|from £2,750* per person||13 Days||May
Exertion level: 3
|Operator: Andante Travels
12 people max
The dramatic landscapes between the Black Sea and Lake Van includes mountain ranges and fertile plateaux, wherein lies the snow-capped peak of the highest extinct volcano in eastern Anatolia - Mount Ararat. The name is a derivation of Urartu, an ancient kingdom which wielded great power over a huge highland territory from the Early Bronze Age until the political and military upheavals of the later 1st millennium BC.
The Urartians are an intriguing people about whom little was known until relatively recently. They managed their inhospitable terrain by extending cultivation with the use of dams and irrigation canals, and produced wine at an extraordinarily early date, as demonstrated by both inscriptions and the huge storage jars found in their strongly fortified citadels. We visit a number of the latter, spectacularly situated.
The kingdom was taken by the Armenians, whose conversion to Christianity in AD301 by St Gregory the Illuminator brought a new religious landscape to the region, as did the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks in their turn.
Our journey finishes at the glorious Lake Van, with time to explore its islands and surroundings. Previous guests have found this journey to be exceptionally beautiful, through an area of Turkey which lies far beyond the itineraries of most tourists.
Loading map, please wait...
Turkey, Asia, Middle East
Fly to Trabzon and drive to hotel.
The dramatically situated Sumela Monastery dates from the 6th century, although most visible remains are 13th and 14th. It was hastily abandoned in 1923, when Christian and Muslim populations were separated in Turkey and Greece, and it deteriorated greatly, but recent restoration work has been carried out. Rest of the day in Trabzon, ancient Trapezos, to where Xenophon marched in 401BC with his 10,000 from the Zigana Pass en route westward, as recorded in his Anabasis. The city became rich and powerful after the Fourth Crusade, in the 15th century, when two brothers, Alexios and David Comnenos took control. Manyrich churches were built, and we visit the Church of Ayia Sofia, with fine late Byzantine murals, and the citadel.
Drive over the Zigana Pass and along the old silk road to Erzurum, the highest city in Turkey. Possible stop en route (if time) at Bayburt Castle.
Erzurum, for the Cifte Minare Medrese, a 13th century mosque, and the archaeological museum, with some fine Urartian pottery. Continue to Kars, a town original founded by the Armenians, and briefly their capital until this transferred to Ani. Its terraces of belle epoque houses date from the end of the 19th century, when it was held by the Russian Tsar.
Ani, the former capital of Bagratid Armenia, is a natural fortress, defended on two sides by deep ravines, and with built fortifications of sandstone and volcanic rock to the north. The resulting shape of the medieval city is triangular, and includes some impressive remains, including a Cathedral, a Citadel, and the Church of the Holy Apostles. The 13th century Church of St Gregory the Illuminator followed the Orthodox rather than the Gregorian rite, and still has some fine frescoes. Finish the day with a visit to the citadel and church at Kars.
Drive to Dogubayazit, a town, castle and palace, with a fine view of Mount Ararat, seen from the highway to Iran. The castle probably originated in the 4th century AD, but was substantially rebuilt in the medieval period. There is a fine Urartian rock relief to the west of it which can be seen from afar. We visit the nearby 17th century Ishak Pasha Palace.
Wonderful views this morning of Ararat and the ancient lava flows from the crater as you leave Dogubayazit. Continue to the Medieval city of Ahlat with monumental tombs (kumbets) and elaborately decorated gravestones, largely of the Mongol period. Continue to Tatvan Fortress.
Drive up to the volcanic crater rim of Nemrut Dag, overlooking the west end of Lake Van. NB this is not the site of the famous Commagene statues, but another mountain of the same name (the name means ‘Mountain of Nimrud’, the legendary hunter). Continue around the south shore to visit the famous 10th century Akhtamar Island Churchwith Old Testament scenes in relief, including David and Goliath. On to Van.
The impressive Urartian fortress of SarduriII (c 767 - 735BC) at Çavustepe, made with exceptionally fine limestone masonry. Medieval castle of Hosap at Guzelsu (if open) and bridge. Urartian sites at Upper and Lower Anzaf.
Urartian temple in fortress of Rusa II (c685-645BC) at Ayanis, with excavations currently directed for the Aegean University of Izmir. Mehr Kapisi in Van - an Urartian rock inscription listing offerings to gods and goddesses. Yedi Kilesi and Yonca Tepe.
Beautiful boat trip to Carpanak Island, with the remains of a Monastery of St John, founded in 1414 and heavily restored during the early 18th century.
Van Citadel and old city including museum.
Fly to Van to London via Istanbul.
More information from Andante Travels: