Istanbul – Arrival
Upon arrival to the Istanbul Ataturk Airport, we will meet our guide in the arrivals hall and head to our hotel located near Taksim Square, the bustling heart of modern Istanbul. Dinner and Overnight in Istanbul.
Istanbul – City Tour
After enjoying our Turkish breakfast, we will depart from our hotel and begin our tour of the historical highlights of Istanbul. First, we will stroll through Hippodrome Square, the former sporting and social center of Constantinople that hosted chariot races during the Roman period. Afterwards, we are off to witness the incredible majesty and splendor of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. Popularly known as the Blue Mosque, this 17th century Ottoman sanctuary is adorned with six minarets and more than 20,000 hand-painted Iznik tiles. And then we will walk directly across from the mosque to visit the domed masterpiece of the Hagia Sophia, the Orthodox patriarchal basilica-turned Ottoman imperial mosque-turned secular museum commissioned by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. Next, we head nearby to Topkapi Palace. Located on the very cape of the peninsula where Constantinople was founded, Topkapi Palace is the former abode of Ottoman Sultans that still houses their legion of treasures, including an extensive collection of royal jewels. Then, we will end our day with an evening of shopping at the Grand Bazaar, the massive covered market that houses a labyrinth of streets lined with shops selling jewelry, leather products and many other handcrafted souvenirs. This evening, we will have a mass at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, the largest Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul. Dinner and Overnight in Istanbul.
Istanbul – City Tour
Today, we are off to the Church of Saint Saviour in Chora. This church is an exquisite example of Byzantine architecture that is embellished with colorful frescoes and gold-gilded mosaics. Afterwards, we will visit the beautiful Rustem Pasha Mosque. Designed by the extraordinarily prolific Ottoman imperial architect, Mimar Sinan, this mosque features the most lavish use of Iznik tiles in the city. We will then walk nearby to Eminönü’s Spice Bazaar, the large covered market that has remained the city’s center for spice trade since its creation in the 17th century. Next, we will embark on a cruise of the Bosphorus, the winding straight that separates Europe and Asia and connects the Black Sea with the inland Sea of Marmara. This is our time to relish the views of the old wooden mansions, Ottoman palaces, and ancient fortresses that dot the river’s coast. This evening, we will have our mass in the St. Esprit Cathedral, the Baroque style second largest Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul. Dinner and Overnight in Istanbul.
Istanbul / Izmir / Pergamum / Thyatira / Izmir
This morning, we embark on an early morning flight to Izmir. Upon arrival, we will visit St. Polycarp Church, the oldest church in Izmir that is still in use today. Next, we drive to the town of Bergama to visit Pergamum, one of the most powerful cities in the ancient world. The city rose to prominence following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. and eventually came under Roman control in 133 B.C. Although this city benefited from immense wealth, in the Book of Revelations, the risen Christ instructs St. John to convey the message that the people of Pergamum, the site of “Satan’s throne”, needed to repent (Rev 2:13-16). Today, we will tour the Acropolis that sits atop a 1000-foot windswept mountain, offering a view of the neighboring modern towns, the azure waters of the Aegean, and the ruins of Pergamum that cascade down from the ancient city center. Here, we will explore the Temple of Trajan, Temple of Athena and the Altar of Zeus. Unfortunately, little is left of the altar, which was once among the grandest monuments of the ancient world. In fact, every stone of the structure, including its 400-foot long frieze depicting the battle of the gods and giants, was shipped off to Berlin by German archaeologists leaving only the altar’s foundation. Thankfully, much more remains of the Great Theatre. Among the steepest of its kind and an acoustic phenomenon, this theatre could entertain up to 10,000 spectators. Nearby are the remains of the famous Library of Pergamum. Once housing some 200,000 scrolls, the library’s collection even exceeded that of the great library of Alexandria before Mark Anthony gave it to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. Then, we will drive to Akhisar and end our day with a visit to Thyatira, one of the Seven Churches praised for its increasing faith but admonished for its tolerance of Jezebel (Rev. 2:18-28). Dinner and Overnight in Izmir.
Izmir / Sardis / Philadelphia / Laodicea / Pamukkale
This morning, we will visit the archaeological remains of the ancient city of Smyrna. Located in modern day Izmir, Smyrna was one of the Seven Churches that St. John relays the promise from God: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10). Afterwards, we will visit Sardis, a militarily strong ancient city located along an important highway and among the fertile plains of Hermus (Geldiz River). Though Sardis was a powerful and wealthy city with a reputation for being alive, God announced that it was actually dead (Rev. 3:1-6). Here, we will explore the white marble royal way, the massive Temple of Artemis, the large gymnasium, and the famous synagogue. Annual archaeological expeditions sponsored by Harvard and Cornell Universities have unearthed over eighty Greek and seven Hebrew inscriptions as well as numerous mosaic floors revealing this synagogue as one of the most significant synagogues of antiquity. Afterwards, we will head to the modern town of Alasehir and visit the site of ancient Philadelphia, the church that received God’s highest commendation (Rev. 3:7-13). Here, we will see the remains of a brick-built Byzantine basilica adorned with 11th century frescoes. En route to Pamukkale, we will visit the ancient city of Laodicea. This city was one of the Seven Churches that St. John chastised the inhabitants for being lukewarm (Rev. 3:14-22). Here, we will see the site’s well-preserved stadium, gymnasium, and theatres, giving us insight into this city’s former prominence. Dinner and Overnight in Pamukkale.
Pamukkale / Hierapolis / Kusadasi
Today, we will visit Pamukkale, “Cotton Castle”, and dip our feet in the thermal waters that flow down the hilltop’s unique white travertine terraces. Here, we will also visit the archeological remains of Hierapolis, a significant site of early Christianity thanks to St. Paul’s missionary efforts here (Colossians 4:13). Because the city sits atop the travertine cascades of Pamukkale (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Hierapolis became a healing center wherein the site’s thermal pools were used to treat various ailments. Today, we will stroll among a number of important ruins including well-preserved Roman structures like the town theatre and Temple of Apollo before continuing on to the modern town of Selcuk and up Mt. Koressos to visit the House of the Virgin Mary to have mass where the mother of Jesus is believed to have spent the last days of her life with St. John. Afterwards, we drive down the mountain to nearby Ephesus, one of the most well-preserved archaeological sites in Turkey. Originally an ancient Greek Ionic city built in the 10th political influence and the city’s large Jewish community attracted the attention of the apostles, including Paul, who was born “Saul of Tarsus” before his conversion and great missionary journeys that were responsible for spreading Christianity to the West. In addition to St. Paul, Ephesus was also the old stomping grounds for St. John who was Bishop of the Ephesian Church before he was exiled to Patmos. Today, we will walk on the Marble Road passing numerous historically rich sites including the wonderfully ornamented Fountain of Trajan and the Temple of Hadrian. We will also see the Library of Celsus, which adorns the site’s most impressive square, and sit in the theater (the largest surviving from the Roman period). This massive theatre (capable of entertaining up to 25,000 spectators) was the scene of an uprising provoked by a merchant named Demetrius against St. Paul and his teachings (Acts 19:23). Dinner and Overnight in Kusadasi.
Kusadasi – Departure
Today, we can head to the Kusadasi pier to board a cruise to Greece or we can transfer to the Izmir Airport where we can fly to Cappadocia, Tel-Aviv, Rome or back home via a connecting flight through Istanbul.