Ancient Mesopotamia to the Commagene Kingdom

A extraordinary journey to the southeast reaches of Turkey where we trace the ancient strongholds of Mesopotamia and the Commagene Kingdom with UNESCO site aplenty, stunning landscapes, charming villages and a Turkey that keeps spilling surprises from start to end.

HIGHLIGHTS

Uncover southeast Turkey on the road less travelled

Stay in boutique and charming hotels 

Discover the ancient sites of ancient Mesopotamia & Commagene

ITINERARY

DAY 1: ARRIVE ISTANBUL

Arrive Istanbul Ataturk Intl Airport where you will be met and transfer into the heart of Istanbul, historically-known as Byzantium and Constantinople. On a guided tour, we visit the iconic Sultanahmet Blue Mosque with its cascading domes and six slender minarets dominating the skyline of old Istanbul. Thereafter, a short walk allows us to visit the Hagia Sophia, built in the 6th Century with a huge dome. It was the biggest
cathedral for decades where you can see the best “Deisis” from the 12th century. Next to it is the Basilica
Cistern
, a true marvel of Byzantine engineering under the streets of Istanbul, built in 532AD by Emperor
Justinian I. Be thrilled by the amazing pillars and at the far end of the cistern, an intriguing motif of Medusa at
the base of the pillars. Later, we enjoy a 2 hour private yacht cruise on the Bosphorus River with lunch on board as you sail through the strait separating Europe and Asia. Thereafter, we disembark where we visit the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest covered markets in the world with over 3,000 shops. Enjoy a stroll through the atmospheric vibe of the market and enjoy some time for shopping and leisure.

Overnight: Vault Karakoy The House Hotel, Istanbul

Meals: Lunch 

DAY 2: ISTANBUL / IGDIR / DOGUBEYAZIT / LAKE VAN

Spend a leisure morning and later, transfer to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport for a short domestic flight to the eastern frontiers of Turkey to Igdir where on arrival, a pleasant drive with the impressive backdrop of Mount Ararat bordering Armenia arrives us at the abandoned Ishak Pasha Palace, built by Abdi Pasha in 1685, and is completed by his descendant Mehmet Pasha in 1784. Marvel at the architectural combination of 3 cultures - Ottoman, Persian and Seljuk. The most amazing part of the palace is that the first central heating system that has been constructed ingeniously. The Palace has been decorated with white and black stones which are brought from the mountains with the great effort of the public. It consists of 366 rooms, two courtyards, mosque, tombs and harem. Thereafter, continue south as we make a stop at the Muradiye Waterfalls witnessing the beauty of the landscape before arriving into Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey with its striking blue color where we arrive and check in at the Doubletree by Hilton Van Hotel

Overnight: Doubletree by Hilton, Lake Van

Meals: Breakfast

DAY 3: LAKE VAN

We dedicate a full day exploring the sights of Lake Van and the surroundings beginning with a visit to the  mountain-top ruins of Çavustepe (a Urartian fortress) and then onto Hosap Castle, built on a rocky outcrop on the north bank of the Hosap River. The structure that we see today dates mostly from 1643, when a Mahmudi tribal lord, and Hosap's governor Sari Suleyman Bey, rebuilt the castle on what was probably an earlier fortification from the Urartian Period (9th Century.- 6th Century BC). On our way back to Van we will have the opportunity to see local artisans creating traditional rugs and learn about Turkish, Armenian, Kurdish, and Azeri rugs and kilims. At Van, we will travel by ferryboat across Lake Van, stopping on Akdamar Island to see the spectacular 10th Century Church of the Holy Cross built by an Armenian King Gagik I Artsruni and a chance to witness spellbinding cherry blossoms in season (Spring), enjoy a lunch with splendid views. Returning back to town, we make a stop at the Van Fortress and enjoy spectacular panorama of Lake Van. 

Overnight: Doubletree by Hilton, Lake Van

Meals: Breakfast 

DAY 4: LAKE VAN / TATVAN / HASANKEYF / MARDIN

A long day of driving today as our journey continues today skirting Lake Van as we arrive at town of Tatvan, on the banks of the western shores of Lake Van where we stop for lunch and thereafter, journey south pass the Bitlis Gorge via the city of Batman (not to be confused with the cape crusader) to the endangered town of Hasankeyf where soon upon the completion of the Ilisu Dam, a hugely-debated project will submerge the sublimely-beautiful town with over 12000 years of recorded history. We enjoy a tour of the town admiring sites such as the remnants of the 12th Century Eski Kopru old bridge - part of the ancient Silk Road trading route, the relocated cylindrical Tomb of Zeynel Bey, the medieval Rizk Camii mosque and the ruins of the Suleymaniye Camii and Koc Camii mosques. Worth checking out as well are some of the over 4000 cave dwellings in the area and surroundings on either side of the Tigris River where after an insightful tour, you will understand the heartache and sentiments of locals about the dam project that will in years to come, leave Hasankeyf underwater. Later, our journey continues to the ancient city of Mardin - dating back to the 4000BC where we will arrive and check in into the astonishing Mardius Tarihi Konak Hotel where we spend the next 2 nights. 

Overnight: Mardius Tarihi Konak Hotel, Mardin

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 5: MARDIN

Today, we have a full day to explore ancient Mardin and its surroundings where we visit sites such as the monumental Deyrulzafaran Monastery - dubbed the "Saffron Monastery" due to its yellowish hue of the stones used in its construction. The complex contains a number of individual historical highlights which include an underground vault, which was apparently used by sun-worshippers but is now venerated as the burial sight of many Syrian Orthodox bishops. The domed main church, which dates to the 6th Century and is entered via wooden doors inscribed with portions of the Psalms in Syriac, is another highlight. Other buildings include the Church of the Mother of God, which contains Byzantine-era mosaics, and the ruins of mountain churches scattered in the area beyond the monastery itself. Next, visit the Kasimiye and Zincirli Medreses, former Islamic schools that were closed down to secularize education. Admire the beautiful facades and interiors culminating in some of the most astonishing views of Mardin. We will also explore the bazaar and city streets of Mardin with its unique shops and rich cultural heritage. Later, a short drive out of Mardin takes us to the ancient ruins and archaeological fortress of Dara - a former East Roman outpost as well as part of ancient Mesopotamia. Because of its strategic importance, Dara was at the center of the Roman-Persian conflicts in the 6th Century and after numerous invasions, was left in ruins. Prior to the battles, we will enjoy a walk through of what remains of the fortress, its Roman cisterns, tombs, towers and city walls. 

Overnight: Mardius Tarihi Konak Hotel, Mardin

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 6: MARDIN / HARRAN / SANLIURFA

Leave Mardin today heading east where we visit the legendary village of Harran. Located on the west bank of the Balikh River, the ancient city of Harran is a major crossroad for primary trade routes from ancient Mesopotamia to the west. The most distinctive aspect of Harran is its mud beehive houses, and you can visit models of these at the Harran Cultural Centre. Harran also has a “kale” (fortress) dating from the 11th Century, an impressive city wall and ancient remains of abandoned caravanserais and mosques. Thereafter, a short drive takes us to the ancient archaeological site of Gobekli Tepe – Predating Stonehenge by more than 6,000 years and is now celebrated as the world’s first and oldest temple. Archaeologically categorized as a site of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period (9600 – 7300BC), the world’s oldest temple sits in the same time-frame when Plato’s Atlantis civilization is said to have disappeared. Finally, we will arrive and check in at the charming Elci Konagi Boutique Hotel

Overnight: Elci Konagi Boutique Hotel, Sanliurfa

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 7: SANLIURFA / NEMRUT DAGI

Begin the day with a visit to the beautiful and sacred Baliki Gol "Pool of Abraham", believed to be the place where Abraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrod. The pool is a special place for practicing Muslims because of the importance of Ibrahim (Abraham in Islam). He was the same prophet who was prepared to sacrifice his son for Allah. The story says that when Ibrahim landed in the fire, Allah turned the flames to water and the burning logs into fish, hence the translation of the Turkish name into “lake of fish”. A visit later to the cave where the prophet Abraham was born ensues followed by a walk through of the fascinating covered Sanliurfa bazaar. Thereafter, we begin the second half of the day driving northwards to one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in all of Turkey - the enigmatic colossal head statues of the ancient Kingdom of Commagene, on the summit of Nemrut Dagi. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nemrut Dagi is one of the finest ancient treasures of Turkey, built by the late Hellenistic King Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 BC) as a monument to himself The Hierotheseion of Antiochos I is one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period. Its complex design and colossal scale combined to create a project unequalled in the ancient world. A highly developed technology was used to build the colossal statues and orthostats (stelae), the equal of which has not been found anywhere else for this period. The syncretism of its pantheon and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced back through two sets of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of this kingdom's culture. We enjoy an insightful tour of the complex and thereafter, a short drive away arrives us at the Nemrut Kervansaray Hotel where we will check in. 

Overnight: Nemrut Kervansaray Hotel, Nemrut Dagi

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 8: NEMRUT DAGI/ ADIYAMAN / DEPARTURE ISTANBUL

We get to spend another more time with a spectacular sun rise visit of Nemrut Dagi, offering different photographic hues and thereafter, an hour's drive takes us to Adiyaman Airport for a short flight return to Istanbul where you may continue your journey in Turkey or homeward bound. 

Meals: Breakfast

HOTELS

The House Hotel Karaköy is located in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Karaköy on Bankalar Caddesi, a convenient launching pad to explore bohemian Pera, historic Sultanahmet and the Galata Port. Restored by the Agha Khan award-winning Turkish architect Han Tümertekin, the building structure retains original features, while the luxurious modern interiors were designed by Sinan Kafadar who was inspired by its imposing bank vaults, which also gave rise to the hotel’s name.

Vault Karakoy The House Hotel, Istanbul

The modern and luxurious Doubletree by Hilton Van provides a comfortable and luxurious base for travelers to explore the beautiful Lake Van, Turkey's largest lake with modern amenities, well-appointed rooms, air condition and fitness center. 

Doubletree by Hilton, Lake Van

Mardius Tarihi Konak is a restored historical villa dating back to the 16th Century completed in 2014 offering a distinctive luxury experience for discerning guests preserving the old traditions while offering modern comforts and furnishings.

Madius Tarihi Konak, Mardin

The Elci Konagi Hotel is a historical restored accommodation that has been carefully and lovingly restored providing intrepid and discerning travelers a charming and comfortable stay in well-appointed rooms that are wonderfully-furnished blending old world charm with modern luxury. 

Elci Konagi Boutique Hotel, Sanliurfa

Nemrut Kervansaray Hotel, Nemrut Dagi

The Nemrut Kervansaray Hotel is a simple guest house lodging offering the closest proximity and location to the colossal statues of Nemrut Dagi. Rooms are simple and basic but comfortable and is the best hotel for exploration of the UNESCO-listed Nemrut Dagi. 

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