A Spiritual Journey to Turkey:
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MON, MAY 13, DAY 1: AFTERNOON DEPARTURE FROM LOS ANGELES
We depart Los Angeles en-route to Istanbul with complimentary meals and beverages served aloft.
TUES, MAY 14, DAY 2: AFTERNOON ARRIVAL IN ISTANBUL
We arrive in Istanbul, meet our Catholic Travel Centre escort who will accompany us throughout our journey, and transfer to our hotel. Dinner tonight is at our hotel. (D)
WED, MAY 15, DAY 3: ISTANBUL TO ANTAKYA: VISIT OF THE CITY & SELEUCIA
After breakfast we transfer to the Istanbul Airport for our flight to Antakya (Antioch), which was one of the largest ancient cities in the eastern Roman Empire. It was there that followers of Christ were first called “Christians “(Acts 11:26), and from there that Paul and Barnabas set out on their missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-4; 15:36).
Early local traditions also report extensive activity by St. Peter in Antioch, largely associated with the Grotto or Church of St. Peter, which we visit on the southern slopes of Mt. Staurion. We also see a fantastic collection of Roman Mosaics at the Mosaics Museum, and then visit seaside Samandag (biblical Seleucia; Acts 13:4). We return to our hotel for dinner and a relaxing evening. (B, D)
THURS, MAY 16, DAY 4: ANTAKYA / TARSUS / CILICIAN GATES / ESKI GUMUS MONASTERY / CAPPADOCIA
This morning, we depart early for the city of Tarsus, the birthplace of the Apostle Paul. Tarsus was the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia and was a well-known center of Greek culture and philosophical education. Tarsus was also a “Free City,” which gave the people born there (like Paul) some important rights and legal privileges as “Roman citizens” (see Acts 21:39; 22:25; and 25:10-12).
We visit St. Paul’s Well, in a courtyard believed by some to be the site of St. Paul’s house. Archaeological studies have shown this area to have cultural layers from Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods. We continue our journey, traveling through the Taurus Mountains via the Cilician Gates, a route taken by Paul and Silas as they went through Syria and Cilicia.
As we head toward Cappadocia, we stop for a visit of Eski Gumus Monastery, carved from the rock in Gumusler. This 10th-century monastery, which is entered via a vaulted door, contains scenes from the Infancy of Jesus, along with several portraits of Mary, saints, and angels. We continue on to our hotel for dinner and the evening. (B, D)
FRI, MAY 17, DAY 5: CAPPADOCIA: GOREME; ZELVE VALLEY; KAYMAKLI UNDERGROUND CITY; MONKS’ VALLEY
Today in Cappadocia, we tour one of the most surreal and strange landscapes on earth, formed by thousands of years of erosion. We focus on the vicinity of Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, and the Zelve Valley, one of the greatest Christian centers from the 4th to 10th centuries (although Christians probably lived here since the 1st century).
This area has more than 600 so-called “cave churches,” hollowed out from the volcanic rock formations. Many of these churches are lined with frescoes dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Highlights of our visit include Tokali Kilise (“Church of the Buckle”), the largest church in Göreme; Karanlik Kilise (“Dark Church”), an 11th-century monastic compound with newly restored frescoes that are the best preserved in all of Cappadocia; and Yilanli Kilise (“Snake Church”), a simple barrel-vaulted church named for the frescoes of St. Theodore and of St. George slaying the dragon (or snake, as depicted in the fresco).
Next, we visit Kaymakli Underground City, located within the citadel of Kaymakli. The houses in the village are constructed around the nearly 100 tunnels of the underground city. The ancient tunnels are still used today as storage areas, stables, and cellars.
Our final stop today is Pasabag or Monks’ Valley. The name was derived from some cones carved in tuff stones which stand apart. Some of these cones split into smaller cones in their upper sections, in which the Cappadocian hermits once hid. They hollowed out the chimneys from bottom to top, creating rooms high above the ground. After our visit, we return to our hotel for dinner and the evening. (B, D)
SAT, MAY 18, DAY 6: CAPPADOCIA / AGZIKARAHAN CARAVANSERAI / ANKARA / ANTALYA
This morning we depart Cappadocia and head toward Ankara. En route, we stop at the 13th-century Seljuk Caravanserai “Agzikarahan.” In that era, the three most important factors affecting trade along this portion of the Silk Road were roads, caravans, and inns where traders would stop for the evening. Agzikarahan is one of the most beautiful and best preserved inns. These fortified inns always had mosques available for religious practices.
We then go to the Ankara airport for our flight to Antalya. Upon arrival, we head to our hotel for dinner and a quiet evening. (B, D)
SUN, MAY 19, DAY 7: ANTALYA: EXCURSION TO PERGE & ASPENDOS
After breakfast, our first visit is to ancient Perga, whose stadium theatre is one of the best-preserved in Turkey. Paul and Barnabas passed through Perga on their way to and from Antioch on their first journey (Acts 13:13-14; 14:25).
We next visit the Archaeology Museum in Antalya, one of the finest in modern day Turkey. We also visit the ancient theatre at Aspendos, and then have some time to rest at our hotel in Antalya. Dinner this evening is served at our hotel. (B, D)
MON, MAY 20, DAY 8: ANTALYA / LAODICEA / COLOSSAE / HIERAPOLIS (PAMUKKALE)
This morning, we travel to Laodicea, a site that remains largely unexcavated. The church in this city received a letter from Paul (Col 4:16), and it is one of the seven churches of the Book of Revelation. Laodicea was also the site of an important regional church council held in 367 AD.
We then visit the ruins of ancient Colossae. Based on the Letter to the Colossians, it seems that Paul himself never visited this city, but that Epaphras, one of Paul’s associates and a citizen of Colossae, was the founder of the Colossian church (Col 1:7; 4:12). Paul later also tells Philemon of his hope to visit there upon being freed from prison (Phlm 1:22).
Next, we visit the ruins of Hierapolis (Col 4:13), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in present day Pamukkale. St. Philip was martyred here in 80 AD. Finally, we arrive at our hotel, which offers thermal spring waters laden with minerals. These waters, falling over a plateau edge, have created a cascade of dazzling white petrified basins—a beautiful photo opportunity! Dinner is served at our hotel. (B, D)
TUES, MAY 21, DAY 9: PAMUKKALE / APHRODISIAS / MILETUS / KUSADASI
This morning we depart Pamukkale for the ruins of ancient Aphrodisias. The site has been sacred since 5800 BC, when Neolithic peoples came here to worship the goddess of fertility and crops. In Greek times the site was dedicated to Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility. The great temple was built in the 1st century AD. For many centuries the area remained a stronghold of pagan beliefs, but eventually Christianity spread here and the city was renamed Stavropolis (“city of the cross”).
Next, we travel to the seaside city of Miletus. Not wanting to delay his travels by going to Ephesus, St. Paul called the Ephesian elders of the church to Miletus to bid them farewell (Acts 20). From here, Paul sailed en route to Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. After our visit, we proceed to the resort area of Kusadasi, with dinner served at our hotel. (B, D)
WED, MAY 22, DAY 10: KUSADASI: FULL DAY EXCURSION TO THE HOUSE OF MARY & EPHESUS
We begin our day with Mass at the House of Mary, traditionally believed to be the last residence of the mother of Jesus. This peaceful site is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, and was visited by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.
After Mass, our main focus today is Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor. It was the largest city and main harbor on the western coast. Accumulating silt has moved today’s shoreline more than four miles west of the location of the Roman-era harbor. St. Paul founded the Church in Ephesus in 53-56 AD. From here, he wrote letters to Galatia, Philippi, and Corinth. We visit the great Theatre where St. Paul addressed the crowds (Acts 19:29).
We also visit the ruins of the Church of the Virgin Mary (or Council Church), an early 4th-century church with a baptistery and bishop’s residence. The Third Ecumenical Council, which affirmed Mary as Theotokos (“God-bearer”), met here in 431 A.D.
Early Christian tradition also maintains that John the Apostle wrote his Gospel here in Ephesus. We visit the Basilica of St. John, built by Justinian in the 6th century. The church houses the tomb of St. John. We return to our hotel in Kusadasi and have dinner at a local restaurant. (B, D)
THURS, MAY 23, DAY 11: KUSADASI / SMYRNA / PERGAMUM / AYVALIK
After breakfast, we travel to Izmir (ancient Smyrna), one of the oldest cities of the Mediterranean basin (5000 years old). Smyrna became a center of 1st-century Christianity and is one of the Seven Churches of Revelation (Rev. 1:11; 2:8-11). We visit the Church of St. Polycarp, a 2nd-century bishop of Smyrna, who was burned at the stake in Smyrna’s stadium around 156 AD.
We continue by traveling north to Pergamum, another of the seven Churches of Revelation (Rev 2:12-17). Pergamum held four of the most important Greco-Roman cults of the day: Zeus, Athene, Dionysios, and Asklepios (aka “Savior”). Because of the strong worship of Asklepios, the god of healing, Pergamum became a center of medicine. We visit the ruins of the ancient Asklepion, where the first psychological treatments took place, the Altar of Zeus, the Temples of Athena, Trajan, and Dionysus as well as the 10,000-seat theatre. After our visit, we continue on to our hotel in the seaside resort town of Ayvalik. Dinner tonight is at our hotel. (B, D)
FRI, MAY 24, DAY 12: AYVALIK / BURSA: ULU CAMI MOSQUE & SILK BAZAAR
Today we travel to the town of Bursa, where we visit the Ulu Cami Mosque, built between 1396 and 1400 AD. This mosque has one of the world’s greatest examples of Islamic calligraphy from the Ottoman period. Then, we take some time to shop at the Silk Bazaar before continuing on to our hotel for dinner and the evening. (B, D)
SAT, MAY 25, DAY 13: BURSA / NICAEA / ISTANBUL
We depart Bursa this morning for Iznik, ancient Nicaea. The First Council of Nicaea was held in 325 AD, during the reign of Emperor Constantine. It defined more clearly the concept of the Trinity and drew up the Nicene Creed. In 787 AD, Empress Irene also convened the 7th Ecumenical Council in Iznik.
We see the massive medieval walls and the ruins of Hagia Sofia Church, scene of the 7th Council, and visit the museum. Then, we board a ferry boat to continue on to Istanbul (ancient Constantinople) for an orientation tour of the city often referred to as “Earth’s Pearl.” (B, D)
SUN, MAY 26, DAY 14: ISTANBUL: ROMAN HIPPODROME, SANTA SOFIA, BLUE MOSQUE, BASILICA CISTERNS & TOPKAPI PALACE
Constantinople (Istanbul) became the capital of the Roman Empire under Constantine in 330 AD, and it remained as capital of the Byzantine Empire until 1453, when the Ottoman army under Sultan Mehmet II conquered it. We begin today by visiting the site of the Roman Hippodrome, built by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in 203 AD. The hippodrome stadium served as a meeting place for politicians, chariot races, wrestling, boxing, and other athletic activities.
We then visit Santa Sofia, first a basilica, then a mosque, now a museum. Built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian, this extraordinary masterpiece of Byzantine architecture is still covered in splendid mosaics from the 11th and 12th centuries. We also visit the nearby Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, known as the Blue Mosque for its marvelous interior decoration of turquoise tiles.
Next, we visit the Basilica Cistern, the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city. Our day concludes at the Topkapi Palace Museum, site of the residence of the Ottoman sultans for nearly four centuries. We celebrate Mass at St. Antonie Church. Tonight we enjoy a special dinner at a Hamdi restaurant, famous for its Turkish kitchen. (B, D)
MON, MAY 27, DAY 15: ISTANBUL: BOSPHORUS CRUISE, ST. SAVIOUR IN CHORA, MOSQUE OF SULEIMAN THE MAGNIFICENT, GRAND BAZAAR & SPICE MARKET
We begin today with Mass at the Church of Santa Maria Draperis. Then we take a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait, which divides Europe and Asia, to better appreciate the position of this beautiful and historic city along the passage to the Black Sea. Next, we go to the Church of St. Saviour in Chora, also known as the Kariye Museum, famous for its early mosaics. We finish our formal touring at the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent, known as the culmination of Ottoman architecture, reflecting the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its political and military power.
The rest of the afternoon is open: some may wish to shop at the Grand Bazaar, with its labyrinth of over 4000 shops and stalls, and/or the nearby Spice Market. Others may wish to explore the city further, or to relax at our hotel. Early this evening we board our motor coach and head to our final dinner together at a local restaurant. (B, D)
TUES, MAY 28, DAY 16: RETURN TO THE USA
After breakfast this morning, we transfer to the Istanbul Airport to begin our journey home. (B)
Note: While no changes are anticipated, there may be unforeseen occasions when certain alterations become necessary to this itinerary, either due to changes in airline schedules or for other reasons. All Masses are subject to local church schedules and substitution with alternate Mass sites if churches mentioned are not available.
Arrangements made by
Catholic Travel Centre, Burkank, CA