Biblical Turkey Tour: Tracing the Cradle of Christianity Through Asia Minor

A 11 day trip to Turkey 
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The cradle of early Christianity lies amongst the hypnotic ruins of Asia Minor. Marble gleams, columns rise, and dozens of Greco Roman cities present narratives of conversion and pilgrimage. This handcrafted Turkey tour explores some of the world's finest religious monuments and historical cities, piecing together a jigsaw that transcends empires and cultures. Including boutique hotels and ancient spas, this trip is an idyllic paradigm from which to discover the endless beauty of Turkey.

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General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome, Bosphorus River, The Cistern, St. Chora Church, Antioch, Tarsus, St. Paul's Well, Goreme Open-air Museum, Cappadocia, Kaymakli Underground City, Pamukkale, Hierapolis, Sardis, Laodecia, Churches of Revelation, Ephesus, Library of Celsus, St. Mary's Cottage, St. John Basilica, Kusadasi, Priene, Miletus, Izmir

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Istanbul – The Hagia Sophia Welcomes You to Asia Minor

In a city of wonders the Hagia Sophia stands unopposed. It's domes curve from the Byzantine Hippodrome towards the Marmara Sea, gently reflecting shades left by a Mediterranean sun. Columned walls impose from a distance yet soothe when you're close-up, intricate details etched into its 1,500 years of history. After the short airport transfer and a chance to freshen up, your first afternoon is dedicated to this sublime feat of architectural engineering. Until its conversion to a mosque in the 15th century, this was the largest church in the world, yet impressions of scale immediately transform into those of intimacy as you wander through the narrow gilded entrance.

First the main hall, softly graced by chandeliers of yellow bulbs and the light that crosses through stained glass boundaries. Now upstairs, where biblical murals are shaded beside Arabic inscriptions and gold leaf occasionally catches the light. Lose yourself in the grandeur before exploring the onsite museum, where fascinating religious tales and ingenuity is celebrated. As the evening call to prayer resonates across the city, you retire to your opulent hotel in the quaint historic suburb of Sultanahmet.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, tour

Day 2: Istanbul – Reliving Ancient Constantinople

Fresh pastries, roasted coffee smells, a terrace with a view, and a breakfast for emperors initiates a day for reliving ancient Constantinople. While Rome disintegrated, the Eastern Byzantine Empire ruled for another nine centuries, and its odes to Western civilization are scattered across modern Istanbul. First go underground, where a street of columns leads you towards the ancient Cistern and obelisks with entangled stories. Marble abounds, and it continues in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, each room filled with reliefs and mosaics saved from early Christian churches dotted across Asia Minor.

After a local lunch you visit the Little Hagia Sophia Church, smaller in size yet befitting the name of its illustrious neighbor. Golden patterns now swirl in St. Chora Church, a forgotten piece of Istanbul's history that's brilliantly evoked by your guide. And just as the feet start to ask for a rest you board a cruise ship and slowly head down the Bosphorus, dissecting two continents and admiring Ottoman splendor that dominates the riverfront. Completing this leisurely afternoon and evening, you stay on the Bosphorus to dine at a celebrated seafood restaurant on a terrace above the water.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, full-day tour including Bosphorus Cruise, all meals

Day 3: Antioch – Descendants of the First Christians in Evocative Antioch

Tucked into a rarely visited corner of Turkey is one of Christianity's most important cities. The residents of Antioch were the first to call themselves Christians and they built an important stronghold that enabled the religion to flourish in the surroundings. First you fly across Turkey to Hatay where a new guide greets you at the airport and gives you some time to savor the beauty of your hotel for the night. Whenever you're ready, the Roman streets of Antioch provide a journey of memoirs and memories. Silence reigns as you enter the Church of St. Peter, the souls of early pilgrims emanating from the walls. This is one of the world's very first churches and a humble space to enjoy. After a late lunch the afternoon is spent absorbing the exquisite hallways of the Mosaic Museum, each delivering doses of bronze and Biblical scenes.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, full-day tour including the Mosaic Museum, breakfast, lunch

Day 4: Tarsus – Chronicles of Cleopatra and Apostle Paul in the Roman City of Tarsus

Curving across millennia-old stone, the Roman gateway beckons you into Tarsus. Your footsteps linger on the cracked causeway as Cleopatra's famous journey is relived. It was beneath this archway that she met with Marc Anthony and forever changed the course of history. Continue past the walls of antiquity, green moss climbing around the houses and Roman baths able to impress despite the odd curl of mold. Ancient Tarsus is in a fragmented state, part restored but also part decomposing. It makes for a fascinating day of exploration that combines Roman history with modern multiculturalism. Follow the cobbles to St. Paul's Well and drink from the water of his birthplace before emerging from the labyrinth and enjoying the serenity of St. Paul's Church. Tarsus is around a two hour transfer from Antioch.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, full-day tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 5: Cappadocia – Dazzling Rock-Cut Churches and Resplendent Murals in a Lunar Landscape

The journey to Cappadocia blurs like an old painting. Valleys send swirling bursts of green against a deep blue sky, mountain villages appear then fade into the horizon, and then the landscapes of Cappadocia leave surrealist tones on the canvas. Your hotel is an equally memorable portrait. Step into a converted cave and find your room carved into the cliff, boutique touches converting it effortlessly from troglodyte dwelling to luxury hotel. From a private terrace the mystical landscapes extend, and it's these lingering sights that accompany a leisurely lunch.

Cappadocia has a fascinating Christian history, one that's kept alive in the open-air museums of this World Heritage Site. Half a dozen churches stand side by side in Goreme, each painstakingly sculpted into the cliffs and juxtaposed with a row of monasteries. Duck through the low entrances and marvel at frescoes that have retained their vivacity, each of the stark walls decorated with ornate design and powerful tones. Carved between the 5th and 11th centuries, these churches help to showcase the rapid rise of Christianity through the Middle Ages.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, afternoon tour including Goreme Open Air Museum, breakfast, lunch

Day 6: Cappadocia – Eerie Underground Cities and Mesmerizing Narratives of Struggle

Fairytale chimneys glow orange in the dawn light. Entrances to caves emerge from shadows as the sun rises. Cappadocia's valleys begin another day of enchantment as you watch the show from your terrace. When you start today's tour there's more to admire than the lunar aesthetics. These caves were the home to hundreds of monks, each of them living ascetic lifestyles and preaching from above their unusual homes. Get lost amongst these chronicles before descending into Kaymakli, darkened staircases unveiling the most elaborate of caves. Thousands of Christians hid in the multiple stories of this underground city, fleeing persecution and praying in churches that line wobbly corridors illuminated by lanterns. It's an eerie journey down narrow staircases, yet this serves to further enhance the inspiring beauty of the rock-cut churches that emerged when the locals were able to return above ground.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, morning tour including Kaymakli Underground City, breakfast

Day 7: Pamukkale – Exploring the Churches of Revelation and First Century Converted Cities

A morning flight takes you to the heart of Asia Minor and the early Churches of Revelation. This compact area is your base for the next four days and features many of the world's finest ancient Greco Roman cities. First you will visit the Lydian capital of Sardis; its foundations are slowly being excavated. Cracked busts and indecipherable inscriptions must be pieced together as your guide reveals the journeys of Apostle Paul and the conversion of the city. Like Sardis, Laodicia is also gradually being unfolded from the mud. First-century church walls are beginning to appear and words from the book of Revelations refer to the ruins beneath your feet. At first glance, these cities look like little but stone and rubble. But explore with a guide and there's fascinating discoveries that connect dots of early Christian history. You arrive in Pamukkale in the early evening where natural spa waters are waiting for you at your luxury hotel.

What's Included: accommodation including full use of spa, transfers, tour, breakfast

Day 8: Pamukkale – A Day of Spa Indulgence Amongst Greco Roman Brilliance

Pamukkale's pools glisten and glimmer, their elegant white curves dominating the landscape on which Greco Roman history was forged. Turquoise waters fill the calcite lidos, their translucence parading further tones of whiteness. Few places in Turkey are as photogenic or iconic, a bleached wonderland contrasting the surrounding green. Absorb the views then move to Hierapolis, a city of splendor and sublime marble remains. Admire the theater and its tumbling chute of seats before the plutonium tempts visitors into opening the door to the underworld. Spread over a mile, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a vast and unspoiled city that once dominated Asia Minor. When the midday heat rescinds, take a dip in the natural thermal baths, the salubrious water hiding the remains of a temple that was toppled in an earthquake.

What's Included: accommodation including full use of spa, transfers, tour, breakfast

Day 9: Kusadasi – Memoirs of St. John and the Virgin Mary in Magnificent Ephesus

The Ephesus ruins are arguably the finest and most complete to be found this side of Rome. Dozens of columns form temples of marble. Narrow streets run past terraced stone houses with 3,000 years of history. Eyes and hair cover busts in realistic detail and every few minutes you spin around, struggling to absorb the enormity of the city. Ephesus was the key city of Asia Minor in the first centuries AD, and it was here that the church built solidly on the work of Apostle Paul. Another of the seven Churches of Revelation was built here and it was the bishops of Ephesus that helped ensure the continued spread of the gospel. A dozen historic tales come to life as you tour the Celsus Library and remaining statues of Artemis, before a shaded spot offers a picnic lunch within an unforgettable cityscape.

Ephesus was the resting place of two key Christian figures. With the majestic pillars firmly dominating the panorama, you first visit the Basilica of St. John. It comes with a poignancy and humbleness, reflected in the simple inscriptions that mark his place of rest. Eager footsteps quickly cover the distance to St. Mary's Cottage, the widely believed resting place of the Virgin Mary. Your guide will help debate the different arguments before the Ephesus Museum presents firm evidence that this small stone house is one of the great monuments of Western religion. From Ephesus you continue the journey down from the mountains, arriving on the coast for an evening of fresh barbecued fish and salty air.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, tour, all meals

Day 10: Izmir – Fascinating Archaeological Sites and Walking on History in Priene and Miletus

Step by step you walk on history, picking a path between severed stones in the city of Priene. Excavations are slowly bringing the city up from the ashes, enabling its rows of houses to rise from the mud and rubble. An archaeological guide accompanies your visit, revealing the exciting finds. Large Christian communities developed here in the first century and the evidence of churches is slowly being dug up. Head over to Miletus where its ancient theater is carved with messages about God-fearers, the governor's colloquialism for the city's early Christians. Like Priene, as archaeologists dig they find more memoirs of Christianity. In 20 years these sites may look very different. Seeing them now is a redolent and fascinating experience. Continue to Izmir where you spend another night along the coast.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, tour, breakfast

Day 11: Izmir – Departure

The curtains may be closing on this vacation but the poignant memories continue to ask questions about the development of the world as we know it. After tracing early Christian history through Asia Minor you're left with fascinating photos and insights into an ancient time. A transfer takes you to Izmir Airport for the connecting flight to Istanbul and your international departure.

What's Included: transfer, breakfast

You may want to consider extending your vacation. For additional ideas and traveler reviews, browse the travel agents for Turkey section on Zicasso.

Price

Starting Price 

$2,855
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.