Eastern Turkey conjures up images of women in veils, mustached gentlemen in turbans with drawn sabers in hand and camel trains winding through the desolate wilderness. In fact, the huge mass of eastern Anatolia is a diverse land differing profoundly from the rest of the country. These remote provinces vary from formidable mountain peaks, lush forests with cascading waterfalls, verdant pastures, and in vivid contrast, arid deserts in the south. And as the battlefront of eastern and western cultures for thousands of years, the East contains an astonishing abundance of remains from the past.
Join Far Horizons, and only 13 others, on a 16-day East Turkey tour to this remote and rarely visited region of the country. See four UNESCO Heritage Sites – Ani, Diyarbakır & Hevsel Gardens, Göbekli Tepe, Nemrud Dağ, Enjoy a tour of Göbekli Tepe, possibly the world’s oldest temple predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years, and Ayanis, the last capital of the Urartu. See Karahantepe, perhaps even older than Göbekli Tepe. Journey from the mountains of eastern Anatolia, to the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, to the Cilician plain. Along the way, visit Neolithic temples, medieval churches and mosques, formidable castles, and the historic towns of the region. And learn about the remarkable history and culture of Eastern Turkey, truly a crossroad of civilizations.
This is an educational tour of Turkey unlike anything we could find, so we designed it ourselves. Keep reading to find out more and browse our wider range of Tours to Europe & Turkey to broaden your horizons.
Fly to Istanbul, Turkey.
Arrive Istanbul. Transfer to our flight to Trabzon. Upon arrival, enjoy a city tour. Dinner and overnight in Kars at Zorlu Grand Hotel. (D)
This morning we begin at the church of Hagia Sophia, beautifully situated in the western suburb outside the city walls and overlooking the Black Sea. If the afternoon we drive to Erzurum with a stop en route at the cliff-side monastery of the Virgin Mary at Sumela in the Altindere National Park. Overnight for one night at the Zade Boutique Hotel in Erzurum. (B/L/D)
Erzurum has longed played a significant role in the history of Anatolia, witnessing the rise and fall of various empires including the Urartians, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans. We begin today with a tour of its iconic monuments, including the Great Mosque, the Çifte Minareli Medrese (with its double minaret), Yakutiye Medrese, and the bazaar. After lunch we transfer to Kars with a stop at the Cobandede Bridge. Overnight for two nights at the Beylerbeyi Palace Hotel. (B/L/D)
Just outside Kars is the ancient Armenian capital of Ani. Clearly the greatest achievement of medieval architecture to be seen anywhere in Turkey, this 11th century metropolis once was home for 100,000 people. Consequently, in 2016 Ani was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, the extraordinary walled city still contains splendid frescos that proclaim the richness of the city’s inhabitants and the excellence of the designers. After exploring the site, drive on to Dogubeyazit. This town is on the border with Armenia. And from here we will witness stunning views of sacred Mount Ararat. Overnight in the Ertur Boutique Hotel. (B/L/D)
İshak Paşa Saray is a dazzling array of pointed domes and striped minaret invoking images from “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” Notably, a local feudal lord built this citadel in the 17th century. This lovely palace is one of the most memorable monuments in Turkey. And, for this reason, it is on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. The edifice is noteworthy not only for its beautiful classical style but also for its internal central heating system.
After a brief stop at Muradiye Waterfall, continue through breathtaking scenery to rarely visited Ayanis, the last castle complex of the Urartians. Here, we meet Professor Mehmet Isikli, the director of the archaeological project who will give us a private tour of excavations.
Then it’s on to Van. This city is handsomely positioned on the edge of Turkey’s largest lake within a lush green oasis encircled by stunning mountain peaks. Interestingly, it is also famous for the Van Cat, a pure white, longhair feline with one blue eye and the other green.
Van is the location of the 9th century BC former Urartian capital of Tuşpa. This 3,000-year-old citadel is among the world’s most magnificent architectural monuments as observed by its royal tomb chambers and cuneiform inscriptions. Additionally, it is a superb example of the skills of Urartian stone masons. Overnight for two nights in the Hilton Doubletree Hotel in Van. (B/L/D)
The Urartian fortress of Çavuştepe perches on a mountaintop with breathtaking views of the surrounding area. Clearly a very old stronghold, a cuneiform inscription on a temple here proclaims King Sardui II, who ruled between 764 and 735 BC, as the builder.
Nearby Lake Van is sprinkled with islands, several containing thousand-year-old monasteries and churches. We will board a cruiser to cross the lake to Akdamar to view a breathtaking 10th-century church constructed by an Armenian king. Built of carved red stone blocks, the walls of the chapel are adorned with exquisite friezes depicting stories from the Old Testament. (B/L/D)
Begin today at the Van Archaeological Museum to view remarkable artifacts found in the area before departing driving along the southern short of Lake Van to Tatvan. As we traverse spectacular scenery, we will stop at Ahlat, an historic town located on the northwestern edge of Lake Van. Here, the town’s small museum contains an interesting selection of artifacts including beautifully glazed pots and fine Urartian bronze-work.
Nearby is the Ulu Kümbet, or Great Tomb, built between 1273 and 1275 for a Mongol chieftain. Almost sixty feet high and topped by a conical stone roof, the 12-sided building is embellished with exquisitely carved decorations. However, Ahlat is primarily known for its fascinating cemeteries. Forests of elaborately decorated Seljuk tombstones still stand. Created in the 12th and 13th centuries, most stand seven or eight feet tall adorned with rich, ornate carvings. Overnight for one night at The Crater Hotel in Tatvan. (B/L/D)
En route to Mardin today we stop at three interesting sites. Afterward, see the 10th century Malabadi Bridge. When built it was one of the longest spanned stone arch spans in the world. Thus, UNESCO has placed it on the World Heritage Tentative List. Dayro d-Mor Gabriel, also known as Deyrulumur, is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world.
Our final stop is Anitli village to see The Church of the Mother of God, arguably the most beautiful of the many churches of Tur Abdin. The church is part of a large monastic complex on the southern edge of the town of Hah and is thought to have been built around 450 AD and expanded by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, with additions being made right down into the modern period. Overnight in Mardin for two nights at the Gazi Konagi Boutique Hotel. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
This morning we tour Mardin, beginning with Deir-Al-Zafaran (the Saffron Monastery), center of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchy and still an active monastery. The site of the Saffron monastery has been a sacred place for thousands of years.
Continue to visit Dara, the remains of a Roman city built in the 6th century to protect the Roman border with Sassanian Persia. In the afternoon, we will have time to walk in the old city of Mardin to see the Great Mosque, bazaar and beautiful houses of Mardin. (B/L/D)
Today we depart for Diyarbakır, at least 5,000 years old and one of the oldest cities in the world. Diyarbakır is encircled by a massive parapet built of jet-black blocks of basalt more than three miles long. It is a perfect example of medieval military architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the top there are magnificent vistas overlooking the Tigris River valley including the Hevsel Gardens, also with UNESCO World Heritage status.
Part of the Fertile Crescent, this landscape linked the city with the Tigris River. This huge green space has played a vital role in keeping the city provisioned and watered since the ninth century BC. This evening’s walking tour will take us along the walls, and to Ulu Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Anatolia. Dinner and overnight at the Dies Hotel in Diyarbakir. (B/L/D)
The Kingdom of Commagene emerged as a Roman puppet state in the first century BC. The most renowned ruler was King Antiochus I, an Armenian king whose lineage connected him to the Seleucids, Ptolemies, and Macedonians. He ruled the territory in the 1st century B.C. and built his extraordinary mausoleum on the summit of Mt. Nemrud, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Certainly, it is one of the most extraordinary tombs in the world. From this imposing sanctuary we can see for almost fifty miles across the Mesopotamian Plain. Our climb takes us to both the East and West Terraces to see the huge statues of Hellenistic gods – Apollo, Zeus, Fortuna – with the king prominently seated among them.
The western terrace contains a large slab with a lion, showing the arrangement of stars and the planets Jupiter, Mercury and Mars, and due to the astronomical alignments, it is believed to have been a place for religious ceremonies. Overnight at the nearby Euphrat Hotel. (B/L/D)
Today’s destination is Göbekli Tepe, perhaps the world’s oldest temple dating back to 11,000 years ago and predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years. Excavations have uncovered several circles of standing stones and inside each are two 16-foot-tall T-shaped pillars towering over the ring of shorter stones. Furthermore, many of these are richly garnished with carvings of foxes, vultures, lions and other wild animals. Understandably, Göbekli Tepe has been designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site. If available, we will meet with the director of excavations who will give us a private tour of the latest discoveries. After our tour, drive to Şanlıurfa with origins that are rooted in the Bronze Age. Renamed Edessa in the 4th century BC, it became a famous religious and intellectual center during the Byzantine period. Overnight for three nights in the El Ruha in Şanlıurfa. (B/L/D)
In Şanlıurfa, our walk through the old quarter takes us to the bazaar with its interesting display of local goods. Afterwards, we will visit two museums – The Şanlıurfa Archaeology Museum and the Halepli Bahce Mozaic Museum, home to the famous “warrior Amazon queen” mosaics.
We will see the city’s 10th century Great Mosque that was constructed on what was thought to be the birthplace of Abraham, and an ancient castle that crowns the citadel. The current walls were constructed by the Abbasids in 814 AD. After returning to the hotel, enjoy our farewell dinner. (B/L/D)
Numerous historical ruins are located around Şanlıurfa. Karahantepe, along with world-famous Göbekli Tepe, is part of a cluster of Neolithic settlements. These are spread over 125 miles of southeastern Turkey between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The monumental structures carved out of the bedrock at Karahantepe contain T-shaped pillars and carved representations of animals, serpents, and other enigmatic figures similar to the ones in Göbekli Tepe.
In addition, Karahantepe is believed to be considerably larger than Göbekli Tepe, covering an area of about 33 acres. Sited along the road that ran from Nineveh to Carchemish, Harran was a major commercial, cultural, and religious center first inhabited in the 6th millennium BC. It was mentioned in the bible as the place where Abraham brought his family after they left Ur. Today, it is known for the curious beehive shaped homes scattered through the village. Return to Şanlıurfa with the rest of the afternoon and dinner on our own. (B/L)
Depart from Hatay Airport to Istanbul and our international flights home. (B) Or fly back to Istanbul to join Far Horizons’ Western Turkey tour.
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for a mile or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging 3-4 miles of walking. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least half an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 30 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking for a mile or two every day. We feel that this preparation will increase your enjoyment of the trip. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.