Ecumenical Councils and Byzantine Heritage

Istanbul, Iznik, Izmir, Turkey


5 days


The number of tourists visiting Turkey and being interested in religious tourism is increasing year by year because Anatolia is the home of important shrines of Christianity and Judaism, as well. Many of these shrines are open to public visit. On this tour, you are provided a chance of seeing some remarkable examples of Christian shrines while discovering locations of the first seven, the most crucial, ecumanical councils in the history of Christianity. All these councils and the eighth Council of Constantinople were held in the East, on Byzantine soils. And no other general council took place in the East.

Istanbul, Iznik and Izmir are the cities where these councils were assembled.

The enchanting and mythical meeting point of East and West, the place where eyes meet more: Istanbul. During the days in Istanbul, you will go after the tracks leading the locations where councils were held and discover the rich architectural and historical Christian heritage of Byzantium. Iznik, the descendant of Byzantine’s Nicaea, an incarnation. It played a fundamental role, through its councils, in shaping today’s Christianity. Ephesus, located in Selcuk (a town of Izmir) near the western shores of modern-day Turkey, remains an important archaeological site, but more importantly, it is also a centerpiece of early Christian evangelism. It played a crucial role in the spread of Christianity, which gives most of the visitors one good reason why they should drop in on this part of the country.


  • Private tour transportation
  • Professional licensed tour guide
  • Lunch
  • Entrance fees
  • Parking fees


  • Drinks
  • Personal expenses
  • Tips

Tour Plan

  • The day starts with Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Next is one of the oldest surviving churches in Istanbul. Hagia Irene was originally built as an Eastern Orthodox church, but it has also been used as a Roman Catholic church, an Ottoman mosque and a museum. It is a must-see destination for visitors interested in the history of Christianity and Byzantine art and architecture. Moreover, it serves as a precious reminder of the rich artistic and cultural heritage of the Byzantine Empire. You will then reach your next stop, It was the centre of Byzantium's life for 1000 years and Ottoman life for another 400 years, and witnessed too many important historical major moments of both empires. The Little Hagia Sophia, also known as the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (today serving as a mosque), is your following stop today. The day’s penultimate point is a well-preserved example of ancient engineering - Basilica Cistern offers visitors the chance to explore a subterranean world of history and architecture. Grand Bazaar marks your full-day trip today! With thousands of shops and many marketplaces, mosques, fountains, hamams, cafes where locals smoke nargiles (water pipes) and restaurants interspersed among these shops, it is an old version of modern shopping malls.
  • The second day begins with a trio of Taksim, Istiklal Street and Galata. Taksim Street is an embodiment of Istanbul's vibrant energy and culture, a grand boulevard lined with a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and flavors. The famous part of this part of city is Pera. It is considered one of the most popular tourist destinations in Istanbul, and it offers a wide range of touristic attractions, including historical sites, museums, shops, and restaurants. Some of the main touristic attractions Pera has and you will see:
  • Istiklal Street is a pedestrianized street that is lined with shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars. It is a popular spot for shopping, dining and nightlife. It is also home to the famous Taksim square, which is a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists alike. The Church of St. Anthony of Padua: a historic church that was built in the 19th century and it is the largest Catholic church in Istanbul. The Galata Mevlevi House (no interior visit): a museum dedicated to the Mevlevi order of dervishes, also known as the "whirling dervishes." The museum showcases the history and practices of the order, and it hosts regular performances of the traditional whirling dance. Galata Tower (no interior visit): a 14th-century tower that offers panoramic views of the city. It was built by the Genoese in 1348 and it was used as a watchtower to spot enemy ships.
  • Pinch yourself! Yes, this is not a dream. Nothing like taking a Bosphorus cruise between two continents. The Bosphorus Strait is a joint amid Sea of Marmara and Black Sea. On one side is Europe, on the other side is Asia. There are catchy, and historic mansions, palaces and other loads of attractions worth seeing and immensely satisfying. Don’t let your eyes catch fishing vessels, huge tankers, container ships or other excursion ferries riding near your boat. After the cruise, the day ends with Kadikoy where the 4th Ecumenical Church Council was held. What is Kadıköy today was, centuries ago, the ancient maritime town of Bithynia in Asia Minor, almost directly opposite Byzantium. It was called “City of the Blind.” Why? The guide will tell you, don’t worry. At the end of the day, you will have explored the hub of the Asian side of Istanbul with its vibrant center and shopping artery, lively bars, clubs, restaurants and chic neighborhoods.
  • In Istanbul you are surrounded by the tangible history of one of the most powerful and influential civilizations of the past, Byzantine. You will see firsthand the grandeur and splendor of their architecture and engineering, the skill and artistry of their artisans, and the rich cultural heritage that they left behind. Churches and monastaries on your itinerary, will provide you a window into the religious lives of the people of that empire, and you will gain an understanding of their beliefs, customs and practices.
  • First stop! Kariye Museum, also known as the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora which is a stunning testament to the rich history and culture of the Byzantine Empire. Nestled in the heart of Istanbul, this ancient church serves as a visual feast for art lovers and history buffs alike. It is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the country and is worth stepping off the tourist trail to see. The Fethiye Museum, also known as the Pammakaristos Church, is a veritable palace of art and history, a sanctuary of beauty and grandeur that stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Byzantine Empire. Within its walls lies a treasure trove of breathtaking mosaics and frescoes, each one a precious gem of artistry and skill, plucked from the fertile soil of the past and carefully tended to for centuries. The Fethiye Museum is also significant because it is one of the few remaining examples of a type of church known as a "mosaic church." Your upcoming stop is Molla Zeyrek Mosque. The church-turned-mosque is one of the finest examples of religious architecture from the Byzantine era in Istanbul and the second-largest surviving Byzantine religious structure in the city after Hagia Sophia. Balat is generally missed out on daily trips in Istanbul. But, today we won’t leave it out. This itinerary is not an itinerary of Byzantine legacy without a hidden gem tucked away in the heart of Istanbul, is a veritable treasure trove of history, culture and art. Balat hosts the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, a historic church that serves as the spiritual center of the Eastern Orthodox Christian world. And, it hosts another precious stone, Red School (Phanar Greek Orthodox College - no interior visit). Beyond the red school and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Balat is also home to a rich array of other historical and cultural attractions, such as colorful streets, traditional houses and local artisan workshops. This neighborhood also offers a great opportunity to experience the local lifestyle and culture, a chance to see the daily life of the local people, their customs and traditions.
  • The fourth day of your itinerary includes daily visit to Iznik. Your whirlwind day starts with an early morning departure from Istanbul to Iznik.
  • Located in a valley nearby the lake with the same name, Iznik is a small historic town taking place within its ancient walls surrounded by a beautiful scenery. This historic town is still visible with its grid settlement plan which remained since the Hellenistic Period and massive structures from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods. The city walls, 4970 m in length and built in the late Roman period, then expanded and reinforced during the Byzantine and Ottoman period, are one of the peculiar aspects of the city. Several monuments from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman ages are well preserved in present-day Iznik like Hagia Sophia and Koimesis churches, Green Mosque. The first ecumenical council of the church was held at Nicaea Iznik. Lakeside setting. As a freshwater inland lake, Iznik Lake is an important bird area hiding a sunken archaeological and historic treasure under its water.
  • Saved the best for last, the ceramic tile of Iznik. The glazed technique ceramic reached its maturity in Iznik after centuries. This finest works of art have still been being manufactured in At the end of the tour, go back to Istanbul. As you make your way back to the city where the past and present seamlessly intertwine, you can close your eyes and let memories of the day dance in your mind or let the thought of all the unknown and undiscovered wonders that lay ahead fill you with a sense of excitement and wonder.
  • Are you ready to get into the trip that mixes up history, architecture, mythology, divinity and holiness? First thing to do on this day is say goodbye to Istanbul and take your flight to Izmir.
  • Aegean coast of Turkey is a beautiful and amazing place with green hills, sandy beaches crystal clear sea. That’s why one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Temple of Artemis (Artemision), was constructed right in this region. There is not much left from the temple except one lone reconstructed pillar, but this masterpiece of the old times still deserves a visit. Head to Ephesus, the ancient city where you get a feel for what life was like in ancient times. Once you put your foot on Curetes Way and start walking down the street, religious and civic buildings, shops and even restaurants will help you out to understand Ephesian daily life. The step will put you in a time line in the past. This Roman provincial capital will enrapture you upon seeing Magnesian Gate, Gymnasium, State Agora, Odeon, Temple of Domitian, Memmius Monument, Fountain of Trajan, Scholastica Baths, Temple of Hadrian, Latrines, theatre… It is too much, you are right, but they are not the half of it! We haven’t even mentioned about Celsus Library Listen to your guide for more information and details. Yes, those were the days…
  • Last stop on this day is a pilgrimage place for Christians, House of Virgin Mary, declared in the 1980’s by Pope John-Paul II. It is located on the top of a mountain called “Bulbul”. Mary, supposedly, has spent her last days in here and has come in the area together with Saint John. The basilica which was built in the name of him is not far away from the house. Before leaving, you will feel a sense of calm instilled by this serene place.  And, remember to place your prayer on the wall like many visitors did before you. The St. John Basilica is a sacred and hallowed place, steeped in history and brimming with spiritual significance for Christians. It is believed to be the final resting place of the esteemed St. John the Apostle, one of the twelve revered disciples of Jesus Christ. It is considered one of the most important early Christian monuments in the world, a testament to the enduring faith and devotion of the Christian community. The tomb of St John, marked by a marble slab in the sanctuary. And, it is also an atmospheric site with exceptional view and the best place in the area for a sunset photo.

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