In some ways the truly ancient history of Asia Minor resides in the plains of central Anatolia and the mountain ranges of Eastern Turkey. Here ruled the great civilizations of the Hittites and Urartians, followed by Greeks, Commageneans, Romans, Byzantines, Armenians, Selçuks, Ilkhanids, Karmanids, and many other dynasties. It is in eastern Turkey that one gets an authentic sense of Asia Minor as a crossroads of empires. Villages and towns unspoiled by tourism still exist, and great caravanserai of the Selçuks and Ottomans still dot the landscape, eloquent remnants of the great Silk Road’s epic reach from China to Europe.
We’ll visit these storied lands in early May, when the snows of the great eastern mountains are melting and the land is becoming green again. Even today, the shepherds bring vast herds of sheep and goats to the new spring grasses of lowland pastures, an annual event that has been repeating itself for 4,000 years.
This is the land of the Bronze Age Hittites, whose capital city, Hattusas—with parts of its city gates and walls still intact after more than 3,000 years—we’ll see sheathed in the verdant blanket of spring wildflowers. We’ll enter the dramatic clefts of the Hittite rock shrine of Yazilikaya, with reliefs of gods, kings, and warriors carved into the faces of cliffs. Near Van, under the shadow of the legendary Mount Ararat, are a number of lovely Armenian churches, including the incomparable church and monastery of Acht’Amar, the Holy Cross, floating on its tiny island in Lake Van, covered in relief sculptures of Biblical stories. Close to Doĝubayazit is the Ottoman Işak Paşa complex, perched above the plain below on a striking promontory. We’ll visit the ancient metropolis of Ani, once a great city but now abandoned in picturesque ruin, dotted with medieval Armenian churches with their conical towers punctuating the horizon. The Selçuks, too, dominated this land, and their tombs, mosques, and caravanserai are found in many towns such as Sivas, where we’ll see the magnificent Gök Medresse. We’ll visit the circular fortification of Kanesh (Kültepe), an Assyrian trading colony and a site occupied by many conquerors over the centuries, where the earliest settlements are dated to 3000 BC.
The wonders of Cappadocia also await us, with rock-cut churches and entire cities carved from the volcanic landscape, offering a window out to some of the earliest Christian communities. There are underground cities and valleys filled with rupestrian churches painted with vivid medieval frescoes, all surrounded by the otherworldly landscape of surreal, eroded landforms—the famous ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia, with an option to go hot air ballooning to see this legendary world from a bird’s eye view.
We invite you to join us in this ancient land of empires, a journey through history as old as civilization itself.