The following itinerary describes a range of museums and sites which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but others require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. In addition, a number sites indicated in the itinerary with an asterisk* are currently under renovation, however they are expected to be reopened by 2021. Participants should note that the daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in museum opening hours, flight schedules etc. Meals included in the tour price are indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Day 1: Sunday 26 September, Arrive Istanbul
- Airport Transfer for participants arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
- Optional afternoon orientation walk
- Evening orientation talk & pre-dinner drinks, Welcome Dinner
Our tour commences in Istanbul. Participants taking ASA’s ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive in Istanbul in the afternoon and will join a private transfer to the recently-restored Hagia Sophia Mansions hotel. Participants who have made alternative flight arrangements should meet the group at the hotel.
For those who have arrived earlier in the day there will be an orientation walk to the Hippodrome, the site of the old Byzantine Palace and the 16th-century ‘palace’ of Ibrahim Pasha, a walk around Aya Sofya and along picturesque Sogukçesme Street (‘The Street of the Cold Fountain’) with its restored wooden houses, past the main gate of the Topkapi Palace and back to the hotel. There will be a short introductory talk for all participants before drinks and dinner. (Overnight Hagia Sophia Mansions, Istanbul) D
Day 2: Monday 27 September, Istanbul: The Byzantine City (on foot)
- Hippodrome & Divan Yolu
- Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya), the ‘Church of Holy Wisdom’
- Emperor Justinian’s Basilica Cistern (Yerebetan Sarnic)*
- Arasta Bazaar
- Great Palace of Constantinople Mosaic Museum
- Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (Küçük Aya Sofya)
- Reception and private viewing at a leading gallery for textile arts, costume and jewellery
The city of Istanbul, currently one of the largest urban centres in the world, has evolved over centuries in the historic political and religious centre of the eastern Mediterranean. Inaugurated by the Emperor Constantine in 330 AD on the site of ancient Byzantium, the city of Constantinople was the capital of the eastern Roman Empire and later the holiest city in eastern Christendom. We will position ourselves on the Hippodrome, the most significant remnant of Constantine’s early development of the city and from there appreciate the significance of Divan Yolu, once the main ceremonial route of the Byzantine city and now a major thoroughfare and tram route.
Constantinople was all but destitute in 1453 when the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II, ‘Mehmet the Conqueror’ (r. 1451-1481), stormed its ancient defence walls, wrested control from the final Byzantine emperor, and began the process of transforming the stricken city into the third and last Ottoman capital, Istanbul. Mehmet II is said to have gone straight to Aya Sofya (Haghia Sophia, the ‘Church of Holy Wisdom’, 531-37 AD) and touched his forehead to the ground in reverence at the sight of the great domed cathedral. Almost immediately he ordered Justinian’s great cathedral to be transformed into a mosque for the symbolic and ceremonial Friday prayer service attended by the Ottoman sultans. Today the monumental building is preserved as a museum.
After lunch in a local restaurant, we explore more public and palatial buildings of the Byzantine era, including the impressive water storage capacity of the Yerebatan Cistern, an early church now functioning as a mosque, and the mosaic remains of the Great Palace. These are accessed by walking through the gently-paced Arasta Bazaar area, once used as workshops for various guilds attached to the so-called ‘Blue’ Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I (r. 1603-17) and now a popular shopping precinct for better quality jewellery, souvenirs and carpets.
In the late afternoon, a prestigious gallery will host us to a private reception and viewing of their collections. (Overnight Hagia Sophia Mansions, Istanbul) BL
Day 3: Tuesday 28 September, Istanbul: The Byzantine City (by coach)
- Byzantine City Walls
- Palace of the Porphyrogenitus (Tekfür Saray)
- Church of St Saviour in Chora (Kariye Cami)
- Lunch at Asitane Restaurant
- Coach tour of the Golden Horn
This morning we drive to view the remains of the Byzantine city walls built in the 5th century by Emperor Theodosius II. The defensive stone structure originally stretched for almost 7 kilometres and what remains is now listed as a UNESCO heritage site. Nearby, the Tekfür Saray is the last of the Byzantine imperial palaces still standing. The ruined complex was built in the 13th century and served a variety of purposes after the Ottoman conquest. The Emperor Alexius I Comnenus made the edifice there his main residence, with its vast substructures built up against the inside of the land walls at their highest point above the level of the land outside.
Afterwards, we visit the beautiful Church of Saint Saviour in Chora, or Kariye Cami as it is known to the Turks. Situated inside the Theodosian Walls on the Sixth Hill of the city, the first church and monastery on the site were out in what was then the countryside. The words ‘in Chora’ refer to its original siting in the country. The present church dates from the 11th century and was founded by Maria Doucina, the sister-in-law of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, from 1077-81. It was remodelled in the 12th century and again in the early 14th century, continuing in use as a church until 1510 when it was converted into a mosque by Atik Ali Pasha, the Grand Vizier of Beyazid II. The church’s mosaics and frescoes, considered some of the best in the world, were covered over but not destroyed during the conversion. In 1948 restoration commenced under the sponsorship of the Dumbarton Oaks Centre for Byzantine Studies in Washington, DC. The restoration is now complete and the building is open to the public as a museum.
After lunch at the renowned restaurant, Asitane, we drive along the Golden Horn, past the Eyüp Mosque, one of the city’s most sacred sites and the place where Ottoman sultans were girded with the sword of Osman on their accession to the throne. We stop at the Greek Patriarchate & walk in the atmospheric Fener/Balat district, an old Jewish neighbourhood, where nowadays traditional tradesmen and street vendors work alongside hip cafes and design studios in historical wooden houses. (Overnight Hagia Sophia Mansions, Istanbul) BL
Day 4: Wednesday 29 September, Istanbul: The Ottoman City (on foot)
- Topkapi Palace Museum and Harem
- Carpet Museum
- Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
- The Mosque of Ahmet I (‘Blue Mosque’) & precinct
- Dinner at Balikçi Sabahattin Restaurant
This morning we visit the Topkapi Palace Museum. Mehmet II built his first palace in Istanbul in 1454 along the Byzantine ceremonial route to and from the Hippodrome and Aya Sofya. The first palace’s mostly wooden structure was destroyed by fire in 1714, but it had long been relegated to lower status as a royal building because the Conqueror had begun the Topkapi Palace in 1459. He chose the spectacular site of the old acropolis of Byzantium on a point seemingly surrounded by the waters of the Bosphorus Strait. The location was redolent with symbolism and Mehmet set about building an imperial complex of airy pavilions in garden settings with a series of large open spaces or courtyards that defined the outer, inner and protected (harem) zones of palace life. The various zones allowed for grand ceremony but also the increased seclusion that Mehmet II sought as ruler of an expanding empire.
After lunch at leisure in the palace grounds we visit the Carpet Museum housed in the old soup kitchens of the Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya) complex. Three atmospheric galleries display a tightly curated range of spectacular and rare carpets ranging from the pre-Ottoman Seljuk era to magnificent examples of those once used in the imperial palaces and mosques.
A short walk away is the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, a magnificent collection of fine calligraphy, tiles, woodwork, and selections from one of the world’s most impressive antique carpet collections – all displayed in a well-preserved mansion/palace built in 1524 for Ibrahim Pasha who, until his untimely death, served Süleyman the ‘Magnificent’ as Grand Vizier.
Another short stroll takes us to the Mosque of Ahmet I & its garden precinct. Completed in 1616, the so-called ‘Blue Mosque’ punctuates the city skyline with its vast dome and six elegant minarets. Still used for daily prayer, its light-filled interior is lined with blue-toned tiles from the later period of Iznik production.
Dinner tonight is in a fish restaurant long-established in Sultanahmet, in a restored wooden house with a covered terrace area facing on to the narrow neighbourhood streets. (Overnight Haghia Sophia Mansions, Istanbul) BD
Day 5: Thursday 30 September, Istanbul: The Ottoman City (by coach)
- Dolmabahçe Palace
- Yildiz (‘Star’) Park & Sale Kiosk (Chalet Pavilion)
- Lunch in the grounds of Yildiz Park
- Yildiz Hamidiye Mosque
- Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarsısı) & surrounds
- Rüstem Pasha Mosque
We start the day with a visit to the Dolmabahçe Palace, the opulent, European style palace on the European shore of the Bosphorus Strait, completed in 1856 by Sultan Abdül Mecit I (r. 1839-1861), to which the Ottoman sultans moved in the dying days of the empire. It is the largest of the Ottoman palaces with 285 rooms and 46 halls, decorated with extensive use of gold leaf and crystal chandeliers.
Afterwards, we visit the nearby Yildiz Park, which was once part of the imperial grounds of the Yildiz Palace of Sultan Abdül Hamid II (r. 1876-1909) who abandoned the Dolmabahçe Palace because he feared attack from the Bosphorus waterfront. The 60-room Chalet Pavilion, built to house a visit from Kaiser Wilhelm II, is the largest wooden chalet in the world and an impressive showcase for decorative arts of the period.
We have lunch in one of the historic pavilions in the grounds of Yildiz Park and then visit the peaceful Yildiz Hamidiye Mosque, built in the late 19th century at the entrance to the park. Its interior is a beautiful mix of East and West, with Orientalist and Gothic decoration.
Next, we visit the Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarsısı), one of the most colourful covered bazaars in the city, built in 1664 as part of the complex of the nearby New Mosque (Yeni Cami) commissioned by Turhan Hatice, the mother of Sultan Mehmet IV (r. 1642–1693). In the bustling surrounds of the Spice Bazaar the Rüstem Pasha Mosque is accessed from a narrow street of food vendors, who use it for daily prayer. The small structure was designed and built in 1561 by the great architect Sinan, for Süleyman’s Grand Vizier Rüstem Pasha. Its exquisite tilework marks the high point of Iznik production in the 16th century. (Overnight Hagia Sophia Mansions, Istanbul) BL
Day 6: Friday 1 October, Istanbul: The Ottoman City (on foot)
- Süleymaniye Mosque, tombs and precinct
- Lunch in a Grand Bazaar restaurant
- Grand Bazaar (‘Kapalı Carsı’) and surrounding trading area
- Optional visit to the Archaeological Museum* and the Çinili Kiosk (Tiled Pavilion)
The Süleymaniye is Istanbul’s most important mosque complex. Commissioned by Süleyman the Magnificent and built between 1550 and 1557, it remains mostly as designed and built by the great court architect, Sinan. The monumental mosque, Sinan’s masterpiece in Istanbul, is flanked by the well-preserved tombs of Süleyman and his wife, Roxelana, as well as buildings that once served as religious schools, a school of medicine, a school for the study of the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), a hostel, a public kitchen, a hammam (bath house), a caravanserai and a row of small shops. The building was a step up in size in terms of the monumental architecture of the Ottomans, and it also introduced a new style in the decorative arts used in both religious and secular buildings throughout the empire. It was the first royal mosque to use underglaze painted tiles from Iznik in a colour scheme that was new to Ottoman art and new to Islamic tilework in general. The warm tomato red colour developed in Iznik tiles in the 1550’s and the exuberant style of their decoration became the preferred form of embellishment for all buildings constructed under court patronage in Süleyman’s era.
We then walk to the precinct of the Grand Bazaar and have lunch in one of its leading restaurants, tucked away amongst textile and leather traders and graced with a marble fountain at its entrance. The Bazaar, now one of the biggest covered markets in the world, was constructed by Mehmet II in 1455. The original trading halls dealt in textiles and precious stones and jewels and were aimed at stimulating the economy of the newly-conquered city. Although the range of goods sold here has outgrown that of a traditional souk, the bazaar still retains its Ottoman plan and decoration. This complex has now fused with the nearby ‘Balkan’ bazaar area which has grown in recent years as large numbers of Eastern Europeans visit for shopping and trade. The presence of Balkan traders reflects the city’s continuing role as an emporium at the cross roads of Europe and the East. We walk through the labrynthine complex, visiting selected trading and craft specialists in several of the old caravanserais or hans and have a private visit to a long-established textile wholesaler.
Afterwards, those who wish can visit Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum, which contains one of the great collections of pre-classical and classical works, including the famous so-called ‘Alexander sarcophagus’, a 4th-century tomb of a Seleucid prince found in Sidon (Syria). Nearby, the Çinili Kiosk (‘Tiled Pavilion’), built in 1472, is Istanbul’s oldest remaining secular building and houses an outstanding collection of historic ceramics. (Overnight Hagia Sophia Mansions, Istanbul) BL
Day 7: Saturday 2 October, Istanbul: The Bosphorus (by coach and boat)
- Sadberk Hanim Museum
- Bosphorus Cruise with lunch on board
This morning we drive to the Sadberk Hanım Museum, a private house museum that occupies adjacent waterfront villas on the shores of the Bosphorus near Sariyer. This type of wooden mansion was built for wealthy residents of Istanbul during the 18th and 19th centuries. The highly ornamented buildings served as summer residences and usually incorporated a jetty and boathouses. The museum is named after the wife of the late Vehbi Koç, one of Turkey’s wealthiest businessmen. It houses her private collection of archaeological and ethnographic material and also hosts changing exhibitions of Ottoman art.
Afterwards, we have lunch on our private boat followed by a cruise along the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus is the world’s narrowest strait used for international shipping and divides the Asian and European sides of Istanbul, providing a passage from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and beyond. From the water there is an unrivalled view of the Istanbul skyline and its landmark bridges and monuments. Many historic villas – or yalıs as they’re known in Turkish – have been restored in recent years and make a great display as we cross over to the Asian side and stop briefly for a stroll along the lively waterfront and then resume our cruise back to the historic city centre. (Overnight Hagia Sophia Mansions, Istanbul) BL
Day 9: Monday 4 October, Bursa – Iznik – Istanbul (by coach)
- Emir Han & Koza Han (silk karavansaray) bazaar area, Bursa
- Lakeside lunch, Iznik
- Roman and Byzantine Nicaea, Iznik
We begin the day by exploring the karavansaray area, centre of the traditional silk markets that marked the end point of the fabled Silk Route from Central Asia and China. The rent from the various market stalls once provided the upkeep for the city’s mosques.
Mid-morning we depart Bursa for Istanbul. Our journey takes us via Iznik, a busy Turkish town that was once Roman Nicaea and a flourishing centre of the 13th century Byzantine empire. It was here at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD that the liturgical statement of belief was first adopted by the Christian Church.
After lunch at a lakeside restaurant, we visit the Roman and Byzantine walls, towers and gates of the town that are still reasonably preserved, as is the church of Hagia Sophia, converted to a mosque in Ottoman times and still used today. In the 17th century, Iznik became famous as the centre of production of the glazed ceramics and tiles that contributed to the so-called ‘golden age’ of Ottoman art during the reign of Süleyman the ‘Magnificent.
In the late afternoon we continue the drive to Istanbul and check in to the recently-restored Pera Palace Hotel, built in 1892 to host passengers arriving from Europe on the legendary Orient Express. (Overnight Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul) BL
Day 10: Tuesday 5 October, Istanbul
- Beyoglu and Istiklal Caddesi: Contemporary Art Galleries
- Istanbul Modern art museum, private tour of Arter, various Istanbul Biennal venues
- Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence
- Farewell Dinner at the Pera Palace Hotel
We start the day with a stroll through the Pera Palace Hotel’s neighbourhood of consulates, elegant apartments buildings, restaurants, bars and music venues. The Beyoglu district is considered the heart of the modern city with the pedestrian thoroughfare, Istiklal Caddesi, its main artery. Many private art galleries and design workshops have gravitated here in the past decade and form a network of venues for Istanbul’s famed Art Biennal which will be in full-swing during our visit. We visit Istanbul’s newest contemporary art museum, Arter, and have a private tour of its outstanding architecture by Grimshaw Architects, London, and view it changing exhibits.
Afterwards, a visit to Orhan Pamuk’s quirky, Museum of Innocence, allows a glimpse of a bohemian residential neighbourhood and insight into the world of Turkey’s esteemed, Nobel-prize winning, writer. Our farewell dinner is taken in the grand surrounds of the Pera Palace Hotel. (Overnight Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul) BD
Day 11: Wednesday 6 October, Depart Istanbul
- At leisure/Check out
- Airport transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour officially ends today. Passengers travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will transfer to the airport for the return flight to Australia. Alternatively, you may wish to extend your stay in Istanbul. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B