This is a specially arranged tour for a limited number of individuals. We will include a private tour of a restoration workshop not open to the public. The small group size will also allow us to spend some time in each of the sites to discuss the history, symbolism and techniques of ancient Byzantine frescoes, mosaics and icons. The details of each individual day of the tour itinerary are subject to change, however we ensure that the major destinations on this tour will not change.
Aerial view of the Topkapı Palace, Istanbul
Chamber room in the Topkapı Palace
Hagia Eirene Church within the courtyard of the Topkapı Palace, Istanbul
Upon arrival in Istanbul, we are transferred to our hotel in the center of the city where we leave our luggage and freshen up. We leave our hotel and begin a walking tour in Sultan Ahmet area to visit the Topkapı Palace (Topkapı Sarayi) and Church of Hagia Eirene (inside the first courtyard of Topkapı Palace), as much as time permits. The Topkapı Palace takes its name from the main sea gate in the city#39;s defense walls ("Topkapı" is Turkish for Canon Gate), and is mainly divided into four courtyards. The surviving monument of Hagia Eirene is assignable to the age of Justinian, however, historians attribute the founding of the church to Constantine. From Constantine to Justinian this church was considered as the most important one in Constantinople. A source, written in 808 CE, records that the Second Ecumenical Council, which in 381 proclaimed the dogma of the consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity, was held in Hagia Eirene. We enjoy dinner and afterwards we begin our tour of "Istanbul by night."
South entrance of the esonarthex of the Hagia Sophia with mosaic of the enthroned Virgin and Child flanked by Constantine and Justinian
Mosaic of Christ and Empress Zoe and Emperor Constantine IX in the south gallery of the Hagia Sophia
Mosaic of Pantocrator in the south gallery of the Hagia Sophia
Underground Cisterns, Istanbul
Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camisi), Istanbul
Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is Turkey#39;s largest covered market
Floor show at the Orient House
Day 2: Constantinople: Hagia Sofia and Sultan Ahmet
We begin the day with a walking tour in Sultan Ahmet area to visit the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). This massive sixth century building is the third church to be built at the same location. The first church was built in 360 CE, but burnt down in 404, during the reign of Constantine. The second was erected between the years 404-415, but shared the same fatal destiny as the first one, burning down during the Nika revolt in 532, during the reign of Justinian. Afterwards, a new structure (the existing one) was ordered from two famous architects -- Isidorus and Anthemeios. It was completed and opened to the public on December 26th in 537, on Saint Stephen#39;s feast day.
Some of the greatest mosaics created in Byzantium can be found in this Great Church. For example, on the west side of the so-called Catechumena is the large mosaic of the Deesis (Intercession of the Holy Virgin and Saint John the Baptist before Christ). The mosaic is assignable to a date shortly after the Restoration (1261) and had been probably commissioned to express the city#39;s gratitude for the victory of Michael VIII Palaeologus (1261-1282), which put an to the Latin occupation. The mosaic is executed in fine tesserae of soft hues and the figures are set against a background of gold. The wistful and grave expression of the faces reflects a profound spirituality. It can be said that the surviving mosaics in Hagia Sophia represent the main phases of mosaic art in the Byzantine Empire, during the period between the ninth and thirteenth centuries.
Next we walk one block to the Underground Cisterns thought to have been built after the Nika revolt. It was known as the Basilica Cistern during the Roman period, as there was a Stoa Basilica above the pre-existing one at the time.
Following our excursion under the city we next visit the Hippodrome (At Meydani) where ancient chariot races, athletic and gladiator competitions were held. Its construction began in 203 CE by Emperor Septimus Severus and subsequently enlarged by Constantine the Great.
Finally, we come to the Blue Mosque, known as the "Sultan Ahmet Mosque" (Sultan Ahmet Camisi) by local people, and built by Sultan Ahmet in 1609. Foreigners have taken to calling it the "Blue Mosque" because of the beautiful blue Iznik tiles decorating the interior. The architect who oversaw its design was Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, better known as a student of Sinan (the greatest architect in the Ottoman Empire). Not only was it built to serve as a mosque, but its huge surrounding complex also held a medrese (theological school), turbe (tomb), hospital, caravaserai, primary school, public kitchen and market.
In the afternoon, we have free time to explore the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi) for shopping or simply for strolling through its labyrinth of merchandise and hawkers. The Grand Bazaar is Turkey#39;s largest covered market offering excellent shopping: Turkish carpets, glazed tiles and pottery, copper and brassware, leather apparel, cotton and wool, meerschaum pipes, alabaster bookends and ashtrays, and all sorts of other things. Most guidebooks claim that it has 4,000 shops, but because of consolidation and replacement of shops by other services the number is certainly lower, but you get the idea: it has lots of shops.
We return to the hotel to freshen up for dinner and are taken to the Orient House (optional), Istanbul#39;s premiere dinner and folkloric floor show. At the Orient House, we enjoy the "Kanun", a typical Turkish musical instrument; discover the delights of a typical "Fasıl" orchestra; and experience an extravaganza of a folklore and belly dancing floor show. The dinner is prepared in the traditional Turkish way: a vast array of appetizers brought to your table. If this isn#39;t enough they bring the main course of Turkish grilled meats, chicken or fish, and continue on with dessert and coffee or tea.
Church of the Monastery of the Savior in Chora, Istanbul
Paracclesion of the church of the Monastery of the Savior in Chora
Fresco of the Resurrection (Anastasis) in the Church in Chora
Detail of the Deisis mosaic of Christ "Chalkites" in the Church in Chora
Mosaic of the Virgin of the Sign in the Church in Chora
Church of the Virgin Pammakaristos
Paracclesion in the church of the Virgin Pammakaristos
Monastery of Christ Akataleptos near the Aqueduct of Valens, after its recent restoration
Greek sculptures in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul
Spices in the Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul
Day 3: Constantinople: Chora Museum, Fethiye Musuem
We begin our full day excursion with a visit to the Chora Museum (Kariye Muzesi, formerly the Church of the Monastery of the Savior in Chora, or Kariye Camii). The Church of the Holy Savior of Chora is after Hagia Sophia the most interesting Byzantine church in the city. Not so much for the building itself, pretty as that is, but because of the superb series of mosaics and frescoes that it preserves and that have been magnificently restored and cleaned by the Byzantine Institute of America. The name of the church, "in Chora" means "in the country" because the very ancient monastery to which it was attached was outside the walls of the Constantinian city; later when it was included within the Theodosian walls, the name remained the Holy Savior of Chora. The mosaics and frescoes are by far the most important and extensive series of Byzantine paintings in the city and among the best and most beautiful in the world.
Next we visit the Fethiye Museum (Fethiye Muzesi, formerly the Church of the Virgin Pammakaristos). Very few monuments were originally founded in the Palaologan age. As a rule, old edifices were repaired and restored. Two of these, rebuilt from the foundations, give the measure of aesthetic refinement in Palaeologan times and attest to a revival of classical culture in combination with new philosophical and theological trends. These monuments are the monastery of Virgin Pammakaristos and the monastery of Saint Savior in Chora. The surviving mosaics, cleaned and restored by the Byzantine Institute of America, formed part of the iconographic program. In the conch of the apse Christ Hyperagathos is portrayed seated on a backless throne, holding a closed Book of Gospels in the left hand and raising the right in benediction. Though damaged, the surviving mosaics reflect the brilliance and high quality the remarkable style and technique, the classicizing trends, and in general the culture and spirit of the Palaeologan Renaissance.
We next visit the Monastery of Christ Akataleptos (Kalenderhane Camii) near the Aqueduct of Valens. The earliest historical evidence on the monastery of Christ Akataleptos dates from the turn of the first millennium, however, it appears that it is even older, perhaps of the seventh century. Parts of the colored marble revetment dating from the Byzantine period have survived. The two eastern piers have retained decorative features from the remains of the 13th century marble iconostasis: colonnettes and a sculptured frieze with an extensive representation which has preserved, in small scale, the figure of Christ and the Throne of the Hetoimasia. Capitals and columns of colored marble are incorporated in the south wall, while architectural members and sculptured fragments are found to the west. The area of the apse has been converted into a storing place where are kept fragments of mosaics and wall paintings dating from the period of the Latin occupation, when the church was reconsecrated to Saint Francis of Assisi. Other remains from the church, including a mosaic depicting the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and part of a wall painting showing Saint Francis, are housed in the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul.
We return to the Sultan Ahmet area and visit the Archaeological Museum. Twenty galleries filled with artifacts gathered from all over Turkey and the near east celebrate 5,000 years of history with exhibits from Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire and the many civilizations of Anatolia and ancient Egypt. The main building houses the finds of nineteenth-century archaeologist Osman Hamdi Bey, in particular the famous fourth-century Alexander sarcophagus discovered at the royal necropolis of Sidon in Lebanon. The Museum of the Ancient Orient contains artifacts from Egypt and Mesopotamia, including a magnificent frieze of a bull from the Ishtar gate in Babylon.
We have free time in the afternoon to visit the Egyptian Bazaar (or Spice Market, Misir Çarsisi in Turkish). This covered spice market is filled with the fragrance of the exotic East. Spices, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, lokum (Turkish Delight) and other edibles fill most of its shops, though jewelry and other high-margin goods have begun to move in. It#39;s no wonder: this is prime retail space, right at the southern end of the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn in the Eminön?district.
Interior view of the Patriarchal Church of Saint George
Interior view towards the sanctuary and the Fountain of Holy Water in the Church of Panagia of Blachernae
The shrine of the Zoodochos Pege in Balikli
Graves of the Ecumenical Patriarchs at Zoodochos Pege
The Church of Panagia Mouchliotissa
Church of Christ Pantocrator in the monastery of the Pantocrator
Day 4: Constantinople: Phanar, Blachernae and Zoodochos Pege
In the morning we start off with a boat cruise along the Bosphorus and upon returning to land we visit the Phanar (Fener), home to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the location of the Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint George. The Patriarchate moved to the Phanar quarter during the patriarchy of Matthew II (1598-1602).
We next visit the Church of Panagia of Blachernae, the best known and most celebrated shrine of the Holy Virgin in Constantinople. The history of the shrine extends over the entire Byzantine era and the great events associated with it are linked with the history of the city. Nothing remains of the original shrine except for the Sacred Spring. In 1867, a small church was built containing the hagiasma, and later additions were made to give the ancient sacred spring the aspect it has today. In the small church, four wall paintings by Eirenarchos Covas (1964) above the hagiasma are reminders of great moments in the history of the Orthodox Church.
We next stop at one of the most famous shrines of Constantinople, the Zoodochos Pege, located outside the land walls to the west of the city, at the site now known as Balikli. The origin of the shrine can be traced back to Early Christian times.
Next in our excursion is the Church of Panagia Mouchliotissa. Given as a present by Mehmet II to the Greek architect Christodoulos as a reward for the construction of the Mosque of the Conqueror (Fatih Camii), the Panagia Mouchliotissa has remained to this day an Orthodox Church. Traces from a representation of the Last Judgment are the only remnants of the original painting of the church by Modestus in the late 13th century. In addition to the mosaic icon of Panagia Mouchliotissa, dated to the late 13th and early 14th century, four post-Byzantine icons are notable: Saint Paraskeve, Saint Euphemia, Three Hierarchs, and the Saints Theodoroi.
We arrive at one of the largest and best organized monastic complexes of the Byzantine period, the Monastery of the Pantocrator (Zeyrek Camii). Originally it had two churches and a funerary chapel and included a hospice for the aged, baths, a hostel for travelers, hospital, medical school and library. The main church built at the north side of the complex was consecrated to Christ Pantocrator, hence the name of the monastery.
At the end of the day we transfer to Istanbul airport for a flight to Kayseri. Upon arrival, we transfer to the hotel for dinner and overnight stay in Cappadocia.
Acts 2:8, 9: And how hear we, every man in our own language wherein we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judaea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia...
In the morning, we begin our tour with a brief stop at the Fairy Chimneys, a natural rock formation caused by erosion. Not far from this site is the Zelve Open Air Museum (Zelve Acik Hava Muzesi), a village and monastery complex carved into the soft volcanic rock (called tufa) valley near the town of Asano. We take a walking tour of the rock cut complex consisting of the Church of the Fish (Balıklı Kilise), Church of the Deer (Geyikli Kilise), and Church of the Grapes (Uzumlu Kilise), through to date to the Pre-Iconoclastic period.
Near Uchisar is a valley known by many names Pigeon Valley, refering to the thousands of pigeon houses that have been carved into the soft tufa since ancient times. Although they can be found throughout Cappadocia, they are especially plentiful in this valley, which must have one of the greatest collections of pigeon lofts in the world. In Cappadocia, pigeons have long been a source of food and fertilizer.
We travel south to visit the Göreme Open Air Museum (Göreme Acik Hava Muzesi). As Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in the 4th century, Saint Basil the Great wrote the rules for monastic life that are still followed by monks and nuns of the Orthodox Church. He advocated community life, prayer and physical labor rather than the solitary asceticism that was popular at the time and it was under his guidance that the first churches were built in Göreme Valley. Here, a number of small communities with their own churches formed the large monastic complex built in this valley. Among the many churches here we begin with perhaps the loveliest church, Church of the Buckle (Tokalı Kilise). We next take the path that leads to the Church of the Sandal (Carikli Kilise), Church of Saint Barbara, Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise), and the Church of the Serpent (Yılanlı Kilise).
We dine at our hotel that evening and, as an option, are later taken to view the Dervishes dance, twirling in an entranced state. We return to our hotel for the night in Cappadocia.
1 Pet 1:1: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia...
After breakfast, we begin the day with a tour of the underground "city" of Yeralti Kentleri in Derinkuyu. Although referred to as "cities," the underground communities of Cappadocia probably served as temporary shelters rather than as permanent hidden cities. No one is certain as to the number of underground communities that exist or even by whom they were built. It is thought that the Hittites may have excavated the first few levels in the rock when they came under attack from the Phrygians around 1200 BCE. However, some archaeologists believe that the oldest caves, those hewn with stone rather than metal tools, are substantially older. These chambers were later expanded into an extensive troglodytic complex by Christians escaping the Arab invasions of
the 7th and 8th centuries. Only the first 8 floors have been excavated, yet it is estimated that there are many more floors underneath and the city is interconnected to other subterranean cities in the area. It is believed this city was capable of accommodating 20,000 inhabitants.
We next travel for about one hour to arrive at Ihlara Valley (Peristrema). This deep gorge traversed by a small river is home to many churches cut into the sides of its sheer rock walls. The valley became an important center of monasticism that lasted from the 4th to the 14th centuries. There are an estimated 150 churches and several monasteries in the canyon between the villages of Ihlara and Selime. As we view the churches in this valley you will note the distinct Syrian and Coptic influence in the frescoes.
We hike down into the gorge at Ihara and follow the river for one kilometer toward Belisirma to visit the Church under the Tree (Agacalti Kilisesi) is named after the tall and dense trees which was protected against the cold Anatolian weather throughout the centuries, Church of Saint George (Kirkdamalti Kilisesi), Kokar Kilisesi, Purenliseki Kilisesi, Church of the Columns (Direkli Kilise) has a large central dome supported by four columns and the walls are decorated with frescoes, Church of the Hyacinth (Sumbullu Kilise) was built as a two-storied monastery, and is dated to the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th century.
The Church of the Serpent (Yılanlı Kilise), which gets its name from the painting on the west wall of four naked, sinful women attacked by serpents. As the inscriptions have worn away, the sin of the first woman attacked by 8 serpents is unknown. The second woman#39;s breast is being attacked because she did not breast feed her baby. The third woman is being attacked on the mouth for telling lies, and the fourth#39;s ears are under attack because she was disobedient. This church dates back to the end of the 9th century. Church of Saint Daniel (Agacalti Kilise) is named because of the image of Saint Daniel on the wall opposite the entrance. This church belongs to the Pre-Iconoclastic period or between the
9th and 11th centuries.
In his book, Caves of God: Cappadocia and Its Churches, Spiro Kostof interprets the symbolism of the paintings in the Snake Church. For one painting, he suggests that a woman is being punished for not nursing her children because two snakes are attached to her nipples. It seems likely that the real meaning may be hidden within the snake legends of these mountain people. The best preserved frescos are to be found in the churches of Agacalti, Purenliseki, Kokar, Yilanli and Kirkdamatli. Very few inscriptions in the wall paintings of this area are legible. Above a 13th century fresco in the Church of Saint George (Kirkdamatl Kilise), the names of Seljuk Sultan Mesud II (1282-1305) and the Byzantine Emperor Andronicos II are inscribed.
Heartier souls among the group can venture a little further to the , while the others relax in the dappled light under poplars and wild olive trees, listening to the murmur of the river.
Tour of Soğanlı Valley: Karabas Kilisesi, Yilanli Kilisesi, Kubbeli Kilisesi, and the Church of Saint Barbara (Tahtali).
A few miles past Aksaray, a good road leads to the main Nevsehir-Nigde highway by way of the Ihlara Valley and Guzelyurt. In the old city of the old Greek quarter is a mosque that was once an old Byzantine church that honored Saint Gregory Nazianzus. He was born and died nearby and is prominent as one of the 4th century Cappadocian Fathers who defended the Nicene Creed against Arianism.
The most impressive monastery in Cappadocia is the Eskigumus Monastery to the east of Nigde off the Kayseri-Nigde road. It is the most southerly of the Cappadocian monasteries. The nondescript entrance to the Eskigumus Monastery was designed to shield the monastery complex from invaders. It was so successful that the monastery was not discovered until 1963, having escaped the vandalism to which many of the Cappadocian churches and monasteries were subjected. The main church is spacious and airy and its well-preserved frescoes are considered to be the best example of Byzantine art in all of Cappadocia.
Tatlarinkoy boasts an extensive semi-troglodytic complex but only a few caves are available to the public. The small Byzantine church has not been vandalized and its original colors remain rich and vibrant.
The Tatlarin Church is on the slope of the hill, called "the castle", in the town of Tatlarin, about 10 km north of Acigol.
In Tour of Soğanlı Valley: Church with the Black Heads (Karabas Kilisesi), Church of the Serpent (Yilanli Kilisesi), Church of the Dome (Kubbeli Kilisesi), and the Church of Saint Barbara (Tahtali). One of the most notable churches in the area is the Church with the Black Heads. The faces of the saints on the wall paintings darkened by oxidation of the pigments in the paint, caused this church be named in this way.
The two-floor Church of Saint John (Karsi Kilisesi), found upon entering Gulsehir, houses a church, wine cellar, graves, and living quarters on the lower floor, and a church decorated with Biblical scenes. According to the inscription on the apse, the church is dated to 1212. The scenes from the life of Jesus and the Bible are in the form of friezes within borders. Yellow and brown ochre has been used on a black background. The wall paintings are well preserved owing to the restoration and conservation done by Ridvan Isler in 1995.
Revelation 2:8, 9: And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, who was dead, and lived again: I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and they art not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
We are whisked to the Kayseri airport in the morning for a flight to Izmir via Istanbul. Upon arrival in Izmir, we continue our tour with a visit to the ruins of the first ancient site of Smyrna and then to the top of for a breathtaking view of the modern metropolis of Izmir and the bay.
We return to the center of Izmir and stop at the Church of Saint Polycarp.
Revelation 2:12, 13: And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These things saith he that hath the sharp two-edged sword: I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan#39;s throne is; and thou holdest fast my name, and didst not deny my faith, even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth.
Revelation 2:18, 19: And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like unto burnished brass: I know thy works, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first.
After breakfast we leave by bus for the ancient cities described in the Book of Revelation: Pergamum and Thyatira.
Day 11: Pamukkale: Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea and Hierapolis
Revelation 3:1,2: And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead.
Revelation 3:7, 8: And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth: I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), that thou hast a little power, and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name.
Colossians 2:1; 4:13, 15, 16; Revelation 3:14, 15: And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
Colossians 4:12,13: Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, saluteth you, always striving for you in his prayers, that ye may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness, that he hath much labor for you, and for them in Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis.
Tour of Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea and Hierapolis. Overnight and dinner in Pamukkale.
Revelation 1:9: I John, your brother and partaker with you in tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
Excursion of Patmos, tour of Monastery of Saint John, Monastery of the Apocalypse, and the Zoodohou Pigis. Overnight and stay in Kusadasi.
Acts 19:1: And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples.
Revelation 1:11; 2:1, 2: To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, he that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks: I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false...
Tour of Ephesus, Saint John Basilica, Museum in Selchuk, Mary#39;s House. Overnight and dinner in Kusadasi.
Transfer to Izmir airport for connection flight to return home.
The tour price includes all accommodations, breakfasts and dinners, domestic air fare and ferry charges, ground transportation in Turkey and Greek islands, transfers, as well as admission to museums, churches and monasteries. Tours will be accompanied by English-speaking guides, and include private tours of some museums and icon workshops not available to tourists. There will be some free time for independent activities, such as shopping and other sightseeing. Iconofile will also arrange for discussions with experts while touring areas in Turkey.