Turkey Beyond Istanbul

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Still, Chase says, there’s a variety of handicrafts there and “some music that’s different.” In particular, she points out that the Laz people on the eastern end of the Black Sea, are notable for their skills in making bacclava—Turkey’s famous treat—and as pastry chefs. And there are Laz recipes, she says, “…that persist in the greater body of Turkish cuisine.”

And certainly, she points out, it’s a destination that’s rich in cultural and historical diversity, as well as a region that’s equally rich in ancient myths. “It’s a place that’s been a crossroads since antiquity. Ovid was exiled there from Rome because some of his writings upset the Caesars. It’s also a place of great myth—Jason and the Golden Fleece, Medea and all that.”

Asia Minor Travel and Tours has a 17-day Eastern Turkey & the Black Sea escorted tour that focuses on much of that rich history in an in-depth program that starts off with an afternoon flight from Istanbul to Trabazon where travelers will visit the 13th century Hagia Sofia of Trabazon built by the Komnenos Dynasty, followed by a visit to the breathtaking Monastery of the Black Virgin of Sumela that seems to hang precariously from the edge of a sheer rock alongside a mountain, built in the 14th century.

Other highlights include a half-day tour of the medieval metropolis of Ani located near the Turkey and Armenia border and the city of Kars with its Kars Castle and Archaeological Museum. Next stop is the 18th century palace of Ishak Pasha, followed by a visit to spectacular Mt. Ararat, the alleged landing site of Noah’s Ark. At Lake Van—the largest lake in Turkey—visitors head out to Akdamar Island, on which the Church of the Holy Cross stands in solitude. Nearby Cavusteppe is one of the most important Urartian fortress settlements in the area, followed by a visit to an early-17th century castle built by Sari (Blond) Suleymen Bey.

A minibus takes tour-goers up the 6,800-ft. Nemrut Mountain, which houses the biggest crater lake in Turkey and the second largest crater lake in the world. For those interested in the Seljuk peoples—a Turco-Persian Sunni Muslim dynasty that ruled parts of Central Asia and the Middle East from the 11th to 14th centuries—they’ll want to see the Seljuk period mausoleums whose magnificent architecture and stone carving have led historians to describe it as the land of the Seljuk renaissance and one of the greatest monuments of early Turkish civilization, Anatolia, going back to the 15th century B.C.

The impressive ancient town of Mardin and the Monastery of Dayrul-Zeferan are on UNESCO’s World Cultural List and are located very close to the Syrian border. After catching a local ferry to the town of Kahta, visitors get up early to experience the famous sunrise at the top of Mount Nemrut, climbing up to the Tumulus or tomb of Antiochos, the king of Kommagene, where the original stone heads of King Antiochos, Zeus and other god figures from the Kommagene time in the 1st century B.C. are located and where 2,000 years ago, the people of Commagene paid homage to their gods with cult celebrations at a fire altar. It has to be one of the highlights of the tour.

There’s a whole lot more, but the tour program illustrates the incredible history of the region and its importance in the region’s history. Tell your Turkey tour enthusiasts, there’s a lot more to Turkey than Cappadocia and Istanbul.