Catholic Tour including Aegean Sea Cruise
See the sample itinerary below of a religious pilgrimage through Istanbul in Turkey, Athens in Greece, and a 3-day cruise along the Aegean Sea. This Catholic tour goes past Byzantine-era churches, the foundations of the Temple of Zeus, and other historical and important sites related to St. Paul.
Day 1: Departure from US
Today, embark on your Journey to the lands of ancient treasures and Christian history with an overnight flight to Turkey.
Day 2: Istanbul, arrival.
Upon arrival, your tour escort will be at the gate to greet you and take you to your air-conditioned motor coach. Transfer to your hotel in Istanbul,Turkey and enjoy a panoramic sightseeing tour along the way. Istanbul, formerly Byzantium and the center of the Eastern Roman Empire, is built on seven green hills and situated astride two continents. It is the largest city in Turkey is a thriving seaport and commerce center with a marvelous Bazaar and Spice Market allowing for a perfect opportunity to pick up souvenirs and unique gift items. This evening, a special welcome dinner will provide the perfect atmosphere to meet your fellow travelers and plan on the days ahead. (WD)
Day 3: Istanbul
The tour today will be an unusual combination of Greek Orthodox, Roman, Ottoman and modern day Islam including entrance into the famed Blue Mosque, the church of St. Savior in Chora, Topkapi Palace and St. Sophia Church. The Blue Mosque, whose name is actually Sultan Ahmet Mosque, is one of the most famous monuments or Turkish and Islamic art. This imperial mosque is an example of classical Turkish architecture, and it is the only mosque that was originally built with six minarets. The Church of St. Savior in Chora is one of the most beautiful Byzantine-era churches in Istanbul, boasting magnificent mosaics that recount stories in the life of the Virgin Mary, the infancy of Jesus and the ministry of Christ, among others. Topkapi Palace, which few words can adequately describe, is a vast sumptuous complex, built by Mehmet II in the 15th C, and it provides a vivid portal into the world of the Sultan. Finally, visit the renowned Hagia Sophia, one of the most impressive and important monuments from early Christianity. The size of its interior is staggering, and all who visit are spiritually lifted by it. In the evening, return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (BB, D)
Day 4: Sea of Marmara: Istanbul to Çanakkale
This morning depart Istanbul and travel west across “Trace,” the European portion of Turkey. The Sea of Marmara with thousands of summer homes will provide the appealing scenery as travel. Views of the bunkers on the hillside and the ocean-going vessels give clear understanding to the commentary of the British major losses and World War I defeat in the Dardanelles Strait. Your bus boards a large ferry for the scenic crossing of the Dardanelles to our lodging this evening in picturesque Çanakkale. (BB, D)
Day 5: Ancient Troy, Pergamum & Izmir
On the journey to Izmir today, pass by the area known as Troas, where Paul had a vision during his second missionary journey and was called to Macedonia (Acts 16:8-13). Paul later spent a week in Troas preaching here and it is where Eutychus was resurrected (Acts 20:6-12). Ancient Troy is well known for its 3rd and 4th Century BC excavations. Don’t forget to have your picture taken from the top of the Trojan Horse! Our next visit of the day is Pergamum, one of the best-preserved ancient cities in Turkey. Once a busy trading center and famous as a “seller of purple,” the most favored of the Seven Churches, the church of Pergamum was praised for its forbearance (Rev. 2:12-17). It was here that the first Christians were executed by Rome. We’ll visit the fabled Acropolis, a complex of ancient buildings, pass through the Royal Gates, view the foundations of the Temple of Zeus and visit the ruins of the library, which once held 200,000 volumes. Continue south to Izmir the third largest city in Turkey and a long-time center for Jews and Christians. In Paul’s day, Izmir was known as Smyrna and was another of the Seven Churches (Rev. 2:8-11). Here, see Polycarp’s Church, the oldest church in Izmir and representative of ancient Smyrna’s role as one of the Seven Churches of Revelation. St. Polycarp was converted by St. John the Apostle and became Bishop of Smyrna, then was martyred by the Romans in 155 AD. See also the ancient agora of Izmir, which was the central gathering place of the city in ancient Greek days. Our lodging this evening will be in Izmir. (BB, D)
Day 6: Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Pamukkale
Head to Pamukkale today, with a couple of interesting stops along the way. First view the ancient roadway and period columns in Thyatira. Then, stop in Sardis, which was berated by John for its facade of strength when in reality, it was weak (Rev. 3:1-6). Sardis was where coins were minted and the dyeing of wood originated. Visit the ruins of the huge bath-gymnasium complex and the synagogue, which is the largest ancient synagogue outside of Palestine. Philadelphia, the next visit, was referred to as the “New Jerusalem” (Rev. 3:7-13) in the Book of Revelation. Not much is left of the city except for the ancient wall and the remains of a Byzantine basilica in the modern city of Alasehir. Lodging this evening will be in a lovely spa hotel in Pamukkale. (BB, D)
Day 7: Hierapolis, Laodicea & Colossae
Hierapolis, meaning “Sacred City,” was an ancient center for pagan cults until it was transformed into a Christian center in the first century. According to tradition, the Apostle Philip lived and was martyred in Hierapolis. Laodicea contains many acres of ruins to visit including a stadium and remnants of a sophisticated water system. Nearby Colossae, is well-known throughout Christian circles as the receiver of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Today, the town has fallen into obscurity and nothing remains, so it will only be a drive-by site. Spend the remainder of the day traveling through the Turkish countryside arriving in the port city of Kusadasi where you will spend two nights. Complete the day with a visit to a local Turkish Rug cooperative. Dinner and overnight in Kusadasi. (BB, D)
Day 8: Ephesus
Travel to the nearby town of Selcuk for a visit to the Basilica of St. John, housing an immersion baptismal and believed to be resting place of John. From here enjoy have an excellent overview of the Ephesus harbor and the Temple of Artemis, completed in its most famous phase around 550 BC and listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Next, travel a short distance down the hill to visit the Mosque of Jesus (Jesus is a respected prophet to Muslims). A wealth of artifacts awaits us at the nearby Museum of Ephesus. Spend the remainder of our day in Ephesus, the city of the Bible and one of the largest restorations still in progress with miles of ancient treasures.Ephesus was once a thriving port town of 250,000 people. Today you can still see the spectacular excavations of the major streets in this ancient city: The Library, Agora,Temple of Artemis, theatre, colorful mosaics, a panoramic view of the surrounding ancient port area including a wealth of church history and cultural insight. Return to Kusadasi for dinner and overnight. (BB, D)
Day 9: Cruise, Day 1 – Isle of Patmos
After a leisurely morning in Kusadasi, left free for you to explore or shop for souvernirs, climb aboard the motor coach for a transfer to the coast. This afternoon embark our cruise ship and sail for a visit to the beautiful Isle of Patmos, under statutory protection as a historic monument. An optional tour is available to see the fortified monastery of St. John and the cave where John received the Revelation. The monastery, fortified due to the threats of piracy and Seljuk Turks, is a complex of architectural structures with a lovely Chapel of the Theotokos, whose frescoes date back to the 12th C. The treasury has an impressive array of religious art and treasure. Back on the ship, enjoy the Captain’s dinner before settling in to the cabin for the night.
Day 10: Cruise, Day 2 – Crete and Santorini
Crete is the largest and the most rugged of the Greek islands. Take an optional tour to Heraklion and the fantastic ruins of the Palace of Knossos. Discovered in 1899 and partially reconstructed, the elaborate Palace is believed to be the mythical Labyrinth of King Minos and the seat of ancient Minoan culture. This afternoon visit the island of Santorini which is perhaps the most breathtaking of all the Greek Islands. The town of Thira where white-washed houses, narrow streets, open-air cafes and glittering boutiques cling to steep cliffs, is accessible by foot path, cable-car or mule. You may choose to take an optional tour of sailing around an active volcano crater and swimming in the water heated by hot springs or enjoy this lovely island on foot. Again, return to the ship for dinner and evening entertainment.
Day 11: Disembark Cruise – Athens
Disembark the cruise this morning and travel into Athens, the foundation of democracy. Visit the Acropolis, an ancient Greek citadel which encompasses, among others, the Parthenon, or Temple of Athena, and one of the best-known symbols of Greece, with its Classical architecture; and Erechtheium, another Classical temple with its famous Caryatids, carved female figures which gracefully support the porch. Finally, view Athens atop Areopagus Hill where Paul stood and preached the truth to the Gentile nation and gained his first convert, Dionysius the Areopagite, who subsequently became the patron saint of Athens. Additional sites include the Agora, ancient market place and center of Athenian public life, the House of Parliament, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Olympic Stadium, and Presidential Palace. A short walk from your hotel is the famous Plaka with a multitude of shops and cafes. Lodging is in Athens for the next two evenings. (BB, D)
Day 12: Corinth & Mycenae
Departing Athens, stop for a rest stop and photos at the Corinth Canal, a uniquely deep and narrow waterway, and then travel to the ancient city of Corinth, another treat for the New Testament scholar. Corinth is the city that inspired many of Paul’s most familiar letters. See the Archaeological Museum, the Market Place, the Bema, or platform, where Saint Paul delivered his sermons, and the Temples. Standing in the midst of the ruins of the church of Corinth and walking the stone paths which St. Paul trod will enhance your understanding and love of Corinthians I and II. The engineering skill and intellect of the Corinthians are evident in the water systems that still flow from ancient to modern day. Our guide will also be sure to show you the room dedicated to the medical care of that period. After the visit to ancient Corinth, travel to Mycenae, where the remains of the ancient city date back to the Bronze Age, to see the famous Lionesse Gate, the Tomb of Agamennon in the shape of a Beehive, and many other sites before returning to Athens. (BB, D)
Day 13: Meteora Monastery
From Athens, our tour travels northward past Thermopylae where a heroic army of 300 Spartans held back the 1000,00-strong army of Xerxes from invading the city. Continue through the mountains to Meteora, to see the world-famous Byzantine Monasteries that are perched precariously on summits of gray rock pinnacles. Their history goes back to the 14th century when the monks sought refuge in the cliff-side caves then fled higher to build the original wooden shelters, later transformed into monasteries. Our lodging this evening will be in Meteora. (BB, D)
Day 14: Vergina, Berea, Thessalonica
Traveling northward into Macedonia, visit King Phillip’s (Alexander’s father) tomb in Vergina, one of the most outstanding finds in all of Greece. A stop will also be made in Berea to view the ancient synagogue where St. Paul spoke from the Bema, surrounded now by mosaics honoring him. The New Testament books of I & II Thessalonians will come alive today upon arrival in the delightful harbor city of Thessalonica. En route to the hotel, view the old city ramparts; the newly excavated Forum, St. George Church, an ancient Roman monument which was transformed into a church, and the Galerius Arch which rises over the famous Via Egnatia.
Day 15: Thessalonica expedition: Philippi and Kavala
Begin the day by following the massive battlement Byzantine wall to the citadel for a panoramic view of the city. Next, visit Kavala and Philippi. Kavala is Greece’s prettiest mainland port with a most elegant harbor. Paul landed here with his disciples, Timothy and Silas. Luke, the Evangelist, also came here from Troas. This ancient city of Neapolis was later renamed Christoupolis because it was the first European city to accept Christianity. Imagine walking on the same sod as these men of the Bible! Admire the Roman Aqueduct and the ruins of the Acropolis in this beautifully located city, known since the 5th century as Kavala. Continue on to Philippi where Paul preached his first evangelical sermon. View the baptismal site where Lydia surrendered her life to Christ and visit a crypt dating from the Roman period that is thought to have served as a prison for Paul. See the famous Acropolis, the Market Place, Basilica, and the Theater. Return to Thessalonica and visit St. Demetrius Basilica, dedicated to a distinguished member of the Roman army and a martyred Christian convert. Return to the hotel for the final night of the trip, where a special farewell dinner will provide a pleasant opportunity to toast your wonderful experience. (BB, FD)
Day 16: Homeward Bound
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight back to the USA.
(BB) Buffet Breakfast * (D) Dinner * (WD) Welcome dinner *(FD) Farewell dinner
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