Here it is at last! After years of building to it, we bring you an expansive and immeasurably rich new land based archaeological tour in Turkey doing full justice to a magnificent region in the first rank of ancient history, culture and heritage. We take you on a tour packed with names that resound in the history of the ancient world, and the story of archaeological exploration: Troy, Ephesus, Pergamum, Priene, Sardis and Halicarnassus. We cross the famed straits of the Hellespont and trace the intricately winding coast of Turkey south, through lands threaded with rich river valleys, rugged hills topped with secluded remains and beautiful headlands where, from the midst of a ruined temple plucked from a romantic artist’s dream you can gaze out over a sea view studded with the silhouettes of islands and made for memories.
Our journey encompasses the ancient Troad, pretty Aeolis and the long seaboard of Ionia, all speckled with ancient Greek cities, and the gold-rich kingdom of Lydia and Caria, a supremely interesting region with a development bound up in early Greek history. It’s hard to overstate just how important, how central, this region is to the unfolding of Greek history, the development of her cultural character, and view of the world. So much begins here: it’s the well-spring of ancient history and culture, and the spotlight never entirely leaves it. We’ll take you to Troy, Priam’s City, whose topless towers may have fallen, but whose memory created the richest poetic tradition imaginable and gave the greatest poet his song. Troy not only stands at the start of Greek literature, but is a settlement of extraordinary antiquity for the region. If that were not enough, it stands explosively at the start of the heroic age of archaeology in the Aegean. And that’s only our opening crescendo on this tour.
We bring you Ionia, the fringe of Greek cities in Asia that flourished as the Aegean re-emerged into history in the Archaic era. Here, new ideas of literature, philosophy and the sciences developed. Encounters with non-Greek ‘barbarians’ inland saw the Greeks move to define themselves and explore the lands and ways of others, borrowing ideas as they went – many of them ideas that are still central to us today. In one of our sites, ancient Halicarnassus, a fifth-century BC Greek, Herodotus, created the notion of History in something like the way we understand it. And at its work’s beginning, he tells the tale of the rich King Croesus of Lydia, whose capital we’ll see at Sardis. There we’ll hear of his glory, and downfall to the Persians of Cyrus. It was here, too, that they came into conflict with the Greeks, the first link in a chain that leads to Xerxes and Leonidas, Pericles, Alexander. Everything.
And after, those cities multiply as Greek culture spreads throughout the region. Pergamum, from its eyrie on a steep rocky acropolis, filled with temples and palaces like a cinematic Olympus, ruled half of Asia Minor for a century. When Rome came, captive Greece famously held her captive, and it was here, in the Roman province of Asia, that the cell lay. It was this region that was the cultural epicentre of the Greek world under the Roman Empire, brim-full of stunning cities, it was this region that Roman senators regarded as the pinnacle of their careers.
All that leaves us an unsurpassed legacy of history, culture and beautiful ruins to take you to. We visit an array of ancient sites that will simply leave you in awe. Stunningly preserved cities expansively spread out beneath vast grey crags, beautiful temples in obscure groves, piously inscribed with dedications or richly decorated with sculpture by the finest artists to be had anywhere. We journey with the god Apollo, meeting him at three of his temples in very different guises; we encounter strange forms of Zeus and the most iconic representation of Great Artemis at her most famous domicile. All this, of course, comes with expert guides who’ve travelled back and forth across this region for decades and know the sites intimately, our carefully-selected hotels and our eye for the finest dining.
Troy, Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, Halicarnassus. The heart, the soul and the beginning of the classical world is here.
We arrive at our hotel for a fine meal. Asia’s coast awaits us.
Like Alexander or Xerxes before us, we cross the narrow waters, and like both come to fabled Troy. There are so many reasons to visit Troy, that it’s difficult to encapsulate. We can come here to encounter the beginnings of European literature and history, to romantically connect the site of the greatest epic to an archaeological reality, like its controversial first excavator, or we can come to admire the almost unrivalled depth of remains of the region. Troy goes beyond the city’s epic Fall – we have a site that saw the earliest Bronze Age and classical Greece come and go, while still having Alexander himself and a Roman metropolis in its future. We revel in this exceptional site and its acclaimed new museum before visiting the ‘Tumulus of Achilles’ and maybe spare a thought for Hector, tamer of horses.
After lunch, we reach back to the beginnings of Troy’s history and go to a rural sanctuary in the old territory of Alexandria Troas. Here we meet Apollo Smintheus, the Lord of Mice and visit the remains of the Smintheion, his pretty Hellenistic temple with its lovingly-sculpted columns. Before dinner there’s time for one more site, which would easily merit a visit by being the one-time home of Aristotle, even if it did not possess such an extraordinary location. This, the ancient Greek city of Assos, stands far above the Bay of Edremit. From on high, the stark, stern Doric columns of its Archaic temple of Athena make a fine frame for the amazing seascape we see stretching to the famous island of Lesbos. Behind, the flourishing of the later city fills terraces filing down to the suitably dramatic location of its theatre.
Rejuvenated, we head to Selçuk near ancient Ephesus and explore its Archaeological Museum as an appetiser for our visit to the great city nearby. This is a richly-filled repository of Ephesus’ story, replete with ornate detailing from the city’s great buildings, baroque Roman sculpture, tense classical lions, images of Roman notables and fine ivory carvings, and the iconic statue of Ephesian Artemis.
We’ll be more than ready to see the home of these marvels, and we’ll enter the great city, the Metropolis of Roman Asia just as the main crowds are leaving, ready to explore the vast site at leisure. We’ll walk in awe through street after street of the cityscape of one of the greatest cities of the ancient world, through its monumental squares and along marble-paved roads stretching into the distance, whether towards the expanse of the 28,000-seat theatre, or the lovingly-decorated storeys of the Library of Celsus dominating the viewer as they strain for height. From these outstanding public buildings, we’ll turn to the remarkable Terrace Houses, a huddle of fine residences filled with room upon room, space upon space, from open courtyards where the owners displayed their public face to an impressed world, to the intricate warren of more private rooms, lavishly bedecked in mosaics, wall paintings and marble inlay. It stands in the first rank of sites where we can get a real feel for the lived life of the Roman era.
After lunch, we make the short journey south to one of the most impressive classical sites in the entire Aegean: Didyma. In ancient times this was another of Apollo’s oracle-temples, and one with a roller-coaster history of highs and lows. The celebrated Branchidae guarded it until its destruction; resurrection came through the bountiful patronage of kings and emperors for a temple famed for periods of secure guidance alternating with inexplicable oracular silence. What this has left us is one of the greatest, and most unusual, temples of the Greco-Roman world, huge in size and intricately carved from the iconic Medusa with its deeply-knotted brow right down to the ornate detailing even of the column bases, making them beautiful for the god. Inside the temple, past a spill of cogwheel-like column drums, its walls marked with curious signs whose meaning is debated, you’ll come to the breath-taking central space, a vast quadrangle laid out below and hear what we can tell of this leading oracle.
From one Zeus, we visit another, Zeus Labraundus or Stratios in his great oracular shrine at Labraunda. This is a steep and vertiginous site in the mountains, site of a Carian last-stand against the Persians. The sublime location in which the temple sits, and the unusual structures built on the shoulders of its lofty terraces by the Carian kings makes this a truly unique site.
We have lunch in Milas, ancient Mylasa. This was a place of the non-Greek Carians, particularly interesting neighbours of the Greeks, and their ruling Hecatomnid dynasty under the Persians. A hugely-significant ancient centre, it’s a site being increasingly recognised as archaeologically important and culturally influential, not least for the great podium which may be a first-draft inspiration for the Mausoleum itself, now crowned by a column where storks nest, oblivious to their momentous residence.
To crown the day, we visit the ancient Greek coastal city of Iasos where yet more archaeological excavations are revealing a vital and beautiful classical polis. Long-lived, though often beset by dangers, peaking with the classical, Hellenistic and Roman cities with their theatre, council building and temples right through to the Middle Ages, with the city crowned by a medieval fort, and a lonely Byzantine tower standing sentinel over the port in the midst of the sea.
In the morning we visit the Myndos Gate, which gives us an inkling of the power of the city, and the grim threat a city of its standing was under. For all its impressive appearance, this was no vanity project. Next we turn to the rulers whose power was being projected and protected, as we visit the site of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus itself, having lunch near where the Wonder once towered.
Nearby in this striking spot, the magnificent Crusader castle stands impressively sited on a peninsula stretching out into the blue waters of Bodrum’s expansive harbour. Fascinating in its own right, bearing warnings to spies and the arms of Henry VII of England, the castle’s story is further enriched by housing one of the finest museums of underwater archaeology in the world. We’ll discover finds from two Bronze Age wrecks of unsurpassed significance, viewing across a gap of nearly three thousand years remains of the Mycenaean era in a site of the Crusader and Turkish periods which rests on a Classical city. A superb way to bring our encounters with the long story of this pivotal, multifarious and beautiful land to a close, leaving us plenty to talk about at our farewell meal.
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Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Airport – Istanbul
Departure Airport – Bodrum Milas Airport (BJV)
Check in time at our hotel in Istanbul is after 14:00 so we recommend choosing a flight that arrives mid to late afternoon. Check out time in Bodrum is 10:00. We will arrange local transfers from Istanbul airport and to Bodrum airport on the first and last day of the tour.
Where possible we try to use smaller, family run, boutique hotels with character rather than large chain establishments. Almost all of the hotels on this trip are of a very high standard. When we are staying in less well visited areas or in a small village or town we use the best hotel available.
On this tour we use 9 different hotels, with four one night stays and five two night stays. Each hotel has its own distinctive style, character and atmosphere, from an historic han in Istanbul to a grand merchant’s house dating to the 1800’s in Izmir and from a beautiful winery on the Gallipoli peninsula to a simple and rustic guesthouse set in a village in the heart of the ancient city of Herakleia.
Booking Flights: If you are staying in or connecting via Istanbul then the easiest way to get to and from the gulet is to fly. There are a number of airlines that offer domestic flights in Turkey. The cheapest way to book flights is directly with the airline online.
Please note: Flights are subject to change. Please contact the airline for exact details.
If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.
Travel Insurance: We consider adequate travel insurance to be essential. You should ensure that you take out a suitable policy, to make sure that your trip is properly covered. Please be advised some insurers may require you to take out a policy within 15-20 days of booking your holiday to receive all of their insurance benefits.
Visas: You must check to see if you require a visa to enter Turkey. Visas are easily obtained online at eVisa and must be purchased before you travel.
Istanbul: If you are planning to stay in Istanbul before or after your gulet tour we would be happy to help with suggestions and information and things to see and do. Please get in touch.
Custom Tours: If you are thinking of extending your trip to Turkey to include visits to Cappadocia, Istanbul or further afield, please contact our office for further information.