Day 1: Arrival in Istanbul
Meet and assist at the airport. Transfer to the hotel for overnight.
Day 2: Istanbul – Full-day city tour
We begin our tour of the Sultanahmet district, the heart of old Istanbul, at Hagia Sophia*. Built by the Emperor Justinian in the early 6th century AD and designed by Anthemius of Tralles and Isodore of Miletus, the church is one of the marvels of world architecture. Converted into a mosque in 1453, it is now a museum. Its massive dome still dominates the skyline of old Istanbul. It is also famed for its mosaics, including glittering portraits of emperors and empresses and a poignant Virgin and Child. Next we visit the Blue Mosque which takes its name from the exquisite tiles adorning its interior. Built by Sultan Ahmet I in the early 17th century and designed by a pupil of Sinan, the greatest of Ottoman architects, it is the only imperial mosque with six minarets. Its courtyard is especially grand. The Hippodrome, the stadium of ancient Byzantium, held 100,000 spectators and featured objects from all corners of the empire. Of these, an Egyptian obelisk and a bronze sculpture of objects from all corners of the empire. Of these, an Egyptian obelisk and a bronze sculpture of the old city and its 4,000 shops are full of treasures including carpets and kilims, silks, jewelry, ceramics, icons, and leather goods. Wandering through the Grand Bazaar, indulge in some shopping, Ottoman style. Lunch. We continue our tour with Topkapi Palace***, which, from the 15th to the 19th century, was the principal residence of the Ottoman Sultans. We will visit the fabulous Imperial Treasury and the Baghdad Kiosk. Topkapi Palace is now a museum and has unrivalled collections of jewelry, including the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, the 3rd largest in the world. It also possesses numerous Ottoman court costumes and ceramics, notably including one of the world’s finest collections of Chinese celadon ceramics, many of which were gifts from other rulers. Interestingly, some of the ceramics have a special glaze that was said to change color in the presence of poison. We also visit the Imperial Armory, displaying centuries of Ottoman weaponry. But perhaps the loveliest feature of Topkapi Palace are its courtyards with their ancient trees; it is easy to imagine the sultan strolling here far from the cares of state and empire. Last but by no means least; we visit the New Mosque, completed in 1665. Originally named Valide Sultan Mosque, the construction is ordered by Safiye Sultan, the wife of Sultan Murad III and the mother of his successor Sultan Mehmed III, hence the name Valide Sultan meaning Queen Mother. The mosque is an Imperial Mosque and one of the famous architectural landmarks of Istanbul. (B, L)
Day 3: Istanbul – Half-day Bosphorus tour
We begin with a brief visit to the 17th century Spice Bazaar****, one of Istanbul’s most colorful, bustling attractions. Next, we travel the Golden Horn on our way to an unforgettable cruise along the Bosphorus, the majestic strait that runs through Istanbul, linking Europe and Asia. From our cruise boat, we view the dramatic sights lining the Bosphorus’ wooded shores : mosques, a bridge that for a time was the world’s longest and Rumeli Hisari, a massive fortress built by Mehmet the Conqueror in just three months as he prepared to take Istanbul. Also noteworthy on this tour are the 19th century mansions of the Ottoman elite and the Sultans’ fanciful gingerbread palaces and hunting lodges. (B)
Day 4: Departure
Breakfast and transfer to the airport. (B)