Chios Town is best known as the birthplace of the great poet Homer. Chios became one of the richest islands in the Mediterranean during medieval times when Genoese overlords controlled the trade of a sticky local resin known as gum mastic. This valuable resin remains an important part of the island’s economy.

    This evening, enjoy dinner onboard followed by a festive exclusive Discovery Series Event—a Greek dance performance—before you begin your overnight cruise to Kusadasi, gateway to the ruins of ancient Ephesus.

  • hidden

    Explore the Greco Roman city of Ephesus

    Today, explore Ephesus, the best-preserved and, at 2,000 acres, most extensive classical Greco-Roman city in Asia. Located 60 miles from Izmir, Ephesus dates to at least 1300 BC and was home to the early philosopher Heraclitus. As the commercial center and capital city of Roman Asia Minor, it was once the fourth-largest city in the Roman Empire, boasting a population numbering 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.

    After your early morning arrival in the lively Aegean resort of Kusadasi, you’ll head out to probe the ruins of the city before the crowds arrive. Your discoveries in Ephesus will include a visit to the Basilica of St. John, a six-domed structure constructed in the fifth century over the tomb of the evangelist St. John, martyred under Emperor Trajan; and the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

    Then, visit a local carpet cooperative for an exclusive Discovery Series event, in which you will enjoy lunch and to learn how hand-woven Turkish carpets are produced. Afterward, return to the ship to set sail for Patmos, where we’ll moor overnight.

  • hidden

    Explore the rugged and beautiful Greek island of Patmos

    The Dodecanese, or original twelve Greek islands, lie scattered along the Turkish coast in the southeast Aegean Sea. You’ll explore four of these islands over the course of the next few days. Your first port call is the beautiful and rugged island of Patmos, named a Sacred Island by the Greek government in 1981 and long a popular pilgrimage site. Though small in size, Patmos abounds in ancient myth. It was believed that Patmos originally existed at the bottom of the sea, visible only by moonlight, until Zeus gained permission from Poseidon, his brother, to raise it into the light and warm it into life. According to Roman legend, the island received its name when Poseidon stepped on it (patima being Greek for “step”). And it is also said that Orestes fled to this island to escape the vengeance of the Furies after he killed his mother Clytemnestra.

    The island served as exile for another important figure from history: St. John the Evangelist, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. At the time, the island’s near inaccessibility made it a perfect site for the banishment of criminals and political agitators. Exiled from Ephesus, St. John lived in a grotto beneath the Temple of Diana for 18 months, between AD 95 and 97. It was there that he received his vision of fire and brimstone and dictated the Book of Revelation. He also wrote the Fourth Gospel during this period.

    During this morning’s included tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll visit the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse, where St. John lived and worked. You’ll also explore the eleventh-century Monastery of St. John, built by the monk Christodolous on the ruins of the Temple of Diana. Fortified over the next two centuries to protect it against marauding pirates, this imposing monastery is visible virtually everywhere on the island and has remained in continuous operation for more than 900 years. We’ll see some priceless religious relics during our visit here, and be sure to listen for the remarkable acoustics inside the main chapel. We’ll also enjoy breathtaking views of the Aegean as we stroll through the labyrinthine streets of Hora, the 17th-century town of white houses that tumbles down the hillside surrounding the citadel.

    Return to the ship for lunch, and then sail on to Bodrum, your next destination, where you’ll arrive and moor overnight.

  • hidden

    Explore the Bazaar while touring Istanbul

    Bodrum, a 3,000-year-old Turkish city, known as Halicarnassus in ancient times, is now a bustling international yachting center. This morning you’ll visit the massive Castle of St. Peter, built by the Knights of St. John in the 15th century as a refuge for Christians and to carry out raids along the Aegean coast. Today, the castle houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. A repository for artifacts gathered from shipwrecks along Turkey’s southern shore, it is the largest museum of its kind in the world.

    A walking tour will then take us to the site of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. In ancient times, Halicarnassus was the hub of a kingdom that encompassed most of Asia Minor. When its ruler, Mausolus, died in 353 BC, his brokenhearted widow, Artimisia, decided to erect a magnificent tomb in the style of the Greek culture that he admired. We get the word “mausoleum” from this splendid structure, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was destroyed by earthquakes early in the 15th century, though some of the ruins were incorporated into the Castle of St. Peter. Some of the reliefs that once decorated the mausoleum are now displayed at the British Museum in London.

    Return to the ship for lunch as you sail to Kos, the third-largest and most fertile island in the archipelago. The island has been attracting settlers since 3000 BC, and, with its abundance of ancient Greek and Roman ruins and Venetian castles, Kos boasts some of the most fascinating archaeological sites in the Mediterranean region. It is perhaps most renowned as the home of the healing temple of Asklepius, founded after the death of Hippocrates, the “father of modern medicine,” who was born here.

    This afternoon, we’ll venture onto the Island of Kos—and deeper into the secrets of ancient medicine—on a visit to the hilltop sanctuary of Asclepeion, the most famous of ancient Greece’s temples dedicated to Apollo’s son Asklepios, the god of healing. This was where diseases were first classified by Hippocrates and the spot where he wrote his famous oath still sworn by medical practitioners around the world. Set on a hillside dotted with cypress trees, the center consists of natural terraces connected by a magnificent marble staircase. Dating to 444 BC, the Asclepion served as a medical school and a sanatorium that practiced the then-revolutionary practice of separating patients from the healthy, for roughly 1,000 years. During our visit here, you can wander amid the ruins that were discovered here in 1902, and admire views across the sea to Turkey.

    Then we'll enjoy a walking tour of Kos Town, a trendy resort town that also respects its past. Many of the town’s ancient ruins were discovered in 1933, when an earthquake split open the earth that had covered them. We’ll explore the fascinating ruins of the ancient agora, or marketplace, and cross the street to behold the plane tree said to be a descendant of the tree planted by Hippocrates 2,400 years ago. He is believed to have taught medicine to his students at this spot.

    This evening, board your ship for dinner as you cruise to Symi, your next destination.

  • hidden

    Discover the beautiful Greek island of Symi

    This morning, you’ll arrive at the Greek island of Symi. Because of our ship's small size, we're one of the few tour companies that can pull into Symi's deep, well-protected harbor—widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of Greece. The island of Symi flourished off of the sponge-diving trade, and during your free time in Symi Town you'll see many of the former merchants' grand, multi-colored Neo-Classical homes and ornate churches clinging to the steep hillsides.

    After time to explore Symi on your own, return to the ship for lunch during your cruise to Rhodes, the capital of the Dodecanese Islands, as well as the largest island in the chain. Upon arrival, join your Program Director for a short orientation tour before returning to the ship for the final time to say farewell to your crew over dinner.

  • hidden

    Discover the beautiful Greek island of Symi

    Because of its climate, its beautiful scenery, and its strategic location in the eastern Mediterranean, on the crossroads of East and West, Rhodes has suffered a long history of conquests, including the Persians, the Macedonians under Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Saracens, the Venetian and the Genovese, and the Ottomans. It also changed hands several times during the First and Second World Wars, before finally becoming part of Greece in 1948. The most lasting impact on the island was made by the Knights of St. John, whose Venetian castle at the island’s capital, Rhodes Town, is a masterpiece of medieval architecture, as you’ll soon discover.

    Enjoy a panoramic drive around Rhodes Town. You’ll also join a walking tour of the Old Town, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and visit the Palace of the Grand Masters, a veritable “fortress within a fortress,” which served as a last line of defense for the crusading Knights. Then visit to the city’s Jewish Quarter, to learn about the long and poignant past of Rhodes’ Jewish community, which began more than 2,000 years ago and thrived until the terrors of World War II.

    After lunch on your own, transfer to the airport and fly to Athens, where you’ll check into your hotel for an included dinner before retiring for the night.

  • hidden

    View archaeological sites and ancient artifacts while touring Athens

    A fascinating city of mythology, antiquities, lively outdoor cafes, and modern bustle, Athens stands as a bridge to the ancient world and a feast to any history buff.

    This morning, enjoy a city tour, beginning with a visit to the ancient Acropolis, crowned by the majestic ruins of the Parthenon. The Greek word acropolis means “top of the city” or “upper city,” and many of the ancient Greek cities are built around a higher acropolis where the inhabitants could flee during invasions and sieges, and where most temples and other important structures are located.

    Pericles, the ancient Greek leader noted for advancing democracy, ordered the building of the Parthenon and other main buildings on the Acropolis of Athens in the fifth century BC. The immense Parthenon took 15 years to complete, and was designed to house a giant statue of Athena. It began as a temple to the goddess, then in later eras spent time as a Christian church and a Muslim mosque. Soldiers of the occupying Ottoman Empire used it to store gunpowder, and the structure was blown up when Venetians bombarded it in 1687. Although still technically a “ruin,” much of the great building has been restored or pieced back together, and it is an impressive sight, boasting a commanding view of the city below.

    Your tour continues with a drive around the city, followed by a walk to the Plaka, the oldest part of the city. This area contains many archaeological sites, including the famous Tower of the Winds that is a part of the ancient Roman Agora. After lunch on your own, you’ll visit the Acropolis Museum, which opened to the public in 2009 to display the many ancient artifacts excavated from the nearby ruins.

    Tonight, join your fellow travelers at a local restaurant for a Farewell Dinner.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home.

  • hidden

    Board your flight to Athens, Greece today.

  • hidden

    Arrive in Athens this afternoon and meet your Program Director, who will take you on a short orientation tour of the neighborhood surrounding your hotel. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers.

  • hidden

    View archaeological sites and ancient artifacts while touring Athens

    A fascinating city of mythology, antiquities, lively outdoor cafes, and modern bustle, Athens stands as a bridge to the ancient world and a feast to any history buff.

    This morning, enjoy a city tour, beginning with a visit to the ancient Acropolis, crowned by the majestic ruins of the Parthenon. The Greek word acropolis means “top of the city” or “upper city,” and many of the ancient Greek cities are built around a higher acropolis where the inhabitants could flee during invasions and sieges, and where most temples and other important structures are located.

    Pericles, the ancient Greek leader noted for advancing democracy, ordered the building of the Parthenon and other main buildings on the Acropolis of Athens in the fifth century BC. The immense Parthenon took 15 years to complete, and was designed to house a giant statue of Athena. It began as a temple to the goddess, then in later eras spent time as a Christian church and a Muslim mosque. Soldiers of the occupying Ottoman Empire used it to store gunpowder, and the structure was blown up when Venetians bombarded it in 1687. Although still technically a “ruin,” much of the great building has been restored or pieced back together, and it is an impressive sight, boasting a commanding view of the city below.

    Your tour continues with a drive around the city, followed by a walk to the Plaka, the oldest part of the city. This area contains many archaeological sites, including the famous Tower of the Winds that is a part of the ancient Roman Agora. After lunch on your own, you’ll visit the Acropolis Museum, which opened to the public in 2009 to display the many ancient artifacts excavated from the nearby ruins.

    Tonight, join your fellow travelers at a local restaurant for an included dinner.

  • hidden

    After breakfast this morning, transfer to the airport for your flight to the Greek island of Rhodes. Because of its climate, its beautiful scenery, and its strategic location in the eastern Mediterranean, on the crossroads of East and West, Rhodes has suffered a long history of conquests, including the Persians, the Macedonians under Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Saracens, the Venetian and the Genovese, and the Ottomans. It also changed hands several times during the First and Second World Wars, before finally becoming part of Greece in 1948. The most lasting impact on the island was made by the Knights of St. John, whose Venetian castle at the island’s capital, Rhodes Town, is a masterpiece of medieval architecture, as you’ll soon discover.

    Enjoy a panoramic drive around Rhodes Town. You’ll also join a walking tour of the Old Town, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and visit the Palace of the Grand Masters, a veritable “fortress within a fortress,” which served as a last line of defense for the crusading Knights. Then visit to the city’s Jewish Quarter, to learn about the long and poignant past of Rhodes’ Jewish community, which began more than 2,000 years ago and thrived until the terrors of World War II.

    After your tour, you’ll embark your small ship, where you’ll meet the crew, enjoy a Welcome Cocktail, and spend the night moored off the island’s coast.

  • hidden

    Discover the beautiful Greek island of Symi

    This morning, begin your seven-night cruise—a scenic journey that weaves among the beautiful Greek Islands scattered along Turkey’s Aegean coastline. Your ship’s small size allows you to moor overnight in many of the islands’ protected yachting harbors, nestled among the traditional boats and private yachts—and well away from the big cruise ships.

    Your first stop is the Greek island of Symi, pulling directly into Symi's deep, well-protected harbor—widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of Greece. The island of Symi flourished off of the sponge-diving trade, and during your free time in Symi Town you'll see many of the former merchants' grand, multi-colored Neo-Classical homes and ornate churches clinging to the steep hillsides.

    After more time to explore Symi on your own, return to the ship for dinner, and then sail overnight to Kos, your next destination.

  • hidden

    This morning, arrive in Kos, the third-largest and most fertile island in the archipelago. The island has been attracting settlers since 3000 BC, and, with its abundance of ancient Greek and Roman ruins and Venetian castles, Kos boasts some of the most fascinating archaeological sites in the Mediterranean region. It is perhaps most renowned as the home of the healing temple of Asklepios, founded after the death of Hippocrates, the “father of modern medicine,” who was born here.

    Discover the beautiful Greek island of Symi

    You’ll begin today’s discoveries as you venture onto the Island of Kos—and deeper into the secrets of ancient medicine—on a visit to the hilltop sanctuary of the Asclepeion, the most famous of ancient Greece’s temples dedicated to Apollo’s son Asklepios, the god of healing. This was where diseases were first classified by Hippocrates and the spot where he wrote his famous oath still sworn by medical practitioners around the world. Set on a hillside dotted with cypress trees, the center consists of natural terraces connected by a magnificent marble staircase. Dating to 444 BC, the Asclepion served as a medical school and a sanatorium that practiced the then-revolutionary practice of separating patients from the healthy, for roughly 1,000 years. During our visit here, you can wander amid the ruins that were discovered here in 1902, and admire views across the sea to Turkey.

    Then we'll enjoy a walking tour of Kos Town, a trendy resort town that also respects its past. Many of the town’s ancient ruins were discovered in 1933, when an earthquake split open the earth that had covered them. We’ll explore the fascinating ruins of the ancient agora, or marketplace, and cross the street to behold the plane tree said to be a descendant of the tree planted by Hippocrates 2,400 years ago. He is believed to have taught medicine to his students at this spot.

    Return to the ship for lunch, then set sail to Bodrum, a 3,000-year-old Turkish city, known as Halicarnassus in ancient times. The city is now a bustling international yachting center. This morning you’ll visit the massive Castle of St. Peter, built by the Knights of St. John in the 15th century as a refuge for Christians and to carry out raids along the Aegean coast. Today, the castle houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. A repository for artifacts gathered from shipwrecks along Turkey’s southern shore, it is the largest museum of its kind in the world.

    A walking tour will then take you to the site of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. In ancient times, Halicarnassus was the hub of a kingdom that encompassed most of Asia Minor. When its ruler, Mausolus, died in 353 BC, his brokenhearted widow, Artimisia, decided to erect a magnificent tomb in the style of the Greek culture that he admired. We get the word “mausoleum” from this splendid structure, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was destroyed by earthquakes early in the 15th century, though some of the ruins were incorporated into the Castle of St. Peter. Some of the reliefs that once decorated the mausoleum are now displayed at the British Museum in London.

    This evening, return to the ship for dinner and drift off to sleep—your ship will resume its journey during the night as it makes its way to the island of Patmos.

  • hidden

    Explore the rugged and beautiful Greek island of Patmos

    Today, explore the beautiful and rugged island of Patmos, named a Sacred Island by the Greek government in 1981 and long a popular pilgrimage site. Though small in size, Patmos abounds in ancient myth. It was believed that Patmos originally existed at the bottom of the sea, visible only by moonlight, until Zeus gained permission from Poseidon, his brother, to raise it into the light and warm it into life. According to Roman legend, the island received its name when Poseidon stepped on it (patima being Greek for “step”). And it is also said that Orestes fled to this island to escape the vengeance of the Furies after he killed his mother Clytemnestra.

    The island served as exile for another important figure from history: St. John the Evangelist, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. At the time, the island’s near inaccessibility made it a perfect site for the banishment of criminals and political agitators. Exiled from Ephesus, St. John lived in a grotto beneath the Temple of Diana for 18 months, between AD 95 and 97. It was there that he received his vision of fire and brimstone and dictated the Book of Revelation. He also wrote the Fourth Gospel during this period.

    During this morning’s included tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll visit the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse, where St. John lived and worked. You’ll also explore the eleventh-century Monastery of St. John, built by the monk Christodolous on the ruins of the Temple of Diana. Fortified over the next two centuries to protect it against marauding pirates, this imposing monastery is visible virtually everywhere on the island and has remained in continuous operation for more than 900 years. We’ll see some priceless religious relics during our visit here, and be sure to listen for the remarkable acoustics inside the main chapel. We’ll also enjoy breathtaking views of the Aegean as we stroll through the labyrinthine streets of Hora, the 17th-century town of white houses that tumbles down the hillside surrounding the citadel.

    Return to the ship for lunch, and then sail on to Kusadasi, your next destination, where you’ll arrive and moor overnight.

  • hidden

    Explore the Greco Roman city of Ephesus

    Today, explore Ephesus, the best-preserved and, at 2,000 acres, most extensive classical Greco-Roman city in Asia. Located 60 miles from Izmir, Ephesus dates to at least 1300 BC and was home to the early philosopher Heraclitus. As the commercial center and capital city of Roman Asia Minor, it was once the fourth-largest city in the Roman Empire, boasting a population numbering 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.

    After your early morning arrival in the lively Aegean resort of Kusadasi, you’ll head out to probe the ruins of the city before the crowds arrive. Your discoveries in Ephesus will include a visit to the Basilica of St. John, a six-domed structure constructed in the fifth century over the tomb of the evangelist St. John, martyred under Emperor Trajan; and the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Since 1992, Grand Circle Foundation has been contributing to the preservation and ongoing excavations of this remarkable site, with its donations to the Foundation of Friends of Ephesus.

    Then, visit a local carpet cooperative for lunch and to learn how hand-woven Turkish carpets are produced. Afterward, return to the ship and cruise to Chios throughout the night.

  • hidden

    Discover the beautiful Greek island of Symi

    Today, with no big cruise ships to get in your way, your ship arrives at the Greek island of Chios. Nicknamed Mirovolos, or “fragrant island,” for its intoxicating melange of scents of jasmine, wild tulips, thyme, and mastic trees, Chios is also known for its rugged terrain and well-preserved medieval villages. Throughout the centuries, this strategically positioned island has been coveted by the Ionians, Persians, Byzantine Greeks, Saracens, Venetians, Turks, and more. It finally became a part of the Greek nation in 1912.

    First, enjoy a morning visit to Nea Moni, an eleventh-century monastery with an impressive display of Byzantine mosaic art. Then explore Mesta, one of the picturesque medieval fortified settlements in southern Chios collectively known as the mastichochoria, or “mastic villages.”

    Then, discover how past and present converge here as your tour of this delightful island continues after lunch onboard. Explore the island’s cultural center and capital city during a walking tour of Chios Town, set on the island’s east coast. Inhabited continuously since 6000 BC, Chios Town is best known as the birthplace of the great poet Homer. Chios became one of the richest islands in the Mediterranean during medieval times when Genoese overlords controlled the trade of a sticky local resin known as gum mastic. This valuable resin remains an important part of the island’s economy.

    This evening, enjoy dinner onboard followed by a festive Greek dance performance before you begin your overnight cruise to Lesbos.

  • hidden

    Discover the beautiful Greek island of Symi

    Today, arrive at Lesbos, an idyllic island that was the birthplace of the ancient poet Sappho. Little is known about this influential artist’s life, but she was known to run an academy for young women on the island city of Mytilini—Lesbos’ current capital, which you’ll enjoy a full-day tour of during your time here. Much of Sappho’s poetry was lost to the ages as well—only fragments remain today, which reveal works touching upon intimate, personal themes of love and heartbreak, in contrast to the epic verses that were so prevalent in her day. Sappho’s works were so influential that Plato considered her to be the tenth Muse.

    Lesbos is also famous for the production of ouzo, an iconic Greek aperitif with a taste reminiscent of licorice or absinthe. In fact, approximately half of the world’s supply of this milky-white liquor is produced on this island.

    After your tour of the island and its picturesque capital city, you’ll return to your ship, spending the night moored off the coast.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    Discover the beautiful Greek island of Symi

    Early this morning, sail to Dikili, your final port-of-call. Upon arrival, you’ll disembark to set out for the fascinating ruins at Pergamum, known today as the farming village of Bergama. Yet in its heyday, this site hosted a great Hellenistic city, renowned as an intellectual and medical center. Pergamum took its name from the Greek word for “citadel,” because it was built atop a 1,000-foot-high conical hill by one of the generals of Alexander the Great in 301 BC. Its 150-year reign as a cultural center was reflected in its graceful architecture, whose ruins you’ll explore. Among these is the Acropolis, which housed the Temple Athena and the famous 200,000-volume library, whose books are said to have been given by Marc Antony to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. Near the Acropolis lies the Theater of Pergamum—one of the steepest in the world. After a visit to the Acropolis, you'll enjoy some free time in the Bergama marketplace.

    Then, traverse the Kozak Valley, where you’ll drive past ruggedly beautiful landscapes filled with goats and olive groves. Your destination is a Turkish mountain village, where you’ll join a local family for a Home-Hosted Lunch. Enjoy warm hospitality and delicious homemade specialties during this unique opportunity to experience rural Turkish life firsthand.

    Afterward, carry on to Canakkale, arriving at your hotel for dinner this evening.

  • hidden

    This morning, visit the site of a famous military battle: legendary Troy, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Paris’ abduction of the beautiful Helen of Troy and subsequent siege of the city during the 13th century BC were immortalized by Homer in The Iliad. Until 1870, it was thought that Troy was a fictional place—but that 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, and continuing excavations have revealed the remains of a total of nine subsequent cities of Troy rising above the “windswept plain of Ilium.” The site’s west gate is thought to be where Odysseus’ clever ruse of the Trojan Horse was brought through to finally defeat King Priam’s city.

    After lunch on your own, transfer to Istanbul, where you’ll check into your hotel this evening. Your Program Director can make suggestions on local restaurants for dinner, which is on your own tonight.

  • hidden

    Discover the beautiful Greek island of Symi

    Spend the day getting to know Istanbul, the great romantic city straddling the Bosporus Strait. This morning, you’ll visit a few of the great landmarks of the city’s historic center, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. First, explore the sprawling Topkapi Palace, the maze of opulent buildings that served as the seat 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. Today, it is the world’s oldest and largest surviving palace, one of the world’s richest museums, and a masterpiece of Turkish architecture—a complex of shady courtyards overlooking the Golden Horn, where the Sea of Marmara meets the Bosporus.

    You’ll also visit the supremely beautiful Sultan Ahmet Mosque, which is part of a large complex consisting of tombs, medreses (theological schools), fountains, a health center, homes, storehouses, and other buildings. But it is best known for its courtyard, elegant domes, and six heavenly minarets. As you remove your shoes to enter the mosque, you’ll see how it earned the name “Blue Mosque:” its interior gleams with a magnificent paneling of blue and white Iznik tiles.

    After lunch on your own, your tour continues at the magnificent Hagia Sophia. Constructed as a Christian church during the sixth century, this Church of the Holy Wisdom served as the mother church of the Orthodox religion for more than 1,000 years. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks seized control of Istanbul and converted the church into a mosque, which it remained until 1935. Today, it is a museum. Entering the sanctuary, look up to admire its immense vaulted ceiling that soars above the four arches on which it rests.

    Just outside, you’ll also see the Roman Hippodrome, where thundering chariots once competed in races. Wrestling, boxing, and other athletic events were also held here, as were political rallies. Women will be glad that times have changed, as they were not admitted when the arena was built, in AD 203.

    Your introduction to Istanbul concludes with a stroll through one of the largest (and with its origins in the 15th century, the oldest) covered markets in the world, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. As you browse among the 4,000 shops stretched along miles of labyrinthine passageways, you’ll find that 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. You’ll also visit the nearby Spice Market to survey a broad panorama of authentic and exotic Turkish cuisine.

    This evening, you’ll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

  • hidden

    Explore the Bazaar while touring Istanbul

    Explore Istanbul at your whim today. Or, perhaps you’ll join a full-day optional Sailing Between Continents tour. First, 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.” You can decide for yourself if he succeeded. The facade of the palace stretches for more than 1,200 feet on the European shores of the Bosporus, behind which lies its vast reception salon, with 56 columns and a huge crystal chandelier (weighing four and a half tons and lit by 750 lights).

    Next, we’ll travel by ferry to Kadikoy, an ancient city on the Sea of Marmara, on the outskirts of Istanbul. There, we’ll visit a local market and enjoy lunch. Then, board a private boat, to cruise the Northern Bosporus back to the European side. The cost of this optional tour includes a seafood lunch at a local restaurant.

    Tonight, join your fellow travelers for a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant to toast your discoveries.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast this morning, transfer to the hotel for your flight home.

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

There's no better way to learn what a trip is like than from the firsthand experiences of your fellow travelers, and our Traveler Reviews are the real deal—unbiased and unedited—giving you an honest appraisal of the experiences that await you on this trip.

Have you been on this trip? Share Your Thoughts, Sign In

Please note: If you have taken this trip, please log into your My Account & return to this page. You will be prompted to post your review. Reviews are limited to 10,000 characters. Due to our moderation process, please allow up to 72 hours for your review to appear.

Striving for Excellence

Read about our goals >

Our #1 commitment is delivering the best travel experience at the best value, so we take feedback from our travelers seriously as we strive to improve what we do. And one of the best ways for us to measure how travelers have rated our trips—including their experiences and the value we offer—is from our post-trip surveys, sent in by travelers.

Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Ship Excellence
100%
Program Director Excellence
100%
Overall Trip Excellence
100%
loading reviews

Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

This trip is only offered between the months of May and September. 

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 13 days, with 7 nights aboard the M/V Artemis, and 3 hotel stays, including a single 1-night stay

Physical requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip, and may not be able to participate in all activities
    You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 6-8 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 73-92°F during cruising season

Terrain

  • Travel over uneven walking surfaces, including ancient ruins and archaeological sites, unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and stone

Transportation

  • Travel by 45-passenger coach and 50-passenger small ship

Accommodation

  • The M/V Artemis does not have an elevator onboard

Cuisine

  • Meals will be based on local and international cuisine
  • Meals onboard feature a variety of entrée options, including vegetarian

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • Greece: No visa required.
  • Turkey: Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this vacation will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • M/V Artemis

    The M/V Artemis was ranked #1 on Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 20 Small Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll.

    Owned, operated, and staffed by Grand Circle Cruise Line, the M/V Artemis was designed exclusively for two small groups of just 25 Grand Circle travelers, each with its own Program Director. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in select common areas, but connectivity is limited in certain locations on your itinerary. Enjoy daily breakfast and lunch buffets onboard. Sit-down dinners feature international and local specialties.

SEE THE ENTIRE GRAND CIRCLE FLEET

Main Trip

  • Titanic City Hotel

    Istanbul, Turkey

    Located within walking distance of Taksim Square and downtown Istanbul, the modern Titanic City Hotel is an ideal base from which to explore the city and its legendary sites. Amenities include a restaurant and bar as well as a fitness center, spa services, and an indoor pool. Each of the hotel’s 183 rooms offers a view of Istanbul and is equipped with satellite TV, minibar, and private bath with shower.

  • Wyndham Istanbul Old City Hotel

    Istanbul, Turkey

    Located in Istanbul's historic city center, the Wyndham Istanbul Old City Hotel is close to the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul University, and public transportation. Amenities include a health club, three restaurants, and an indoor pool. Air-conditioned rooms feature cable/satellite TV, telephone, Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Kolin Hotel

    Canakkale, Turkey

    Located in historic Canakkale, the Kolin Hotel offers 276 rooms, each equipped with modern conveniences and 24-hour room service. Break from your discoveries to stroll through the hotel’s sprawling gardens or play a game of tennis on the on-site courts. Then, at the end of the day, relax in the indoor pool, Turkish baths, or bar and lounge area.

  • St. George Lycabettus Hotel

    Athens, Greece | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located at the foot of Lycabettus Hill overlooking the city of Athens, the Superior First-Class St. George Lycabettus is also close to the exclusive shopping area of Kolonaki. Rooms are contemporary-styled, most have balconies, and all are air-conditioned and equipped with satellite TV, telephone, minibar, and private bath.

  • Hera Hotel

    Athens, Greece

    The Hera Hotel is ideally situated near the Acropolis and other archaeological sites. Your air-conditioned room includes coffee- and tea-making facilities, high-speed Internet access, and private bath.

Extensions

  • Doubletree Hotel Avanos

    Nevsehir, Turkey | Rating: Superior First Class

    This Superior First-Class, 126-room hotel features indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a health club with Turkish bath, restaurant, lounge, and more. Its rooms include a flat-screen TV, complimentary wireless Internet access, and a private bath.

  • Ankara Hilton SA Hotel

    Ankara, Turkey | Rating: Moderate Deluxe

    The Moderate-Deluxe Ankara Hilton SA Hotel is an ideal base for exploring Ankara. Amenities include a pool, outdoor sun deck, Turkish hammam, restaurant, and bar. Your air-conditioned room features Internet access, an iron, minibar, safe, TV, telephone, and hair dryer.

  • Nafplia Palace Hotel & Villas

    Nafplion, Greece | Rating: Superior First Class

    Surrounded by three World Heritage Sites, the Nafplia Palace Hotel & Villas is situated above the historic town of Nafplion, with excellent views across the bay. There are three restaurants, two bars, two pools, a poolside bar, and spa treatment facilities to choose from at the hotel. There are 85 rooms, each with climate-control, minibar, safe, satellite TV, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Europa

    Ancient Olympia, Greece | Rating: First Class

    Situated at the top of Drouvas Hill in Ancient Olympia, the Hotel Europa overlooks the valley filled with ruins, monuments, and the stadium of the Ancient Olympic Games. Facilities at the hotel include a restaurant, tavern, outdoor swimming pool, garden, and pool bar. There are 78 air-conditioned rooms at the hotel, each featuring balcony, safe, wireless Internet, satellite TV, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • St. George Lycabettus Hotel

    Athens, Greece | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located at the foot of Lycabettus Hill overlooking the city of Athens, the Superior First-Class St. George Lycabettus is also close to the exclusive shopping area of Kolonaki. Rooms are contemporary-styled, most have balconies, and all are air-conditioned and equipped with satellite TV, telephone, minibar, and private bath.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle Cruise Line vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $4195
w/ standard air $5595
Approximate travel times

Partner since: 1992
Total donated: $365,595

Preserving History for the Future

Grand Circle Foundation is proud to work with historic sites around the globe. We contributed to the UNESCO World Monuments Fund, as well as smaller preservation organizations—just by traveling with us, you are helping us change lives in this historic and irreplaceable site.

Ephesus

Partner since: 1992 • Total donated: $105,000

Since 1992, Grand Circle Foundation has been contributing to the preservation and ongoing excavations of this historic site via donations to the Foundation of Friends of Ephesus. As a traveler in this ancient city, it is easy to feel the pulse of history under your footsteps. Here, it is said that the Gospel of John was written, and the Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We are proud to bring travelers on our Turkish departures right into the heart of history on this site that is over 3,000 years old.

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

Read More

Pay Early & Save up to 10% with our Good Buy Plan

It’s simple: The earlier you reserve and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer, the more you’ll save on any 2015 departure of Turkish Coastal Voyage: Greek Islands, Istanbul & Athens. You’ll maximize your value—saving up to a full 10% off your total trip price—when you pay in full twelve months or more prior to departure. Even if you don’t reserve a full year in advance, you’ll still save, as seen in the example below. Plus, there’s no risk in reserving early with our Lowest Price Guarantee. You’ll receive our lowest cruise-only price if we reduce your main trip price more than 60 days from departure.

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 9/12/2015 departure:

  ORIGINAL PRICE
per person
SAVE 10%
when you reserve and pay in full by 9/12/14
SAVE 7%
when you reserve and pay in full by 10/12/14
SAVE 5%
when you reserve
and pay in full by 12/12/14
Small Ship Cruise Tour-only price: $5295 $4766 $4924 $5030
Add a 5-night Ankara & Cappadocia extension: $1295 $1166 $1204 $1230
International airfare out of New York: $1100 $990 $1023 $1045
Total price per person $7690 $6922 $7151 $7305
Total savings per couple   $1536 $1078 $770

Maximize your value by using the money you save for a cabin upgrade or optional trip extension

Call Now 1-800-221-2610

The Sponge-diving Legacy of the Greek Island of Symi

The rise and fall of a maritime industry

by Maria Mavrelli, Program Director, Greece

Clad in little more than their bravado, divers would cling to a round, flat stone attached to a rope and plummet to the bottom of the sea ...

Beneath the clear, warm waters of the Dodecanese Islands, there lies an abundance of a commodity which today we tend to take for granted: sponges. In modern times, it’s hard to think of picking up a sponge as an adventure; all you need to do is go to the store. But there was a time when the story of the sponge was far more exciting.

From ancient times until around the 19th century, sponges were collected by a daring method called skin-diving. Clad in little more than their bravado, divers would cling to a round, flat stone attached to a rope and plummet to the bottom of the sea, reaching depths of up to 100 feet. Their task was to collect as many sponges from the ocean floor as they could before their breath ran out; an urgent pull on a rope tied around their wrist was their ticket back to the fresh air above.

The invention of the diving suit changed the game

While this method could hardly be considered efficient, the merchants of the Dodecanese nonetheless prospered as a result. One island that fared especially well was the isle of Symi, located at the southern end of the Dodecanese chain. Symi’s golden age began in the 19th century, when a Symiot merchant acquired a diving suit from Augustus Siebe, a German engineer who revolutionized the diving profession.

Siebe’s diving suit allowed divers to be more productive than ever. Sponge-diving ships ventured further from shore, spending around six months at sea and sending divers to depths of more than 230 feet, where the finest sponges could be found. Their harvests boomed accordingly, and sponge merchants made money hand over fist.

But the affluence came at a dreadful cost. By spending so much time at such deep depths, and then quickly ascending back to the surface multiple times per day, the Greek sponge divers exposed themselves to decompression sickness, a debilitating condition commonly known as “the bends.” The bends took a great toll upon the Dodecanese divers, disabling or claiming the lives of as many as one-third of those who took the plunge. Symiot families grew weary of mysteriously losing their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers to the sponge-diving trade (which they ruefully dubbed “the tyranny”) and by 1919, Symi had scaled back its role in the industry significantly—merchants still funded expeditions, but left the actual diving in the hands of outside help.

As you walk Symi’s streets, evidence of its sponge-diving heritage can still be found all around if you look closely enough—from the antique diving equipment on display at the Naval Museum, to the opulent merchant homes perched upon the island’s hills. As you admire Symi’s splendid sights, be sure to keep in mind the price its people paid to get there.