Day by Day Itinerary

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.

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    Depart the U.S. for Istanbul, Turkey. Please refer to your personal air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.

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    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.

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    After breakfast, enjoy an orientation walk with your Program Director. Then begin your explorations with some sightseeing in this city on the Bosporus—formerly Constantinople and the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire. In the morning, visit 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 lunch 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 3,600 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.

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    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 museum at dockside of the Bosporus 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. Afterward, 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.

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    This morning, take in the bustle, bold scents, and vibrant hues of Istanbul's Spice Bazaar, an Ottoman-era marketplace built in 1660, before departing 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.

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    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.

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    After breakfast, explore Izmir, the third-largest city in modern Turkey, during an included tour. 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. 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.

    Spent lunch and the afternoon on your own. 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.

    Dinner tonight is at the hotel.

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    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.

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    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, a remarkable site that Grand Circle Foundation has been contributing to preserve since 1992. Then, visit the Ephesus Museum to see myriad artifacts uncovered during excavation, most notably a marble statue of Artemis, the ancient Greek godess said to be the daughter of Zeus and Leto.

    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.

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    After breakfast this morning, 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 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.

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    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.

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    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.

    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.

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    After a leisurely breakfast, 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.

    Dinner tonight is at your hotel.

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    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. 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 enjoy and included lunch before visiting 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.

    You arrive in Cappadocia in the early evening, and have some time to relax before dinner at your hotel.

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    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 underground 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, meet local primary and secondary students at Ortahisar, a school supported by Grand Circle Foundation, where you'll have the opportunity to meet the friendly children who study here when class is in session.

    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 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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    Set off on an included tour this morning, starting with 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.

    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.

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    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.


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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.

Currency Cheat Sheet: Submit

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


  • 7 locations in 18 days, with 1 single-night stay

Physical Requirements

  • Walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 4-6 hours of physical activities daily, including stairs
  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids may not be able to participate in all activities and must travel with a companion who can assist them
  • Program Directors reserve the right to modify participation or send travelers home if their limitations impact the group’s experience

Terrain & Transportation

  • Uneven walking surfaces, including unpaved paths, ancient ruins and archaeological sites, hills, stairs, and cobblestones
  • Travel by 45-seat motorcoach and ferry


  • Daytime temperatures range from 43-83°F during touring season
  • September and October are the warmest months
  • March and December weather can be unpredictable and change quickly


  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine

Travel Documents


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.


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:

  • 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


Main Trip

  • Titanic City Hotel

    Istanbul, Turkey | Rating: Superior Tourist Class

    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.

  • Kolin Hotel

    Canakkale, Turkey

    Located in historic Canakkale, the Kolin Hotel offers 274 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.

  • Hilton Hotel

    Izmir, Turkey | Rating: Superior First Class

    Conveniently located in the heart of Izmir's commercial district, the Superior First-Class Hilton Hotel places shopping and entertainment opportunities at your fingertips. After your explorations, unwind at the hotel's indoor pool, sauna, or massage parlor. Also on the property are a dining room and coffee shop, lobby lounge and bar, tennis and squash courts, a fitness center, beauty salon, and gift shop. Your air-conditioned room features satellite TV, telephone, minibar, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • Doga Thermal Health & Spa

    Pamukkale, Turkey

    Conveniently located in the town center, the Dogma Thermal Health & Spa features a spa, sauna, Turkish bath, hot spring bath, indoor and outdoor pools with lounge chairs, garden, and scenic mountain views. Each air-conditioned room includes a balcony, wireless Internet access, satellite TV, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • The Marmara Antalya Hotel

    Antalya, Turkey | Rating: Superior First Class

    The Superior First-Class Marmara Antalya Hotel is located five minutes from downtown Antalya, with convenient bus access to the beach, as well as nearby museums and ancient ruins. The hotel features an on-site restaurant, bar, gym, and spa, as well as rooms featuring views of either the city or the Mediterranean Sea and Tarsus Mountains. Each room is equipped with air conditioning, high-speed wireless Internet, cable TV, and a private bath with hair dryer.

  • Doubletree by Hilton 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.


  • Metropolitan Hotel

    Athens, Greece | Rating: Moderate Deluxe

    Located in central Athens, the Moderate-Deluxe Metropolitan Hotel offers you a modern retreat amid the history that surrounds you in Athens. While here, enjoy the outdoor pool, health club, and three on-site restaurants. Each air-conditioned room features cable/satellite TV, a telephone, high-speed Internet access, minibar, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

    Please note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Dedeman Sanliurfa Hotel

    Urfa, Turkey

    The Dedeman Sanliurfa Hotel provides modern, comfortable accommodations just outside the city of Urfa. All rooms offer air-conditioning and private bath, and Internet access is available for an extra fee. On the hotel grounds, you'll find a health club and an outdoor pool where you can relax at the end of the day.

  • Adana Hilton SA Hotel

    Adana, Turkey | Rating: Superior First Class

    This modern hotel is conveniently located on the banks of the River Seyhan, by the city’s Roman Stone Bridge. All 308 rooms include modern conveniences and offer views over the river, the Sabancu Mosque, and downtown Adana. The hotel also features a choice of restaurants and bars.

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 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).

Partner since: 1992
Total donated: $365,595

Making a difference in Turkey

Simply by traveling with Grand Circle, you support the work of the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation. Alan and Harriet Lewis created the Foundation with the mission of changing people's lives through travel—which includes both the travelers who journey with Grand Circle, and the local people who welcome us so warmly into their homelands.

Learn more about our work in Turkey, and what you'll experience during your itinerary:

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.

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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.


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.

Grand Circle Foundation

Supporting a World Classroom: Turkey

Engage with students during a local primary school visit in San Carlos, Panama.

By funding improvements at local schools, the Foundation's World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society's most precious resources: its children. In Turkey, you'll visit a school funded by Grand Circle Foundation. Our projects have included building a new kitchen, repairing the heating system, and much more.

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Supporting a World Classroom: Turkey

By funding improvements at local schools, the Foundation's World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society's most precious resources: its children. In Turkey, you'll visit a school funded by Grand Circle Foundation. Our projects have included building a new kitchen, repairing the heating system, and much more.

"The visit to the school and the joy and enthusiasm of the students was truly outstanding! They were so welcoming, and they loved the attention-especially having their picture taken."

Edith Heins
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Schools of Rural Turkey

Partner since: 2007 • Total donated: $78,818

Grand Circle Foundation currently supports nine schools in Turkey, including Ataturk Primary School, Hacibektas High School, and Kiriklar Primary School. Over the years, our funds have helped the local schools in a variety of ways based on their individual needs. These projects include helping to build science and computer labs and a playground; repair a heating system; purchase projectors, computers, athletic equipment, and kitchen supplies; renovated rooms, and acquire a much-needed supplies such as musical instruments, laptops, books, and toys.

Several schools in one town have combined their efforts toward a particularly exciting project: the construction of a shared kitchen. The completed facility, which can produce 1,188 lunches daily, has more than doubled the town’s ability to provide partially or fully subsidized, healthy lunches for their students.

School in session:

Mid-September through early June, with periodic closures for Muslim holidays.

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Schoolbooks
  • Novels
Grand Circle Foundation

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Home-Hosted Lunch. Share a traditional meal with a local family in their home.
  • Our Land, Our People multimedia show. View images of Turkey, set to music, from internationally known photographer Yusuf Tuvi.
  • Turkey's Lost Antiquities discussion. Gain insight into Turkey's missing and stolen ancient artifacts.
  • Cooking demonstration. Learn how to prepare local specialties like eggplant salad and halva (a popular dessert).
  • The Art of Pottery in Asia Minor visit. Meet with a potter in his unique cave workshop.
  • Turkish hand-woven carpet discussion. Discover the Turkish tradition of hand-looming at a carpet center during an informative discussion.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Historic Center of Istanbul
  • Troy
  • Hierapolis-Pammukkale
  • Goreme Open-Air Museum & Cappadocia
  • Hattusas

10 Reasons to experience Crossroads of Turkey—in the words of our travelers

The best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from those who have traveled there. From ancient ruins to bustling markets to the warm welcome of locals, here are some memorable experiences our travelers shared from our Turkey tour.

"Most memorable moment for me was probably the library at Ephesus. I was a school librarian for over 14 years and seeing that fabulous library facade just awed me."
A 6-time traveler from Wesley Chapel, FL

Local art and architecture
"The frescoes, mosaics and tiles in the mosques and churches are astonishing. Highlights were the mosaics in the second floor gallery at Aya Sofya and the frescoes and mosaics in the Chora Museum, a Byzantine church whose impressive interior decorations were carried out between 1315 and 1321. And, of course, the gorgeous Iznik tiles in the Blue Mosque."
An 8-time traveler from Gainesville, FL

Ballooning Over Moonscape optional tour
"... it would be a huge mistake to miss the Balloon Ride over Cappadocia—it was absolutely one of the highlights of our experience in Turkey ... It is impossible to explain or to capture in photos the feeling of peace and tranquility of gliding smoothly and soundlessly at low and higher altitudes as the sun peeked above the hills of Cappadocia; our ballooning was topped off after a gentle landing with Champagne. A truly great, great, great experience."
A 6-time traveler from Bartlett, TN

Local people
"The Turkish people are warm and engaging—so very friendly. There usually was no language barrier; many times a passer-by would stop and translate
for us."
A 6-time traveler from Cody, WY

Scenic landscapes
"The Turkish countryside is very diverse. We enjoyed seeing the orchards of brilliant red pomegranates, fields of white cotton, gorgeous sunsets, mountains, farm lands and its beautiful coastline."
A 6-time traveler from Lompoc, CA

"... the standout moment in Ankara was visiting the Mausoleum of Ataturk, Turkey's revered founder of the Republic and the first President of Turkey. Hundreds of high school kids from all over Ankara were there in the huge square demonstrating with chants and flag waving for Turkish solidarity. It was a moving moment!"
A 2-time traveler from Hayward, CA

East Meets West optional tour
"Take the optional tour with the boat ride on the Bosphorus. It is glittering and gorgeous, and watching and discussing the Russian oil tankers emerging from the Black Sea portal on their journey to the Mediterranean was particularly fascinating at this juncture in current events."
A 2-time traveler from Atlantic Beach, FL

Local cuisine
"I greatly appreciated farmers markets (would you believe 36 different kinds of olives?), the delicious cheese and spinach gozleme cooked on an open air oven fired with small branches, the impromptu helping of local farmers to harvest olives from live trees, the meals at unique restaurants (baked fresh mushrooms with cheese, lamb stew baked in sealed clay pots that are broken to pour out the fragrant contents, beef kebaps and pide cooked in brick ovens in full view) ... do not miss the dark pine honey, even tastier than our sourwood one and drenching all kinds of baklava and other goodies."
A first-time traveler from Rochester, NY

Program Director
"Our guide, Rana, was amazing. Very knowledgeable and a wonderful travel companion. She was familiar with the itinerary and able to get us to popular sights when there were virtually no crowds."
A 6-time traveler from Simsbury, CT

Urfa & Adana, Turkey post-trip extension
"Most of all ... we were impressed by the ancient places we visited on the extension tour to Urfa & Adana, of which Gobekli Tepe (ca. 12,000 BC) was the absolutely outstanding site."
A 2-time traveler from Harrisonburg, VA

For reservations and information about our Turkey tour, call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610

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When you return from a trip, you receive a credit worth 5% of that total trip cost that you can apply to your next trip. On average, that’s $200 in savings.


Our most loyal travelers—members of our Inner Circle—can now save even more:

  • Multiple Trip Credits
    Save up to $350 on your second trip reserved in a calendar year—and on any additional trips you take within the year.
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Dates & Prices

*All figures are examples only. Vacation Ambassador and Frequent Traveler savings shown are based on the average credits earned by Grand Circle travelers. Please note that some benefits cannot be combined. For your specific savings, contact a Travel Counselor. Standard Terms & Conditions apply. Every effort has been made to produce this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors.

History, Culture & More

Learn more about the history, art, culture, and more you’ll discover on this trip by reading the features below. These articles were collected from past newsletters, Harriet’s Corner, and special features created for Grand Circle by our team of writers.

Humble Feasts

See why bread is often considered the foundation of Turkish cuisine.

Read More »

Istanbul Underground

Uncover the ancient treasures that lie beneath this city’s modern streets.

Read More »

Ruins & Revelations

Learn more about two of Turkey’s ancient places featured in the history books.

Read More »

History, Culture & More

Humble Feasts

How bread anchors Turkish cuisine

by Julia Hudson for Grand Circle

... Perhaps the tastiest fact about Turkish breads is that up until recent decades, the vast majority was homemade.

“The tree’s roots are in the earth, man’s roots are in bread.”

Turkey is famed for warm hospitality, and a visitor may find themselves invited for an impromptu cup of cay, or tea, or even an entire family meal at the home of a new best friend they have met that day. Stories abound of travelers in Turkey who are fed, advised, and even transported to their destinations by friendly local people who want to make sure they are made welcome in their country. Though Turkey is officially a secular state, many of these traditions come from Koranic tenets to provide hospitality, and also to accept it when it is offered. It should be no surprise, then, that Turkey is a fascinating country in which to share a meal, or “break bread.”

Bread is often called the foundation of Turkish food. In Turkey, fresh bread is eaten at every meal, and it is often said that a Turk is never really full until he or she has consumed bread. In fact, both wheat and water are considered holy substances, and it is thought that the Archangel Gabriel taught Adam to bake bread, making Adam the patron saint of bakers. So anyone who eats bread is a lucky person, and blessed by God—throwing away bread is a “sin,” even if the bread is stale, about to mold, and no one plans to eat it.

Turkish breads are often recognizable by their use—or lack—of leavening. Many of the country’s best-known breads are flatbreads, such as pide (known to westerners as “pita”), lavash, bazlama, and markook. All these breads have something to recommend them, whether it’s the convenient “pocket” in a round of pita (caused by a steam bubble that forms inside during baking) or the softness of fresh lavash, which makes it popular to use in wrap sandwiches like street-kiosk kebab. But perhaps the tastiest fact about Turkish breads is that up until recent decades, the vast majority were homemade.

In fact, so much bread used to be baked at home that it was considered a sign of poverty to purchase “market bread,” as it implied that you did not have an oven of your own. Or it meant that you were not a member of the community—perhaps a student, foreigner, or government official, living in a temporary housing arrangement and outside the norms of family life. Among those who do still bake homemade bread, it is often made twice a day—in the morning and again in the evening, so that every meal can be eaten alongside fresh loaves.

The tools of the trade

Baking bread in the Turkish style often requires special implements, tools whose very existence underscores the importance of this staple food. For example, when bread needs to be preserved, yufka is the bread of choice. Yufka is made from an unleavened dough containing only flour, water, and salt, and it is rolled out with a thin, long oklava rolling pin that is not wide in the center as most rolling pins. The yufka is baked on a convex griddle known locally as a sac (in other parts of Asia, the same griddle is called a tavah, tawah, or saj). Once the yufka is baked, it is usually dried and stored in tall stacks, to be refreshed with a sprinkling of water and left to rest and re-hydrate for ten minutes before it is time to eat.

Though there is wide variety already evident in Turkish breads, from these flatbreads to the yeasty round of bagel-like simit, or the myriad dessert pastries that the region is known for (baklava, anyone?), Turkish cooks often move bread right to the center of the plate and add even more variety. Some breads, such as sac katmeri, çokelekli, and pancarlı, are all thin breads that are often topped with greens, potatoes, or meat. Resembling a sort of pizza, these humble foods make for filling and satisfying meals that can be made quickly.

Bread is a comfort food and a staple the world over. But only in Turkey is the basis of every meal a wheat dough, and only here does every home cook know how to turn this humble ingredient into a meal that will make anyone who drops by feel welcome.

History, Culture & More

Istanbul Underground

Ancient treasures beneath modern streets

by David Valdes Greenwood from Currents

The Persians named it Dersaadet, the Door to Ultimate Happiness. Arabs called it Bab-I Ali, the Sublime Port. You probably know it as Byzantium … Constantinople … or Istanbul. The many names of Turkey’s largest city and crown jewel tell the stories of passing epochs and shifting eras, layers upon layers of cultures. For in Istanbul, history literally runs deep: Some of the most fascinating evidences of its colorful past aren’t reflected in its stunning skyline, but instead require the intrepid traveler to head underground.

You can thank the occupying Romans for your chance to see a city beneath a city. Ancient Romans valued several things in city planning that the early Byzantium lacked: flat, orderly streets, and running water. Bringing in their best engineers, the Romans leveled hillier areas to make for new plazas, and created underground aqueducts to deliver water from outside the city to cisterns within. Once they set the precedent, not only were there underground cisterns but stables, houses of worship, and even palace rooms.

Over the centuries, time and weather alike changed the landscape, and the modernization of Istanbul in the 1940s and 1950s further buried some relics of the past, with new edifices rising atop them. Some of the treasures have been lost to history, while others were preserved and more recently uncovered, allowing visitors to truly experience a hidden side of the city.

Splendor underfoot

Cisterns are not unique to Turkey, but Istanbul is home to the mother of them all. It boasts the largest cistern on Earth, the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici), which can hold 21 million gallons of water. Built in the sixth century and operable for hundreds of years, the cistern fell into disuse and disrepair, forgotten by city officials until a 16th-century French translator working in the city noticed that some of the locals dipped buckets through the floors of their homes to get water; tracing the pattern of these access points, he rediscovered the mouth of the cistern, which was then restored to the public.

Three hundred and thirty six columns support the domed arches of the interior, with water still flowing at base level. Keen eyes will note that not all the columns are the same—the head of Medusa upholds one column and another column is trimmed in carved peacock feathers. Lighted from below, the columns are bathed in an amber glow and reflect on the water, which makes the cistern feel equally romantic and reverent. Not surprisingly, the spectral beauty of this sight has inspired photographers and filmmakers alike, including the cinematographer of the classic James Bond film From Russia with Love.

With its Hollywood pedigree, it’s no surprise that Basilica Cistern draws more visitors from abroad than its sibling, the Binbirdirek Sarnici (also called the Cistern of Philoxenos). Built during the reign of Constantine, Binbirdirek boasts “only” 264 columns. That’s plenty, unless you compare notes with the Basilica; this slight difference may have spawned a little competitive exaggeration on the part of its creators, as its name means “The Cistern of 1,001 Columns.” The cistern was filled with earth and rubble for centuries until the 1960s, when serious restoration efforts began. Today, with its vaulted brick ceilings in a herringbone-like pattern, and dramatic lighting, it is home to cultural performances, special events, and a modest museum. But locals like it as a place to get drinks at the small bar, illuminated in blue to add to the ethereal quality of the space.

Houses of worship

While Binbirdirek is an ideal place for entertainment, some of the most evocative underground sites are intended for contemplation instead of play.

Yeralti Camii, an underground mosque on Karantina Sok (in the Karakoy neighborhood), may be far less ornate than its above-ground peers like Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, but it impresses in its own quiet way. In what was once the cellar of a Byzantine castle, 54 vaulted chambers lead to a pair of tombs, bathed in emerald light, housing Arab saints who died trying to free the city in the seventh century. Their bodies were hidden here for a thousand years until a dervish had a dream that this is where they lay, and when the remains were found, a shrine was raised on the site immediately. A hundred years later, the entire site was converted to a mosque, as it remains today.

Though Islam is the dominant religion in this nation that is officially secular, other religions do have long histories of their own. The Greek Orthodox faith has many houses of worship here, often built around springs considered sacred. Once such church is the Monastery of the Mother of God at the Spring, also known as Balikli Kilise (“the Fish Church”). The present building was raised in 1835 atop the foundation of a shrine dedicated at the turn of the sixth century when local women professed that an array of miracles had occurred here. The site has remained an important pilgrimage route for 1,500 years—despite being burned down, rebuilt, and destroyed several times—and the spring became, for a time, the scene of royal rituals, including the introduction of each new empress before her marriage.

While the church itself is above ground, to see the waters that inspired such devotion, you must descend a staircase at the side of the church into the crypt, which is lined with religious illustrations and topped with a frescoed dome. There, you’ll find the fish for which the church is named swimming freely in the marble basin. It’s the water—not the fish—that is sacred, but the fish represent a popular religious legend. Folklore has it that on the day that the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, a monk cooking fish for dinner told a skeptical peer that conquest was imminent; the listener scoffed, saying that the cooked fish would more likely come back to life than the city would fall. When the fish leaped out of the oil and into the water—and Constantinople did fall—the skeptic (only figuratively) ate his words. The fish have been part of the church ever since.

Feasting on history

Some significant finds may go unnoticed by visitors who are distracted by the commercial properties sitting atop subterranean gems. Most diners looking for a night out probably aren’t wondering if the treasures of Byzantium will be on the menu—but travelers in the know are seeking out restaurants where a side order of history comes with the meal.

One of the oldest restaurants in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, Albura Kathisma has been serving up hearty Turkish fare for centuries. Pass the tables where diners tuck into traditional lamb or eggplant specialties, then continue into the garden terrace, and you’ll gain entry to a subterranean walkway. Here you’ll find four vaulted chambers that led to the Magnaura Palace in the fourth century. Over on Istiklal Caddesi, between the flower stalls and fish market, Sarabi Wine House is a chic, modern vinoteca in its top floors, but if you dine in the cellar, you will be enclosed in the brick cavern of an aqueduct that once connected the British Embassy to the Bosporus.

In the bustling Laleli commercial district, Buyuk Tas Han (Big Stone Han), is a teahouse, complete with kilim rugs and café tables. But it’s not your average teahouse by a long shot. Originally named the Han of the Sunken Fountain (han being a wayside resting place for travelers), this centuries-old setting is approached through a long passage that leads to a courtyard where a ramp descends into former stables associated with a royal complex. Buried till 1957, the underground courtyard is graced with a fountain and trees, a perfect spot for a cup of tea and a dose of history.

Looking to the future from the past

Surprisingly, for a city with so many well-preserved icons of its past, new discoveries of ancient glory continue to be made—sometimes inadvertently. One of the biggest engineering endeavors in the city’s history is the Marmaray Project, a high-speed rail line that would, for the first time ever, connect Halkali, to the west of Istanbul on the European side, with Gebze, to its East on the Asian side, a feat made possible by building a tunnel beneath the Bosporus. But when the excavators reached the Yenikapi neighborhood, they found something they didn’t expect: the “lost” port of Theodosius.

Though ancient writings detailed the fourth-century port, no one had ever seen evidence of its existence and there was no agreement as to its location. But archaeologists affiliated with the Marmaray Project have now uncovered 36 Byzantine ships dating from the seventh to the eleventh centuries, including a 120-foot-long vessel they’ve nicknamed the Titanic. At the base of the pit, jetties and docks line up in neat rows. With boats of all sizes having now been unearthed—from rowboats to cargo ships—a portrait of Constantinople in its heyday is taking shape.

The site sprawls across 625,000 square feet, making it the largest nautical archaeological site ever unearthed— and is so significant that the Yenikapi station on the new rail line will have to be relocated entirely, a four-year delay in this epic public-works project. But city officials agree that it’s worth it for the tradeoff, in which they gain a uniquely detailed glimpse into the past life of the city they love. In a few years, officials hope to unveil a museum that will introduce these boats to the very citizens who once walked above them, never knowing there was treasure beneath their feet.

History, Culture & More

Ruins & Revelations

Ruins & Revelations: The lasting legends of Turkey

by Philip McCluskey, for Grand Circle

Turkey was once at the epicenter of empires: places where armies converged in vicious battles, legends were born and died, and great societies prospered and withered. In modern times, the Aegean region is still littered with relics of these once-mighty civilizations, and travelers come from all over the globe to experience the history of these lost cultures.

Each of Turkey’s ancient places has a prominent story that has been printed in the history books. Yet many also have a layer of stories just below the surface: intriguing postscripts that transform the myths of ancient empires into tales that still have an impact in the modern world.

From temple to tribune

One of Turkey’s most prominent ancient cities was Pergamum (now called Bergama). In addition to having an impressive acropolis, Pergamum’s library was the second largest in the ancient world. It was so grand, in fact, that it is said Marc Antony gave all 200,000 of its volumes as a gift to Cleopatra when they married in the first century BC.

The city grew to prominence after one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Lysimachus, chose it as the store for his vast wealth in the fourth century BC. It became well known as a center of politics and religion. The locals were known as the “Temple Keepers of Asia,” as they had a number of houses of worship: a few built in honor of the emperor, one dedicated to the goddess Athena, as well as one devoted to Asclepius, the serpent god.

Asclepius was considered the god of healing, and an impressive complex (called an asclepeion) was built in his honor in Pergamum. This compound was a blend of hospital and spa, where people would come to be cured of their ailments. Terminal patients were not welcome, however—death was considered a contamination of this sacred space, and the temple priests would not permit dying patients. In fact, a sign was placed about the door that read “Death is not permitted here.”

Those invited inside the asclepeion would be given a sedative, and told to go sleep in the dormitories. It was said that the serpent god would come to you in your dreams and give you a message. Non-poisonous snakes would writhe on the floor of this space; if one happened to slide across your chest in your sleep, it was seen as an auspicious omen. The patient would then report to the temple priest the next morning, who would translate the dreams into a prescription for relief from the infirmity.

Perhaps the most famous of all the temples in Pergamum, however, was the Altar of Zeus. The city was home to one of the seven churches of Revelation, the book of the Bible (written by Saint John the Evangelist) that describes the Apocalypse. In this final book of the New Testament, John refers to the “throne of Satan,” and it was believed that he was referring to the Altar of Zeus.

For centuries, the Altar was lost in the (literal and figurative) sands of time in what has now become known as Bergama. Then, in the 19th century, a German engineer named Carl Humann was told of the wealth of stone available in a quarry here. Humann discovered that the quarry included some of the ruins of ancient Pergamum, including the Altar of Zeus. It was a stunning archeological find; so stunning, in fact, that an entire museum was built to house it in Berlin.

The Pergamum Museum took twenty years to build, and opened in 1930 with the Altar as its signature piece. One visitor to the museum was particularly impressed by the grand scale of its 40-foot-high columns and carved depictions of a battle between the gods and giants. He could see how it inspired awe in the people of Pergamum two millennia prior. That man was Albert Speer, the Chief Architect of the German Nazi Party. He used the Altar of Zeus as the inspiration for the Zeppelin Tribune, the infamous site of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi rallies in the 1930s.

A myth realized

Another of Turkey’s archeological treasures is Troy, located in northwestern Anatolia. Though factual information about this ancient city is limited, it has lived on through a tale told by the infamous Greek poet Homer.

It is believed that he lived sometime between the eighth and 13th centuries BC, and is famous for having written the Iliad and the Odyssey—two grand stories that have captured the imaginations of countless generations since. The former included a tale of the Trojan War, considered a classic story of love and battle. As it turned out, that sweeping epic helped inspire the man who would ultimately discover the ruins of the city of Troy itself.

The site was excavated by amateur German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s, but his obsession began much earlier. As an eight-year-old boy in 1830, Schliemann received the book Universal History for Christmas. It told the tale of the Trojan War: the beauty of Helen (the “face that launched a thousand ships”), her ill-advised elopement with the prince of Troy, and the ten-year siege of the city by the forces King Agamemnon of Greece in order to get her back.

Young Schliemann was enthralled, and later claimed that he knew then that he wanted to discover this place—even though the scholars of the time assumed it was merely a myth. He lived with singular purpose from that point, eventually becoming a successful businessman, and a prodigious polyglot (it is said that he spoke up to 15 different languages). He even married a woman who had expert knowledge of Homer’s work.

After retiring in his 30s, Schliemann traveled the world to learn about archeology. Eventually, he went to Turkey, picking up on the work of archeologist Frederick Calvert. Schliemann said he “could imagine nothing pleasanter than to spend all of our lives digging for relics of the past.” He dug from 1871 to 1873, eventually unearthing fortifications and considerable gold, which he smuggled out of Turkey.

Subsequent digs solidified his assertion that he had uncovered the legendary ancient city, and it is now widely believed that he did, in fact, discover the Bronze Era city once assumed to be mere fiction. The now-famous Schliemann proudly boasted, “I have opened up a new world for archaeology,” and most scholars would agree that he contributed to the popularization of the discipline.

The civilization of ancient Turkey had its marquee stories that captured the imagination of those generations that followed. As it turns out, the stories were powerful enough to have an impact centuries later—and for some, that impact can still be felt today.