Ancient Borderlands of Western Turkey
Below the list of locations in the table is the full itinerary with details as posted by SAR
Join us on an exclusive adventure into some of the most fascinating and significant regions of the ancient world—Ionia, Lydia, and Caria—now within the modern nation of Turkey. Led by historian Dr. John Lee and renowned Turkish guide Yıldırım Özturhan, and drawing upon SAR’s connections with other experts on ancient and modern Turkey, we will explore the history, archaeology, art, and culture of this beautiful area, all while traveling in five-star comfort.
Ionia can justly claim to be the birthplace of Greek literature and philosophy. The poet Homer came from the town of Smyrna, while the town of Miletus produced philosophers like Thales and Anaximander, who theorized about the nature of the universe. Lydia, famed for its gold, was home to kings like Gyges and Croesus. Caria was renowned for its fierce warriors, “bronze men” who served as mercenaries across the eastern Mediterranean.
We’ll visit sites ranging from the early days of Greek civilization to the waning days of the Roman Empire, and even some from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. During these many centuries, western Turkey featured overlapping borderlands—places where Empires met and where diverse cultures met and mingled.
Under the Roman Empire, this was a prosperous and densely populated province. But our trip will examine the full range of the region’s history, from the early Lydian monarchy to the Persian conquest through the period of Classical Greece down to the time of Alexander the Great and his successors. By visiting the region’s most important sites and museums, we will see firsthand how cultures interacted with each other and how the ancient people shaped their cities.
Our literary companions on this trip will include Homer, the Greek historian Herodotus (“the father of history”), and the Roman geographer Strabo. We’ll hear the words of these writers as we stand on the very spot where the events they describe occurred, or while looking at the very same monuments they saw. Hearing these stories on location is an experience that simply cannot be replicated.
On this unique trip, you will be encouraged to look at and interpret ancient sites and art for yourselves. Our guides won’t just tell you what you’re looking at—you will be invited to look closely and analyze what you see. Each visit to a site will help you build up your own knowledge, a foundation for further explorations and adventures of your own.
The trip will also invite us to experience, understand, and appreciate the natural landscape of the region, and how it has influenced—and continues to influence—human settlement. We’ll travel along some of the most important river valleys, including the Maeander and Hermos, and see a striking range of terrain from alluvial plains to rugged hills and mountains.
This trip is also a wonderful chance to see the changing face of modern Turkey. Today, Turkey is a secular democratic republic that is experiencing rapid economic development. We’ll visit some very famous tourist sites, such as Ephesos, but we’re also going to see places that are truly off the beaten track. By going in late March rather than in the summer, we miss the heat, the crowds, and the higher prices. Early spring in western Turkey can be delightful, with green fields and blooming flowers.
Last but certainly not least, we will enjoy the food and culture of modern Turkey. The Turkish people are friendly and welcoming, the hotels exceptional, and the food delicious.
(specific activities and accommodations are subject to change)
Thursday, March 21
Gather in Izmir, with a group dinner to welcome everyone to Turkey. Accommodations:Swissotel Buyuk Efes Izmir Meals Included: Dinner
Friday, March 22
We begin the day with a visit to Old Smyrna, the birthplace of Homer, followed by a walk through the Agora (marketplace) of Roman Smyrna. In the afternoon, we journey to the ancient port town of Phocaea and the Taş Kule tomb, dating to the time of the Persian Empire. The Phocaeans were great sailors who founded many cities, including Massilia (today’s Marseille). Accommodations:Swissotel Buyuk Efes Izmir Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner
Saturday, March 23
We head to Manisa (ancient Magnesia) to see the archaeological museum and visit the Muradiye Mosque, built by the famed Ottoman architect Sinan (1489/90–1588). After lunch, we visit Sardis, the ancient capital of the Lydian kings. At Sardis, we visit the Temple of Artemis, the huge Roman Bath-Gymnasium complex, and the remains of a Roman-period Jewish synagogue. From Sardis, we drive along the upper Hermos valley to Pamukkale—a chance to see the diversity and fertility of the Turkish countryside. Accommodations:Colossae Thermal Hotel Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner
Sunday, March 24
The morning is spent at Pamukkale, famous for its mineral springs and terraces as well as for its well-preserved Roman remains, including the mysterious Plutonium (sanctuary of the god Pluto). In the afternoon, we explore the Roman city of Aphrodisias, with its stunning marble sculpture and buildings, including a stadium that once housed 30,000 spectators. We end the day with a visit to traditional pottery workshops in the town of Karacasu. We overnight in Aydin, a convenient stopping place on our way south. Accommodations: Anemon Hotel Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner
Monday, March 25
We venture into the hill country of Caria, where we first visit Alinda, a hilltop fortress once owned by the Carian Queen Ada, an ally of Alexander the Great. It is often touted as “one giant photo op.” Later in the day, we see Lagina, the site of a Temple to Hekate, goddess of the underworld. We also explore Stratonikeia, an ancient Carian town that prospered under the successors of Alexander and into the Roman Empire. Accommodations: Grand Yazici Hotel Meals Included: Breakfast
Tuesday, March 26
Bodrum, or ancient Halicarnassus, is the hometown of the Greek Herodotus, “The Father of History.” In the morning, we visit Bodrum Castle, built by the Knights Hospitaller in the 1400s, and its underwater archaeology museum—highlights include gold from the Bronze Age and a cargo of glass from Byzantine times. We see the remains of the monumental tomb of King Maussolus of Caria—the Maussoleum. In the afternoon, you are free to explore the beautiful Mediterranean town of Bodrum. Accommodations: Grand Yazici Hotel Meals Included: Breakfast
Wednesday, March 27
We start with a morning visit to Labraunda, the ancient sanctuary of Carian Zeus (climb up to the fortified acropolis if you want). Afternoon stops include the fortifications of Herakleia-under-Latmos, on the shores of Lake Bafa (Bafa Gölü), and the remains of Iasos, which was continuously settled from the Bronze Age to Byzantine times. Accommodations: Grand Yazici Hotel Meals Included: Breakfast
Thursday, March 28
Traveling north from Bodrum, we visit Euromos, a well-preserved Roman temple, as well as Didyma, home to an Oracle of Apollo. After lunch, we visit the brand new museum and impressive Roman theater of Miletos. Finally, our group explores the well-preserved ancient town of Priene, with its grid-planned streets and pictureque setting. Accommodations:Kalehan Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast
Friday, March 29
Ephesos, the most famous site of the region, is saved for the last full day of our adventure. We will see the amazing Terrace Houses, dating from the Roman Empire, with mosaics and wall paintings still in place. In the afternoon, nearby sights such as the Oracle at Klaros, the Belevi Monument (a royal tomb), and the peaceful village of Belevi invite exploration. Back in Selçuk, carpet shopping in the evening provides a fitting ending to our trip.
Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner
Saturday, March 30
You’ll wish the trip could last longer! From here, participants can return to the US—or they may wish to extend their time in Turkey, perhaps visiting the amazing city of Istanbul, adventuring into the picturesque fairyland of Cappadocia, or traveling farther west along the Mediterranean coast.
Meals Included: Breakfast
Prof. John W. I. Lee is Associate Professor of History at UC Santa Barbara, where he directs the Ancient Mediterranean Studies PhD program and is a co-organizer of the University of California Multi-Campus Research Group on Ancient Borderlands. John’s current research focuses on Persian-Greek interactions in the fifth century BC. He has led travel study groups in both Greece and Turkey.
Mr. Yıldırım Özturhan is a licensed professional tour guide with many decades of experience guiding university and tourist groups in Turkey. For the past twenty years, he has been a guide for the annual research trips of the American School of Classical Studies. Yıldırım and his wife divide their time between Izmir and the nearby town of Çesme.
Dr. John Kantner is Vice President of SAR and an archaeologist whose research has spanned the globe. While best known for his investigations of the Chaco phenomenon in the US Southwest, his current research on the evolution of monumental pilgrimage centers is international in scope and has included field work in Peru and comparative work on sacred sites in Turkey.