You may add on Cappadocia to your trip to the Holy Land or to the Holy Land and Constantinople.
Please note that during one of the weekends in May, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew traditionally celebrates vespers and liturgy in Cappadocia in rock churches or in the abandoned churches.
*Itinerary order and inclusions are subject to change.
(Breakfast = B, Lunch = L, Dinner = D)
Day 1: CAPPADOCIA
Welcome to Cappadocia! Upon arrival, you will transfer to your Cappadocia hotel. Welcome to Cappadocia! Cappadocia is a geological wonderland of moonscaped rock, carved cities and surrealistic shapes where nature has scoured and sculpted the earth into cones, capped pinnacles and fretted ravines. For a thousand years, persecuted Christians dug secret underground cities and left a remarkable legacy of Byzantine frescoes in hidden caves. It became an area of refuge for persecuted Christians as early as the second century, and by the fourth had produced several important saints. One important saint is St. Basil, who came to teach in the Goreme Valley and served as Bishop of Kayseri. Between the 4th and 13th centuries, the Christians carved secret dwellings and churches into the rocky but soft moonscape land of Cappadocia. These homes and churches were incorporated into the landscape to escape persecution. Those who lived in the caves were called “Troglodytes,” a word for “cave dwellers”. In addition, labyrinthine underground cities were carved from the soft volcanic stone so they could hide from invaders and live there for months on end. Later, churches were decorated with coned ceilings, graceful columns and impressive frescoes. The early Christians, confronted by so many challenges, found strength in their faith and showed it in their beautifully decorated churches. Imagine the enormous effort to carve these elaborate structures with a simple hammer and chisel. Surely, by any measure, this was a monumental act of faith. In pre-Hellenistic times, Persians, Assyrians, Greeks and Hittites all lived in Cappadocia. All of these groups were Hellenized in the era of the Greek city-states. In the middle Ages, Turkish tribes arrived. These Turks are the majority ethnic group in Cappadocia today. Most of our touring will be in three areas: Ürgüp, Avanos and Goreme. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Cappadocia. (B, D)
Day 2: CAPPADOCIA
This morning, visit the most famous sight in the region, the Goreme Open Air Museum and its Dark Church. The Goreme Open Air Museum is the site where religious education began. You will visit the churches, chapels and monasteries carved into the fairy chimneys from the 10th to the 13th centuries with Byzantine frescos painted on the walls. This moonscape volcanic valley is filled with richly painted monastic churches hollowed from the soft volcanic stone. It houses 30 of the finest rock churches in the area. The churches date approximately between the 9th and 11th centuries. They range from the simple, barrel-vaulted Chapel of Saint Barbara to the famous Dark Church, whose richly painted dome rises above four columns topped with capitals. The site is spectacular: from the compact slopes of the valley, sprinkled with small entrance ways to caves in which monks lived, to chapels and full scale churches decorated with murals depicting the life of Jesus and early Saints. Here, as in many other churches in Cappadocia, frescos have been defaced – eyes and features chiseled away by locals. Experience both the region’s geological landscape and its rich religious heritage!
We will be visiting the Dark Church. The front of this Church is missing. It is one of the most impressive of the cave churches, lit only by one tiny window. The church has many archways and pillars with designs carved and painted into the stone. Every detail of the Dark Church, completed about the end of the 11th century, was modeled after cathedrals of the period. Attached to the church is a monastery. Its frescos, in crimson, gold and ultramarine, still have a raw power and unwavering sincerity. Four saints sit atop the columns, an angel smiles down from the cupola and there are scenes of the life of Christ throughout the church. The Crucifixion evokes the suffering and grief of Christ as well as anything else in Christian art. Chiseled out of the rock is a refractory table with seats around it. Until the 1950s, the Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise) was used as a pigeon house. After 14 years of scraping pigeon droppings off the walls, these newly restored frescoes, depicting scenes from the New Testament, are the most well preserved in all of Cappadocia. They are an excellent example of 11th century Byzantine art. Because sunlight can only enter through one small opening, the richness of the pigments has survived the test of time.
We will also go by Devrent Valley where you will see various types of fairy chimneys and Pasabağları (Monks Valley) with the fairy chimneys with multiple stems and caps. This style is unique to this area.
Visit Sinassos–the old Greek village of Sinassos is presently named Mustaphapasha. This was predominately a Greek village before 1923. It has five Greek churches, a very large number of splendid mansions and several mosques. Wealthy Greeks from Constantinople built the mansions here, as well as the churches. The Greeks belonged to the wealthy upper business class. They became refugees in 1923 – in the so-called exchange of populations. Some of them settled in the Athens area, and many migrated to the USA. The descendants of the refugees from Athens visit the village every May on the feast day of St. Constantine and St. Helen as guests of the Turkish villagers. Sinassos occupies a valley, with the steep parts of the village connected by an aqueduct-type bridge. The main church is by the square near the main mosque, while the other churches are outside the village. Visit Agios Nikolaos Church. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B, D)
Day 3: CAPPADOCIA
This morning, visit the Zelve Open Air Museum. The village of Zelve extends along the sheer cliffs of three valleys that converge on the Avanos plain. These natural rock formations create three “avenues” where erosion caused numerous avalanches over the centuries. What appear to be rectangular caves are actually the interior rooms of former dwellings and churches that have been exposed as the result of erosion and avalanches. The earliest inhabitants of Zelve made their homes in the natural cracks in the rocks and carved out additional rooms as needed. Dwellings were originally created at the level of the streams, but as the water eroded the soil, subsequent dwellings were carved closer and closer to the ever-lowering stream bed. Thus, with the passage of time, the cliffs assumed a honeycomb appearance. Early Christians used it during the Roman persecutions in the second century and the Arab invasions of the seventh century. The famous Grape Church is no longer visible, as it collapsed. After the persecutions, generations of Turks made these cliffside caves their permanent homes. The valley of Zelve was a thriving community of 5,000 people and was one of scores of similar cave villages in the area. Imagine entire families lived up here. Dwellings like this were inhabited until the 1950’s. We will return to the hotel and enjoy dinner. Overnight at the hotel. (B, D)
Day 4: CAPPADOCIA
An optional hot air balloon ride over the stunning landscape of Cappadocia will be offered. Afterwards, your tour begins with a visit to the underground city of Kaymakli, the largest and most famous of all the underground cities. It was largely used by early Christians as a hiding place before Christianity became an accepted religion. It is unclear who first began construction of this astonishing, Swiss cheese-like, subterranean maze, but some say it dates back to the fourth century B.C. It is complete with an ingenious system of air shafts, ventilating a vertical honeycomb of apartments, kitchens, wineries, chapels, stables and tombs. This labyrinth extends down four levels into the earth. The underground cities have vast defense networks of traps throughout their many levels. These traps are very creative and include large round stones to block doors and holes in the ceiling through which the defenders may drop spears. These defense systems were mainly used against the Romans. The tunnel system is also made of thin corridors, designed to defend against the Roman fighting strategy, which involved moving in groups. The strategy could not be utilized in the thin corridors, making it easy for defenders to pick Romans off.
Continue to Hunters Valley and Uchisar Valley. Uchisar offers excellent examples of various types of volcanic formations found in Cappadocia and can been viewed from the top of the “fort,” a natural rock formation. From here, you will have one of the finest views of Cappadocia – out over the vineyards and apricot groves to the valleys and wavy rock formations that make the region famous. The “fort” consists of two enormous rock cones surrounded by a multitude of smaller ones, resembling towers. In the cones, many rock-cut dwellings have living rooms, kitchens, storage areas and stables carved at various levels. Continue to the Pigeon Valley, named for the thousands of pigeon houses carved into the rock. Pigeons flew from here to deliver messages throughout the region. Enjoy lunch at the Kaya Hotel at Pigeons Valley, offering beautiful views of the landscape.
Afterwards, continue with a visit to Avanos, another Greek village. Hellenistic tombs dated between the fourth and first centuries B.C. were found here and indicate that the city had religious, political and economic prominence. The Kizilirmak, or Halys River (“Red River”), the longest river in Turkey, divides Avanos in half. The red soil of the region provides local potters with the raw material used to produce the pottery and bricks for which Avanos is famous. In addition to pottery, Avanos is also known for carpet weaving.
We will then visit the Cave of St. Ioannis Rossos, a soldier captured by Turks and tortured to death for refusing to give up his faith. Before leaving their homes, the Greek refugees took his intact body and relics to Prokopi, Greece. Dinner and overnight at hotel in Cappadocia. (B, D)
Day 5: CAPPADOCIA / ONWARDS
Transfer to the airport for your flight.