As millennium approaches, operators focus on religious sites

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NEW YORK -- With travelers the world over scrambling to find a unique way to mark the millennium, operators to Turkey plan to highlight the country's contributions to the development of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions.

Hagia SofiaIn recent years, scholars and travelers have come to realize that the history of Jewish settlement is evidenced by an ancient synagogue dating to 220 B.C. in Sardis and that western Turkey served as one of the cradles of the early Christian church. From accounts of Noah in Genesis to St. John's mention of Seven Churches of Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation, Turkey spans the entirety of both the Old and New Testaments.

U.S. tour operator programs to Turkey make it easy for clients to trace their roots in this country, where the famous ark of Noah is believed to have come to rest on Mount Ararat, and where Abraham was born in a cave in Sanliurfa some 4,000 years ago. Here is a sampling of wholesalers offering religious heritage programs, with per-person, double-occupancy prices:

  • Freegate Tourism in Garden City, N.Y., has scheduled two or more departures monthly on its six-night Seven Churches of the Apocalypse tour, which spends three nights in Istanbul, two nights in Izmir and one night in Pamukkale.
  • In Istanbul, visits include the Hagia Sophia church, which in the sixth century was the largest of the era of Byzantium; the Blue mosque; the St. Savior in Chora, which was the first Byzantine church in Istanbul, and the Suleymaniye mosque.

    Four nights are then spent in Izmir, where sightseeing includes the St. Policarpos church in the city of Pergamum, as well as the Asklepium sanctuary and the acropolis. Visits are also made to Thyatira to view the remains of the Christian church and the temple there.

    From Izmir, travelers drive to Sardis, one of the most picturesque sites of the Seven Churches, to see the Artemis temple, the Byzantine church, the acropolis and the synagogue. In the afternoon, the itinerary covers the Byzantine basilica before arriving at Pamukkale for the night.

    The following morning is reserved for Ephesus, the ancient city where the Apostle St. Paul stayed and taught, and the tour visits the last abode of the Virgin Mary and the basilica of St. John.

    The package offers roundtrip air from New York, accommodations, most meals, guided sightseeing and domestic air in Turkey. Prices start at $1,705 with air and land, $1,075 for land only.

  • Megatrails in New York offers May 6 and Sept. 30 departures on its 16-night tour that follows in the "Footsteps of the Saints" to Cappadocia, Adana, Antioch, Tarsus, Konya, Antalya, Laodicia, Hierapolis, Pamukkale, Sardis, Philadelphia, Izmir, Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Bursa, Iznik and Istanbul, in a routing that includes all of the Seven Churches of Anatolia.
  • The cost for land only is $1,085, $1,885 with air, and includes accommodations at three- and four-star hotels, a professional guide throughout, all meals, sightseeing and ground transportation.

    The operator also offers a Riches of Judaism program for nine nights. The itinerary starts in Istanbul for four nights, then travels to Bursa to visit the Gerush and Mayor synagogues; to Thyatira, home of an ancient Jewish community, and to Kusadasi for visits to Izmir, which is still a center of one of Turkey's largest Jewish communities.

    In Izmir, it visits the Beth Israel and Senora synagogues before traveling to Sardis, which has one of the largest and oldest synagogues of antiquity. The itinerary returns to Kusadasi to tour Ephesus, one of the world's most comprehensive ancient sites, with Hebrew signs and symbols emblazoned on its antiquities.

    The tour continues to the Ionian cities of Pirene and Miletus before the final overnight in Izmir. Departures are scheduled monthly through November, and the land cost is $1,295; $2,095 with air from New York; four- and five-star hotels are featured in this escorted program, which includes all breakfasts and three dinners.

  • Ya'lla Tours in Portland, Ore., is leading clients "In the Footsteps of St. Paul" for 10 nights.
  • The itinerary starts with a night's stay and two full days of sightseeing in Istanbul before flying to Adana and a full day to tour Antioch. This is an ancient center of Hellenistic civilization with a large temple and oracle complex dedicated to Apollo. Also visited here is St. Peter's church, which became the center from which Paul later performed his missionary work.

    Traveling overland, tour members visit Tarsus, birthplace of St. Paul, and to Konya, a present day Islamic center and home to the dervishes. From Pamukkale, the plan includes the site of Aphrodisias, center of worship of the goddess Aphrodite, and Laodicea, one of the seven churches.

    Four nights are spent in Kusadasi, with sightseeing including Ephesus and Thyatira, where the first form of Judaism was practiced.

    Prices until Oct. 31 are $3,695 per person for two to three passengers, and $1,855 per person for eight or nine passengers. Costs are roughly $500 less in the low season. Included are accommodations at first class hotels with breakfasts, most lunches and dinners, nine days of tours in a private van with a licensed guide, transfers and air tickets from Istanbul to Adana.

  • Carrefour Tours of Chicago features the "Christian Heritage of Anatolia" on a six-night tour, with weekly departures from Istanbul, where travelers spend the first and last nights, sightseeing included.
  • The overland itinerary with a guide escort stays in Canakkale, Izmir, Kusadasi, Pamukkale and Bursa. Sites visited include Bergama (Pergamum), Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Leodicea, Sardis, Thyatira and Iznik, once the capital of the Byzantine empire.

    The tour costs $2,375 in deluxe class hotels, $2,000 in first class. Included are daily breakfasts, full board on the road and sightseeing with a guide specializing in Christian heritage.

  • A.T.C. Anadolu Travel and Tours in New York, in preparation for the turn of the millennium, offers a 22-night "Biblical Anatolia" grand tour, which includes all the sites and all Seven Churches of Anatolia featured on a shorter nine-night tour that ends in Antalya.
  • The longer program continues on to other biblical sites, following in St. Paul's footsteps to Antioch, Tarsus and Adana. It then follows an eastern Turkey itinerary to Sanliurfa, the spectacular Mount Nemrut with its colossal statues, Cappadocia, Bursa and Istanbul.

    Overnight stays are at deluxe or best-available hotels in Istanbul, Canakkale, Izmir, Pamukkale, Antalya, Konya, Adana, Antakya, Sanliurfa, Adiyaman, Cappadocia, Ankara, Bursa and Istanbul.

    The tour is priced from $2,940, including roundtrip air from New York. Departures are scheduled for June 3, Sept. 9 and Oct. 7 and are guaranteed with a minimum of eight participants. Other dates can be arranged as private tours, to be priced according to group size.

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