The Land Beyond the Sunrise
Join archaeologist Iain Shearer to explore a land of ancient temples, impressive castles, exquisite churches and lively bazaars, at the confluence of Turkish, Persian, Armenian, Georgian and Kurdish cultures.
The region of Eastern Anatolia, known to the Ancient Greeks as the ‘Land Beyond the Sunrise’, has seen the rise and fall of civilisations over thousands of years, each leaving their mark on a complex and diverse culture. In Gaziantep, see wondrous mosaics testifying to the city’s place in the Roman world, and the colossal statues which mark the funerary sanctuary of the Kings of Commagene on Mt Nemrut.
Explore the tranquil Syriac Orthodox monastery of Deyr al-Zafaran and the Armenian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Cross on an island in Lake Van.
Along the way, enjoy the natural delights of Anatolia in its springtime bloom.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Qatar Airways flights to Istanbul via Doha. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Arrive in Istanbul in the afternoon and transfer to the hotel (transfer included in tour price).
In the evening, join Iain and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing followed by a special welcome dinner.
In the morning, check out of the hotel and transfer to Istanbul Airport for a flight to Gaziantep (flight included in tour price).
Arrive in Gaziantep in the afternoon and check in to the hotel.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
Begin the day with a visit to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, the largest of its kind in the world with over 1,700 m² of mosaics. The museum takes its name from the spectacular mosaics of Zeugma, a city founded by Alexander the Great on his eastward march of conquest in the 4th century BC.
After lunch, visit the Medusa Glass Artefacts Museum. The museum, spread across three historic houses, contains a collection of more than 5,000 artefacts dating from the Urartu Kingdom in 750 BC through the Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras to the Ottoman Empire in 1600 AD. Then stroll through the colourful bazaar before returning to the hotel for a demonstration of traditional Turkish cooking, followed by dinner.
Check out of the hotel in the morning and take a scenic ferry trip up the Euphrates River to the Fortress of Rumkale. Commanding a peninsula overlooking the river, Rumkale was fortified during the Hellenstic and Roman periods and continued to serve as an important strategic location for the successive Byzantine, Armenian and Egyptian Mamluk forces during the Middle Ages.
Continue by land to Mt Nemrut, on the summit of which is situated a 1st century BC hierothesion (funerary sanctuary) belonging to King Antiochus I of the Kingdom of Commagene. Commagene was a buffer state between the mighty powers of Rome and Parthia, and the hierothesion now provides an evocative testament to this vanished culture in the form of colossal statues which lie strewn around the mountaintop – a mixture of Roman, Parthian and Armenian gods, and some indigenous deities. Sunset over the colossi of Mt Nemrut is a sight not to be forgotten.
Dinner tonight is at the hotel on the slopes of Mt Nemrut.
Check out of the hotel and see the Karakus Tumulus, known as the ‘Black Bird Tumulus’ for the carved eagle sitting atop a pillar which marks the site. The eagle, a bird of royal significance, honours Queen Isias, wife of King Antiochus I, who is interred beneath, along with her daughter and granddaughter.
Travel onwards via the Euphrates Dam, and then in the afternoon arrive in Sanliurfa and check in to the hotel, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
In the morning, visit the Citadel of Sanliurfa, and then the Haleplibahce Mosaics Museum, which covers more than 1,500 m² of mosaics in what was once the Mesopotamian city of Edessa. The mosaics have been left in situ and the museum was built around them. The finely-detailed mosaics feature four Amazons displayed not in their usual fashion as warriors, but as queens engaging in a royal hunt.
In the afternoon, see the Birket Ibrahaim (‘Pool of Abraham’), containing thousands of sacred carp, the Sanliurfa bazaar and the 12th century Ulu Mosque, converted from an earlier church (and even earlier synagogue). Then explore the Kucuk Haci Mustafa Art Gallery, housed in a restored 18th century mansion.
Today, visit the ruins of Harran, once a major city of Upper Mesopotamia. Harran is perhaps best known to Classical scholars under its Greek and Roman title of Carrhae, site of the infamous battle in 53 BC in which the wealthy triumvir Crassus, peer of Julius Caesar and Pompey, was handed a crushing and shameful defeat by the Parthians which shaped Roman attitudes to the region for generations to come. A notable aspect of ancient Harran architecture is the mud-brick tholos houses, cone-topped beehive-like structures which were once ubiquitous throughout the Middle East.
After lunch at a local restaurant in Sanliurfa, the afternoon is at leisure to wander through the bazaar, one of Anatolia’s finest, which still resounds to the thousand-year-old sounds of coppersmiths, tinkers, woodworkers and weavers playing their handicraft.
Check out of the hotel in the morning and travel to Göbekli Tepe, a Neolithic temple complex dating from 9000 BC and thought by many to be the oldest religious structure in the world. Discovered in 1963, it was only in 1994 that the true significance of the site began to be understood as further excavations were conducted under the direction of energetic German archaeologist Prof Klaus Schmidt.
The oldest phase of construction of Göbekli Tepe consists of a series of more than 200 T-shaped limestone pillars up to 6m tall and 9 tonnes in mass and arranged in circles, the earliest known megaliths in the world – 5,500 years older than Malta’s Hagar Qim and 6,000 years older than England’s Stonehenge. A subsequent phase, several hundred years later, consists of smaller megaliths arranged in rectangular rooms.
The full import of the site is still debated, but if, as claimed, it was built by a hunter-gatherer society, it represents an extraordinary level of sophistication for such an early stage of civilisation.
Continue to Mardin and explore the bazaar in the afternoon, before checking in to the hotel.
In the morning, visit Deyr ul-Zafaran, the ‘Saffron Monastery’, so named for the colour of its limestone walls. Constructed in 439 AD and from 1166 to 1932 the seat of the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the monastery still holds services in the Syriac Orthodox liturgical language of Aramaic, which was the language of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Achaemenid Persian Empires and the vernacular of Jesus.
After lunch at a local restaurant, explore the historic Old Town of Mardin, including the 15th century Kasimiye Medresesi, a former Sunni Muslim seminary, and the Ethnographic Museum, containing a range of silverware, jewellery and other artefacts from the Bronze Age to the Ottoman Era.
Check out of the hotel in the morning and travel to Dara, a city which lay on the border between the Byzantine Empire and Sassanid Persia. The city was built by Emperor Anastasius I in the early 6th century and expanded by Emperor Justinian I some decades later, and the remains of a necropolis, church and large cistern speak of the importance of the city as a base of operations for the Byzantine military.
Continue to the Dayro d-Mor Gabriel, the Monastery of St Gabriel, founded in 397 AD and the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world. The monastery is still home to around 15 nuns and two monks, as well as a garden and orchards, and is a centre of learning for Syriac Orthodox initiates. Then enjoy a walking tour of the Estel district in Midyat, including a metalworking shop and restored mansion.
Check in to the hotel, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
Check out of the hotel and travel north to Hasankeyf, a largely Kurdish city situated on the banks of the Tigris River with an archaeological site featuring cave churches and richly decorated mosques.
Continue to the stunning Lake Van, the largest lake in all of Turkey. Fed by various mountain streams, Lake Van’s outlet to the sea was blocked by an eruption in ancient times, resulting in its conversion to a high-salinity soda lake. Lake Van has been an important site for many cultures throughout Anatolian history, serving as the location of the Urartu capital of Tushpa, the centre of the Armenian kingdom of Ararat, and the border between the fading Byzantine Empire and the rising Selkjuk Turks.
In the afternoon, check in to the hotel near the shore of Lake Van.
In the morning, visit the 17th century Kurdish Castle of Hosap, sitting impressively on a hilltop above the surrounding landscape. The relief on the tower features a pair of lions, and the bridge leading to the castle is rendered in black and white stone, in a manner typical of Ottoman building in the region.
After lunch, visit the Fortress of King Sarduri II at Cavustepe, a fascinating – and rare – example of extant architecture dating from the Kingdom of Urartu. The Kingdom of Urartu rose to power in the area around Lake Van in the 9th century BC and was gradually eclipsed by the Medes of Persia in the 6th century BC. The fortress at Cavustepe was built in the mid-8th century BC at the height of Urartian power, as evidenced by the remains of five-metre-high walls, a colonnaded hall, royal palace and temple to the Urartian war god Haldi.
Today, cross by ferry to Akdamar Island, one of the largest islands in Lake Van and the site of the elegant Armenian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Cross. The cathedral was built in the 10th century as a palace church for King Gagik I of Vaspurakan (a part of Greater Armenia), and has long outlasted the palace itself. It is particularly notable for the bas-relief depictions of mythological animals, Biblical scenes and turbaned princes decorating its exterior walls, which some scholars have interpreted as part of a syncretic art tradition combining Armenian Christian and Persian Islamic forms.
Return to the mainland before an afternoon at leisure.
Dinner tonight is at the hotel.
In the morning, visit Ayanis, the fortress of King Rusa II of Urartu. Built in the 7th century BC, the extensive complex of Ayanis contains a temple to the god Haldi and a proud inscription declaring that before Rusa built the fortress the land was bare, waste and untouched.
After lunch, visit the Fortress of Van, overlooking the ancient site of the Urartian capital of Tushpa. The fortress, constructed of basalt and mudbrick, sits atop a steep-sided bluff and was used as a centre of regional authority by every successive power from the Urartians in the 9th century BC to the Russians in the 20th century AD. One of the most fascinating elements of the site is a perfectly-preserved trilingual inscription from the 5th century BC by King Xerxes I of Persia in Old Persian, Babylonian and Elamite, which was instrumental in the decoding of the cuneiform writing system.
Check out of the hotel and travel to Dogubayazit, at the foot of Mt Ararat, the highest mountain in the country and the supposed resting place of Noah’s Ark. In Dogubayazit stands the impressive 17th century fortress of Ishak Pasha Sarayi, which once commanded the Silk Road trade route between Persia and Turkey. The architecture of the fortress combines Ottoman, Persian and Armenian influences in the Anatolian syncretic style.
Continue to Kars and check in to the hotel in the afternoon, followed by dinner at the hotel.
This morning, visit the ruined city of Ani, the Mediaeval capital of the Kingdom of Armenia. Between the 9th and 11th centuries, Armenia managed to re-assert its independence while the powerful Byzantine and Persian Empires were preoccupied with internal issues. Ani was its magnificent capital, adorned with hundreds of churches. While Constantinople reabsorbed Armenia at the end of the 11th century, it was an invasion by the Mongols in the 13th century and a devastating earthquake in the 14th century that ultimately destroyed Ani. The 11th century Cathedral of Ani, now shorn of its dome, and the half-collapsed Church of the Redeemer stand as an evocative image of the vanished glory of Greater Armenia.
Return to Kars in the afternoon.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
In the morning, check out of the hotel and travel to Erzurum, crossing the historic Cobandede Bridge, constructed by the Mongols in the 13th century.
Arrive in Erzurum in the afternoon and enjoy a walking tour to acquaint yourself with the city, visiting the Ulu Mosque, the 13th century Cifte Minareli Medrese with its twin minarets and the 14th century Yuakutiye Medrese with a delicately-carved stone entranceway. Also see the 16th century Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, the first Ottoman mosque built in the city, and the Rustem Pasha Bedesten covered market, specialising in finely-crafted silver and jet jewellery.
Check in to the hotel, followed by dinner.
This morning, travel north of Kars to visit a pair of Georgian Orthodox monasteries. First, visit Oshki Monastery, constructed in the 10th century under the patronage of Prince Bagrat II and his son Prince David III of Tao-Klarjeti (the predecessor state of the Kingdom of Georgia). The major church of the monastery is the Church of St John the Baptist, which served as a centre for Georgian scholarship in the Middle Ages and remains a major Georgian Orthodox pilgrimage site even to this day, drawing thousands of worshipers each year.
Continue to Khakhuli Monastery, similarly founded by Prince David III in the 10th century as a centre of Georgian scholarship. The main church has been converted to a mosque, but it retains its domed roof and fine frescos.
Return to Erzurum in the late afternoon.
In the early morning, check out of the hotel and travel northwards towards Trabzon on the Black Sea. As the land becomes greener and the Anatolian hills give way to the forested ravines of the Pontic coast, pass the remains of the Mediaeval Bayburt Castle, destroyed by the Russians in the 19th century. After lunch at a local restaurant, visit the spectacularly-situated Sumela Monastery, a Greek Orthodox monastery clinging to the side of a mountain, founded in the 4th century AD by a pair of Athenian monks. The centrepiece is the ‘Rock Church’, carved directly into the mountain and adorned with colourful frescos inside and out.
Continue to Trabzon and check in to the hotel. After a stroll through the covered bazaar, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
In the morning, check out of the hotel and visit the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon, a leading example of late-Byzantine church architecture adorned with striking frescos, before transferring to Trabzon Airport for a flight to Istanbul (included in tour price).
Arrive in Istanbul in the afternoon and check in to the hotel.
This evening, enjoy a special farewell dinner with Iain and fellow travellers.
In the morning, check out of the hotel and transfer to Istanbul Airport (transfer included in tour price).
Arrive at Istanbul Airport in time for suggested Qatar Airways flights in the afternoon to Australia or New Zealand via Doha. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any additional nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
08 March 2019
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australian passport holders require a visa to visit Turkey, which must be applied for online prior to arrival (at a cost of approximately USD 60). Renaissance Tours will assist you with your visa application.
New Zealand passport holders do not require a visa to visit Turkey.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally-located 4-star hotels (or best available) with breakfast daily (B)
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure if using group transfers
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including wine with welcome and farewell dinners
- Lectures and talks throughout with your tour leader, Iain Shearer
- Economy Class flights from Istanbul to Gaziantep and from Trabzon to Istanbul
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Visa for Turkey
- Airport/hotel transfers if not using group transfers
- Airport porterage
- Items of a personal nature including telephone, laundry, taxis, minibar, room service etc.
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Istanbul – Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet *****
Gaziantep – Sirehan Hotel ****
Mt Nemrut – Nemrut Kervansaray Hotel ***+
Sanliurfa – Manici Hotel ***+
Mardin – Izala Boutique Hotel ***+
Midyat – Kasir-i Nehroz Otel ****
Van – Doubletree by Hilton Hotel ****
Kars – Katerina Sarayi Hotel ***+
Erzurum – Polat Erzurum Hotel ****
Trabzon – Zorlu Grand Hotel ****
Istanbul – Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet *****
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted