Archaeology of Eastern Turkey

Turkey

Culture | Archaeology

Discover the incredible history of Eastern Turkey

11 days £2,795 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Eastern Turkey is home to some of the most important and iconic archaeological sites anywhere in the world. Visit Göbekli Tepe, the world’s first temple, and uncover the origins of civilisation. Discover the enigmatic statue-heads at Nemrut Daği (Mount Nemrut), and wander the ingenious roof-top streets of Çatalhöyük, the world’s first city. Visit the abandoned underground cities of Cappadocia and journey to Harran, the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham. Paved with a beautiful and varied landscape, a creative culture and a welcoming people, Turkey’s timeless allure and peerless history will leave you longing to return for more.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Watch the sunset at Mount Nemrut
  • Discover the beginnings of civilisation at Göbekli Tepe
  • Harran, the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham
  • Beautiful ancient architecture and frescoes
  • Ancient statues of Göbekli Tepe
  • Explore the ancient Zeugma Region
  • Taste Gaziantep’s culinary delights
  • Explore the Underground Cities of Cappadocia
  • Explore the vast depths of Cappadocia's underground cities
  • Marvel at the world famous “fairy chimneys”
  • The unique city of Çatalhöyük

Places Visited

Istanbul - Mount Nemrut - Urfa - Harran - Göbekli Tepe - Gaziantep - Zeugma - Ankara - Gordion - Hattusa - Cappadocia - Ozkonak Underground City - Avcilar Valley - Konya - Catalhöyük - Holy City of Rumi

What's Included

Internal flights
Airport pick-up & drop-off
Ground transport
Accommodation
Entrance fees to sites
Breakfasts
Drivers and guides
Itinerary & Map
Image 3

Day 1 : Istanbul

Fly into Istanbul airport where a Travel The Unknown representative will meet you and take you to your hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight in Istanbul. 

Meal plan: n/a

Sitting on the Bosphorus, Istanbul is one of the world’s truly great cities - overflowing with culture and historical sites. World class attractions such as the exquisite Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, excellent bars and restaurants, jaw-dropping architecture, vibrant markets and a history of epic proportions makes Istanbul a city par excellence.

Read more
Image 3

Day 2 : Mount Nemrut

Morning flight from Istanbul to Adiyaman. In the afternoon, take a tour of the area including a visit of the Roman-era Cendere Bridge, Karakus Tumulus and Arsemia. Then climb Mount Nemrut, exploring the East and West terraces and in time to watch the sunset from the mountain's peak overlooking the Euphrates valley. Overnight near Mount Nemrut.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Cendere Bridge is one of the world’s oldest bridges still in use, constructed during the empire of Septimus Severus (193-211). Composed of 92 stones, each weighing around 10 tons, it is thought to be the second largest Roman bridge still in existence, spanning an impressive 122 metres. The bridge today appears as a simple, unadorned arch, but was originally decorated by four Corinthian columns dedicated to Septimus Severus and his wife.

A mountain of around two thousand metres, Mount Nemrut is home to the tomb of the pre-Roman king, Antiochus I Theos of Commagene. Built by the king himself in about 62 BC as a shrine to his own remains, the site consists of two large statues of Antiochus which dwarf two statue pairs of eagles and lions, and various Iranian, Greek and Armenian Gods. The statues are now damaged and mostly appear beheaded. Scholars have largely attributed this to later attacks on iconoclasm, but the statues have since been returned to their original places. Behind the display of statues are some well-preserved slabs of stone which feature figures in relief carving and are originally thought to have formed a large frieze. Archaeologists interpret the figures as Antiochus’ ancestors, which allegedly included Greeks and Persians. It is the perfect place to experience a sunset or sunrise as the views from the summit are sublime.

NOTE: it is a 20-30 minute walk up uneven steps to reach the summit.


Arsemia was the summer capital of the Commagene Kingdom and burial place of Mithridates. It is home to the largest rock inscription found in Anatolia, which describes the political and religious beliefs of the inhabitants.

Read more
Image 3

Day 3 : Göbekli Tepe - Urfa - Harran

After breakfast, drive to Urfa (113km, 2 hours). First visit Göbekli Tepe then explore the city of Urfa, the Urfa Museum, Balakli Gol and Gumrukhan. In the afternoon visit Harran. Overnight in Urfa. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Urfa (a.k.a. Sanliurfa, “the prophet’s city”, or Edessa in ancient times) is the most spiritual city in Eastern Turkey. It is a major centre for pilgrimage and its traditions are very much alive and well. The “Sanli-“ part of its name (meaning “great” or “dignified”) was awarded by the Turkish legislature in 1984 in recognition of the city’s pivotal role in the Turkish war of Independence. Of particular note for visitors are Urfa Castle (the current walls were constructed by the Abbasids in 814AD), the Pool of Sacred Fish where Abraham was thrown in to the fire by Nimrod, the park of mosques, the market area and the Urfa museum.

Visit the ancient city of Harran, once the centre of Egypt's Hermetic tradition. See its ominous "Astrological Tower", citadel and local village and take in one of the most atmospheric sites anywhere in the world. Mentioned in the Book of Genesis, Harran is believed to have once been home to the Prophet Abraham. The site of the first Islamic university in Anatolia, Harran also boasts the remains of an 8th century mosque, a citadel and some 300 year old beehive mud homes which enjoy a constant temperature throughout the year, winter or summer. 

The Urfa Museum contains many of the archaeological finds from Göbekli Tepe including steles and sculptures. It also contains Hittite sculptures from Golpinar and pieces from Harran, Nevali Cori and Kabahaydar.

Balikli Gol, or ‘The Legendary Pool of Sacred Fish’, is the site where Nimrod threw Abraham into the fire, located within the grounds of the mosque of Rahil-ur-Rahma and surrounded by ornate gardens. Riddled with a mythical enigma, the fish in the pool are said to thrive and a local legend even terms the pool, ‘the doorway to heaven’.

Göbekli Tepe, the oldest place of worship in the world, is an archaeological site without equal. Prior to its discovery in 1994 and its subsequent excavation it was widely believed by anthropologists that religion evolved as a result of living in larger communities which was itself the result of the change from foraging to agriculture. However, Göbekli Tepe has turned our theories of our own evolution on their head. The vast religious site dates from the hunter gatherer period and there is no evidence of any agriculture or even human habitation, suggesting that it may have been the emergence of religion that lead us to civilisation and thus to agriculture.

The site contains a vast array of circular structures and huge pillars, some with beautiful limestone carvings of lions, foxes, snakes and birds, believed to be gatekeepers of the entrance to the next world. There are striking similarities to sites in Peru, Bolivia and Easter Island that were noted by Robert Schoch in the Megalithomania expedition in November 2012. To date, less than ten percent of the site has been excavated. You can read an article about this fascinating site in National Geographic magazine published in June 2011 here:  http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2011/06/gobekli-tepe/mann-text


Read more
Image 3

Day 4 : Halfeti - Rumkale - Zeugma - Gaziantep

Drive to Gaziantep, stopping to see Halfeti and Rumkale and, time permitting, Zeugma. Continue to Gaziantep for overnight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

A small farming district situated on the East bank of the river Euphrates, Halfeti has been a home to the Assyrians (first established by Assyrian King, ShalmaneserII I in 885 BC), the Greeks, Romans, the Mameluks and the Ottomans. Despite being sieged by the Mameluks, parts of the old city walls still remain.

Rumkale translates to ‘Roman Castle’ and was once a powerful fortress, overlooking the river Euphrates. In ancient times a site of great strategic importance to Romans and Assyrians alike, the fortress is accessible by boat from the neighbouring Zeugma Region. Today, much of the lower-lying town area has been flooded, but the dramatically situated Rumkale helps you imagine the magnificence of the area in ancient times.

Zeugma, once at the forefront of ancient art and culture, boasts some of the most magnificent artworks and sculptures from ancient Turkey. Founded by one of the generals of Alexander the Great, the name ‘Zeugma’ means ‘bridge passage’ and refers to the city’s location on the river Euphrates and its former strategic importance in the silk trade route. When the site was excavated it turned up a number of beautiful mosaics, including the famous Gypsy girl mosaic now on display in the mosaics museum in Gaziantep alongside many others from Zeugma.

Read more
Image 3

Day 5 : Gaziantep - Ankara

Visit the Zeugma mosaic museum and explore the city of Gaziantep, enjoying the famous local cuisine. Then take a direct flight from Gaziantep to Ankara, where you will stay overnight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The culinary capital of Eastern Turkey, Gaziantep’s famous baklava (pistachio pastries) are shipped all over the country and beyond, and its renowned restaurants serve up mouth-watering dishes. Besides cuisine, Gaziantep boasts a fine Seljuk-era citadel, numerous impressive mosques and restored old buildings. Gaziantep’s chief draw however, is its mosaic museum, believed to be the best in the world. The mosaics were recovered from the ancient Roman town of Zeugma, now underwater. The town’s bustling city markets are also well worth a visit.

The Zeugma Museum houses many impressive artworks and sculptures which testify to the area’s magnificence in Greek and Roman times. Its highlight however is a series of mosaics, the most famous of which is a mosaic known as the “Gypsy Girl”.

Read more
Image 3

Day 6 : Ankara - Gordion

Take a tour of the city of Ankara, and visit the impressive Ankara Anatolian Civilisation Museum. In the afternoon, explore the Ankara Historical Fort before journeying to the archaeological site of Gordion. Continue on to Hattusa for overnight.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The Ankara Anatolian Civilisation Museum boasts many archaeological finds related to the excavations in Hattusa and Çatalhöyük, and will help you to gain a good understanding of these areas. The historical centre of Ankara sits overlooking the town on a hill and is littered with the remains of Hittite, Phrygian, Byzantine, Roman and Christian monuments and settlements. Of particular interest as a surviving example of ancient architecture is the Temple of Augustus. Often also referred to as ‘Angora’, Ankara is home to the Angora goat with its luxury wool and the unusual animal breeds of angora cats and rabbits.

Occupied since the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago, Gordion is one of the most important archaeological sites in the near east. The city enjoyed its golden age in the first millennium when it was the royal capital of the Iron Age Kingdom known as ‘Phrygia’ to the Greeks and ‘Mushki’ to the neighbouring Assyrian Empire.

Read more
Image 3

Day 7 : Hattusa

After breakfast drive to Corum. After lunch, visit the World Heritage Site of Hattusa at Bogazkoy. Drive to Cappadocia and overnight in a cave style hotel. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Hattusa was once the centre of the Hittite Empire, dating back to the late Bronze Age. Set in what were once rich agricultural fields and among scenic, rolling hills, the city has some fine examples of early ancient architecture. Originally the inner city was a vast array of temples and monuments, overlooked by the royal residence on the acropolis. An architectural masterpiece in its time, the city gateway was once adorned with reliefs of warriors, lions and sphinxes, framing four temples, each of which had their own courtyard. The city was destroyed, along with the Hittites themselves, in the 12th century BC. By the 20th century, the principal remains of Hittite inscriptions were found on over 10,000 tablets.



Read more
Image 3

Day 8 : Cappadocia

Optional hot-air balloon ride (additional cost.) Full-day spent exploring the beautiful area of Cappadocia. Visit Ozkonak Underground City, Avanos, Zelve open-air museum, Uchisar castle and the fairy chimneys of Avcilar Valley. Overnight in Cappadocia. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

The town of Avanos is set on the banks of the Kizilirmak, (Red River). This river is the longest in Turkey and supplies the clay for pottery for which Avanos is so well known. Pottery has been produced in the Avanos area for centuries and some of the techniques still used date back to Hittite times (around 2000 BC).

Uchisar is situated at the highest point in Cappadocia, and is home to the most spectacular natural castles. The top of the Uchisar Castle provides a magnificent panorama of the surrounding area with Mount Erciyes in the distance. Many hollowed out rooms in the castle rock are connected to each other with stairs, tunnels and passages. Most of the rooms, located on the north side of the castle are in use as pigeon houses (dovecuts) today.

Discovered only as recently as 1972, Ozkonak Underground City is a warren of small chambers, tunnels and storage rooms that are arranged over a series of ten levels. This underground complex would have been used as a stronghold for the Hitties when under attack from neighbouring enemies and could house its inhabitants for up to 3 months. The city boasts a number of impressive features such as its sophisticated ventilation system and unique series of pipes that was used to pour hot oil on attackers attempting to breach the chamber doors.

The Zelve Open-Air Museum is a monastic cave town that has been carved into the rock face of three connecting valleys. Inhabited as recently as the 1950s, the eroding town of Zelve possesses both Christian and Muslim dwellings, reflecting the fact that for many centuries both religious groups resided peacefully in this town with one another.

Read more
Image 3

Day 9 : Cappadocia

Explore Goreme open-air museum, Devrent Valley and go for a 4km walk in the Red Valley to visit some rock-hewn churches and fairy chimneys. Visit the Greek village of  Cavusin and a short visit of the Valley of the Pigeons. Overnight in Cappadocia.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The Red Valley and Güllüdere Vadisi (Rose Valley) are two spectacular valleys in the Cappadocia region, each with varying types of rock formations and colour. The red valley shelters a series of intriguing rock-cut cave churches, with beautiful frescoes and paintings. Nearby is the Pigeon valley, named after the pigeon-cotes carved on its walls. The village of Old Cavusin was abandoned several decades ago due to avalanches. The current village of Cavusin is located on the road and is the typical authentic village. Old Cavusin, with its rock-cut dwellings and stone houses is home to the oldest church in Cappadocia. Ortahisar is another Cappadocian village dominated by a fortress-like rock rising above winding roads.

Devrent Valley is home to the famous Fairy Chimneys near Goreme and is known as the imaginary valley or animal valley due to the animal shapes in rocks. While Fairy chimneys can be found in much of Cappadocia, these are the best formed and most densely clustered. The volcanic rock of this area has allowed erosion to form these chimneys as well as other landforms such as caves, clefts and folds in the rock, making this breathtaking landscape unique. A thick layer of tuff (consolidated volcanic ash) is covered by a thinner layer of basalt which is more resistant to erosion than the underlying rock. Cracks in the basalt enable erosion of the underlying rock. These fairy chimneys were formed where the resistant rock remains protecting the underlying rock directly beneath it from erosion. The mineral-rich volcanic soil is excellent for growing fruit and vegetables, making Cappadocia a rich agricultural region. It has always been one of Anatolia's prime grape-growing areas and still boasts many productive vineyards and wineries. The Bible's New Testament tells of Cappadocia, but in fact this part of central Anatolia has been important since Hittite times, long before the time of Jesus.

Read more
Image 3

Day 10 : Çatalhöyük - Konya

After breakfast, drive to Konya (305 km) stopping to visit the ancient site of Çatalhöyük where excavations are ongoing. Overnight in Konya.

Meal plan: Breakfast



Excavated as recently as the 1950s, Çatalhöyük is one of the best preserved examples of a Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement. Built around two hills of the Anatolian plateau, the settlement was inhabited for two thousand years between 7500 BC and 5700 BC. Çatalhöyük began life as a village and, unusually, in a time when village settlements were abandoned and new land used to build cities, the buildings were adapted and urbanised to accommodate a growing population. With a particularly advanced culture for its time, Çatalhöyük boasts impressive early artworks: unusual artistic wall paintings, flint daggers decorated with bone handles and most notably, the clay and marble figurines found scattered around the site which archaeologists take as evidence of a female deity. The housing designs are perhaps the most striking – all the houses were clustered together in a maze-like manner, but instead of streets or footpaths the roofs functioned as paths between the houses which were accessed through steps and ladders leading to the ceiling. With no windows either, these ‘doorways’ in the ceiling were also the only means of ventilation. Çatalhöyük also had unusual burial customs, burying the dead under the floorboards, painting skulls with ochre to make them appear more lifelike. 

Read more
Image 3

Day 11 : Rumi - Departure

After breakfast, visit the holy site of Rumi. Later take a flight back to Istanbul.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The Holy City of Rumi gains its reputation in legend from the nearby city of Çatalhöyük, but it is best known for housing the shrine of Rumi, the great Sufi poet, who died in 1273. As well as the shrine, the site contains many interesting archaeological relics from the Seljuk period. However, Konya itself was established as a settlement as far back as the Bronze Age.

Read more
Accommodation

Accommodation Title

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

Image 3

Turkoman Hotel

Overlooking the ancient Roman Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque and the Sea of Marmara, Turkoman Hotel is situated in an ideal central location with an outdoor terrace to enjoy the views of Istanbul's famous sites. All rooms feature air conditioning, TV, minibar, and a safety boxe (available at reception). Wi-Fi access is available in public areas of the hotel. 

Visit hotel's site
Image 3

Hotel Euphrat

A basic hotel located close to Mount Nemrut. All rooms are en-suite and come fitted with an LCD TV, minibar, air conditioning and free wireless Internet. The on-site restaurant serves a range of local delicacies. 

Visit hotel's site
Image 3

Hilton Garden Inn

Located in an area known as the ''Fertile Crescent'' where a great deal of traditional architecture has been preserved, the Hilton Garden Inn is within walking distance of the city center and Urfa's main historical sites. Comfortable en suite rooms feature AC, satellite TV, tea/coffee making facilities and a minibar.

Visit hotel's site
Image 3

Anadolu Evleri

Located in the city centre of Gaziantep, Anadolu Evleri hotel features a restored, stone built structure with a courtyard and a wine cellar. The hotel offers unique rooms with authentic interiors and air conditioning. The restaurant serves regional cuisine so you can enjoy local delicacies with a relaxing glass of wine.

Visit hotel's site
Image 3

Hotel Tunali

Located within the business district of Ankara, Hotel Tunali is within walking distance of many of Ankara's main attractions. All rooms feature a minibar, air conditioning, plasma TV, safety deposit box and Wi-Fi access. The hotel also has an on-site restaurant. 

Visit hotel's site
Image 3

Baskent Demiralan Hotel

Baskent Demiralan is a modern, three star hotel within 10 minutes drive of Hattusa. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi access in all areas. Rooms have carpeted floors and air conditioning. All rooms include attached bathroom, a mini refrigerator, TV with satellite channels, hairdryer and a seating area.

Visit hotel's site
Image 3

The MDC Cave Hotel

MDC HOTEL is located in Ürgüp, Cappadocia, a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. The name Cappadocia comes from Katpatuka, an ancient Persian word meaning “land of horses.” The region is now largely agricultural and the spectacular landscape is dotted with distinct rock structures. The MDC HOTEL grounds cover 15,000 m2, ideally located between an old river valley and ancient Ürgüp.  Room Facilities: Jacuzzi/Whirlpool, telephone, radio, LCD TV, tea/coffee maker, minibar and a safety deposit box. 

Visit hotel's site
Image 3

​Hilton Garden Inn

Hilton Garden Inn in Konya is located close to Mevlana Tomb and Museum, Alaeddin Mosque, and Ince Minaret Medrese. All rooms offer complimentary WiFi, an adjustable Garden Sleep System bed™, minibar and a spacious work desk with ergonomic chair. Dining options include a restaurant, a coffee shop/café, and a bar/lounge. Additional amenities include a fitness facility, room service (during limited hours) and complimentary wireless internet. 

Visit hotel's site
Extensions

Istanbul Extensions (5 days)

Extend your trip from Istanbul

Archaeology of Eastern Turkey (11 days)

Discover the incredible history of Eastern Turkey

Archaeology of Western Turkey (11 days)

Uncover historical secrets in the west

Turkish Volcano Trek (10 days)

Stunning eastern peaks including Mount Ararat

Silk Road through Turkey (17 days)

Ancient trading routes, historic battles and striking scenery

The Magic of Cappadocia (4 days)

Unique history and fairytale landscapes

Eastern Turkey Snapshot (10 days)

A glimpse of Turkey's hidden charms

Eastern Turkey Explorer (14 days)

Discover Turkey's most hidden secrets

Classical Constantinople (4 days)

Discover the exotic charms of this eternal city

Classical Turkey (10 days)

Journey through Turkey's iconic sites

Reviews

I would not hesitate in using Travel the Unknown for any future journeys to off the beaten track destinations.

Andrea Selfridge , Tailormade Turkey

Arda, our local guide was absolutely the best. Always a smile, always running (literally) to fulfill every request, treating every member as his personal responsibility, and going way way above and beyond to assist and accommodate. He is a so remarkably knowledgeable, and seemingly found no question beyond his ability to answer & explain. And his English is impeccable. KEEP HIM!!! Very special individual. Andrew is an incredible guide, with such a wealth of information and passion for his subjects. He never tired and made the trip fascinating and exciting due to the perspectives and explanations he shared continuously based upon years of research. Felt very fortunate to be in his presence for 2 weeks in such places that we were able to visit. Same for Hugh. And Hugh`s constant humour was delightful. These two balance each other well, and make a great team

Peggy Roberts , Tailormade Turkey

I had a lovely time in Turkey. Both of the tours that were part of the package were fabulous, both tour guides were very knowledgeable and made the trips very interesting providing plenty of information, and the places where we went for lunches as part of the trip were superb. David McGuinness is a credit to Travel the Unknown, he goes that `extra mile` to keep customer happy. I`d like to say a huge `thank you` for all the help you gave me organising and planning my trip. I certainly will recommend anyone to use you for planning their `unknown` destination holiday. The emails, telephone calls were all spot on, well done :-) :-)

Jane Kimberley , The Magic of Cappadocia, Turkey

A great way to travel to some of the more remote and interesting places in the world. It was a very interesting area and we saw a lot that we would never have managed on our own. I would recommend the holiday to others.

Marion McCallum , Eastern Turkey Snapshot, Turkey

This trip was an amazing and very exhilarating experience. We had high hopes of Gobekli Tepe, which were totally fulfilled- it is utterly amazing, but we had not anticipated some of the other gems to be so exceptional as well. We were a small group, which made the trip very personal. Altogether it was a marvellous week, helped by having a caring guide and an excellent driver.

Joy Lawley , Eastern Turkey Snapshot, Turkey

Charming people organising the trip and acting as guides. An inspirational visit taking us to out of the way places we would never have had the chance to visit. The personal touch Travel the Unknown brings sets them apart.

Caroline & Peter , Eastern Turkey Snapshot, Turkey

We greatly enjoyed visiting the ancient sites of Western Turkey with an experienced guide and seeing the remains of so many different periods and cultures. The scenery was spectacular and we felt that the tour gave us a wonderful introduction to the country.

Michael Wilson , Archaeology of Western Turkey, Turkey

We covered many miles and saw some fantastic sites and sights. The special access that our tour leader provided really enhanced the experience for me - I`ll certainly never forget tracking down an inscription in Van with his help - and to see Gobekli Tepe and Nemrut Dag on the same day was marvelous. At the end of the trip, the Zeugma Mosaic Museum was a wonderful surprise - the best mosaics I`ve ever seen, in a truly world-class setting.

Jim Cleary , Eastern Turkey Explorer, Turkey

Travel the Unknown provide good friendly advice and information before travel. They are very approachable and helpful. The accommodation is of a high standard as are the meals. Local guides are knowledgeable and anxious to ensure that travellers have a good and rounded experience.

Anthony Twohig , Eastern Turkey Explorer, Turkey

I went on this trip rather than all the other interesting possibilities in the world because I wanted to go to Gobekli Tepe. Being there was all I could have hoped for. It was a stunning experience and I was moved to tears. Thank you so much for the opportunity. Regarding the food, the olives were the best I`ve ever tasted. And the yoghurt is fabulous. Also the cheese and pistachios and apricots. Oh yes, and the watermelon : ) Thanks to David too for being so patient with my endless questions

Cynthia Bishop , Eastern Turkey Explorer, Turkey

This was a very exciting itinerary including fantastic historic and prehistoric site visits, as well as visits to wonderful towns, restaurants and markets. The attentiveness of the guide ensured that everything went smoothly, even in very out-of-the way places. It was possible to fall in love with the drama of the landscape, the character of the architecture, the colour, sights and sounds of the towns, the friendliness and honesty of the people - and I did!

Jane Neild , Eastern Turkey Explorer, Turkey
More reviews