Istanbul History & Classics Tour
School History and Classics Trip to Istanbul
Constantinople, the Byzantium of antiquity, was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and named for the Emperor Constantine the Great. Since time immemorial it has stood on the Bosphorus, the crossroads between Europe and Asia, gateway to Antioch and Jerusalem, besieged and sacked by Crusaders, conquered by the Ottoman Turks. It was the ancient capital of Christianity under the ruler Justinian I whose legacy is seen throughout the city but nowhere better represented than at the great church of Hagia Sophia - St Sophia. After the Ottoman conquest in 1453 it became the capital of the Caliphate and the Sultans most fearsome stronghold. Churches were ransacked and the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque, but even today many vestiges of that earlier period remain and can be seen throughout the city.
The itinerary featured here is intended to give you inspiration and an idea of what you could do on your tour. Your trip will be created individually by one of our travel advisors to match your requirements and budget.
Flight to Istanbul
Flight to Istanbul: The modern metropolis which straddles the Bosphorus and which spans Europe and Asia was formerly the Ottoman capital of Constantinople and before that was the Byzantium of antiquity. On arrival you are met by your guide and transfer by private coach to your hotel in the city centre. After check-in and time to relax, you head out for an evening in the city including a visit to the Galata Tower and dinner on the Galata Bridge which offers stunning views over the Old City.
Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Chora Church and Old City Walls
Hagia Sophia: This morning you explore the Sultanahmet district where the main sites are all accessible by walking. You begin at the Hagia Sophia which was built as a Christian church in the sixth century by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. When Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans, it became a mosque and remained so until 1935 when Attaturk turned it into a museum. A recent decree by President Erdoğan has reversed that and it is now once again a mosque.
Blue Mosque: Your next visit is to the Blue Mosque, more correctly called the Sultan Ahmed mosque. Built during the seventeenth century, the mosque famously has six minarets and a spectacular dome suspended over the main prayer area.
Chora Church: After lunch you travel away from the Golden Horn and visit the Chora Church where you see early Christian mosaics and frescoes dating from the eleventh century. Theses frescoes are vivid in colour and incredibly well preserved.
Old City Walls: The day continues with a walk along the old city walls and you can hear about how the Fourth Crusade eventually managed to breach the walls and enter the city.
Archaeological Museum, Byzantine Churches and Bosphorus Cruise
Istanbul Archaeological Museum: This morning you visit the Istanbul Archaeological Museum which houses many treasures from antiquity, and which traces the history of Istanbul from Byzantine and Roman times, and the various Christian and Muslim periods. There are also some fascinating pieces from Schliemann’s excavation of Troy.
Byzantine Churches: You continue the morning with a visit to three Byzantine churches. The Church of Pammakaristos was built in the 13th century and has been a mosque called Fethiye Camii since 1591. It contains some incredibly well-preserved Byzantine mosaics. The Church of Theotokos Kyriotissa (Virgin Mother of God) was converted into a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453. The crusaders decorated the church with frescoes portraying the life of St. Francis, and today they can be seen on display in the Archaeological Museum. You also visit the Church of Christ Pantocrator which was converted into the Zayrek mosque in the 15th century
Bosphorus Cruise: In the afternoon you do a Bosphorus Cruise where you see many of the important buildings and monuments from the Golden Horn, including the Dolmabahce Palace, the Ortakoy Mosque, the Beylerbeyi Palace and the Maiden’s Tower. This evening you travel to the fashionable Karakoy District for dinner in a city restaurant. Karakoy is undergoing a process of gentrification but the area’s fin-de-siècle buildings and rich multicultural heritage are being preserved, making it a fascinating destination for an evening’s exploration.
Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar and Basilica Cistern
Topkapi Palace: This morning you visit Topkapi Palace which was built in the fifteenth century by Sultan Mehmet II after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. With views across the Bosphorus, the Palace has a commanding position on the Golden Horn and since 1924 has functioned as a museum.
Grand Bazaar: You then visit the Grand Bazaar with its labyrinthine maze of alleyways with shops, cafes and restaurants. This is the perfect opportunity to buy souvenirs.
Basilica Cistern: Your final visit is to the Basilica Cistern which once brought water into the city from Thrace. Constructed in the sixth century and then forgotten for centuries. With 336 columns that support the ceiling, don’t miss the upside-down head of Medusa that forms the bottom of one column, proof that Byzantine builders saw Roman relics as little more than reusable rubble.
Flight Home: In the evening you transfer to the airport for the homeward flight.
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