Turkey’s Sacred Lands & Ancient Civilizations {Part 1, Days 1-10}   6 comments

Turkey’s Sacred Lands & Ancient Civilizations

{Part 1, Days 1-10:  Istanbul, Van, Ani, Kars, Erzurum & Trabzon}

Mar. 28 – Apr. 16, 2014


Since we had never been to Eastern Turkey, Jim & I selected this trip, “Turkey’s Sacred Lands & Ancient Civilizations”  from Overseas Adventure Travel.  This was our 32nd trip with this company and as usual we were extremely pleased with the itinerary and the learning and discovery experiences.   We have previously been to Turkey but never to Eastern Turkey.  The only repeats on this journey were Istanbul, Uchisar, and Goreme.   We experienced unforgettable historic treasures, relics of ancient civilizations, Biblical history and interaction with the local people.   There were fifteen travelers in our group, and a fine group it was.  We enjoyed our travel friends.  Pictured below is our trip leader, Adnan.   (This map is copied from the Overseas Adventure web site.) 

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Save Money:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Overseas Adventure Travel or Grand Circle Travel trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer #000561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip. 

{Beginning of Part 1:  Turkey, from Istanbul to Trabzon, Days 1-10}


Istanbul, Turkey:  Our trip began with a short visit to Turkey’s largest city, which was first founded around 660 BC as Byzantium.  The city now known as Istanbul developed to become one of the most significant cities in history.  For nearly sixteen centuries following its re-establishment as Constantinople in 330 AD, it served as the capital of four empires:  the Roman Empire (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empire (1204-1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922).  Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the city bridges Asia and Europe both physically and culturally.  


  Egyptian Obelisk:  It was built around 1500 BC, and stood outside Luxor until Constantine had it brought to Constantinople (Istanbul) around 324 AD.   The obelisk is actually broken and this is only one third of its actual height.  It stands in what was once the Hippodrome.  The Hippodrome was a huge stadium that held up to 100,000 people.


Hagia Sophia:  A UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was a Christian church for almost 1,000 years, then it served as a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottomans, who added minarets and fountains.  In 1934 it was designated as a museum.  The marble jar from the 4-3 century BC, was brought from Pergamon in the 1500’s.  The jar was carved from a single block of marble. 


Basilica Cistern:  This vast underground water cistern is a beautiful piece of Byzantine engineering.  It was laid out in 532 AD, mainly to satisfy the growing demands of the Great Palace for water.  The cistern’s roof is heed up by 336 columns, each over 26 ft. high. 


We thought this to be the best baklava we had in TurkeyIt is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey. 


Van, Turkey:  We flew from Istanbul to Van, the one-time capital of the ancient Urartu Empire.  It is located on the eastern edge of Turkey not far from the Iranian border.  The town is set along the southeastern shores of Turkey’s largest lake,  Lake Van.  The town was celebrating an election on the day that we arrived.


Van Herbed Cheese:  It is made out of sheep or cow’s milk and it contains herbs.  It is put in the ground and covered to ripen.  It has been manufactured in this area for more than 200 years. 


Interesting meat shopping.


Next was an interesting lunch.  You just gathered stuff from various dishes and put into your fresh hot baked bread.


I went next door to get the bread.


The delicious breakfast buffet at our hotel in Van.


Lake Van:  A crystal-clear saline lake.  The lake is six times bigger than Utah’s Great Salt Lake.  On a cold, sunny morning we cruised the lake heading to a tiny island to view the Armenian Cathedral.  The snowcapped mountains were beautiful. 


Armenian Church of the Holy Cross:  Built 915-921 and situated on a small island in Lake Van.  The exterior of the medieval church boasts a remarkable series of bas-relief carvings and friezes showing biblical scenes.  The church is now classed as a secular museum in Turkey. 


Cavustepe, Turkey:  This hilltop fortress was used by the Urartian kings during the 8th Century BC.  It was built at the climax of power of the Urartian Empire.  Mehmet Kusman (pictured below), is one of the few people in the world who can speak, read and write Urartian.  Mr. Kusman gave us a tour of the site and also translated inscriptions.   


It had just rained and we slip-slided through mud that seemed it was going to suck us into the ground.  The second photo is the remains of a sacrificial altar. 


The remains of massive sunken storage jars (big round circles on the ground) used to store the harvest from the plains below.  We are looking at grain from the storage jars that is over 2,700 years old. 


Inscriptions that are 2,700 years old and appear as if they were carved yesterday.


The famous Van Cats:  The Van Kedisi, is an unusual breed of cat that has white fur, one green eye and one blue eye, and an affinity for swimming.  They are famous around Lake Van where they dive happily into the lake just for fun.  Their numbers are dwindling and export is strictly forbidden.  We visited the Van Cat sanctuary.


From Van to Kars:  We traveled north through Eastern Anatolia, near the borders of Iran & Armenia.  

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A nice stop along the way was at the Muradiye Waterfalls.   At the waterfalls stop I learned how to properly drink (chai) hot tea the Turkish way.  You hold the very hot, thin glass at the very top with your fingers out…to prevent burning more than your thumbs and index fingers. 


Mt. Ararat:  In the rugged terrain of this area we saw Mt. Ararat in the distance.  The legendary resting place of Noah’s Ark.  It’s Turkey’s highest mountain, rising 16,945 ft.


Some more out the window gazing.


Ishak Pasha Palace:  Perched on a small plateau along stark cliffs, is this fortress like Ottoman-period palace.  Construction was started about 1685 and completed in 1784.  It rises magnificently along the Silk Route close to the Iranian border.  The lavish arrangement of 366 rooms includes a harem with 14 bedrooms, and a small mosque.


Our dear friend Roxanne, back view & front view (looking out the window). 


Looking out the bus window.


April 2.  It’s his birthday, all day.  Happy Birthday to Jim!!


Ani, Turkey:  The ancient city is located on the border from Armenia.  Between 961 & 1045 it was the capital of the medieval Armenian Kingdom that covered much of present day Armenia & eastern Turkey.  Called the “City of 1001 Churches,” Ani stood on various trade routes and its buildings were some of the most technically & artistically advanced structures in the world.  At its height, Ani had a population of 100,000-200,000 people and was the rival of Constantinople, Baghdad and Damascus. 


Ani was sacked by the Turks in 1064, and razed by an earthquake in 1319.


The Citadel in the distant center of the picture below is the oldest part of Ani and housed most of its residents until 961.  The Menucehr Mosque is in the next photo. 


The view from the Menucehr Mosque shows the Silk Road of long ago.  In the first photo you can see the ruins of the ancient bridge.  In the second photo you can see how the Silk Road snaked its way up the hill into Ani.  Today this river is the border between Turkey & Armenia. 


This is what remains of the Silk Road as it makes its way up from the river and into Ani.  In the next photo, as you look past the ancient church on the hill (center of the picture) is Armenia. 


Ani Cathedral:  It’s still intact, although the dome on the top has collapsed.  The construction on the church was begun in 989.  It is 100 ft. by 65 ft. and really seemed big inside.  The dome had been supported on four piers of clustered columns, but the 1319 earthquake took it down. 


The Church of St. Gregory:  The church, finished in 1215, is the best-preserved monument at Ani. 


Up until 2004, due to its position in a sensitive border area, the Turkish government required a special permit and prohibited visitors from bringing cameras to this extraordinary ghost city.  Sure glad those restrictions have been lifted and we got to see this splendid ghost town.


Always time for chai, right?


We enjoyed a lovely lunch with a family that lived out in the country near Kars. 


The man of the house was a farmer and Jim enjoyed seeing his tractor.  The delicious bread was baked in this pit.


As we were ready to leave the hotel in Kars I discovered new friends.  The girls were so excited to talk to an American.  However, it appears that I may have been equally pleased.  Then came the sheep. 


Kars to Erzurum:  We drove through some pretty countryside on our way from Kars to Erzurum. 

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There’s obviously always time for tea….especially if you are a Turkish man.


Erzurum:  Set high on a plateau and surrounded by mountains, the town is a winter sports mecca complete with ski trails.  These are pictures of our hotel and area where we stayed the night.  Lovely buffet dinner that evening with live entertainment. 


Erzurum to Trabzon:  Next we journeyed by coach to Trabzon.

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Views out the bus window.


Lunch at the truck stop left much to be desired.  The kids were in a hurry to eat, they could have had mine.  We chose what we wanted out of these pots. 


A rather pretty ride.


Sumela Monastery:  The monastery sits high up on the cliffs of Mt. Mela, in a national park near Trabzon.  It was founded in 386 AD by two Greek monks after discovering a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary in a cave on the mountain.  The monastery has been rebuilt several times and restoration continues.


We first took a scenic ride in a van through the national park.


The Monastery is to the left of my head, perched on the side of the cliff.


We walked the winding forest path up to the monastery.


Inside the Monastery.


The Rock Church of Sumela Monastery.  It was a cave that was converted to a church. 


The inner and outer walls of the Rock Church and the walls of the adjacent chapel are decorated with frescoes.  The main subject of the frescoes are biblical scenes telling the story of Christ and the Virgin Mary. 


Leaving the Monastery. 


Trabzon:  It’s situated along Turkey’s Black Sea Coast.  After a scenic overlook of the city, we visited Aya Sofya Mosque.  It is a former Byzantine-era cathedral built in 1577.  The frescoes depicting scenes from the Old Testament are supposed to be among the finest in Turkey.   


Antiquities anywhere & everywhere.


Continued with Part 2 on next blog:  Turkey’s Sacred Lands & Ancient Civilizations, Part 2, Days 11-20



Posted May 8, 2014 by marilynfarmer in Travel

6 responses to “Turkey’s Sacred Lands & Ancient Civilizations {Part 1, Days 1-10}

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  1. Thanks, sipping a glass of wine and enjoying your photos. Great pictures.

    Karen Azzaro 850-532-9697 Sent from my iPad


  2. Holy Moley!!! You’ve done all my homework for me!!! It is such a delight seeing you and Turkey again!!!
    I have been in a trance since I’ve been home (I refuse to think it’s age!!!). I’ve yet to even go back through
    my photos in the camera, let alone print or write anything!!! Going on a trip with you and Jim was really
    one of the highlights of Turkey. I will give you a call! Love to you both…Roxanne

    • Oh Roxanne, Jim & I so loved being in Turkey with you. The “back” of the bus will never be the same, without you. You are such a delightful person. Love and best wishes to you always. It would be so much fun being on another trip with you. Glad you enjoyed my homework. Marilyn

  3. What a fantastic trip report and the photos are just fabulous.

    We’ve done a few OAT trips and have really enjoyed traveling with them thoroughly. My wife and I had planned on going to Turkey with OAT. Unfortunately, I developed some serious health issues which prevented me from going anywhere. In the meantime my wife has been able to travel to Russia last year with Grand Circle and has just recently got back from China for a second time. Hopefully I can travel again in the not too distant future as we have so many places we want to see together.

    My wife is thinking of going to Turkey with either OAT or Grand Circle this fall but is now worried about the unrest that is building up. Was safety ever a concern on your trip?

    If I never get to go, because of your detailed trip report, I almost feel like I’ve been there and done that. Kudos!

    • Hi Steve, I am thrilled that you enjoyed my travel blog on Turkey. I am sorry your health has kept you from traveling lately. The good Lord willing, maybe you can hit the road again soon. In answer to your safety concerns while in Turkey, my answer is that my husband and I felt safe throughout the trip. The trip does take you to northern areas of Turkey that border some countries of concern, but I feel confident that OAT is alert to safety concerns and stays abreast of our welfare. In regard to safety I wouldn’t be afraid to go on the same trip tomorrow. Thank you again Steve for your kind words, and I wish you well. Marilyn

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