Today we call the city Istanbul. Yet it has had many names through the ages: Constantinople, New Rome, Byzantion/Byzantium, Queen of Cities, City of the Sultans, and more.
For more than two millennia, Istanbul stood at the center of events that shaped the history of the West. It was a seat of wealth and power, a den of intrigue and betrayal, a place of vibrant commerce and enduring faith. Istanbul is often thought of as a “middle eastern” city, yet it is in every way a daughter of the West – born a Greek, raised a Roman and converting to Islam in its middle age. For centuries it was the largest and most powerful city in the Christian world before transforming itself in the sixteenth century into the capital of the Muslim East. It remains a city in both worlds - perched at the very tip of Europe, gazing across at the shores of Asia.
With a fully planned 7-day Context itinerary, Thomas F. Madden, a leading scholar in medieval Mediterranean history, brings us back in time as we contextualize landmarks and hidden gems of this city’s legendary past – from its foundation as Constantinople to its grandeur under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
Enjoy an introductory narrative timeline of Istanbul’s history as we mingle at the hotel over drinks and dinner, followed by an evening of leisure.
We’ll kick things off with private tours of Istanbul's must-see landmarks such as Hagia Sophia and the Hippodrome followed by a visit to the Mosaic Museum in the afternoon.
We’ll start the day exploring the history of the Chora Church and Tefkur Saray Palace before our evening Bosphorus cruise with cocktails to recap the day’s explorations. We’ll have a narrated ride through the European and Asian sides of the city and discover the connections across the Bosphorous Strait – while cruising in a private yacht accompanied by Dr. Madden.
Today will include a guided tour of Topkapi Palace followed by an annotated lunch with an expert. We’ll learn about the history of Turkish regional cuisine and the origin story of spices such as saffron.
In the morning, we'll have a privately guided tour of Topkapi Palace - home of the Ottoman Sultans
We'll cross the Bosphorus Strait by ferry for lunch on the Asian side of Istanbul, specifically in the picturesque Kadikoy neighborhood
Evening lecture with Dr. Madden
Venture out for dinner on our own - recommendations will be provided
- #ContextTip: enjoy dinner at Divella Bistro Restaurant
On Day 5, our learnings, tours, and discussions will focus on the larger role of mosques and sultans within Turkish society and religious education. We'll visit the Suleymaniye Mosque in the company of a leading local guide. In the afternoon, those who wish to can join a tour of the Grand Bazaar.
On our final day together, we’ll tour the Fener and Balat districts of Istanbul to learn about the complex layers of religious history in Istanbul over the centuries.
Travelers depart for flights home – or their next adventure - with memories and knowledge to last a lifetime.
Here's what our clients are saying about Context's Online Lectures about Istanbul:
"I cannot keep count of the number of courses by Prof Madden that I've attended. Here is an unassuming guy who takes you by the hand and Takes You There, on the spot, in the seats in the Hippodrome. Forget the Room Where It Happens. How about the city, the fortified walls of Istanbul, the triple-headed snake column? Constantine to Suleiman the Magnificent parade before your eyes, crowns to towering turbans. Madden places you there, not only in locale but in time and in character. A master storyteller. If you're thinking about taking his series on Istanbul, do it. And then take it again. Wow. And I thought the history of Venice was good. Istanbul is wicked fine."
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