Ottoman Empire History Tour

A 13 day trip to Turkey 
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Walk through the ancient, bustling Spice Market to reach Rustem Pasha Mosque with its interior of old Iznik tiles, visit the grand Topkapi Palace, learn about the grandeur of Hagia Sofia. Take a boat trip up the Bosphorus and see the Blue Mosque. Visit Ephesus, Aphrodisias and other historic sites on the coast, then continue on to Cappadocia with its ancient cave churches and unusual natural beauty.

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, Rustem Pasha Mosque, Kariye Church, Ephesus, Prienne, Miletos, Didyma, Aphrodisias, Goreme, Ushisar and Ihlarara Valley.

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1

Arrive in Istanbul where you will be met and transferred to your hotel in the historic Sultan Ahmet district. If you arrive on one of the non-stop flights in the morning, we can schedule an orientation tour with your guide in the afternoon.

Day 2

Today you will have a full day of private sightseeing in Istanbul, which will begin with captivating Topkapi Palace. The Palace which was constructed by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1478 was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 380 years. This enormous complex was also the center of State Administration, but now the palace is famous for its superb collection of ceramics and jewels as well as for its famous Harem with its walls of exquisite tiles. The palace was replaced with the construction of Dolmabahçe Palace by Sultan Abdülmecid in the mid-1800’s. You continue on to Hagia Sofia, the original having been built on this site in the fourth century by Constantine the Great. Constantine was the first Christian emperor and the founder of the city of Constantinople, which he called "the New Rome." Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in her present form between 532 and 537 under the personal supervision of Emperor Justinian I. The third church to stand on this site, it is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture in the world, rich with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. After completion, Justinian is said to have exclaimed "Solomon, I have outdone thee!" Walking on you pass the Roman Hippodrome, the scene of chariot races and political riots in Byzantine times as well as horse-back riding games and archery contests during the Ottoman era. Overlooking the Hippodrome is the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, where you will see fine examples of Ottoman calligraphy in gold and intricate miniatures and illuminated manuscripts set in an historic 16th century palace. The museum also houses a stunning collection of antique Turkish carpets.

Day 3

This morning you will visit one of the most attractive of Istanbul’s smaller mosques, the gem of Rustem Pasa. The tiles, inside and out, are among the most profuse of any mosque in Turkey and mainly from the finest period of Iznik tile production. It was built by Sinan for Rustem Pasa, son-in-law and Grand Vizier of Süleyman the Magnificent. Prepare to be dazzled by your next stop, the Spice Market, where you will see the best of fresh herbs and spices, amazing sweets, dried foods and a great variety of oils and rose water being sold next to natural sponges, the rough, hand woven kese (used in Turkish baths for scrubbing) and nuts of every description. Your guide will be happy to explain the exotic foods. Next you will be shown Dolmabahce Palace which was built as a residence for the Sultans in 1854. The design contains elements from the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles, blended with traditional Ottoman architecture. The largest palace in Turkey, it shows the increasing influence of European styles and standards on Ottoman culture and at the same time retains elements of traditional Ottoman palace life and traditional Turkish homes. After visiting Dolmabache you will then cruise up the Bosphorus in a local ferry, criss-crossing between Europe and Asia, seeing some of the finer neighborhoods of Istanbul, past opulent palaces, exquisite mosques, imposing fortresses and traditional, wooden Ottoman mansions.

Day 4

On a half day tour today you will visit the monumental Blue Mosque (the Sultan Ahmet Mosque), which was built between 1609 and 1616. The beautiful interior tiles from which it gets its name give the entire area a delightful blue atmosphere. Sultan Ahmet I set out to build a mosque that would rival and even surpass the Byzantine Hagia Sofia built by Emperor Justinian, which is just across the park. Your afternoon is free to explore on your own, with lots of suggestions from us. Next you will see the Kariye Museum, listed by the author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” as among the top 30 must-see museums in the world. Noted for its mosaics, they are considered among the best in the world. Also known as the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, this often overlooked museum began as a chapel or church built as early as the fifth century, after which it flourished as a mosque during the time of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul. After Hagia Sophia, it is the most important Byzantine monument in Istanbul.

Day 5

Another half day and your private tour will be to Istanbul’s largest and grandest mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque. Built by one of the greatest builders of all time, Sinan, it also has intricate Iznik tiles, fine stained glass windows and beautiful carpets while at the same time being simple and spare. The great mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent was built between 1550 and 1557 and its acoustics were enhanced by placing 64 great pots in different places in the walls and floor. As with other imperial mosques in Istanbul, the Süleymaniye was designed with adjacent structures to service both religious and cultural needs. The original complex consisted of the mosque itself, a hospital, public baths, a Caravanserai, four Koran schools, a medical college and a public kitchen which served food to the poor. Your afternoon is free, perhaps to enjoy a Turkish Bath at a nearby hamam.

Day 6

This morning your guide will accompany you to the airport where you will catch a morning flight to Izmir. The guide will drive you to Selcuk where you will start your full day tour with the Museum of Ephesus which has fascinating displays from excavations from the ancient city of Ephesus. The main attractions are two statues of the Ephesian Artemis, as well as frescoes and mosaics. This jewel of a museum also has a display of an ivory frieze from an upper story of one of the Slope Houses, which depicts the emperor Trajan and his Roman soldiers in battle with barbarians. The Slope Houses were the homes, recently excavated, that belonged to the wealthy citizens of Ephesus, which you will visit on your tour. The ruins of Ephesus are considered to be the best preserved classical city on the Mediterranean, and the best place to understand what life was like in Roman times. This Ionian refuge became the second largest city in the Roman Empire, the site of a Christian shrine, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Your guide will take you through the entire city, explaining its history as you stroll. Lunch will be at the pastoral village of Sirince, located on a hillside surrounded by apple and grape orchards. Originally settled by Greeks, the village was inhabited by the Ephesian Christians, who, displaced during the Selcuk conquests, moved up into the surrounding hills. In the Greek exchanges of 1924, Muslims from Salonica resettled here, creating a farming community highly adept at winemaking. In the afternoon you will see the Basilica of St. John and the house where the Virgin Mary is said to have spent the last years of her life. After the death of Christ, John came with Mary to Ephesus, living most of his life in and around Ayasoluk Hill and spreading the word of Christianity as Paul did before him. Overnight at nearby Kusadasi.

Day 7

Today with your guide you will go on a full day’s tour stopping first at the peaceful site of Prienne, an ancient Hellenistic city, the home of an The Library at Ephesus important temple of Athena, considered a classic example of pure Ionic style. Prienne's ruins still have several standing columns of the Temple of Athena, as well as much of the city wall and a well-preserved theater. A short drive from Prienne takes you to Miletos, which was on the sea in ancient times. Its magnificent theater was built during the Hellenistic period and held 15,000 people, and then a fortress was built upon it during the time of the Byzantines. On the opposite side of the theater there is a Seljuk Caravanserai and the baths of Faustina, wife of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) Driving on, your last stop will be Didyma, not far from the coast. It was an important sacred site in the ancient Greek world and its famous oracle and Temple of Apollo brought large groups of pilgrims as it was second in importance only to Delphi. The name Didyma means twins and refers to the twins Apollo and Artemis. The earliest fragments of the temple found so far date to the end of the 8th century, BC. The original temple was graced by many statues and a rich treasury of gifts from Croesus, King of Lydia. Of the 122 original 60’ tall Ionic columns that surrounded the temple, only three remain intact. You will have lunch at Didyma. Return to Kusadasi for overnight.

Day 8

After breakfast you will depart for a full day to Aphrodisias, whose ruins are considered to be as magnificent as Ephesus. Somewhat off the beaten track, Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. Dedicated to the ancient Mother Goddess and then to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, it was the site of Head of Medusa at Didyma, a magnificent Temple of Aphrodite and the home of a renowned school of marble sculpture. The Temple of Aphrodite is well-preserved and partially restored, making it not difficult to imagine its ancient splendor. There are also ruins of a large theater, a stadium and other structures, as well as a museum. Overnight in Kusadasi.

Day 9

Transfer back to the Izmir airport in the morning, where you will fly from Izmir to Kayseri. Along with your private guide, you would be met and transferred to Urgup, in the heart of Cappadocia, where you will stay for three nights at a charming hotel in Urgup. There will be an afternoon tour for orientation. Overnight in Urgup.

Day 10

Today you will visit the Sultanhan Caravanserai, where the medieval merchants used to stay overnight. Continuing on, you arrive in the Ihlara Valley, where you will have lunch at a local restaurant by the river. After the lunch, you will walk through the lovely canyon to ancient Peristrema, visiting churches carved from the rocks with their early paintings that are remarkable for their accuracy. Overnight in Urgup.

Day 11

On today’s tour you are introduced to the lunar landscape of Cappadocia at Deverent Valley, and then proceed on to the Zelve Open Air Museum, which is one of the earliest inhabited and latest abandoned monastic settlements of Cappadocia. Seeing the best examples of the fairy chimneys at Pasabag Fairy Chimneys Valley, you go further to Avanos, for lunch at a local restaurant. Goreme is where one visits the rock carved churches and colorful frescoes. End the day hiking up to the top of Uchisar Castle, which is the highest and the most dominant point, giving a breathtaking panoramic view.

Day 12

Today your first stop is the Soganli Valley, which is one of the earliest settlements in Cappadocia. After this, drive back to Urgup through the unspoiled villages of Cappadocia, surrounded by the “table-top” mountains. On the way visit the Medrese in Taskinpasa, a Theological School of the Seljuk Turks. After lunch in Mustafapasa at an old Greek house hosted by a local family, you descend towards the center of the earth with a trip to the Underground City of Kaymakli; one of the largest and deepest of Cappadocia’s many such settlements. Return to Istanbul, on an early evening flight. Overnight at a hotel close to the Istanbul Airport. Overnight at a hotel at the airport in Istanbul.

Day 13

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