Istanbul / Adana
Today, we will arrive in Istanbul and board our domestic flight to the city of Adana, a large city in south-central Anatolia whose flat fertile plains along the northeastern edge of the Mediterranean have allowed the city to become a major agricultural, commercial, and industrial center. Upon arrival to the Adana Airport, we will be transferred to our hotel. Dinner and Overnight in Adana.
Adana / Antakya / Adana
After enjoying our breakfast, we will depart from the hotel bound for the city of Antakya (Antioch), an important seat of early Christianity. Here, we will visit the Mosaic Museum to see the second largest collection of classical and Roman mosaics in the world. Afterwards, we will head to one of the oldest churches in Christianity, the Church of St. Peter. This church is actually a cave carved into the side of Mount Starius where many believe the first Christians worshipped. Before returning to our hotel, we will see Selucia Pieria, the ancient port of Antioch from which the Apostle Paul and Barnabas embarked on their first missionary journeys as chronicled by Acts (Acts:13:4). Dinner and Overnight in Adana.
Adana /Tarsus/ Konya
This morning, we will drive to the dusty provincial town of Tarsus. Once the capital of the province of Cilicia, Tarsus was the site where Mark Antony and Cleopatra first met, and is the birthplace of Paul the Apostle. According to Acts, Paul was born “Saul of Tarsus” but was brought up in Jerusalem and became “Paul the Apostle” after his encounter with Christ (Acts 9:11; 21:39; 22:3). Here, we will visit the Well of St. Paul and the Gate of Cleopatra. Next, we are off to the town of Karaman to visit the largely unexcavated site of Derbe, a town Paul visited on his missionary journeys with Barnabas. Afterwards, we travel to Konya via Aksaray along the Silk Road. First, we reach ancient Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas invested a lot of their missionary efforts preaching the Gospel despite persecution from the community. According to Acts, they spoke boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 14:1-3). Then, we will head to Konya’s city center and visit the Mevlana Museum, which houses the tomb of the great 13th-century Persian poet and founder of the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī. Popularly known as Rumi in Western countries, meaning “Roman” in Arabic, his followers and Muslims alike call him “Mevlana”, meaning “our master”. We will then end our day at the Karatay Museum. This former medrese, or place of learning, was founded in 1251 by the Seljuk emir Celaleddin Karatay as an institution for Islamic studies. However, the building is now a museum showcasing the most beautiful examples of Seljuk tile work. Dinner and Overnight in Konya.
Konya / Lystra / Antioch in Pisidia /Pamukkale
After breakfast, we drive south of Konya to ancient Lystra where Paul the Apostle preached the gospel after persecution drove him from Iconium. Afterwards, we will continue on to Yalvac to visit the remains of the ancient city of Antioch in Pisidia. Located at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Aegean and Central Anatolian regions, Antioch in Pisidia was a capital city for many different cultures, and was an important site of early Christianity in Anatolia. Here, Paul gave his first sermon to the Gentiles and visited the city on each of his missionary journeys (Acts 13:13–52). Then, we drive to Pamukkale. Dinner and Overnight in Pamukkale.
Pamukkale / Hierapolis / Laodicea / Philadelphia / Sardis / Izmir
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 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 Laodicia. This city was one of the Seven Churches that the Apostle 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. 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). Next, we will explore Sardis, a powerful ancient city located along an important highway and among the fertile plain of Hermus (Geldiz River). Though Sardis was a strong 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 drive to Izmir and up the summit of Kadifkale, which means “the velvet castle” in Turkish. Originally, this hill was called Pagos when it was a Greek city and Pagus when Smyrna (ancient Izmir) came under Roman control. Today, we will see the hill’s ancient castle and enjoy a panoramic view of the city and the Gulf of Izmir. Dinner and Overnight in Izmir.
Izmir / Smyrna / Ephesus / Izmir
This morning, we will visit the archaeological remains of the ancient city of Smyrna. Smyrna was one of the Seven Churches that the Apostle John relays the promise from God: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10). Here, we will see what remains of the Agora, the ancient market place that was built in the 4th century BC to the north of Pagos (Kadifekale). Then, we will head to the modern town of Selcuk and up Mt. Koressos to visit the House of the Virgin Mary to see where the mother of Jesus is believed to have spent the last days of her life with the Apostle 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 century B.C., Ephesus grew to become the largest metropolis and capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor. This 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 Paul, Ephesus was also the old stomping grounds for the Apostle 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 Paul and his teachings (Acts 19:23). Before returning to our Izmir hotel, we will stop at the ruins of St. John’s Basilica. Constructed by Justinian I in the 6th century, this basilica stands over the believed burial site of the Apostle John. Dinner and Overnight in Izmir.
Izmir / Thyatira / Pergamum / Assos
After breakfast, we will drive to Akhisar and begin 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). Afterwards, 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 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. Afterwards, we will explore the Asklepion. Allegedly one of the world’s first full-service health clinics, the Asklepion was the ancient world’s version of a spa, attracting health pilgrims from all over the region, including Roman Emperors Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. Moreover, the physician Galen trained at this center and developed the foundation for modern Western medicine. Next, we drive to Behramkale, the town home to ancient Assos. Here, we will be staying at a hotel located in the ancient port, an area crammed with fishing boats, rocky beaches, and quaint buildings constructed of volcanic rock. Dinner and Overnight in Assos.
Assos / Alexandria Troas / Troy / Istanbul
This morning, we travel up the hill of Behramkale to explore the lofty ruins of Assos. From the Acropolis, we can enjoy a panoramic view over the Aegean while we learn about Paul’s missionary efforts here. Next, we visit Alexandria Troas. A significant port town in Roman times, Paul the Apostle sailed for Europe for the first time from here (Acts 16:8-11). Afterwards, we continue on to the legendary city of Troy. Settled as early as 3,000 BC, Troy was made famous by Homer’s Iliad, the epic poem chronicling the Trojan War. Then, we cross the Sea of Marmara by way of ferry and head to our Istanbul hotel. 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. Dinner and Overnight in Istanbul.
Istanbul – City Tour
We will begin our day with a morning of shopping at Eminönü’s Spice Bazaar. Also, known as the Egyptian Bazaar, this large covered market has remained the city’s center for spice trade since its creation in the 17th century. Then, 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. Afterwards, we will head to the Church of Saint Saviour in Chora. This church is an exquisite example of Byzantine architecture that is embellished with 13th century frescoes and gold-gilded mosaics. We will then end our day at the Suleymaniye Mosque, the crowning achievement of Mimar Sinan, who was so proud of his creation that he chose to be buried next door. Here, we see the magnificent dome and tour the mosque complex, passing the mausoleums of Süleyman and Roxelana. And from the mosque terrace we can enjoy an amazing panoramic view of the Golden Horn. Dinner and Overnight in Istanbul.
Istanbul – Departure
Today, we say good-bye to Turkey and head to the Ataturk International Airport to board our flight back home.