EASTERN TURKEY
Detailed Itinerary
April 29-May 20, 2013
with guide, historian and archaeologist, Akin Aykurt
All itineraries subject to slight changes.
Please contact Baraka Journeys for most current itinerary
As more hotels are opened in each city, we will adjust the accommodations, to offer your the best.
Day 1 Monday, April 29
Depart your home city on flight to Istanbul.
Day 2 Tuesday, April 30
We will all meet with our guide Akin at the airport in Istanbul to connect for our domestic flight to Ankara.  Since 1923 Ankara, with its population of over 5 million, has been the capitol of Turkey.  In this city you will feel modern Turkey for Ankara is a bustling, socially and politically important city which will be in great contrast to what you will later see in the east of the country.  Akin will take us to our hotel very near downtown for rest, dinner and overnight at the 5* Etap Altinel Hotel. 
Day 3 Wednesday, May 1
Your journey officially starts with a visit through the award-winning Anatolian Civilizations Museum (“European museum of the year-1997”).  Here you will see an array of articles from Paleolithic to Greco-Roman times with an emphasis on Neolithic and Hittite items.   You will see impressive relics of Catal Hoyuk one of the earliest human communities. 
After the museum we’ll visit Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s mausoleum to understand the emergence of the modern Turkish republic.  This spectacular monument is made from stone from each province of the country and has an hourly changing of the honor guard.  Ataturk is the father and founder of the modern republic of “Turkiye”.  First he led his people through a revolt against the sultan and later through a war of independence against the winning European nations of WWI and finally an overwhelming series of national and cultural reforms.  After lunch at a lake side restaurant outside Ankara, we will take a four-hour drive to Cappadocia, offering many spectacular photo opportunities and an ancient Silk Road inn (a caravanserai) to visit.
You will have dinner and a memorable overnight at the Cappadocia Cave Suites, unique rooms carved underground and designed by artists using traditional handcrafts of the region…a once in a lifetime experience.
Day 4 and 5 Thursday and Friday, May 2 and 3
We will have two full days in fascinating and unique Cappadocia, a UNESCO world heritage site.  This area is an unusual volcanic territory with a great history and folkloric life. It has a bizarre and beautiful natural beauty because of its unique landscapes of wind, rain and eroded volcanic formations.  Cappadocia feels like a lost world or an illustration from a Dr. Seuss book! 
Christian inhabitants of the region were troglodytes who for centuries lived underground escaping religious persecution.  We will visit their homes in underground cities as well as their 11th century rock-cut chapels with beautiful frescoes, all carved of the soft volcanic rock. 
We’ll walk along volcanic valleys decorated with hundreds of volcanic cones and visit villages to learn about the local ways of living and customs.  We will have plenty of time to visit some traditional handicraft workshops to learn about Turkish rugs, kilims and pottery.  We also plan to see a performance of the Whirling Dervishes or mystic Mevlana, who rotate in a cosmic devotional dance of love for God and life itself. 
Cappadocia was on the ancient Great Silk Road and we will visit a caravanserai where the travelers stayed. 
Cappadocia is one of the regions where you will see carpets and kilims being proudly crafted and have opportunities to buy them right where they are made.  Dinner and overnight at the Cappadocia Cave Suites.
Day 6 and 7 Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5
We will depart Cappadocia for Hattusas the capitol of the ancient (and biblical) Hittites.  You will visit the massive ruins, gigantic sized temple and mysterious rock-carved shrines of this 15th century BC city and study their civilization.   One of the 2 superpowers of the late Bronze Age, the Hittites left us a great legacy and mystery.  Later we will drive to Amasya, the capitol of another ancient kingdom (Pontus of the 3rd century BC).  In the cliffs at near there we will visit the burial chambers of the Pontic Kings.  Amasya is a beautiful and peaceful town, cradled between the hills and straddling the Yesilirmak River.  It is a very historic city with early Ottoman mosques, madrasas (theological schools), an ancient mental hospital and old riverside homes.   We will visit the restored 19th century Ottoman house known as the Hazeranlar Mansion.   It is no wonder an award winning American writer (Mary Lee Settle) picked this city to be her favorite in her lovely book entitled Turkish Reflections.
Dinner and overnight at the hilltop Apple Palace Hotel in Amasya, overlooking the picturesque town.
Day 8 and 9 Monday and Tuesday, May 6 and 7
Departing Amasya, we will drive along the historic Black Sea coast with hazelnut and tea orchards everywhere.  Get to learn about the local culture and myths like that of the Amazonians: while driving by some towns like Amisus, Amastris.  Our destination will be Trabzon, a dynamic city with a great and active history.  We will think of Marco Polo as he visited this city in the end of his Silk Road journey.  This will also be a wonderful place for us to enjoy some seafood. 
On our second day, we’ll drive through the lush green mountains to visit the Sumela monastery of the 4th century, which lies on an incredible spot on a hillside carved into the mountain like an eagle's nest.  We’ll have a picnic lunch by the river under this monastery.  Later in the day we will visit a late Byzantine version of the St. Sophia church, which is located on a magnificent site facing the Black Sea.  Its interior is covered with astoundingly beautiful frescoes dating to its origin in the 13th century. 
Dinner and overnight at the recently renovated 4* Usta Hotel in Trabzon, conveniently located in the middle of the traditional bazaar of this ancient commercial port.
Day 10 and 11 Wednesday and Thursday, May 8 and 9
Heading southeast for Erzurum, another city rarely intruded upon by travelers, we will enjoy a scenic drive over the Black Sea mountains with wild flowers of surprising sorts.  Erzurum (ancient Theodosiopolis named after Emperor Theodosius the Great who fortified it in the 4th century) became an important city for the earliest Turks in Asia Minor; the Seljuks.  It is situated on a high plateau surrounded with snow capped peaks. We’ll visit the Seljuk heritage, including madrasas, mosques, and ancient (but living) bazaars, while meeting the local people.  Erzurum, the city with the highest elevation in Turkey (over 6,000’) has a ski-run overlooking the city (the best in Turkey).  It is considered to be the home of the tough, brave and the agile, as the climate carved these people's characters.  This is a great city to come to understand the true meaning of “Turkishness”.  The area surrounding this city is forested and is almost an alpine setting.
At lunch in downtown Erzurum, we will enjoy local specialities like oltu doneri, the forefather of gyros.
Dinner and overnight at the Dilaver Hotel or Kral Hotel in Erzurum
Day 12 Friday, May 10
We will depart Erzurum today northeast for Kars about 90 miles away.  Kars is another historic city inhabited by Turks, Armenians, Mongolians and Russians, all of whom left their marks.  On the way, we’ll have a picnic lunch and then we’ll visit the incredible city Ani, originally part of the Urartu Kingdom from 1600-100 BC.  It later became the medieval capitol of the Armenian kingdom.  Now a “ghost town” still encircles by great walls enclosing beautiful churches and mosques of the 10th century.  The site overlooks a gorge from which one sees the border with Armenia and the Marco Polo Bridge.  Ani sprawls upon endless meadows of the high plateau, one of the most impressive sights of the Near East.  At the height of its power it was a city of 100,000 residents and (legend holds) 1,000 churches. 
Downtown Kars is like an open-air museum itself, revealing aspects of many past civilizations. Some recent architectural highlights include many Russian buildings from the period of the occupation.  The city was the subject of one of the best selling novels entitled Snow by the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. 
Dinner and overnight at the Sim Erbest Hotel facing the fort in Kars.  This hotel is the best in town and is Kurdish owned. 
Day 13 Saturday, May 11
Dogubeyazit another city which was also on the Great Silk Road, is our destination today.  It is a biblical city on the slopes of Mt. Ararat, located at an impressive 17,000’ altitude.  Close to the Iranian and Armenian borders, driving to Ararat (supposed site of Noah’s ark), we’ll have a view of the spectacular, towering volcanic mountain peak from a few different directions.  Mt. Ararat’s relative elevation to the surrounding plains, make it one of the sheerest peaks in the world.  This is a highly photogenic area and we’ll have fun trying to capture its glories, but really there is no photographic or poetic substitute for the actual experience.  We will study local cultures in this area and may stop by a Kurdish village to make friends.
We plan too, to visit a mountain top palace from the 1790’s called “Ishak Pasha Palace” This is an impressive location to build a palace especially like this one by a governor-pasha (meaning “general”) who was wealthy enough to build a small scale fairy-tale pleasure castle, mosque and fortress to enjoy during his boring life while guarding the Silk Road entering Asia Minor.  Requiring a full century to build, this amazing palace crowning the hill-top, has 366 rooms, one for every day of leap year.  Seljuk, Armenian, Georgian, Persian, Ottoman and Turkish influence comprise the architecture and decorative styling of this monument, which represents some of the finest stonework in all of Turkey. 
Dinner and overnight at the Sim-Er Hotel in Dogubeyazit.
Day 14 and 15 Sunday and Monday, May 12 and 13
Today we are headed for Van, the city by the lake of the same name, and rather surprisingly situated almost in the middle of “nowhere” it is one of the most beautiful scenes in Turkey.  Lake Van is Turkey’s largest inland body of water and one of the world’s highest lakes (5,500 above sea level).  Ancient Van was the capitol of the ancient Urartu kingdom.  We’ll visit some ruins of their capitol with mountains and lakes framing the area.  
Van is the region where you will see kilims being proudly crafted.  We will visit villages and see weavers at their work.  You have opportunities to buy kilims right where they are made.   It is also an excellent area for Kurdish crafts. 
From Van we’ll take a 20-30 minute boat cruise to visit the beautiful island of
Akdamar where there is an important 10th century AD Armenian church with biblical scenes relief scenes of stone and wood adorn the exterior.  We will take some time to be a part of the local culture by visiting a village by the lake.
At a lake side lunch we will enjoy Kurdish specialties.
Dinner and overnight at the Akdamar Hotel in Van.
Day 16 Tuesday, May 14
A particularly beautiful drive will take us to Hasankeyf.  This medieval ghost-like town is at risk of being submerged by a dam.  This is the destiny of quite a few ancient sites like Zeugma (see days and 20-21).  Turkey needs recognition and intellectual awareness to save these world heritage sites.  Hasankeyf is the site of some unfamiliar cultures like the Artukids, the Eyyubis, the Sasanids, the Emevids and others.  For Turks, Hasankeyf became the symbol of their disappearing heritage.  Dinner and overnight at the Buyuk (Grand) Mardin Hotel in Mardin,
Day 17 and 18 Wednesday and Thursday, May 15 and 16
Mardin was declared by UNESCO as a complete city-museum.  Only two other cities (Jersusalem and Venice) have received this distinctive honor and designation.  The whole fascinating city is an architectural display with a fusion of styles and diversity of cultures.  One of them is the Syrian orthodoxy.  We’ll visit the historic Deyr-ul Zafaran monastery to learn about the roots of Christianity and it’s effects on Islam in Turkey.  Mardin is located in what is called upper Mesopotamia and it reflects the accumulation of those thousands of years of culture, quite well.  It is easy and comfortable to stroll through the narrow streets of Mardin, where few travelers go, we will feel as thought we were in an Assyrian palace one second and in a Sumerian Zigurrat the next.   
After Mardin, we’ll drive on towards Urfa possessing a population mixed of various peoples from all over Asia Minor and believed by the Muslims to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham.  We’ll visit the sacred cave, the sacred pool and beautiful mosque complex associated with Abraham.  The Islamic architecture here is very noteworthy. 
On our second day, we’ll drive to the village of Harran, near the Syrian border, one of the largest “tells” (a pre-historic mound) in the world.  An extremely historic site with an illustrious past Harran has beehive shaped, mud built houses (as were mentioned in the bible) and is still is inhabited.  The “Temple of Sin” is located in Harran and was famous throughout the ancient world for its star readers and savants.  It was in Harran too that Rebecca drew water from the well for Jacob and where Emperor Crassus reportedly died by having liquid gold poured into his mouth.  Akin will tell us more fascinating history from this city.  On the way out of town, Akin may even show us local pistachio trees.  We will also visit Gobeklitepe, the newly found prehistoric site which dates 6,000 years earlier than Stonehenge.  It is the oldest known religious shrine that mankind has ever built and it is expected to shake archaeological literature to its core.
Dinner and overnight at the luxurious Harran Hotel in Urfa, a good place to enjoy a swim and just a few minutes from the “Arabian-Nights-like” Bedestan (or Spice Bazaar) full too of sparkling gold jewelry and colorful fresh vegetables.
Day 19 Friday, May 17
Today we will cross the Euphrates River on our way to Mt. Nemrut, where we will devote our day.  Mt. Nemrut is the most impressive archaeological site in Turkey, and another site on the UNESCO world heritage site list.  This is the capitol of the ancient Commagene kingdom, a Greco-Persian city displaying both influences in its arts.  The summit of Nemrut is at over 7,000’ above sea level.  On this man-made hill is where in the 2nd century BC, the self-obsessed and vain ancient king (Antiochus Commagene) had his tomb protected by colossal statues of gods sitting on their thrones.  The heads of all these statues are well over the height of an average person.  Well worth the effort, you may hike (30-45 minutes on a 30% incline) or ride a mule to visit the extremely impressive site.  This site is already considered by many as the 8th wonder of the ancient world.
Dinner and overnight at the Zeus Hotel, a small friendly hotel conveniently located in nearby Kahta.
Day 20 and 21 Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19
Departing Kahta, our first stop will be in Gaziantep where a new museum has been opened to display one of the world's richest ancient mosaic collections brought from a Roman city called Zeugma.  This site, now submerged under a dam, was home for many wealthy Roman merchants who had their villas decorated with the amazing mosaics in the 2nd to 4th centuries.  Time permitting in Gaziantep, we’ll visit some bakers, see them creating the most famous baklava of the country.  Surely we’ll have a fresh taste.  Then we’ll drive to Mersin on the Mediterranean coast.  Along the way, we’ll stop in Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul and we’ll see a few remnants left from this once-magnificent metropolis.
We’ll have a great lunch and possibly a cooking class in Gaziantep.   
On our second day in Mersin, now a modern port city, we will visit some nearby ancient sites like Pompeiopolis, Elaiussa Sebaste, Canytelis and the impressive temple of Zeus in the remote city of Olba-Diocaeserea where we will have a picnic lunch.  Mersin (in the ancient territory of Cilicia) will bring us into the familiar Greco-Roman environment. 
Dinner and overnight will be at the 5* Mersin Hilton located on the Mediterranean. Staying here will bring us back to the 21st century, after three weeks in Eastern Turkey where we will have experienced the ambiance of another period in time with people driving ox carts, women washing rugs in the river and history abounding.
Day 22 Monday, May 20
Depart in the morning from Adana to Istanbul where you will have connections to the US and your home city.  Or continue with optional extension in Western Turkey.  Please call Baraka Journeys for itinerary.

EASTERN TURKEY

A Mosaic of Ancient Civilizations. 

A comprehensive, cultural, archaeological and history tour.

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