When Hagia Sophia's basilica was inaugurated in 537 CE, it was the largest cathedral in the world, renowned for its massive dome that sits atop a ring of 40 windows. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks transformed the church into a mosque, adding four towering minarets and a mihrab, an Islamic prayer niche. Today, the sanctuary has become one of the country's most popular museums, with more than 2 million visitors each year. During an eight-day, seven-night tour from Classic Escapes, an English-speaking guide leads groups from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul down the Aegean Sea's eastern coast.
Days 13: An overnight flight whisks travelers from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport (IST). Upon arrival, a guide leads the way to the Germir Palas Hotel, located in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
Istanbul served as the seat of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, with several royal palaces built in the process. The 15th-century Topkapi Palace displays the robes, weaponry, and jewelry of the Sultans who ruled the Ottoman Empire from there. Nearby, 20,000 blue porcelain tiles give the Blue Mosque's dome its distinctive color, and a half-mile away, the Hagia Sophia combines restored Christian mosaics with Islamic scrollwork. The visit to Istanbul ends with a trip to the Grand Bazaar, a 15th-century covered market with more than 4,000 shops selling spices, brassware, Lionel Richie action figures, and woven carpets.
Day 4: Groups take the ferry across the Dardanelles Strait to Gallipoli, where World War I memorials have been erected for the more than 100,000 casualties incurred during the war's Gallipoli Campaign. After a stop at the site of the ancient city of Troy, travelers spend the night along the Aegean coast, either at the Kolin Hotel or the Canakkale Grand Assos Hotel.
Days 58: Tours explore several ancient ruins that line the coastline. The acropolis of Pergamon was mentioned in the Book of Revelations, and the Roman town of Ephesus features the ruins of Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and a Great Theater where St. Paul once preached.
At the large metropolis of Izmir, once known as Smyrna, ancient monuments and ultramodern skyscrapers blend between the Mediterranean and the surrounding mountains. A city tour through palm-lined promenades culminates at the colonnades of the Hellenic Agora, the city's market, built during Alexander the Great's reign. Finally, a domestic flight hops from Izmir to Istanbul before the final trip back home.
Visit the extended itinerary for more information. A two-day post-trip extension to Cappadocia is also available for an additional fee.
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