April 29 - May 14, 2023
This is a region of immense contrasts. The vast landscape ranges from the plateau ringed by mountains in the distance and criss crossed by the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, to the sparkling clear blue water of Lake Van and beyond, snow capped Mount Ararat.
This part of Turkey is also an area of great diversity in terms of the people and cultures that have marked it through the millennia. From the l0th/8th millennium sanctuary of Gobekli Tepe to the city of Kars with its 19th century Russian Neo-Classical houses, by way of Armenian churches, Ottoman mosques and the Urartian citadel of Van, this tour is an introduction to an extraordinary range of worlds that spans twelve thousand years. It includes the legacies of Hellenistic dynasts, Roman armies, their Sassanian adversaries, Arab and Syriac communities, and from the 11th century the Turks, who settled in Anatolia following their victory over the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, five years after the Battle of Hastings.
Tour cost $4,295 USD per person based on twin share.
Single supplement $495 USD
Deposit of $300 USD per person at time of booking.
Our Expert Guide – Damla Arslan was born in Istanbul in 1984. She graduated from the history department of Boğaziçi University in 2006 and she attended the program of Anatolian Civilizations and Cultural Heritage Management at Koç University between 2006 and 2008. Her specialty is the ancient history of Anatolia and she has been working as an archaeologist in various excavations around the country since 2005. Her latest excavation is in Batman, southeastern Anatolia, and she is working on an upper Mesopotamian mound by Tigris called Gre Amer during the summer season. She received her tourist guide license from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2009 and she has been working as a freelance tour guide all around Turkey with a special interest on the southeast and the eastern parts of the country.
View Detailed Itinerary →
Day 1: Arrival Istanbul
After arrival you will be transferred to the hotel.
We will gather for a welcome dinner this evening, meet our guide and below travellers.
Overnight Istanbul, Azade Hotel or similar
Day 2: Flight to Antakya (Hatay)
We will leave the hotel in the morning for a domestic flight to Antakya – flight is 1 1/2hrs.
Located at the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, Antakya – the ancient “Antioch ad Orontem” – was one of the most attractive and cosmopolitan cities of Anatolia throughout history. Founded in the 4th century BC, the city reached its peak in the Roman Imperial period as the capital of Syria. It also became the hometown of Christianity with the first community held here by St. Peter himself. Although the city was destroyed by major earthquakes in the late antique period, its strategic importance pulled the Persian, Arab and finally the Crusader armies to the region during the middle ages. In the Ottoman Period, the city is reestablished as a multicultural center of administration, trade and agriculture. Today, it is known as an example of peace and tolerance established between different ethnic and religious groups living together such as Turks, Kurds, Syrian Arabs, Orthodox Christians and Jews, Sunni and Shia Muslims.
After the arrival we will drive to the city center and have a traditional lunch to taste the famous Middle Eastern cuisine of the city. After lunch we will discover streets and the bazaars of the Old Town. In the afternoon we will visit St Peter’s Church where he assembled the first Christian community.
Overnight in Antakya – Waxwing Hotel or similar
Day 3: Antakya
In the morning we will drive to the south of the city to Samandağ district and we will visit the Tunnel of Vespasianus and Titus. It is a 130m long tunnel to carved in to the mountain and a tremendous example of Roman technology. Later we will visit Samandağ villages, starting from Vakıflı, the only surviving Armenian village in the country. On the way back to the city we will have our lunch break at Harbiye – Daphne, ancient hometown of an important Apollon sanctuary.
In the afternoon we will visit Hatay Archaeological Museum, which is not only famous with great Roman Imperial mosaics but also has an important prehistoric and Iron age collection.
Overnight in Antakya – Waxwing Hotel or similar
Day 4: Gaziantep
In the morning we leave Antakya and we drive to Gaziantep via visiting Yesemek Open Air Museum, which was a very important late Bronze Age quarry and sculpting centre for Hittites and neighbouring cultures in the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages. By the western banks of the Euphrates river and at the crossroads of ancient trade routes, Antep – “Ayıntap”- was established in a region flourishing since the Prehistoric times. Being an important stronghold for many ancient cultures from the Seleucid Kingdom to the Byzantine Empire, the city reached its peak during the middle ages under the Islamic Rule. From the first Arab conquerors to the Ottoman Empire the city had risen to the administrative and the commercial centre of the area and it was embellished by many mosques, schools, inns, baths and markets. In the early Republican era the city was awarded with the title Gazi/Veteran due to the heroic local resistance against the French occupation during the Turkish Independence War. Today, it is one of the biggest cities of Turkey known with not only history and culture but also industrial production and trade. The population of the city is mainly Turkish with visible Arab influences.
After we arrive to Gaziantep we will go to the historical centre to taste the famous kebaps and baklava of the city. We will visit the historical monuments around Old Castle and have a chance to wander around the traditional Copper and Spice markets. In the afternoon we will visit the Mosaic Museum which houses mosaics and artifacts from the Roman frontier city Zeugma by Euphrates.
Antakya to Yesemek is 110km – Yesemek to Gaziantep is 100km
Overnight in Gaziantep – Sirehan Hotel or similar
Day 5: Halfeti
We leave Gaziantep in the morning and leading towards west we will cross the Euphrates River by the Birecik Dam to go to the old town of Halfeti. Euphrates was one of the most important rivers of the ancient world starting from the northeastern mountains of Anatolia and flowing for 2800km till the Persian Gulf. Together with Tigris, they created the fertile plains of Mesopotamia where the earliest civilizations flourished.
Due to the high potential of these rivers, today we have a set of dams built to create hydroelectric power and as well as irrigating the vast plains in the area under the name of GAP (Southeastern Anatolia Project.)
After crossing towards the eastern banks of the river we will drive to the Halfeti and take a private boat for a tour (approx. 1 hour) on the picturesque dam lake. During the tour we will visit the sunken traditional villages by the river and the ruins of famous Rumkale, one of the greatest fortresses of Anatolia. After the boat tour, we will have our lunch in Halfeti by the lake and drive to north towards the city of Adıyaman.
Gaziantep to Halfeti is 100km Halfeti to Adıyaman is 120km.
Overnight in Adıyaman – Isiacs Hotel or similar
Day 6: Mt. Nemrut
In the morning we will drive from Adıyaman to Mt Nemrut to visit the Tomb of King Antiochus I of Commagene which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Commagene is the name of the land between the Taurus Mountains and the western banks of Euphrates River. In the archaic period it was a buffer zone between Armenia, Parthia, and Syria. In the 4th century BC it was conquered by Alexander the Great and later became a part of the kingdom his general Seleucos established in the near east. The historical evidence show that Commagene rulers claimed lineage both from the Persians and from the Greeks, as well as being friends of Rome after their appearance in the area. The kingdom gained its independence in the 2nd century BC and owes its fame to king Antiochus I Theos who deified himself with a monumental tumulus at the highest mountain peak in the region.
As we drive towards Mount Nemrut, we will visit Karakuş Tumulus, a tomb belong to the family of Antiochus on the plain, and we will see 2nd century AD Cendere Bridge built by the Roman emperor Septimus Severus on Kahta River. At the skirts of the mountain we will visit Arsemia, the summer residence of Commagene rulers. And finally we will drive up to the peak of the mountain to visit the Tumulus of Antiochus I known with the 50 meters high tumulus covered with limestone piles and colossal heads of the statues laying around. After our visit we will drive to Şanlıurfa.
Overnight in Şanlıurfa, Harran or El Ruha Hotel or similar
Day 7: Şanlıurfa
Established by the fertile plains of Euphrates at Upper Mesopotamia, the history of Urfa, – Urha, El Ruha, Edessa – is going back to the Palaeolithic Period. The city itself was established around the 3rd millennium BC and from ancient Assyrians to Romans, Arabs conquerers to medieval Crusaders and finally the Ottoman Empire it hosted many different cultures and civilizations. It played a crucial role between Mesopotamian and Anatolian trade and it eventually became not only a multicultural commercial centre but also a respected holy site known as the city of prophets. According to Bible prophet Abraham lived around here whereas according to Kuran it was the very birthplace of the prophet. The title Şanlı/Glorious was given in the republican times for the resistance against the French Occupation during the Independence war like Gaziantep. Today the city is predominantly Kurdish with a traditional middle eastern culture.
We will start the day by visiting 12.000 years old ancient site Göbeklitepe at the east of the city. Dated back to the end of the Palaeolithic period, the site is suggested to be a communal sacred sanctuary belongs to the hunter-gatherer groups of the region before agricultural revolution. The site has so called circular temples composed of t-shaped pillars many of which have reliefs of animals. The excavations and research has been going on since 1995 and it is Unesco World Heritage Site since 2018.
After visiting Göbeklitepe we will go back to the city centre to see Şanlıurfa Archaeological Museum. It has a vast collection of artifacts from Palaeolithic to the Middle Ages and it is one of the best archaeological museums in Turkey. We will have our lunch near the Urfa Castle and then we will see Pool of Abraham, where he was believed to be thrown into fire by the evil king Nimrod. Next to the pool we will have a look at the Abraham’s Cave where he was believed to be born and spend the afternoon in the colorful traditional market.
Overnight in Şanlıurfa, Harran or El Ruha Hotel or similar
Day 8: Mardin
In the morning we drive to Mardin, one of the most picturesque cities of Turkey, famous with local architecture and stone masonry. Established at the west of Tigris basin on a high hill terracing towards the vast Mesopotamian plain, Merdo/Merdin means heights or fortress in ancient Assyrian language. The history of the city goes back to 2nd-3rd millennium BC and it was another strategic centre between the Mesopotamian and Anatolian cultures especially flourishing under the Artukid dynasty in the Middle Ages.
Today it is a small cosmopolitan city with Turkish, Kurdish, Arab and Syriac population living together and it is an attractive destination for both local and foreign travellers.
After the arrival to the city, we will first visit Deyrülzaferan Monastery, one of the most important centres of Syriac Christianity dating back to the 5th century. Then we will lead towards the old town to have our lunch by the view of Mesopotamia and visit the main monuments like Kırklar Church, Mardin Museum, Zinciriye Monastery and the Grand Mosque of the city. In the afternoon we will have free time to wander around the old markets and discover the specialities of the city such as the famous filigreed gold and silver jewellery.
Overnight in Mardin, Artuklu Kervansaryi or similar
Day 9: Diyarbakir
In the morning we will leave Mardin and drive to Diyarbakır via visiting the ruins of Zerzevan/Samachi Castle, which is a recently excavated ancient fortress famous with the cult of Mithraism, a Roman sect of Zoroastrianism and a mystery religion.
Diyarbakır, -Amidi-, is established on the south of Taurus Mountains on a basalt basin by the Tigris River. Like Euphrates, Tigris starts from the northeastern Anatolian mountains and it flows to the Persian Gulf for 1900km forming the Mesopotamian Plain, and Tigris basin is also subject to GAP (Southeastern Anatolian Project) for development and progress in the region.
As one the biggest and most populous cities of Turkey, Diyarbakır is a developed modern city and the centre of Kurdish intellectual life. The historical part is often identified with its black basalt City Walls built by Romans in the 4th century AD. Within the walls lies the the Citadel and the old city. After the walls we will see the Archaeological Museum at the citadel and give lunch break in a traditional restaurant.
In the afternoon we will discover important monuments of the city like the Grand Mosque, Syriac Church of Mary and Armenian Church of St George.
Overnight in Diyarbakır, Dies Hotel or similar
Day 10: Tatvan – Van
Today we will have a long drive from Diyarbakır to Van and leaving the plains of Mesopotamia we will start discovering the mountainous Eastern Anatolia.
In the first half of our day we will stop by the medieval Malabadi Bridge built on one of the biggest tributaries. Then we will drive through the old city of Bitlis famous with its castle and minarets. We will pass through the Taurus Mountains and we will reach Tatvan on the western shores of Lake Van for our lunch break.
Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey. It is a saline soda lake formed after volcanic eruptions blocked river outlets in the region and its altitude is approx. 1650m.
After our lunch we will drive to Ahlat to see the most impressive medieval Islamic cemetery in the country with decorated stelai and royal tombs carved out of the local volcanic stones. After our visit we will drive through the southern banks of Lake Van.
Overnight in Van, Büyük Urartu or similar
Day 11: Van
The prehistoric evidence around the city shows that earliest settlement in the area is going back to 8th millennium BC. However, it is historically identified with Urartians who chose Van/Tushpa as the capital of their kingdom ruled in eastern Anatolia from 9th to 7th century BC. Their citadel lies by the shores of the lake as well as the remains of the old city, whereas present day Van is approximately 5 km east of the ruins established as a big modern centre around the fertile plains and streams.
We will start our day by visiting the Van Castle, the citadel of Urartian kingdom by Lake Van. Afterwards we will see the recent excavations by the citadel and visit the new Archaeological Museum. Later we will drive to the south of the city to have our lunch by the lake and to take a boat to Ahtamar Island. We will spend our afternoon on the island visiting Ahtamar Church and discovering the medieval Armenian heritage of the city.
Overnight in Van, Büyük Urartu or similar
Day 12: Doğubeyazıt – Kars
In the morning we leave Van and we drive to the border town Doğubeyazıt at the skirts of Mount Ararat. Ararat is the highest mountain in Anatolia with an altitude of 5137 meters. Its name is coming from the Urartians and it is very famous due to the Biblical references.
In Doğubeyazıt we will visit the 17th century İshak Paşa Palace built by the local ruling family in an elaborate architecture end exquisite decoration. After we have lunch at the town we will head to Kars in the afternoon driving by the Armenian border.
Overnight in Kars, Büyük Kale or similar
Day 13: Kars
Lying between the eastern and northern Anatolian mountain ranges Erzurum-Kars Plateau is not only a fertile region with volcanic plains and natural streams but it also stands as a gateway between Caucasia and Anatolia.
Due to its strategic location, Kars had been inhabited since the prehistoric times and attracted many different cultures. In the ancient times it was an important stronghold for the Urartians whereas in the Middle Ages it created rivalry between the Byzantines, Armenians, Georgians and newly arriving Turkish tribes. It was an issue of conflict between the Iranians and Ottomans and by the end of 19th century it was occupied by Russians for 40 years. Although it is a shrinking city under the danger of rural depopulation today, it still carries a unique character and traces of various cultures.
In the morning we will see the Kars Castle and the Armenian Church of Holy Apostles as well as the examples of famous Russian architecture from 19th century in the city. After lunch we will drive to the medieval Armenian capital Ani and spent the rest of our day visiting the vast ruins by the border.
Overnight in Kars, Büyük Kale or similar
Day 14: Erzurum
Today we will leave Kars and drive towards west through the plateau to reach the city of Erzurum, – ancient Arsinoe/Theodosiopolis. Erzurum lies on the skirts of Palandöken Mountain and it is the highest city in Turkey with an altitude of approximately 1900 meters. Archaeological evidence shows that the city and the surroundings had been inhabited since the Neolithic Period. In the classical times it was an important stronghold for Greeks and Romans.
In the Byzantine and Ottoman periods it was the major military centre in the region. And during the Turkish Independence War it housed one of the most important assemblies known as the Erzurum Congress held by the revolutionaries. Today it is a regional centre of economy, military and education. In Erzurum we will see monuments from the medieval heritage of the city from 12th-14th centuries like the Grand Mosque, Royal Tombs and Double Minaret Madrasah as well as tasting the local cuisine and visiting the traditional bazaars.
Overnight in Erzurum, Zade Otel or similar
Day 15: Trabzon
In the morning we leave Eastern Anatolia and driving through the Zigana Pass at the North Anatolian mountain range we will reach up to the forestry Black Sea Region.
Our first stop will be the town of Maçka for a local lunch. Later we will drive to Sumela Monastery by the mountains to visit this picturesque Greek Orthodox complex dated back to the 4th century.
In the afternoon we will reach Trabzon, Trapezounta, the biggest city of northern Turkey. The known history of the city is going back to 8th century BC and it was established as one of the Greek trading colonies along the shores of the Black Sea. Throughout history it kept its importance as one of the biggest ports and economic centres of Anatolia.
In Trabzon, we will visit the city center and important monuments like the Byzantine Walls and the Hagia Sophia Museum.
Overnight in Trabzon, Radisson Blu or similar
Day 16: Trabzon – Istanbul
We have free time today until our transfer to the airport and flight back to Istanbul. On arrival in Istanbul we will transfer to our hotel. Free time for the rest of the day.
Overnight in Istanbul, Azade Hotel or similar
Day 17: Depart Istanbul
Breakfast at the hotel and free time until we transfer to the airport.
- 2 domestic flights
- Our local expert guide Damla Arslan
- Anna MacKay Tour Leader with Min 12 people
- Entrance fees to the museums and sites
- Breakfast daily, 5 lunches and 1 dinner
- Group transfer from airport to hotel on day 1 and return on Day 17
- International flights
- Turkish visa
- Optional tours, Tips for guides and bus driver, Beverages with meals, meals not listed above
- All items not mentioned above
61 days or more deposit is non refundable
60 – 31 days prior to departure 50% is non refundable
30 days or less prior to departure 100% non refundable