Cultural Tours

Being truly at the crossroads of migrations, invasions, conquests and retreats since nearly the beginning of times, the archeological wealth of Turkey, this much coveted land, is realty "beyond imagination". If until now meticulous scientific work, often realized with international assistance, has succeeded in bringing invaluable vestiges to liht, there is at least as much to excavate and discover!

Pure History

Still so much to learn the world's oldest known neolithic town of CatalhšyŸk, from 6,500 B.C., about the mysterious Hattis, on the subsequent about civilizations of the Hittites, Phrygians, Urartions, Lycians, Lydians, lonians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans...

This incredible succession may lead to most imaginative archeological tours, itineraries and endless combinations, for example individually thematic tours taking up one singular subject or civilization (e.g. Pagan Kingdoms, Seljuks, Cappadocia, Troy, Hierapolis or Caravanserais, those protected inns-stages of the Seljuk and Ottoman past, or still an itinerary touring antique theaters and amphitheaters, with plays performed in them or in modern theater houses).

Fabulous Museums

Another related subject, museum tours, which UNIVERSAL successfully orchestrated in the past in company of curators, may or should necessarily cover in Istanbul the fabulous Archeological Museum the Museum of Turkish-Islamic Arts, the astounding Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, all those other local yet internationally acknowledged museums all over the country including that unique Museum of Underwater Archeology, housed in the Crusaders' Castle of Bodrum (Halicarnassus) as well as the imperial Ottoman palaces and mansions, today museums, especially featuring the most extraordinary Topkapİ palace in Istanbul.

Also for the professionals and amateurs of the topic, a military history tour throughout Turkey, this land so much envied practically by all invaders, may start with a visit to Istanbul's colorful Military Museum, continue covering so many famous battlefields of the ancient, medieval and modern times, featuring the legendary Troy and the dramatic Manzikert, and end up with a veteran salute in front of the Turkish and Anzac Memorial Cemeteries at the heroic Dardanelles.

Roman-Byzantine Empire

Yet Byzantine architecture and art maintain their singular importance: Widespread all over the country, Byzantine churches and ruins may be visited in Iznik (Nicae), in Cappadocia in the form of a monastery and in and near Trabzon as another superb Haghia Sophia Church and an awesome Sumele Monastery. However Byzantium, famous city founded by the legendary King Byzas, constitutes the nucleus of today's Istanbul where the best of the extant Byzantine workts exist and are preserved: the still awesome city walls a massive belt of brick and stone, breached by the Ottoman Turks who entered and conquered the city, stand for the dramatic final episode of the Eastern Roman-Byzantine Empire.

Ancient Churches

However the Golden Gate, a triumphal arch which marks the main imperial entrance to the city through the walls witnesses for the past splendor. Near the Hippodrome, scene of chariot races and circus games but also that of social activity and fomentation and civil disturbance between opposing factions, still stands majestically and impressively the Haghia Sophia, built in its present form in the 6th centuryA.D., the greatest and largest building of the Christian world for many centuries, its breathtaking volume flanked by four impressive minarets of the Ottoman period, now a museum.

Also nearby is the Mosaic Museum, exhibiting exquisite mosaics whichh covered the floors of the courtyard of the long-disappeared imperial Byzantine Palace. But the climax of mosaic art is to be found in the Church of St. Saviour in Chora, or the Kariye Mosque, now a museum, its mosaics rivalling the best of the Byzantine Ravenna eriod, and its frescoes surprising with their freshness and refinement.

The disconsecrated Haghia Eirene Church in the proximity, beautiful example of the golden age of Byzantie architecture, is where, during occasional classical music concerts given in it, the cooing pigeons join the musicians! The SS Sergius and Bacchus Church also nearby, provides another excellent example of the same period. The huge Byzantine water network of aqueducts and more than forty cisterns served the city's needs until recently and the extant 4th-century Aqueduct of Valens still impressively adorns a traffic jammed hilltop of Istanbul while the very large underground Cistern of Yerebatan, now beautifully restored, proudly exibits its forest of columns reflecting on its dark waters.

Finally, artifacts and objects displayed in the Archeological Museum give an insight of the daily life in byzantium. Yet the most intact and still greatly used works naturally come from the Ottoman architecture and art. Spread all over the country in very great numbers and varieties, it is in no way possible to name even a part of them, but a few striking cpecimens, chosen particularly from Istanbul, the Empire's capital city, may give an ideal of the colossal lot to be discovered.

Ottoman Architecture & Art

Influenced successively by its nomadic origins and Asiatic styles, Arabian and Persian arts, Seljuk compositions and finally by Byzantine teachings, Ottoman architecture and art reached the zenith in the 16th century in parallel with the climaxing of the Ottoman power, then truly a world empire.

During the same period, the Great Sinan, turkish architectural genius, not only adorned the Ottoman cities all over the Ottoman lands with monumental works, then revolutionary but now making up the classical period of the Ottoman architecture, but also endowed the country with indispensable infrastructural works such as bridges.

Magnificent Mosques

Extremely proliferous, the great master's extant works now count by scores and scores of public buildings such as mosques and mosque complexes, theologicals schools, charity houses, shopping malls, fountains, caravanserais and the like, his masterpiece being the majestic Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. The Mosque of SŸleymaniye in Istanbul, dedicated to the most famous of the Ottoman sultans, named Suleiman the Magnificent by his European contemporaries, however, represents a monument of classical magnificence in utmost sobriety, dominating from the top of a hill, the capital of the almighty sovereign, with his mortal remains buried in its precinct... and those of the famous architect... not very far...

Another early 17th century mosque, dedicated to Sultan Ahmet I, also became worldwide known Blue Mosque, name attributed because of its magnificent blue-tiled interior. This elegant edifice with its six minarets, unique in the world, shares Haghia Sophia's monumental lloneliness just across the Hipodrome Square.

Behind St. Sophia spread the imperial gardens of the Topkapİ Palace, the first Istanbul residence of the Ottoman sultans, an astonishing campground with tent-like simple pavilions, reminiscence of the nomadic origins and power of the early sovereigns. Today a museum, visitors admire and experience the feeling of being close to the imperial treasury, attires, miniatures and the like, not forgetting the mysterious Harem and a Chinese porcelain collection of international reputation.

However other most important mosques and mosque complexes abound around the city, also for four hundred years the seat of the Caliphate, the spiritual headquarters of Islam, and a visit to the beautiful Eyup Mosque, the first Ottoman mosque built in Istanbul right after the conquest, is a must to experience the spiritual atmosphere of pilgrimage which reigns in thissanctum dedicated to the Muslim Prophet's standard bearer Eyup.

The Dazzling Covered Bazaar

The Covered Bazaar with its 4,500 shops and worksohps and 65 labyrinthine streets, and a smaller replica which is the Egyptian or Spice Bazaar with its profusion of scents and tastes proper to the Orient, provide a more wordly application of the Ottoman architect's preoccupation to supply convenient premises for the common people to buy, sell and bargain... O, bargain!

Turkish baths or hamams, on the other hand, also oftered hygienic possibilities to an entire population, featuring architectural details of great interest. A 16th-century palace privately-owned by a grand vizier not only offers and exceptional and most beautiful example of private property at that level of the community but also premises for a wonderful Museum of Turkish-Islamic Arts, with exhibit of the best carpet collection of the country. More recent imperial residences such as the Dolmabahce Palace and Beylerbeyi Summer Palace and their respective mosques, commissioned to a dynasty of Ottoman architect of Armenian origin, offer interesting examples of the last sultans gusta for rococo lines and finishes...

Captivating Castles and Palaces

And finally, for amateurs of a more rigorous architecture, a visit to the uneven tandem of European and Asiatic Castles, built to strangulate the Bosphorus, may inspire a tour of castles throughout Anatolia from the Ankara Castle, proudly dominating the central plain, and the Kadifekale in Izmir, watching the bay, to the magnificent Crusaders' Castle at Bodrum, through coastal fortifications of Candarli, Antalya, Alanya and the Korykos Castle facing the Maiden's Castle in Mersin, the Roman Castaballa in Adana, the Black Sea, castles of Amasra and Trabzon, the Roman fortifications of Urfa and Mardin and the Assyrian Castle at Birecik.

And so many others, ending up with that lonely eagle's nest that is the Ishak Pasha Palace at Dogu Bayazit, carefully watching the enemy to raise dust at a horizon or deserted steppes and distant snowy peaks... an itinerary which may be combined with a military history tour. Another topical tour may likewise be designed to visit lighthouses along the country's very long coastal line.

Yet Ottoman architecture is more than simply a succession of monumental public buildings: Turkish civilian architecture is largely worth a topical tour of Turkish Houses. A skillfully designed itinerary will reveal, in addition to architectural values, highly interesting anthropological indications, giving clues for the simpler people's life in the past and the extraordinary mosaic of different origins which make up Turkey.

From Istanbul's splendid waterside residences (yalis) along the Bosphorus and the bourgeois mansions on the neighboring archipelago to its traditional wooden houses - some superbly restored in the districts respectively neighboring Haghia Sophia and the Church of St. Saviour in Chora-, to lath-and-plaster houses of Ankara and of the magnificenty preserved towns of Safranbolu and Kula - somewhat reminding the Alsation architecture-, through the wooden high plateau and mountain pasture houses of Bolu and the Black Sea Region - this time reminiscent primitive Swiss chalets-, with highlight on Harran's beehive habitations, Antalya's walled in old district, Amasya's riverside houses, Bodrum's dazzling white plastered masonry, Cappadocia's troglodyte dwellings and so many astonishing different others, to end up with the still existing, nomadic tent life up in the Taurus Mountains, Turkey offers an exceptional wealth of architecture… but also of life style which demonstrates itself in its fantastic variety of traditional handicrafts, making up the basis for a Crafts tour of its own: regionally specialized textile arts, spinner, weaver, quilter and printer skills, the exception brass and copper workmanship, and so many other crafts such as marbling, may be admired and studied, with visits to related museums and local workshops.

Traditional Handcraft

Yet a kilim, carpet and rug tour around the country maintains its position as a must not only because of their infinite variety and internationally acclaimed beauty and value but also and particularly because the Turkish kilim, carpet and/or rug are not simply floor covers and/or wall hangings: a thorough visit throughout the country, featuring the exceptional collections exhibited in Istanbul's Turkish-Islamic Arts and Rug and Carpet museums and the Museum of Konya, among so many others, observation of the rug and carpet weaving craft in Istanbul and in provincial workshops, and the exceptional and gratis teachings one may collect in rug and kilim shops over a cup of coffee or tea, and bargaining plus lots of fun, will lead to a better understanding of this once nomadic obiect, not an accessory but nearly the house itself, alternately serving simultaneously today's mattress, blanket, trunk or driver's seat, bearing signs of its nomadic, Oriental and pagan origins and imperial refinement, a genuine anthropological museum of human development, with every symbolic sign representing some different phase in the lives of so many peoples.

Rugs and carpets have always adorned Ottoman mosques, imperial, and or not the more recently built ones, So did the exquisite tiles of the empire the world famous Blue Mosque the official name of which was Sultan Ahmet Mosque. A much sought- after favorite of London's Sothby's auctions and of famous private collections. Iznik tiles and pottery are among the crafts where classical Ottoman art had elimaxed particularly during the 17th century under Soleiman the Magnificent's reign, Now the imperial tile works and potteries, recently restored after having vanished for centuries started firing their kilns, and this creates a perfect opportunity for pottery lovers to tour Turkey to discover its Ceramic Art passing by Iznik the ancient.

Nicae that charming walled-in town in the midst of orchards and vineyards on the shores of the lake of Izmit trough Kütahya where thousands of skilled craftsmen masterfully reproduce the typical classic art of their own region as well as that of lznik, adorning ewers, vases, candlesticks, plates and lugs as will as wall with stylized lips, carnations, hyacinths, pomegranates and artichokes In those typical blues, turquoise and unique coral, to a visit of lstanbul's Rüstem Pasha and Sokullu Mehmet Pasha mosques, both built by the great Master Sinan and decorated with Iznik tiles of the best period, and museum visits to the Topkapi Palace to admire the second largest Chinese porcelain collection after China in the world and to the delightful 15th century Tiled Pavilion in the precinct of Istanbul's Archeological Museum, exhibiting interesting specimens of the ceramic arts of the past to pagan works of pottery of Ankara's exceptional Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and Konya's Karatay Museum displaying a rare collection of the Seljuk ceramic art also viewing the still alive popular pottery of places like Çanakkale, Tokat and Avanos in Cappadocia and much more.

Such a tour may be ended in Istanbul Yildiz Ceramic Works. and to artists Workshops... which may be extended to other branches of arts in a "Meet the Local Artist" program… or to art schools and universities and to related foundations within the framework of student and teacher tour, for thousands of students annually visit Turkey...


Best of Turkey

includes Istanbul, Bursa, Troy, Pergamum and Ephesus in 6 nights/7 days

Highlights of Turkey

in addition to Istanbul and the West Coast, Sardis, Pamukkale, Aphrodisias and Antalya are visited in 9 nights/10 days

Wonders of Turkey

an ideal program of 13 nights/14 days to explore the most important sites of ancient Anatolia including the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia

Please click the title of the tour you are interested in to see a sample itinerary.

Appreciated Appreciations

Thank you so much for EVERYTHING you did to help make our tour to Turkey such a big success. Your support and assistance is greatly appreciated and valued. The group really enjoyed their tour and we now have another 32 disciples who will spread the word about Turkey for us.

Rob Chaplin / The Golf Travel Company /

On behalf of the Rosebank Union Church group I want to thank you most sincerely for all you did to make our tour of Turkey unforgettable. I came home not only with a deeper understanding of the Scriptures, particularly those relating to the Seven Churches, but also with an appreciation of and admiration for the country of Turkey. I was particularly fascinated by Istanbul, and hope to spend more time there in the future exploring the riches of that most fascinating city. I also loved the fertile valleys through which we travelled, the sight of the snow-capped mountains, and the friendliness of the people we met as we walked the streets of those smaller towns along the way.

Leigh Robinson / Rosebank Union Church /

Moreover, the history of Turkey is impressive, not only the recent history but the ancient history which confirms the history of our Bible. I have not visited Greece, Israel or Italy or other countries mentioned in the Bible but think that Turkey is more central to the history of the Bible.We are also amazed at Turkey and what it achieved. It is evident that this would not happen without sound work ethics and commitment by the whole population.

Piet Zeeman / /

One of our very best trips we have ever taken. Turkey was full of memorable moments along with a fascinating history and culture. Thanks for helping plan such an extraordinary trip!!!

Karen & Bruce Levenson / /

There are not enough superlatives in English to describe our trip to Turkey. Most amazing, most friendly, most interesting, most beautiful are just a few that come to mind. We want to thank you for organizing one of the best trips we have ever had. Flights, accommodations, guides and drivers, everything was perfect! Benjamin and Bulent were the most knowledgeable, friendly, and fun people ever. Mustafa was an excellent driver. The sites we visited in Cappidocia and Ephesus were fabulous. To paraphrase General MacArthur: "We will return!" Thanks again.

Jim and Barb / /

Rosemary and I (and, I'm sure, all the others in the party) thouroughly enjoyed the time spent in your beautiful Country. The planning and arrangements laid on were superb. There was a good balance between the secular and the religious aspects, the accommodation and food was great, and the transport went of without a 'glitch'. Halit is, with doubt, a superb guide and his knowledge of so many facets of history, polotics, economic, geography etc is outstanding. He instantly struck a good rapport with the group, and was a real pleasure to be with, and was definitely one to whom listening was not a problem. We came away from the eight days having learnt a tremendous amount both Biblically and about modern and ancient Turkey (as well as other parts of the world).

Lin / /

Over the span of 25 years Universal Travel Services has provided five star service to our 19 tour groups totaling over 500 travelers. Universal and their fine staff have worked with me to develop a series of tours focusing on the biblical and Christian Church history sites in Turkey. One of the most consistent traveler responses in their evaluations of our tours has been, "Great value for the money." Thank you Universal for a quarter century of truly outstanding service.

Donald Cornell / USA / Lutheran Pastor

Apart from all the usual items - hotels/meals/sightseeing etc.. it was the way in which the additional services were handled and your ability to get things done and implement frequent last minute changes which was most impressive...

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...There are not enough good words to describe the extraordinary services that Universal arranged on my behalf upon my request to them regarding the change in my itinerary. I know that you are aware that the hospitality of the Turkish people is greater by tradition than other European Countries. The services and hospitality provided by Universal to me was of this tradition, more than just good business relations...

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