Visiting ancient sites in the upper reaches of Mesopotamia.
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This, a journey to the lands between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, is an exotic, privately escorted trip to eastern Turkey. This part of Turkey is off the beaten path, a place where you will see the very beginnings of many civiliazations, some going back 10,000 years. You will visit the birthplace of Abraham and the church where St. Peter held the first early masses. In Gaziantep you will see incredibly beautiful, intricate mosiacs from ancient Roman homes and buildings, as well as enjoy some of the best food in Turkey, a county famous for wonderful food. You will visit the World Cultural Heritage Site of Mount Nemrut and the important archeological digs at Gobekli Tepe. See Mardin, overlooking the so-called "sea of Mesopotamia", with its Syriac-Jacobit Monastery, and visit the Armenian Church on Akdamar Island.
Antioch and its Archaeological Museum, the Church of St. Peter, Monastery of St. Simeon the Stylite, Gaziantep and its Ethnographical Museum, Sanli Urfa shich was Ancient Ur and the birthplace of Abraham, Harran, Mount Nermrut, Mardin, the Gobekli Tepe archaeological digs, Van and the 10th Century Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island.
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Arrive in Istanbul, where you are met and transferred to your hotel in the ancient heart of the city, Sultan Ahmet. If you don’t arrive too late, a walking tour can be arranged in the afternoon. Overnight Istanbul.
You will be transferred to the airport for your morning flight from Istanbul to Adana. The touring will begin with a visit the Karatepe National Park, one of the most attractive sites in Cilicia. The park is the site of the Neo-Hittite capital of Karatepe. Continue to Yakacik to visit the Sokullu Mehmet Caravanserai, which was built in 1574 by the most celebrated Ottoman architect, Sinan. You then continue to Antakya, ancient Antioch, where you will stay for two nights.
Antioch was where the pagan Romans first called early followers of Christ “Christians” and there you will visit the Church of St. Peter where St. Peter held the first early masses and where masses are still held today. You will explore past glories of the city in the wonderful collection of late Roman and Byzantine mosaics in the Archaeological Museum which represent the most extensive and impressive collection of art from the Middle East. You will then drive to the Monastery of St. Simeon the Stylite, before continuing towards the Syrian border to the ancient city of Seleuceia in Pieria.
After breakfast you will travel to Gaziantep, en route stopping in Yesemek, where a Hittite school of sculpture was located. Three hundred works of art in various stages of completion remain in the field, revealing beauty of art during the Hittite period. You then arrive in Gaziantep, which is known throughout the world for its excellent pistachios, and delicious cuisine. Known for its cuisine and food culture, an historical stone house built in 1904, has been restored and turned into the Emine Gogus Cuisine Museum. The museum opened as part of the celebrations for the 87th anniversary of Gaziantep's liberation from French occupation. After lunch, you will visit the Ethnographical Museum, which holds artefacts of every period of the area, ending the day exploring the old bazaar. Overnight in Gaziantep.
En Route to Sanliurfa, you will stop in Birecik to visit the breeding farm of the Bald-headed Ibis, which is now almost extinct, making the Birecik Valley a favourite of ornithologists. This is in ancient Bronze Age country where 400 limestone tombs with jewellery, vases and other objects have been found. Sanliurfa was known as Ur in ancient times, and later as Edessa. Tradition relates that it was the birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch claimed by three world religions. The ancient vaulted bazaar captures the atmosphere of the exotic East. After lunch in Sanliurfa, visit the various sights, including the cave where Abraham was born. Overnight in Sanliurfa.
After breakfast at the hotel, you drive south to the Syrian border to visit the beehive-style mud houses of Harran. This is one of the most ancient continuously inhabited sites on Earth and is where Abraham and his wife Sarah spent some years. In Harran, which was an important Mesopotamian historic and cultural center, the ruins of one of the largest and oldest Islamic Universities can be seen among the archaeological remains. Overnight in Sanliurfa.
Driving north, the first high mountain to be seen is the picturesque Mount Nemrut, with the mausoleum of the Commagene King Antiochus at its 7,000 foot peak. After lunch you will drive up to Mount Nemrut. On the summit sits the gigantic funerary sanctuary erected in the first century BC by King Antiochos I of Commagene. The engineering involved is amazing; the area is flanked by terraces, on which rest the colossal statues of Apollo, Zeus, Hercules, Thyce and Antiochus. Mount Nemrut is on the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage Sites. You will stay to watch the spectacular sunset on Mt Nemrut. Overnight in Kahta.
Today you will stop at one of the most important archeological digs in the world, Gobekli Tepe, which has revolutionized our understanding of hunter-gatherer culture. It is also thought that it could possibly be the site of the Garden of Eden. After your visit there you continue on to Mardin where the golden stone houses blend into the rock of the hills on which the city is built. On closer inspection, the stone carving and decoration of the houses and public buildings reveals the city to be an architectural treasure chest. The afternoon is free to wander old streets of Mardin, which overlooks the “Ocean of Mesopotamia”. Overnight in Mardin.
After visiting the Syriac-Jacobite Monastery of Deyrulzaferan, which was once a thriving religious community, you will return to explore more of Mardin, its museum, mosques and its interesting lanes and bazaar. The names this city was known as tells of a long, complicated history. It was known as "Marde" by the Persians, "Mardia" by the Byzantine, "Maridin" by the Arabs and "Merde-Merdo-Merdi" by the Syriac. These were transformed into "Mardin" after the area was occupied by the Turks. Overnight in Mardin.
En route to Van you will stop at the town of Hasankeyf. No one knows when or by whom Hasankeyf was founded, however, the thousands of caves around the city show signs of human habitation from the earliest times. Situated in Mesopotamia, and known to have been one of the world's first settled areas, Hasankeyf is on the Tigris River. It is hoped that it will be rescued from the threat of being submerged by the rising water of the Ilisu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Project. Undisturbed by time, peaceful waters still reflect the widest single-arch bridge of its day. Overnight in Van.
This morning you will take a ferry to Akdamar Island to visit the 10th Century Armenian Church of the Holy Cross. Its outer stone walls are richly decorated with Old Testament scenes and characters, making this one of the most interesting of all Armenian Churches. In the afternoon you will visit the Van Museum. In the inner court yard which is known as the hall of stone, works such as rock paintings from the Tirishin Plateau belonging to the Neolithic period, hieroglyph inscriptions from the Urartu period and stone sarcophagus transferred from the Gevas Seljuk Turkish Cemetery provide a brief, but fascinating history of Van. Overnight in Van.
In the morning you will return to Istanbul on a convenient flight. Optional extensions of the tour in Istanbul can be added, or any other area of Turkey, such as Cappadocia.
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