Optional additional day trip to Halki
*Itinerary can be customized according to number of days and inclusions desired.
*Itinerary order and inclusions are subject to change.
(Breakfast = B, Lunch = L, Dinner = D)
Day 1: CONSTANTINOPLE
Arrive in Constantinople. Welcome to Constantinople, the glittering jewel of Asia Minor and the gateway between two continents! It sits astride on the most historic water channel in the world, the Dardanelles. Constantinople has been host to three empires: The Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. Invaded, besieged and conquered by countless armies, Constantinople today, remains a city of sparkling domes and minarets and beautiful palaces. Your pilgrimage will bring you directly to the heart of Orthodoxy and the 17th century Ecumenical Patriarchate. Bear witness to its solemn existence, spiritual strength and religious devotion.
Meet your guide after Immigration and Customs. Transfer to the hotel. En route, visit the Baloukli Monastery, located outside the land walls to the west of the city. In 1833, with the Sultan’s permission, the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantius I renovated the Church. In addition to the Church, the compound consists of the Patriarchal graves of past Patriarchs such as Athenagoras, the former Archbishop of America, and Dimitrios. Descend to the underground Sacred Spring of Zoodochos Peghe, the Holy Spring with the fish, for Holy Water. Drink from its spiritually and physically therapeutic waters – throughout the centuries, countless miracles of restored health has been recorded. There is a hidden tunnel beween Baloukli and Agia Sophia. In case of an invasion, someone from the Monastery as able to make their way to Agia Sophia to warn of the invasion. This is one of the most famous ancient shrines of the city. Check in to your hotel. Welcome dinner and overnight at hotel. (B, D)
Day 2: CONSTANTINOPLE
This morning begin your day of historic Constantinople. Visit Agia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and often called the eighth wonder of the ancient world. It is one of the world’s greatest architectural and spiritual masterpieces and was the Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for more than one thousand years. Built by Emperor Justinian from 532 – 537 A.D, Agia Sophia was originally the largest church in the Christian world. Its immense dome rises 182 feet above the ground and its diameter spans 103 feet. You will be amazed at the size of its interior, magnificent dome and stunning mosaics mostly located in the upper part of the church. Until today, no one knows how this glorious dome was constructed. Many beautiful mosaics remain hidden from our site, covered with plaster; although it is well known and accepted that they exist. During the Ottoman period, Agia Sophia was turned into a mosque. Today, we still see these conversions in the church. Presently, Agia Sophia is considered a museum. Continue to the Underground Cistern, a magnificent old water reservoir built by Justinian in 532 A.D. and the Hippodrome, where chariot races were held. Time permitting, a visit to the Blue Mosque. None of the exterior is blue – the name “Blue Mosque” comes from the blue tiles inside. Inside, the high ceiling is lined with the 20,000 blue tiles that give the mosque its popular name. Fine examples of 16th-century Iznik design, the oldest tiles feature flowers, trees and abstract patterns and can be seen in the galleries and on the north wall above the main entrance.
Continue to Topkapi Palace. The great palace of the Sultans is the most extensive and fascinating monument of the Ottoman civil architecture in existence. It is located by the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. It commands a spectacular and breathtaking view of the area. The palace contains a museum which housed superb collections of porcelains, armor, fabrics, jewels and objects of art belonging to the Sultans. The palace was not just the private residence of the Sultan and his court; it was also the seat of the supreme executive and judicial council of the Empire. In the opulent surroundings of Topkapi Palace, the sultans and their court lived and governed. Visit the Imperial Treasury and the Chinese porcelain. See the armor, weapons, jewels and many other artifacts of the sultans and their court. The relics of St. John the Baptist are also housed in the Palace along with relics of Mohammed, the religious leader of the Muslims.
Near the entrance of the Palace, is Agia Irini. The Church was never converted into a mosque however; it did serve for years as an arsenal. In 1847, it became a Museum of Antiquities and in 1874 a Military Museum. In 1946, excavations were begun to reveal scant remains of mosaics and a wall painting of two Saints with damaged faces. The only item left in the church to remind someone that it is a church is a single cross. In prior years, entrance was not permitted. Recently, its status was changed to a museum.
Continue to the Grand Bazaar for a shopping spree! The Bazaar is a maze of over 4,000 tiny shops selling gold, jewelry, leather goods and carpets. Overnight at the hotel. (B)
Day 3: CONSTANTINOPLE
Visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate this morning. Enjoy a private audience with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (subject to confirmation and his availability) and receive His Blessing. During the Byzantine era, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was a larger compound comprised of many more buildings and was adjacent to Agia Sophia. After the fall of Constantinople, it was forced to confine itself to the minimal space necessary to continue its existence. In 1941, the Patriarchate was burned down in a devastating fire and had to be rebuilt. On December 17, 1989 ecclesiastical and political dignitaries from all over the world gathered there to witness the consecration and dedication of the new Patriarchal buildings. The old architectural specifications were retained in the reconstruction.
The Patriarchal Compound is comprised of the Cathedral of St. George, the Residence and Offices of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Patriarchal Throne Room, The Holy Synod Chamber, the Patriarchal Library and administrative offices. From April 1821, the main entrance of the Patriarchate has remained sealed in memory of Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V. There, he was hung for his role in the Greek Revolution. In the Cathedral of St. George, you will see the throne of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the column of Christ’s flogging, the relics of the three female Saints – Euphemia, Solomone and Theophano and the famous icon of the Theotokos from the Byzantine Church of Pammakaristos. In addition, we will also see the Holy Relics of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom restored back to Constantinople at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George after being forcibly removed by the 4th Crusaders in 1204. On November 27, 2004, at the Vatican, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew received from His Holiness Pope John Paul II the Holy Relics that were at St. Peter’s Basilica for 800 years. Venerate the actual relics of these two most profound saints in all of Christendom, St. Gregory the Theologian who presided over the 2nd Ecumenical Council that completed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and St. John Chrysostom, the most articulate and prolific orator the Christian Faith has ever had; both Archbishops of Constantinople are direct predecessors of our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Onto Panagia Blacherna Church, the most famous shrine of the Virgin Mary in Constantinople. Take Agiasmo from the Holy natural spring. The faithful once venerated the sacred robe and mantel of the Virgin Mary here. An important historical event occurred in this Church in 626 A.D. The Avars invaded Constantinople while Emperor Heraclius was fighting the Persians in Asia Minor. The son of the Emperor, the Ecumenical Patriarch Sergius, carried the icon of the Virgin Blachernitissa in battle. Everyone gathered in the Church, with the icon, in an all-night vigil singing the Akathist Hymn in praise of the Virgin Mary. Constantinople was saved and this was attributed directly to the intervention of the Virgin Mary. Many Emperors attended services at the Church as well as carried an icon of the Panagia of Blachernae on their campaigns. The beautiful hymn, “Te Ypermacho”, sometimes called the national hymn of Greek Orthodoxy, will be sung by all the pilgrims in the exact place it was chanted over 1,400 years ago.
Lastly, visit the Church of the Holy Savior of Chora. This is the second most important Byzantine Church in Istanbul as it is known for its magnificent mosaics and frescoes. They are the most important and extensive series of Byzantine works in the city representing scenes drawn from the life of the Virgin Mary and of Christ. Farewell dinner and overnight in Constantinople. (B, D)
Day 4: CONSTANTINOPLE / ONWARDS
Transfer to the airport for your flight.
OPTIONAL DAY IN CONSTANTINOPLE TO INCLUDE A VISIT HALKI
Morning transfer to the pier for a private ferry ride to the island of Halki, home of the renowned Halki Patriarchal School of Theology. St Photios the Great is believed to have founded the monastery in the late 19th century. In 1844, Patriarch Germanos IV established the Theological School for the purpose of pleasing God with a dwelling for teachers, theologians and theology students. The monastery houses a very impressive and important library. A horse and buggy will take you to the top of the hill where the Theological School is situated. A magnificent view awaits you. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and our beloved and late Archbishop Iakovos are among the visionary graduates of the School. The School remains closed although there are worldwide efforts to re-open this center of Orthodox learning. Tour the school and pray at the Holy Trinity Monastery. Enjoy lunch by a sea side tavern-style restaurant. Return to Istanbul. (B, L)