Trip Highlights


11 Days / 9 Nights

*Itinerary can be customized according to days of trip and inclusions desired

*Itinerary order and inclusions are subject to change.

(Breakfast = B, Lunch = L, Dinner = D)

Depart from USA for flight to 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 Balukli 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 between Baloukli and Agia Sophia. In case of an invasion, someone from the Monastery was 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)

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 most 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. Then, 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.

Break for lunch on your own. Continue to  the famous Topkapi Palace, seat of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries. Located by the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, it commands a spectacular and unforgettable view. In these opulent surroundings, the sultans and their court lived and governed. The many exhibitions include the cooking utensils and pots used to prepare the meals for the Sultans and his family, the clothing they wore, their arms, their jewels, their accessories and much more.Visit the World Famous Imperial Chinese Porcelain sections. The relics of St John the Baptist as well as the Prophet Mohammad and his artifacts can also be viewed. 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)

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 world wide 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 taverna style restaurant. Return to Istanbul. (B, L)

Visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate this morning. Enjoy a private audience with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (subject to confirmation and his availability) and received 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)

Transfer to the airport for your flight for Kayseri Airport. Transfer to your hotel. Check in and enjoy your welcome dinner. Overnight in Cappadocia at the hotel. (B, D)

Cappadocia is often described as “moonscape.” It is a geological wonderland sculpted by erosion into a lunar landscape of natural arches, towering obelisks, bizarre castles and cones and gigantic stone mushrooms. It became an area of refuge for persecuted Christians as early as the second century and by the fourth, it had produced several important saints. St Basil taught in the Goreme Valley and served as Bishop of Kayseri. Into the rocky moonscape of Cappadocia, the Christians carved out caves and later, churches that were decorated with coned ceilings, graceful columns and impressive frescoes. Labyrinthine underground cities grew carved from the soft volcanic stone where Christians hid in the caves and underground cities to avoid persecution. Those who lived in the caves were called “Troglodytes” a word for “cave dwellers”.

Drive to Uchisar. Uchisar offers excellent examples of various types of volcanic formations found in Cappadocia. View them from the top of the “fort,” a natural rock formation. The “fort” consists of two enormous rock cones surrounded by a multitude of smaller ones resembling towers. In the cones, many rock-cut dwellings have living rooms, kitchens, storage areas, and stables carved at various levels. We will also visit the Hunter Valley and the Pigeon Valley, named for the thousands of pigeon houses carved into the rock. Communication took place via the pigeons!

Arrive at the Goreme Open Air Museum the fabulous and most famous sight in the region. Over 3,500 rock churches have been identified in the Cappadocia area. This moonscape volcanic valley is filled with richly painted monastic churches hollowed from the soft volcanic stone. It houses 30 of the finest rock churches in the area.  The churches date from approximately 9th-11th centuries. See the compact slopes of the valley sprinkled with small cave entrance ways where monks lived, to chapels and full scale churches decorated with murals depicting the life of Jesus and early Saints. Experience both the region’s geological landscape and its rich religious heritage!

Visit the Dark Church, one of the most impressive of the churches in a cave, lit only by one tiny window. The front of this Church is missing. It has many archways and pillars with designs carved into the stone as well as placed upon it. Attached to the church is a monastery. Chiseled out of the rock is a refractory table with seats around it. Until the 1950s, the Dark Church was used as a pigeon house. After scraping pigeon droppings off the walls, beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the New Testament were discovered –the best preserved in all of Cappadocia. They are an excellent example of 11th century Byzantine art.

Continue to Zelve Open Air Museum. The village of Zelve extends along the sheer cliffs of three valleys that converge on the Avanos plain. These natural rock formations create three “avenues” where erosion caused numerous avalanches over the centuries. What appear to be rectangular caves are actually the interior rooms of former dwellings and churches that have been exposed as the result of erosion and avalanches. The earliest inhabitants of Zelve made their homes in the natural cracks in the rocks, and carved out additional rooms as needed. Dwellings were originally created at the level of the streams, but as the water eroded the soil, subsequent dwellings were carved closer and closer to the ever-lowering stream bed. Thus, with the passage of time the cliffs assumed a honeycomb appearance. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B, D)

After breakfast this morning, visit one of the largest underground cities, Kaymakli. It is unclear who first began construction of this astonishing Swiss cheese like subterranean maze but some say it dates back to the 4th century B.C. It was apparently used as a sanctuary for an entire community during epochs when conquering hordes swept across Anatolia. They are complete with an ingenious system of air shafts, ventilating a vertical honeycomb of apartments, kitchens, wineries, chapels, stables and tombs. This labyrinth extends down four levels into the earth. Many of the underground cities are now equipped with electric lighting and directional signs, so you won’t get lost in the labyrinth!

Continue to the old Greek village of Sinassos, now Mustaphapasha. This was predominately a Greek village before 1923. It has 5 Greek churches, a very large number of splendid mansions and several mosques. The Greeks belonged to the wealthy upper business class and many from Istanbul, built homes and churches here. They became refugees in 1923 – in the so called exchange of populations with some going to Athens and some to the USA. The descendants of the refugees from Athens visit the village every May on St. Constantine and St. Helen Feast day, as guests of the Turkish villagers. The main church is by the square near the main mosque, while the other churches are outside the village. You will also visit the villages of Ürgüp and Avanos. In Ürgüp, the old dwellings are now principally used for storage and stabling but there are still some strikingly beautiful houses of Greek and Ottoman origin to be seen. In Avanos, an ancient city of Cappadocia, the Hellenistic tombs from the fourth to first centuries B.C. found there, indicate that the city had religious, political, and economic prominence. The Kizilirmak (“Red River”), the longest river in Turkey, divides Avanos in half. The red soil of the region provides local potters with the raw material to produce the pottery and bricks that Avanos is famous for. Avanos is also known for carpet weaving. Drive to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B, D)

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to Smyrni. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. Smyrni is the third largest city in Turkey. The original city was established in the third millennium BC and shared with Troy the most advanced culture in Western Anatolia. In the first millennium BC, Smyrni ranked as one of the most important cities of the Ionian Federation. It was one of the city’s most brilliant periods and it is believed that Homer resided here. The Lydian conquest of the city, around 600 BC, brought this period to an end. Smyrni remained little more than a village throughout the Lydian and subsequent sixth century BC of Persian rule. In the fourth century BC, a new city was built on the slopes of Mt Pagos (Kadifekale), during the reign of Alexander the Great. Izmir’s Roman period, beginning in the first century BC, was the second greatest era. Byzantine rule followed in the fourth century and lasted until the Seljuk conquest in the 11th century. In 1415, Izmir became part of the Ottoman Empire. Even under Ottoman rule, many Greeks lived in Smyrni and played an important role in Smyrni as a cultural and economic power house in Asia Minor…until the Catastrophe. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B, D)

Today, visit Ephesus, the most well preserved ancient Greco -Roman city in the world! Begin with the House of Virgin Mary where Catholics believed she spent the last years of her life. On August 18th, 1961 Pope John XXII proclaimed the House of the Virgin Mary to be sacred. Continue on to Ephesus and see how history truly comes to life! Walk through this ancient city, down a marble road rutted by the wheels of countless chariots, pass architectural masterpieces like the Magnesian Gate and the Library of Celsius before arriving at the Great Amphitheater where St. Paul was arrested and cast out of the city. Visit the Basilica of St. John the Theologian and where he is buried. Also see the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the World) from the Basilica. Return to Smyrni. Dinner at your hotel and overnight in Izmir. (B, D)

Day 10: SMYRNI
After breakfast, enjoy a half day tour of Smyrni. The city lies at the head of a gulf and there are large palm lined promendades which follow the shoreline. Here is a brief summary of the Greek history in Smyrni which remains “untold and hidden ” by Turkey. In 1919, after the completion of the World War I, Eleftherios Venizelos, the prime minister of Greece, was given authority by the Great Powers to occupy a portion of the coast of Asia Minor. The Ottoman Empire had been on the losing side of World War I and sections of its territory were being appropriated. The Greek forces first entered the city of Smyrni to thunderous cheers. Unfortunately, in 1922, at the hands of the resurgent Turkish army under Kemal Ataturk, the Greek forces suffered a crushing defeat resulting in the burning of Smyrni and the massacre of the Greek population there. Greeks tried to escape by jumping into the sea only to be met by British ships. As the Greeks attempted to save themselves by climbing onto the ships, the British cut their hands off resulting in their drowning. In Greece, this tragedy is known as The Catastrophe. After the destruction of Smyrni, came the Treaty of Lausanne mandating a population exchange between Greece and Turkey resulting in an influx of close to 2 million refugees to Greece. As such, between the Catastrophe and the population exchange, the Greek presence in Asia Minor was eliminated – a presence that had existed for over two millennia.

Drive to Kadifekale or Pagos Hill where you will have a beautiful view of the bay, port of Smyrni and the city. In addition, see the walls built by Alexander the Great. Drive by the coast-line, the old Greek area but now a fair area. This was also very close to the former cathedral church Agia Fotini. Drive by the luxurious section of Smyrni, Karsiyaka (Kordelio) as well.

This afternoon, drive to one of the resort areas outside of Smyrni for a lovely leisurely afternoon. Ceşme is due west of and a gateway for ferries to the Greek island of Chios. Çeşme means “fountain” or “spring” and is a popular sun-and-beach resort town.The main square has restaurants, cafes, tea houses, and nice sunset views of the Aegean Sea. Çeşme’s small fortress has been restored as the local museum. It looms over the square and provides a nice big dose of history and architectural character. Return to Smyrni for dinner at the hotel and overnight. (B, D)

After breakfast depart your hotel for your flight home.