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Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul: Seat of Three Empires

Program Number: 18720RJ
Start and End Dates:
10/8/2013 - 10/17/2013; 3/1/2016 - 3/10/2016; 4/26/2016 - 5/5/2016; 5/17/2016 - 5/26/2016; 10/4/2016 - 10/13/2016; 10/11/2016 - 10/20/2016; 11/8/2016 - 11/17/2016;
Duration: 9 nights
Location: Turkey
Price starting at: $2,698.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 18; 8 Breakfasts, 6 Lunches, 4 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian; Low Fat; Low Salt    

Istanbul is the only place on earth where you can experience two continents, 17 centuries and the customs of dozens of ethnic groups within the confines of a single city. Discover the magical and legendary in Istanbul through presentations on Byzantine history and art, Ottoman architecture, and the evolution of the bazaars, along with visits to its great monuments: Hagia Sophia — the grand former cathedral of the Byzantine Empire — the Roman Hippodrome and Topkapi Palace, seat of the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years.


• Witness the Sufi's Whirling Dervish religious ceremony at their sacred center.
• Enjoy a private study cruise on the Bosphorus and marvel at the waterfront palaces, mansions and fortresses.
• Discover the excellence of Turkish cuisine during a gourmet lunch of local specialties at renowned Ciya Restaurant.

Activity Particulars

Walking up to four hours on crowded city streets and bazaars. Stairs in some buildings and on motorcoaches.

Date Specific Information

3-1-2016, 4-26-2016, 5-17-2016, 10-4-2016, 10-11-2016, 11-8-2016

Enjoy the latest in hearing technology — listening devices — on this date.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Istanbul, 8 nights, departure.

Overnight flight from U.S.A.
1 night
Arrival Istanbul
8 nights

Set out to discover the breathtaking architecture of the Hagia Sophia with a local expert before continuing on to explore the Underground Cisterns, the Hippodrome and the Archeological Museums. View the most holy relics of the Muslim world during an excursion to Topkapi Palace and pay a visit to Dolmabahce Palace. A boat ride along the Bosphrous offers beautiful views of the region, as well as a leisurely stroll through the seaside region of Ortakoy. Stop by the Whirling Dervish center to witness the ritual of the Sufis. Walk along the ancient walls of Istanbul, including the Yedikule Fortress and Dungeons, and see the Church of Chora. Marvel at the work of local artisans as you explore the Spice and Grand Bazaars, and explore the Modern Art Museum with an expert. Take in the panoramic sunset views of the old city as you ascend the medieval Galata Tower and admire the exquisite blue tiles of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.


Turkey is bracketed by seas on three sides, which has facilitated its status as a crossroads of different civilizations for tens of thousands of years. It is modernizing rapidly, but its past is everywhere apparent. It is a country where centuries-old mosques and castles blend with modern streets and buildings to create a unique blend of past and present, European and Oriental influences.

Five-star hotel exudes elegance, featuring Italian Carrera marbles, antique Italian venetian colors, stained glass lighting and a 105-year-old antique elevator that offers a nostalgic Beyoglu experience.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Zeynep Kuban

Dr. Zeynep Kuban is an assistant professor of architecture at Istanbul Technical University, one of the most prominent educational institutions in Turkey. Her special area of interest is architectural history. Dr. Kuban’s lectures to Road Scholar participants share her wonderful insights on the creation of one of the world’s most architecturally fascinating cities from early Roman times to the 21st century.
Vehbi Baysan

Vehbi Baysan earned a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Manchester — Institute of Science and Technology in 2004. An instructor at Koc University from 2004-06, he is now director of the international office and a lecturer at Yeditepe University. Dr. Baysan has been teaching courses on contemporary Middle East and late-Ottoman history.
Meals and Lodgings
   Palazzo Donizetti
  Istanbul, Turkey 8 nights
 Palazzo Donizetti
Type: Five-Star Hotel
  Description: Palazzo Donizetti Hotel, named after the musician Giuseppe Donizetti who lived in Beyoglu in the times of the Ottoman Empire, is a new hotel.The building that was traditionally used as a guesthouse carries footsteps throughout the years, and lives today combining both elegance and comfort.Glorious Italian Carrera marbles, antique Italian venetian colors, stained glass lighting in addition to high ceilings with classic motifs and golden foils were used in the hotel. Palazzo Donizetti's 105 year old antique elevator also presents a nostalgic Beyoglu experience.
  Contact info: Asmali Mescit Sok. No: 55
Beyoglu, Istanbul
Istanbul,   Turkey
phone: + 90 212 249-5151
  Room amenities: Working Desk, Free Wi-fi Internet Access, 24 hour Room Service, 32 inch LCD Full HD Television, Interactive TV System, Coffee-Tea set-up, Minibar, Safe-box (large enough to contain a laptop), Pillow Menu, Daily Newspaper Service and Turn Down Services are provided in our rooms.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: 180 Euro/tax & breakfast incl. Participants need to contact Baltac Tourism at VISA or MasterCard is required.
  Check in time: 2:00 PM
  Additional nights after: 180 Euro/tax & breakfast incl. Participants need to contact Baltac Tourism at VISA or MasterCard is required.
  Check out time: 12:00 PM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
6 p.m. on Day Two, in the hotel lobby for welcome and orientation You will be staying at Palazzo Donizetti that night.
  End of Program:
After breakfast at 10 AM. You will be staying at Palazzo Donizetti the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. A passport valid a minimum of six months after return travel date. A visa, valid for three months, must be purchased at the Istanbul airport upon arrival. The enclosed Health and Safety Questionnaire must be completed and faxed or mailed to the Program Provider upon enrollment.
Transportation (For Independent Travelers)
  Train or bus availability: Bus will be arranged from the first day to the last.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Istanbul
  Nearest airport:  Istanbul Ataturk International Airport
  Transportation to site: Group transfers will be available for participants who bought their tickets through Road Scholar Travel Services. After purchasing the visa, clearing passport control and customs, go through the sliding doors and look for the Road Scholar sign OR your name on a board or a piece of paper. After you introduce your self to our representative, you will be in safe hands.
  From End of Program
  Location: Istanbul
  Transportation from site: If you are traveling independently, you can write to to arrange a private transfer with greet and meet service. Otherwise, the most convenient method is to take a taxi to the hotel. Taxis are lined outside the arrival terminal. Make sure you have the name and address of the hotel written down on a piece of paper to show to the driver in order to avoid any misunderstandings. A taxi ride costs approximately 45 Turkish Liras (approximately U.S $25 - 30)
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Elevation Note: Istanbul is at sea level.

Equipment Requirements: Comfortable walking shoes recommended.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Departures
(Tuesday, October 8)
 Evening: Depart on overnight flights from the U.S.

Day 2: Arrivals, Welcome and Program Overview
(Wednesday, October 9)
 Morning: Arrivals.
 Lunch: Your choice to explore local fare.
 Afternoon: Arrivals. Program overview and welcome at the hotel.
 Dinner: Welcome Dinner at the hotel.
 Evening: At leisure.
Accommodations: Palazzo Donizetti
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 3: The Byzantine Heritage of Istanbul
(Thursday, October 10)
 Breakfast: In the hotel.
 Morning: A professor from the Istanbul Technical University School of Architecture introduces "Byzantine History and Art." Afterwards, set out to discover Hagia Sophia on a guided visit.
 Lunch: In a restaurant in the old city.
 Afternoon: Continue to the Underground Cisterns, the Hippodrome and the Archeological Museums.
 Dinner: In a local restaurant.
 Evening: At leisure.
Accommodations: Palazzo Donizetti
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: The Ottoman Heritage of Istanbul
(Friday, October 11)
 Breakfast: In the hotel.
 Morning: A presentation on Ottoman architecture serves as an introduction to your visit of the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent, the second-largest mosque of Istanbul. Visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque for its exquisite tiles. Built from 1609 - 1616, it is the largest and the the national mosque of Turkey.
 Lunch: In a restaurant in the old city.
 Afternoon: Continue to the Topkapi Palace, primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years of their 600-year reign, from 1465 to 1853. At the height of its existence as a royal residence, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people. The palace collections include Ottoman treasure, jewelry and the most holy relics of the Muslim world.
 Dinner: On Nevizade Street, an alley of “meyhanes” popular with the locals.
 Evening: Enjoy the vibrant local nightlife on the streets around your hotel.
Accommodations: Palazzo Donizetti
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: On the Bosphorus
(Saturday, October 12)
 Breakfast: In the hotel.
 Morning: Discover Dolmabahce Palace, the second palace of the Ottoman Sultans, situated on the Bosphorus. Then board a boat for a private cruise on the Bosphrous.
 Lunch: In a waterfront seafood restaurant.
 Afternoon: Stroll at leisure through Ortakoy, a seaside pedestrian area popular with residents and take in the boutiques, restaurants and coffeehouses.
 Dinner: Your choice to explore local fare.
 Evening: Stop by the Whirling Dervish center to witness the ritual of the Sufis.
Accommodations: Palazzo Donizetti
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 6: Ancient Walls and the Golden Horn
(Sunday, October 13)
 Breakfast: In the hotel.
 Morning: Enjoy a unique opportunity to walk along the ancient walls of Istanbul, including the Yedikule Fortress and Dungeons. See the Church of Chora, situated along the walls.
 Lunch: In a restaurant in the old city, by the ancient city walls.
 Afternoon: Visit Eyup Mosque, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the iron Bulgarian Church.
 Dinner: Your choice to explore local fare.
 Evening: At leisure.
Accommodations: Palazzo Donizetti
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 7: The Crafts and Bazaars of Istanbul
(Monday, October 14)
 Breakfast: In the hotel.
 Morning: A guided visit explores a hidden gem - the Rustem Pasha Mosque, famous for its colorful 16th-century tiles, then moves through the Spice Bazaar, on to the Grand Bazaar, where artisans sell their handcrafts, silver and jewelry. Hear a lecture on hand made carpets and learn more about this art.
 Lunch: In a restaurant at the Bazaar.
 Afternoon: Free Time. Explore more of the Bazaar on your own or return to hotel
 Dinner: On your own
 Evening: At leisure
Accommodations: Palazzo Donizetti
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 8: The Modern Face of Istanbul
(Tuesday, October 15)
 Breakfast: In the hotel.
 Morning: Depart to the Modern Art Museum for a discussion on Modern Turkey and its quest to become a member of the European Union. A guided visit of the museum follows. Then, board the local passenger ferry and cross to the Asian side of Istanbul.
 Lunch: In the open kitchen of renowned Ciya restaurant, learn about Turkish regional cuisine then sample of variety of dishes.
 Afternoon: Cross the Bosphorus Bridge back to the European side. Visit the modern, newly developed areas of Istanbul; Nisantasi and Etiler. Ascend the medieval Galata Tower, built in 1348, to take in the panoramic sunset views of the old city.
 Dinner: Your choice to explore local fare.
 Evening: At leisure.
Accommodations: Palazzo Donizetti
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 9: Free Day on Your Own to Discover More of Istanbul
(Wednesday, October 16)
 Breakfast: In the hotel.
 Morning: Free time on your own. Here are some suggested activities: 1) Take a boat ride to the Princes Islands and enjoy a horse-drawn carriage around one of the islands 2) Indulge yourself in a Turkish Bath (Hamam) 3) Visit the private Pera Museum (very close to the hotel) to see their impressive collection of Turkish paintings, including the Tortoise Trainer by Osman Hamdi 4) Visit the Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk's brain child 5) Stroll down Istiklal Street, sit at an outdoor cafe and people watch.
 Lunch: Your choice to explore local fare.
 Afternoon: Free time on your own. Continue with the activity of your own choice and interest.
 Dinner: Celebrate your in-depth exploration of Istanbul at a farewell dinner in a local restaurant.
 Evening: Return to hotel to pack!
Accommodations: Palazzo Donizetti
Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 10: Departures.
(Thursday, October 17)
 Breakfast: In the hotel.
 Morning: Departures.
Meals Included: Breakfast

Free Time Opportunities
  Istanbul Military Museum and Naval Museum
The Naval Museum contains over 4,000 items including boats from the Ottoman period, plates written by famous scribes on naval matters, flags, maps including the Piri Reis maps and other objects from Turkish naval history. Approximately 10,000 weapons and armor belonging to Turks and other nations are displayed in the Military Museum. There are 17 different halls organized under the following categories: Weapons, Tents, Clothing, World War I, Republican Era, Canakkale Battles, War of Independence, Ataturk and Martyrs. The Turkish Military Band Mehter holds concerts from 3 to 4 p.m. when the museums are open. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: 3 YTL. For additional information, visit
  Pera Museum
Recently opened museum housing a private family collection of old and contemporary Turkish art. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays. Entrance fee: Adults: 7 YTL. Discount for 60+ years old.
  Turkish Bath (Galatasaray)
No visit to Istanbul is ever complete without a visit to a Hamam, or Turkish Bath. Galatasaray Hamam is conveniently located close to the hotel. Open daily: For men: 5 a.m. to midnight, for women: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. For additional information, visit
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

A Short History Of Byzantium

Author: John Julius Norwich

Description: No time to wade, albeit enjoyably, through his three volume Byzantium series? This recent edition is based on his Byzantium trilogy and is equally as intelligent and inspired. Norwich is, as always, ever entertaining and engaging about this subject. An efficient read without loss of style or spirit. If you can’t manage three volumes right now, this one is for you.

Birds Without Wings

Author: Louis de Bernières

Description: In his first novel since Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières creates a world, populates it with characters as real as our best friends, and launches it into the maelstrom of twentieth-century history. The setting is a small village in southwestern Anatolia in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. Everyone there speaks Turkish, though they write it in Greek letters. It’s a place that has room for a professional blasphemer; where a brokenhearted aga finds solace in the arms of a Circassian courtesan who isn’t Circassian at all; where a beautiful Christian girl named Philothei is engaged to a Muslim boy named Ibrahim. But all of this will change when Turkey enters the modern world. Epic in sweep, intoxicating in its sensual detail, Birds Without Wings is an enchantment.

Constantinople; City of the World’s Desire, 1453-1924

Author: Philip Mansel

Description: Mansel is a noted historian and author of several works about the Sultans and the Ottoman World. This book focuses on the political and architectural history of the capital Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and covers the span of the Ottoman empire. The book ends on November 17, 1922 when the last Sultan and a small party slipped out of Palace at 8 AM and scrambled aboard a British naval ship that hauled anchor for Malta at 8:43 AM. A fine work, lots of detail, very readable and helpful in sorting out the complexities of 600 years of Ottoman power.

Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds

Author: Stephen Kinzer

Description: A passionate love for the Turkish people and an optimism that its ruling class can complete Turkey's transformation into a Western-style democracy mark Kinzer's reflections on a country that sits geographically and culturally at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Kinzer, the former New York Times Istanbul bureau chief, gives a concise introduction to Turkey: Kemal Ataterk's post-WWI establishment of the modern secular Turkish state; the odd makeup of contemporary society, in which the military enforces Ataterk's reforms. In stylized but substantive prose, he devotes chapters to the problems he sees plaguing Turkish society: Islamic fundamentalism, frictions regarding the large Kurdish minority and the lack of democratic freedoms. Kinzer's commonsense, if naeve, solution: the ruling military elite, which takes power when it feels Turkey is threatened, must follow the modernizing path of Ataterk whom Kinzer obviously admires a step further and increase human rights and press freedoms. Kinzer's journalistic eye serves him well as he goes beyond the political, vividly describing, for instance, the importance and allure of the narghile salon, where Turks smoke water pipes. Here, as elsewhere, Kinzer drops his journalist veneer and gets personal, explaining that he enjoys the salons in part "because the sensation of smoking a water pipe is so seductive and satisfying." Readers who want a one-volume guide to this fascinating country need look no further.

Harem - The World Behind the Veil

Author: Alev Lytle Croutier

Description: The author left Turkey at age 18 for the US, returning 15 years later to visit her birthplace and family. Intrigued upon learning that her grandmother had lived in a harem, she interviewed aunts and other family members about their recollections. About that same time (mid 1970’s) the Harem of Topkapi Palace was opened to visitors. With thoughtful research and richly illustrated, Croutier pieces together a realistic description of daily life in the Sultan’s Harem. Her fascinating insights into customs, food and ceremony of the Palace through 450 hundred years, make this an enjoyable read. The addition of family photographs and an amusing chapter about Western misconceptions of the term “harem” sets this work apart from all other books of its kind.

Istanbul: The Imperial City

Author: John Freely

Description: Whether you call it Byzantium, Constantinople, or Istanbul, the “old Turkish hand” John Freely tells the story of each creation and decline up to today’s Istanbul under the Turkish Republic. Spirited and colorful, Freely gives his readers a lively account of the turmoil each incarnation brought. In addition to “page turning history”, Freely gives a complete listing of monuments & museums in the city - he has lived there for decades. This is the one to read on Istanbul if you have a short list of books and limited time to get into its history.

Istanbul: Memories and the City

Author: Orhan Pamuk

Description: Turkish novelist Pamuk (Snow) presents a breathtaking portrait of a city, an elegy for a dead civilization and a meditation on life's complicated intimacies. The author, born in 1952 into a rapidly fading bourgeois family in Istanbul, spins a masterful tale, moving from his fractured extended family, all living in a communal apartment building, out into the city and encompassing the entire Ottoman Empire. Pamuk sees the slow collapse of the once powerful empire hanging like a pall over the city and its citizens. Central to many Istanbul residents' character is the concept of hüzün (melancholy). Istanbul's hüzün, Pamuk writes, "is a way of looking at life that... is ultimately as life affirming as it is negating." His world apparently in permanent decline, Pamuk revels in the darkness and decay manifest around him. He minutely describes horrific accidents on the Bosphorus Strait and his own recurring fantasies of murder and mayhem. Throughout, Pamuk details the breakdown of his family: elders die, his parents fight and grow apart, and he must find his way in the world. This is a powerful, sometimes disturbing literary journey through the soul of a great city told by one of its great writers.

Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey

Author: Anastasia M. Ashman, Jennifer Eaton Gokmen

Description: As the Western world struggles to comprehend the paradoxes of modern Turkey, Tales from the Expat Harem reveals its most personal nuances. This illuminating anthology provides a window into the country from the perspective of thirty-two expatriates from seven different nations—artists, entrepreneurs, Peace Corps volunteers, archaeologists, missionaries, and others—who established lives in Turkey for work, love, or adventure. Through narrative essays covering the last four decades, these diverse women unveil the mystique of the “Orient,” describe religious conflict, embrace cultural discovery, and maneuver familial traditions, customs, and responsibilities. Poignant, humorous, and transcendent, the essays take readers to weddings and workplaces, down cobbled Byzantine streets, into boisterous bazaars along the Silk Road, and deep into the feminine stronghold of steamy Ottoman bathhouses. The outcome is a stunning collection of voices from women suspended between two homes as they redefine their identities and reshape their world views.

The Bastard of Istanbul

Author: Elif Shafak

Description: In her second novel written in English (The Saint of Incipient Insanities was the first), Turkish novelist Shafak tackles Turkish national identity and the Armenian "question" in her signature style. In a novel that overflows with a kitchen sink's worth of zany characters, women are front and center: Asya Kazanci, an angst-ridden 19-year-old Istanbulite is the bastard of the title; her beautiful, rebellious mother, Zeliha (who intended to have an abortion), has raised Asya among three generations of complicated and colorful female relations (including religious clairvoyant Auntie Banu and bar-brawl widow, Auntie Cevriye). The Kazanci men either die young or take a permanent hike like Mustafa, Zeliha's beloved brother who immigrated to America years ago. Mustafa's Armenian-American stepdaughter, Armanoush, who grew up on her family's stories of the 1915 genocide, shows up in Istanbul looking for her roots and for vindication from her new Turkish family. The Kazanci women lament Armanoush's family's suffering, but have no sense of Turkish responsibility for it; Asya's boho cohorts insist there was no genocide at all. As the debate escalates, Mustafa arrives in Istanbul, and a long-hidden secret connecting the histories of the two families is revealed. Shafak was charged with "public denigration of Turkishness" when the novel was published in Turkey earlier this year (the charges were later dropped). She incorporates a political taboo into an entertaining and insightful ensemble novel, one that posits the universality of family, culture and coincidence.

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