The western coast of Anatolia is one of the most brilliant expressions of the ancient Mediterranean. It was the meeting place of two worlds – a maritime one of commerce, contact and ideas and an inland one of agriculture, but also wealth and power. The legendary Midas, whose hand turned everything to gold, was from Phrygia in inland Anatolia, and successive territorial powers in these regions were the Hittites, Assyrians, Persians and Greeks under Alexander and his successors. Nearly two millennia after Alexander, the Ottoman Turks arrived to create an empire that lasted for over four centuries until the birth of modern Turkey.
In the centuries following the end of the Bronze Age (from c. 1100 BC onwards) Greeks settled along the coast: traditionally Aeolians in the north, Ionians further down the coast and Dorians yet further south. They founded cities all along the Aegean, up the river valleys and down the Mediterranean coast to the south. Most of the local peoples in these areas took on Greek culture.
The new civic form of the polis – a city, with territory attached for food production, and, in the coastal areas, a harbour for trading – was perfectly suited to this region. Cities took off from the seventh century BC in parallel with those of the Greek mainland. In the sixth and fifth centuries BC one of the greatest advances in human thought – the attempt to explain the natural world according to laws based on scientific observation – took place in these cities. The key early philosophers, Thales, Anaximenes and Anaximander, were all based in the city of Miletus. Town planning was also associated with this city, where a rigorous street plan survives, thanks to the father of urban planning, Hippodamus (fifth century BC). A remarkable manifestation can also be seen at the fourth-century city of Priene.
According to a traditional ‘Hellenophile’ view, ‘everything beautiful is Greek, everything ugly is Roman’. Apart from this not being true, Roman city-building was a continuation of Greek, aided by the way local communities worked within the Roman empire. It was politically necessary for leaders to adorn their cities with monuments, and they tapped into the marvellous architectural and sculptural traditions of the region, as we see at Aphrodisias most spectacularly. Most of what remains to be seen today on this tour is of Hellenistic and Roman origin through to Byzantine.
From the fourth century, the cities reconfigured themselves in a Christian guise. However, with a falling-away of maritime commerce and political disruption marked by Arab advances overland in the seventh century, the ancient cities went into severe decline. Even the greatest of them, such as Ephesus or Sardis, became villages or were abandoned entirely. Most did not revive in the economic world of the Middle Ages. Some – notably Izmir and Antalya – did. The cities now comprise the most magnificent set of remains: whether coastal, mountain or plateau, the ravishing landscapes provide a backdrop for this tour of extraordinary beauty.
Fly at c. 11.25am (Turkish Airlines) from London Heathrow to Izmir, via Istanbul. Dinner in the hotel. First of three nights in Izmir.
Pergamon. Under the Hellenistic Attalid dynasty, Pergamon became the most powerful city-state in Asia Minor, rivalling Athens and Alexandria as a centre of culture. On a steep-sided hill are remains of Attalid palaces, a Temple of Dionysus and an Altar of Zeus (most of which is now in Berlin), the Greek theatre and remains of the library, and the Temple of Athena. The Asclepieon and ‘Temple of Serapis’ (Red Fort) lie on flat ground below.
Sardis, Izmir. Drive inland to Sardis, capital of the Kingdom of Lydia, whose last independent ruler was the fabulously wealthy Croesus (560–546 BC); it later became an important Roman city. See the impressive remains of the Temple of Artemis, the reconstructed ‘Marble Court’, gymnasium and the 3rd-century synagogue, the largest in the ancient world. Free time in Izmir, Greek Smyrna.
Ephesus. Drive south to Ephesus, the principal centre on the Aegean coast under the Roman Empire and capital of the province of Asia, with a population of 400,000 in the 2nd-century AD. The most popular pagan pilgrimage destination in the Graeco-Roman world, the city was also key to the development of Christianity. Ruined by the sedimentation of its estuary and finally sacked in the 7th-century, Ephesus has become the most extensively excavated site of the ancient world. Among the more striking buildings are the Library of Celsus and the theatre, originally seating 24,000 and scene of the protest against St Paul described in the Acts of the Apostles. First of three nights in Kusadasi.
Priene, Didyma, Miletus. A small city of the Dodecapolis in southern Ionia, Priene is sited above the Maeander plain. Its hillside site ill-suiting it for Roman commerce, the remains date largely from the late Classical and early Hellenistic periods, and it exhibits one of the earliest of grid street layouts. The Temple of Athena Polias at the summit was designed by the architect Pythius. Didyma was a sanctuary with an oracle which, for a time, rivalled that at Delphi. Impressive remains of the colossal Hellenistic Temple of Apollo. Miletus: massive, well-preserved Roman theatre, baths of Faustina, wife of Marcus Aurelius.
Selçuk, Ephesus. Morning visit to the Temple of Apollo at Claros before returning to Selçuk to see the restored Basilica of St John at the top of Ayasuluk Hill, and the Isla Bey mosque at the bottom. A second visit to the vast site of Ephesus, or a free afternoon in the coastal town of Kusadasi.
Aphrodisias. Leave the coast and drive into the interior of Anatolia. One of the most beautiful classical sites in Turkey, Aphrodisias was the centre of a Roman cult of Aphrodite. An important school for the production of high-quality and widely exported sculpture, there are many fine examples in the museum. Among the architectural remains are the Temple of Aphrodite and the largest and most complete stadium to have survived from the ancient world. Drive to Antalya for the first of three nights there.
Antalya. Founded by (and named after) Attalus II of Pergamum, Antalya was the principal port in Pamphylia in ancient and Byzantine times. The morning is spent exploring the old town with its restored Ottoman period houses, followed by a free afternoon.
Perge, Aspendos, Antalya. Colonised by the Greeks after the Trojan War, Perge has substantial Hellenistic and Roman gates and colonnaded streets. While the Roman aqueduct at Aspendos is the best-preserved in Asia Minor, the marvellously complete theatre is the best-preserved in the whole of the Roman world. Afternoon visit to the one of the country’s finest archaeological museums with exhibits from prehistory to Ottoman. Final night in Antalya.
Fly from Antalya (via Istanbul) arriving London Heathrow at c. 4.40pm.
Emeritus Reader in Classics at Cambridge University. His special interest is the archaeology of ancient cities and he has been an excavating archaeologist – working at Carthage for many years and more recently in Rome. He has travelled widely in Greece and Turkey.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £3,660 or £3,350 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,970 or £3,660 without flights.
Air travel (economy class) on scheduled Turkish Airlines flights London to Istanbul (Airbus A330); Istanbul to Izmir; Antalya to Istanbul and Istanbul to London (Boeing 737-800); private coach for all other journeys. Hotel accommodation as described below. Breakfasts, 8 lunches and 8 dinners, including wine, water and coffee. All admissions to museums and sites, etc., visited with the group. All gratuities for restaurant staff and drivers. All state and airport taxes. The services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guides.
Required for most foreign nationals, and not included in the tour price. You will need to apply online in advance.
Hilton, Izmir: large, modern 5-star hotel overlooking the Citadel and old port. Double Tree by Hilton, Kusadasi: modern 4-star hotel. Tuavana Hotel, Antalya: beautiful converted traditional house, now a boutique hotel within the old city walls. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
The tour covers long distances by coach, and on some days there are several hours of driving. There are two hotel changes. There is a lot of walking over the very rough terrain of partially excavated archaeological sites. Some visits require an uphill walk to reach the site. Agility and stamina are essential. Average distance by coach per day: 80 miles.
10 to 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.
'The choice of itinerary was first class and the reason we booked this tour. Everyday was used to full advantage.'
'All the sites were wonderful, with individual characteristics that avoided repetition.'
'Tour met all my expectations and more. It will be one of my happy memories. I will be booking more tours with MRT!'