The dramatic landscapes between the Black Sea and Lake Van include the snow-capped volcanic peak of Mount Ararat. The name Ararat is a derivation of “Urartu”, an enigmatic Iron Age kingdom that wielded great power over a huge highland territory. We visit a number of their spectacularly situated citadels, built
during the political upheavals of the 1st millennium BC.
The kingdom was taken by the Armenians, whose conversion to Christianity in AD 301 by St. Gregory the Illuminator brought a new religious landscape to the region. Our tour ends at the mountain-ringed Lake Van - a fitting end to an exceptional journey, having explored a region far beyond the reach of most tourists.
- Explore the remote Kingdom of Urartu and its palace complexes
- Tour the dramatic Medieval walled city of Ani, home to many ruins
- Admire spectacular scenery from dense forest to volcanic craters
- Learn more about the history of these little-visited parts of Turkey
- Observe incredible architecture in each of the locations we explore
- Historic Churches
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
This morning we land in Ankara via Istanbul, and transfer to our comfortable hotel in the bustling city centre.
Ankara has been Turkey’s capital since 1923, though its ancient roots lead back over millennia to the Hittite civilisation of around 1600 BC. A cradle of ancient culture.
Our travels through north-east Turkey begin at Ankara’s superb Museum of Anatolian Civilisations. The museum’s vast collection is housed in two Ottoman buildings near Ankara Castle, and covers all periods of Anatolia, from early Palaeolithic to Classical times. Exhibitions here feature masterful Urartian metalwork from the 9th century BC, majestic Hittite reliefs, and a Neolithic wall mural thought to be the earliest town map in existence.
This afternoon we journey to Amasya, a Black Sea city on the banks of the Yeşilırmak River, nestling between the Canik and Pontus mountains. A birthplace of sultans, the city is as famous for its splendid history as it is its delicious home-grown produce.
We spend a leisurely day in Amasya, beginning with an introductory walking tour of the old town, with its traditional wooden Ottoman houses, 19th-century clock tower, and views of the ruined citadel.
Next on the itinerary is a visit to the city’s Archaeological Museum, a national institution housing some 24,000 artefacts recovered from the local area. Spanning a total of 11 civilisations, highlights include the world’s only displayed Islamic mummy and ornamental Hellenistic tear-catchers.
This afternoon we journey to the rock-carved Tombs of the Kings of Pontus on the side of Mount Harşena. This handsome royal necropolis consists of five tombs from the 3rd to the 2nd century BC, all accessible to visitors – Turkey’s very own Valley of the Kings.
This morning we drive to Tokat for the Archaeological museum and Madrasa, before visiting the ancient site of Komana Pontika.
Upon arrival, we head for the remains of the old town. Here we find the excellent Archaeological Museum, with its illuminating exhibits including displays of early coins and some of the oldest Anatolian stelae in existence. Within the museum’s open-air section stands the 4th-century Temple of Serapis, unearthed on site in 1951.
We leave our hotel and drive to Kurul Castle, a mountain-top settlement erected in the 2nd century BC. Excavations are still being conducted here. After, we drive to Giresun and stop for lunch.
This afternoon we visit Giresun Museum and the rock-carved Church of Virigin Mary.
We spend a whole day in and around Trabzon, beginning at the Hagia Sofia, a Medieval church which was converted to a mosque in 1584 and now houses an informative museum.
Later today we travel to the Sumela Monastery, a famous Greek Orthodox complex perched high on the slopes of the Altindere Valley. One of Turkey’s foremost historical attractions, the monastery was founded in 386 AD and was in use right up until 1923, when it was abandoned following the ejection of the local Greek population. From its frescoed chapels and courtyards we enjoy jaw-dropping views across the forest below. A real must-see destination.
This morning we head inland, travelling east through the mountains to the altitudinous city of Erzurum, situated some 2,000 metres above sea level. Once an Armenian capital, the city was transferred to the Eastern Roman Empire in 387 AD and became an important military base in the wars against the Persians.
Following lunch we explore the local Archaeological Museum, with its fascinating collection of semi-nomadic artefacts dating back as far as 4200 BC. We also enter the impressive Cifte Minareli Medrese. Established as a theological school in the late Seljuk period, the building became a gun foundry in the 17th century and, later still, an arsenal and armoury.
We drive further east to the high plateaus this morning, where we find the city of Kars on the closed Armenian border. Possession of Kars was hotly disputed in the 19th century, with the Russians eventually claiming it from the Ottoman Turks. It briefly returned to Turkish control during the First World War, before being reluctantly relinquished to the Armenians. It was recaptured in 1920 and has been a part of Turkey ever since.
This afternoon we enjoy an engaging walking tour of the city’s main sights, stopping at the rocky citadel, the early walls of which date back almost 2,000 years. We also visit a selection of the area’s historic mansions and mosques for a unique encounter with the Armenian Turks.
Today we take an excursion to Ani, to explore the atmospheric ruins of the medieval Armenian settlement. Known as “the City of 1001 Churches” this former capital of the Bagratid Armenian Empire was ransacked by Mongols in the 13th century, and subsequently reduced to rubble by a major earthquake. Its crumbling churches and castles rise majestically from the grassy plains, and offer a ghostly reminder of a once-great civilisation sadly destroyed.
In the afternoon we return to Kars, for the opportunity to explore this thrilling city at our own leisure.
On our final full day in Turkey we travel to Doğubeyazit. This is the last of the Turkish towns before Iran, and lies in sight of the magnificent Mount Ararat, on which legend states Noah’s Ark came to its final rest.
Doğubeyazit has a long and rich history, with monuments dating back to the Urartu period, almost three millennia ago. Here we enter the castle, as well as the glorious, semi-ruined Ishak Pasha Palace. Built in the Ottoman period, the palace is a rare surviving example of its type, and includes a harem section, as well as its own mosque and dungeons.
We return to Kars for a lavish last supper, enjoying our final dinner as a group.
We transfer to the airport and catch our return flights home.
We fly from London via Istanbul to Trabzon, located on the historic Silk Road, and we check into our hotel upon arrival.
Today, we tour Trabzon, the last outpost of Byzantium and a focal point of trade to Persia and the Caucasus. We also visit the 13th century Church of Hagia Sophia, with its impressive Byzantine frescoes, and the citadel that overlooks the sea and modern city.
Today we travel to the Sumela Monastery, which is spectacularly built into a sheer cliff that peeps out from densely forested slopes. It dates from the 6th century and boasts some fine frescoes. The monastery was hastily abandoned in 1923 following the population exchange between Greece and the newly founded Republic of Turkey. We then drive over the Zigana Pass and follow the old Silk Road to Erzurum, the highest city in the country.
We walk around the austere yet fascinating historic city of Erzurum, visiting a number of atmospheric buildings left by the Saltukid and other Islamic dynasties. These include the 13th century Çifte Minare Medrese (Double-minaret religious school), the glazed-tile adorned Yakutiye Medrese, a number of elegant tombs with conical roofs, and the Ulu Cami (Friday Mosque), notable for its wooden dome.
Our exploration of early Armenian history continues today at Ani. It was a natural fortress, defended on two sides by deep ravines. Later, we admire the frescoes within the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, and then we return to Kars to visit the citadel and Church of the Holy Apostles.
We drive to Dogubayazit this morning, a garrison town close to the frontier with Iran. The main focus here is the romantic 17th century Işak Paşa Saray, dramatically situated on a limestone ridge with superb views over the Ararat Plain below. There is a Urartian rock-cut chamber in the cliff-face behind the palace, flanked by relief-carved figures. Views here are just stunning.
We drive over the Tendurek Pass, past frozen lava flows, and get our first tantalising glimpses of startlingly blue Lake Van. We navigate the northern shore of the lake, passing beneath towering Mt Suphan to the Medieval city of Ahlat with monumental tombs and elaborately carved gravestones.
We descend into the deep valley carved by the river Bitlis and make a stop here to visit a charming 7th century Armenian church, which is now used by local Kurdish villagers as a barn. From here, we then head to Akhtamar Island and visit the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral.
Today we explore Old Van, including the mighty Rock of Van and the burial chambers of the Uratian King Argishti. Later, we visit the remains of the city that stood at the foot of the ‘rock’ complete with Ottoman mosques and Armenian churches.
We drive south deep into the heart of the mountains to visit the fairytale fortress of HoŞap, which was built by a Kurdish chieftan in the 17th century. Our final visit today will be to the Uratian citadel-palace of Cavustepe.
We fly back to London from Van, via Istanbul today.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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