Western Armenia and Cilicia Tour

10 days / 9 nights

Very good 8.5
Score from reviews

Visit the place where King Nimrod of Babylon threw Abraham into the fire, but God turned fire into water, and coal into fish. See a UNESCO site Mount Nemrut by the Euphrates, hosting huge statues of Hellenistic gods. Tour the city of Urfa – the birthplace of Abraham. Learn about ancient cultures, the Assyrians, Urartians and Romans, see glorious monuments created by them. Visit the churches of the first Christian communities, the places where Apostles Peter and Paul preached. Walk by the gate where Cleopatra met Mark Antony, see the place where Alexander the Great defeated Darius' army. Explore fortresses of the Crusaders, Urartians and Byzantines that have rock-carved inscriptions of Cilician Armenian kings. You can do all of these if you take this journey.

Tour programm

Day 1

Town of Kars, “Vardan” Bridge, Charents House, Church of Apostles, Kars Fortress

Early in the morning we will depart Yerevan to drive to the Armenian-Georgian border. We will pass through the town of Gyumri, cross the border at the Bavra point and enter Javakhq, a county in historical Gugarq princedom that is now a part of Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia. On the way from the town of Akhalkalaki to Akhaltsikhe we will come across Khertvisi fortress (founded in the 2nd century BC) towering above the convergence of Parvana and Kura (Mtkvari) rivers, said to be the most favorite fortress of Tamara, the queen of Georgia in the 12-13th centuries. Continuing the way we will reach the town of Akhaltsikhe, the center of this region of Georgia. After a short rest in Akhaltsikhe we will leave for the Georgian-Turkish border. From here we will enter the Ardahan region and pass the beautiful mountains and forests of the Arsian mountain range. We will arrive in Kars, check in the hotel, and go out for a city tour. We will walk its narrow streets where many 19th-century buildings of Russian and Armenian architecture can still be found. We will see the medieval stone bridge of “Vardan”, the remnants of the house, where Yeghishe Charents, a celebrated Armenian writer lived, and the imposing Church of Apostles (10th century). We will ascend to the royal fortress of Kars, once the stronghold of the Armenian capital, the seat of Bagratouni kings, and the witness to numerous wars in this region. For the night we will stay in Sarikamis.
Day 2

Medieval Capital Ani, Town of Dogubayazit, Daroinq Fortress, Ishak Pasha Palace, Berkri Waterfalls

In the morning we will leave Kars to visit legendary Ani, the magnificent capital of the mighty Armenian kingdom of the 9-11th centuries, which was once called “the city of one thousand and one churches”. Located on the Great Silk Road Ani used to be the largest religious, trade, and cultural center on this Europe and Asia crossroad. We will experience the power of the medieval city walls and towers, glorious cathedrals, palaces and mosques that are still standing after a millennium. Then we will head to Dogubayazit (Bayazed), on our way after passing the town of Igdir we will enjoy a panoramic view of Mount Ararat from the opposite (southern) side. In old Bayazed we will see the unassailable fortress of Daroinq, the Arshakouni kings’ (1-5th centuries AD) treasury and stronghold. We will explore the magnificent 17th-century palace of Ishak Pasha, a fortress-palace-mosque complex where Persian, Arabic, Ottoman and Armenian architectural styles are intertwined in peculiar harem rooms, deep dungeons and cozy courtyards. From here our route lies to the city of Van, historical Vaspourakan princedom. On our way we will stop and rest by the beautiful waterfall of Berkri (Muradiye). In the evening we will arrive in the city of Van and stay there for the night.
Day 3

Van City and Lake, Urartian Tushpa Fortress, Sourb Khach Cathedral on Aghtamar Island, Town of Bitlis, Alexander the Great Fortress

In the morning we will visit the ancient Urartian fortress of Tushpa/ Van (9th century BC) that has impressing cuneiform inscriptions of King Sarduri. Passing through the town we will stop by the rock-cut door of “Sasna Tsrer” legend’s hero Junior Mher. If interested we may visit the Van cat nursery to see a breed of cats native to Van only noted for their different colored blue and yellow eyes. Then we head to the turquoise Lake Van and take the boat to Aghtamar Island. The latter hosts the unique Sourb Khach cathedral (10th century) that is considered to be the most beautiful monument of the Armenian (as well as universal) religious architecture, all covered with magnificent Biblical relieves outside and frescoes inside. We will taste the famous “Vana tarekh” fish, the only fish specie found in Lake Van, and enjoy swimming and resting on the beach. We will then continue our route to the town of Bitlis, nestled in a gorge in Taurus Mountains, the center of medieval Aghdzniq princedom and later of the Kurdish Emirate of 13-19th centuries. We will see the impregnable fortress here, the founding of which is ascribed to Alexander the Great. From Bitlis we will enter the beautiful Mush valley, Taron county in historical Tourouberan princedom, through which Eastern Euphrates (Aratsani) flows. Evening arrival and accommodations in Mush.
Day 4

Town of Moush, Eastern Euphrates, Souloukh Bridge, “Msho Sultan” Sourb Karapet Cathedral, City of Diyarbakir, St. Kirakos Church

We will tour old Mush in the morning; see the remnants of old churches, and go up to the “castle park” for the picturesque view of the city and the valley. We will continue our way to the medieval Murat/ Souloukh bridge on the Euphrates, an important site related to the Armenian national-liberation movement against the Ottoman Empire where one of the leaders, Gevorg Chaush, died. We will then visit the remnants of “Msho Sultan” Sourb Karapet cathedral, once the second important (after Ejmiatsin) religious center of the Armenian Church with wonderful architecture, now all in ruins inside a Kurdish village, the houses of which are built from the fine-cut cathedral stones. Through the mountains of Sasoun we will continue the route to the biggest city in the region – Diyarbekir (ancient Amid). Historically it was a cosmopolitan city inhabited by Armenians, Kurds and Assyrians. Prior to the 1980s the Armenian community here still existed and had operating churches. Of the latter, we will visit the Church of St. Kirakos (18th century) of a remarkable beauty. We will also see the famous four-foot minaret and impressive black walls of the old city, built in the 5th century by Byzantine King Constantine. Overnight accommodations in Diyarbakir.
Day 5

Upper (Armenian) Mesopotamia, Cities of Urfa and Aintab, “Holy Fish” Pool, Abraham's Birth Cave, St. Pete (Petros) and Holy Virgin Churches

Leaving Diyarbakir we will enter a historical province that used to be called Armenian Mesopotamia and head to the city of Urfa (Sanliurfa) or Edessa where Mesrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet in 406 AD. According to the legend, Abraham was born in a cave in Urfa. Touring the city we will see the old fortress. We will visit the famous “sacred fish” pool, which, according to the legend, was a huge bonfire, where the Babylonian King Nimrod threw Abraham. Continuing the route we will get to Ayntap (Gaziantep) that is considered the most developed and lively city in the south-east of Turkey. In the 12-14th centuries Ayntap was the fiefdom of Cilician Armenian princes. We will see a fortress built by the Crusaders (12th century), visit the splendid St. Pete/Petros and the Holy Virgin, Armenian churches converted to a cultural center and a mosque. In Ayntap we will taste its famous dishes – lahmadzhun and pistachio baklava. Afterwards we will continue the way to Adana, and stay there overnight.
Day 6

Cilician Capital Tarson, St. Paul Church, Cleopatra Gates, Sea Fortress of Korikos

We leave Adana for Tarson/ Tarsus, the birthplace of Apostle Paul, the capital of Cilicia from the times of the Romans, and later the city where Armenian kings were anointed. We will visit the Church of St. Paul converted to a mosque, see the Gates of Cleopatra where Cleopatra and Mark Antony met. Then we head to Kizkalesi resort to visit the famous sea fortress of Korikos (12th century) that rises on an island in the Mediterranean Sea. This fortress, a fiefdom of Oshinyan princes, used to be an important medieval port, a commercial center at the crossroad of Europe and Asia. There is a beautiful beach by Korikos where we will enjoy resting and swimming in the Mediterranean until the evening. Overnight in Adana or Korikos.
Day 7

Sis Capital, Fortresses of Anavarza and Levon, Old Adana, Hadrian’s Bridge, Old Bazaar Area

In the morning we will visit the impregnable fortress of Sis (12th century), the heart and the stronghold of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, which during the fall of the kingdom was heroically defended by General Liparit. Then we will see the city and the citadel of Anazarbus/ Anavarza. Anavarza used to be the capital of both Byzantine and Armenian Cilicia, in the 1st century BC the Roman Emperor Augustus visited this city. We will see the ruins of it and the well-preserved citadel (inscriptions of Armenian kings can still be found there). Then we will continue the route to the castle of King Levon or the Snake Castle (12th century), which was the primarily stronghold of the Lower Cilicia, being located on the Great Silk Road leading from the Taurus Mountains to Antioch. We will then return to Adana and take a walk in the city. We will see the stone bridge of Hadrian’s (2nd century AD), the Ulu Jami (Great Mosque, 16th century), the old quarter and bazaar area. Overnight in Adana.
Day 8

Musaler (Musadag), Armenian Vakif Village, City of Antioch, Alexandretta (Iskenderun), Armenian Church of “Forty Children”

From Adana we will drive toward the Armenian (Alexandretta) Gulf, the region of Hatay. We will pass by the town of Dortyol and see a place called Issos, now a citrus orchard, where in 333 BC Alexander the Great defeated the army of Darius III. We will enter the town of Alexandretta (Iskenderun) and visit the Armenian Church of “Forty Children”. Then the route lies to Antakya, ancient Antioch, the capital of the Seleucid Kingdom of the 4-2nd centuries BC. Through Antakya we will drive to the only remaining Armenian village in Turkey - Vakif. We will see Musadag (Musaler), where locals heroically fought against the Ottoman army and managed to escape during the massacres of Armenians in 1915 (the events are described in the famous book by Franz Werfel "The 40 Days of Musadag”). In Vakif we will visit the only functioning Armenian church in this area, rest in the church yard and meet the locals. From Vakif we may descend to the town of Samandag or Iskenderun on the Mediterranean. Overnight accommodations in the hotel by the beach or in the village.
Day 9

Mediterranean Coast, City of Marash

We leave for Marash (Kahramanmaras). In ancient times it was a Hittite settlement on which the Crusaders founded a city and named it Germanicia. We will visit the old castle area and we will taste the local ice cream, which is famous throughout Turkey. From Marash our route will take us to Mount Nemrut, the highest peak of the Upper Mesopotamia (2206 m). Overnight accommodations in a hotel on a beautiful hillside or in nearby town of Kahta.
Day 10

Mount Nemrut, King Antiochus Tomb and Pagan Gods, City of Malatya, Holy Trinity Church, Kharberd Castle

We may see the sunrise on the summit of Mount Nemrut – an unforgettable view of the western part of the Armenian Plateau, the Taurus Range and the Euphrates. This is the tomb of King Antiochus I Theos of Kommagene (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) who called himself a descendant of Alexander the Great and Darius I, whose family is connected with the Armenian Yervanduni/ Orontes dynasty. Allegedly Antiochus was crowned by Tigran the Great, who at that time bore the title of “King of Kings”. We will explore Hellenistic and Armenian pagan pantheon of Zeus-Aramazd, Apollo-Mithras (Tire), Hercules-Vahagn, Fortune (similar to Anahit, the goddess of fertility) - huge, seven-meter tall statues seated on thrones. Afterwards we head to Malatya, a city in historical Lesser Armenia. We will see the Church of Holy Trinity, which was converted to a mosque (but has to be restored as an Armenian church or museum). It is located in the same quarter where the famous Turkish journalist of Armenian origin Hrant Dink, killed by Turkish nationalists, was born. Malatya is famous for its "kofte" (a kind of a meatball) and apricots, which we may try. Next we will drive to Kharberd (Harput), historical principality of Tsopk. We will see the fortress founded during the Kingdom of Urartu. Then the route will take us to Erzurum on the way to which we will pass the town of Bingol and the historical principality of Highland Armenia, over Bingol/ Byurakn and Palandoken/ Gaylakhazut mountain ranges. In the evening we will arrive and stay overnight in Erzurum/Sarikamis.
Day 11

Erzurum City, Byzantine Fortress, Chifte Minare and Yakutiye Theology Schools, Shepherd Bridge, Sanasarian College

We will take a walk in Erzurum (historical Karin), which is the largest city in Eastern Anatolia, known for its strong Turkish nationalism tradition. We will visit the Byzantine Theodoupolis fortress (5th century) that was several times taken by the Russian army in the wars of 19-20th centuries, the renowned medieval medreses (theology schools) of Chifte Minare and Yakutiye. We will see the 19th-century building of the Sanasarian Armenian College. Leaving Erzurum we will drive toward Kars. On our way we will pass by the fortress of Basen (Hasan-Kala), then will stop by the medieval Shepherd’s Bridge (“Hovvi Kamurj”) at the confluence of the Araks River tributaries. From here we will continue to the Turkish-Georgian border. In Georgia, we will pass through the towns of Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki, and cross the Georgian-Armenian border. Then through Gyumri we will return to Yerevan.

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