19 Days / 18 Nights

Our Natural History Tours focus equally on the nature and the history of Turkey. The Anatolian peninsula has a variety of natural regions. Its fertile coastal strips are backed by steep mountain ranges that form an almost continuous rim around the vast, steppe-like plateau of central Anatolia, where our exploration begins. From the unique landscape of Cappadocia, we cross the mighty Taurus Mountains, then follow the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts to the Dardanelles. The tour begins with three nights in Istanbul, one of the great cities of history and our base to witness the phenomenal spectacle of the migration of raptors and storks. Soaring birds avoid long sea crossings, for they depend upon the thermals of warm air rising over land. Each spring and fall, therefore, hundreds and thousands pass over the narrow straits of the Bosporus.

Arrive to Istanbul Ataturk airport and transfer to your hotel. Afternoon explore Topkapi Palace, the magnificent palace of the Ottoman Sultans between the 16th and 19th centuries. The extensive exhibits include priceless world-class collections of jewellery, porcelain, textiles and costumes of the Sultans. A visit to the Harem quarters is an absolute highlight. Overnight Istanbul.

Bbegin the day with sightseeing, then spend part of the morning on Camlica Hill, which rises to 875 feet on the Asian shore of Istanbul, providing panoramic vistas of the great city and its surrounding waters. For the naturalist, the sightings of storks and raptors that cross the Bosphorus here in autumn are even more spectacular than the view. Up to 200,000 white storks, 6,000 black storks, 13,000 buzzards, 9,000 honey buzzards, 5,000 levant sparrowh­awks, and many other species have been recorded on a single day. Raptor migration begins in midmorning, and we ourselves have seen 600 alpine swifts, 500 spotted eagles, and lesser numbers of a dozen other species on a single morning.

Start the day with the exploration of the city's cultural treasures. Itinerary includes the Basilica of Santa Sophia, built in the 6th century A.D. during the reign of Justinian; and the Suleymani­ye Camii or Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent, built by Sinan in the 16th century. Other highlights are the land walls, the Golden Gate, and the Byzantine Kariye Camii (the former church of St. Saviour in Chora).

Rising early, fly to Ankara, Turkey's capital, situated in the center of the vast, semi-arid plateau of Anatolia. Ankara is the country's second-largest city, with a population of 2.5 million. It boasts a Roman bath, the 1st-century Temple of Augustus, the 15th-century Haci Byram Mosque, and the Mausoleum of Ataturk, completed in 1953. The city's oldest quarter, the Citadel, is encircled ­by fortifications and built on a hill that commands splendid views. Here stands the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, renowned for its collection of antiquities (all unearthed in Turkey) from the Pale­olithic through the Classical Greek and Roman periods. Assyrian cuneiform tablets, Hittite carved reliefs, and Lydian gold jewelry and coins are among its treasures. After seeing the sights and birding at Mogan Lake, overnight in Ankara

From Ankara, drive south, through the driest part of Anatolia. Pause at small lakes where black-necked grebes, greeenshanks, ruffs, whiskered terns and other birds might be seen. The route skirts the Tuz Golu (Salt Lake), which is 50 miles long, 32 miles wide, and thought to be saltier than the Dead Sea. At Aksaray, turn east, passing through gently rolling country cultivated with wheat. In Cappadocia the land is covered with a deep layer of tuff, a soft rock of solidified mud, ash, and lava that were deposited millions of years ago by the now extinct volcanoes Erciyes Dagi (12,848 ft; ancient Mt. Argaeus) and Hasan Dagi (10,672 ft). Afternoon we visit Kaymakli, south of Nevsehir, to explore an underground city hewn from the tuff. It was probably begun in the 6th century and completed in the 10th and could accommodate several thousand people in its eight subterranean levels.

Investigate the area east of Nevsehir, where erosion of the tuff has created an amazing landscape of rock cones, pinnacles, and ravines. The cone is the most frequent form, and many are more than a hundred feet tall. Some are topped by basaltic caps, a remnant of the resistant layer which overlaid the tuff. These are known locally as peri bacalri, or fairy chimneys. Dwellings were carved from these rocks as long ago as 400 B.C., when Xenophon mentioned them in his Anabasis. Explore the famous rock chapels at Goreme and the monastic complex at Zelve.During Byzantine times more than a hundred churches, chapels, and monasteries were hewn out of the tuff.

Drive to southeast, over the Topuzd­agi Gecidi (5,036 ft) and down a steep escarpment to a great basin which shelters the Sultansa­zligi, or Sultan's Marshes. On these vast, seasonally flooded salt flats, we should find truly spectacular numbers of birds, wintering or in passage. Flocks of greater flamingoes, spoonbills, ruddy shelduc­ks, black-tailed godwits, and many other species of waterfowl and waders are possible. Continue through a lovely landscape of villages, farms, and scenic rivers as we head into the Taurus Mountains. These mountains, which roughly parallel the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, reach their highest point in Ala Dag (12,251 ft) at the eastern end of the range. Enroute lies Tarsus, one of the great crossroads of history. Sennache­ri­b, Alexander, Pompey, and Hadrian are among the conquerors who passed through Tarsus, which also witnessed the first meeting between Cleopatra and Marc Antony and was the birthplace of St. Paul. Observe how the flora on the hillsides changes to a typical "gareque" flora as we come out of the mountains and approach the sea. See black pine plantations, orange groves, and cotton fields on the way to Mersin on the Mediterranean.

Drive westward along the Mediterranean, reach the coast and the road clings to pine-clad slopes that plunge straight down to the azure sea.It is a coast studded with classical and medieval remains. At Korigos are two notable 12th-century castles, one on the shore (incorporating a Roman triumphal arch) and the other on a small island. Twenty-three towers and turrets adorn the medieval castle at Silifke, which lies on the banks of the 150-mile-long Goksu River, one of very few rivers that originate in the Taurus. Along take opportunities to look for African monarch, clouded yellow, and other butterflies and to watch for ravens, Montagu's harrier, crested larks, squacco herons, golden orioles, and other avian species.

Drive westward along the Mediterranean resumes to Antalya, the ancient Pamphylia, whose cities shared the same general history as other Greek settlements in Asia Minor. Subjugated at various times by Lydians, Persians, and mainland Greeks, they were conquered by Alexander the Great, fought over by Alexander's successors, and subse­quently absorbed into the empires of the Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans. On our route lie the ruins of two of Pamphylia's most important cities—Aspendos and Perge. Highlights among the remains are the 2nd-century Roman theater at Aspendos (reputedly the best-preserved theater of antiquity) and the stadium at Perge.

An excursion inland, and upward, to Termessos National Park, where 16,600 acres of wilderness surround the still partly forest-covered ruins of the Lycian fortress-city Termessos, founded in the 3rd century B.C. Set in a rugged mountain valley at 5,400 feet, the site affords wonderful views of the Gulf of Antalya. Junipers, Aleppo pines, holly oaks, Spanish broom, pink mallow and sage are examples of the park's flora. A visit to Antalya's Archaeological Museum, which houses statues from Perge and Aspendos, completes the day

Leave Antalya, turn north into the Aegean zone of western Anatolia, a region characterized by old, low mountain masses between which stretch the sunken plains of the Gediz (Hermus), Buyuk Menderes, and Kucuk Menderes (Scamander and Cayster) Rivers. Travel a scenic route via Termessos, Tefenni and Salda Golu (Salt Lake), where we pause to bird the marshes. Pamukkale, the "Fortress of Cotton." Three hundred feet high, Pamukkale rises abruptly from the plain, its white cliff face a dazzling array of stalactites that look like petrified cascades. These were, and are, being formed by lime-bearing streams that issue from a hot spring pool fed from the lower slopes of Cal Dagi. Atop this plateau stood the ancient city of Hierapolis, built in large part on the calcareous mass the streams deposited. Tour the ruins, which include remains from the Hellenistic, Roman, early Christian, and Byzantine periods.

Motor on through country lanes and villages to the ruins of Aphrodisias. Aphrodisias was an important cultural center sacred to Aphrodite in Greek and Roman times, but its prehistory dates back to the third millennium B.C. The well-preserved remains include public baths, a stadium that accommodated more than 60,000 people, a portion of the Temple of Aphrodite, and more. After touring the site, drive west to the port and resort town of Kusadasi, on the beautiful Aegean Sea.

Devote the morning to Dilek Yarimadas National Park on the Dilek Peninsula, investigating the Mediterranean "macchia" vegetation which, with bay and chestnut trees, is the peninsula's prevalent flora. The higher regions have red and black pines, and the park harbors lime trees and certain oak species that are peculiar to the forests of northern Anatolia. Seals and turtles breed along this stretch of the coast. After lunch in Priene, tour Miletus, birthplace of the philosophers Thales and Anasimander, and look for waterbirds, herons, and shorebirds at Bafa Golu.


From Kusadasi it is just a few miles north to the impressive remains of Ephesus, which was Ionian Asia Minor's most important city. Its wealth was proverbial, and its Temple of Artemis was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Ephesus became an early center of Christianity, was visited by St. John and by St. Paul (who addressed an epistle to the Ephesians), and was the seat of the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. This ancient port now lies several miles from the sea, its harbor filled in by alluvium. Only one column of the Temple of Artemis has been re-erected, but there is much that is well preserved. Walk the marble paved Arcadian and Sacred Ways, admire the restored Library of Celsus and the Corinthian reliefs of the Temple of Hadrian, and stand in the Great Theater where St. Paul preached. In the afternoon motor north to the Cigli saltpans, to enjoy hundreds of flamingoes and a wealth of other waterbirds. Dalmatian pelicans are often seen here, along with herons, egrets, gulls, and terns. Continue through Izmir (ancient Smyrna), Turkey's third largest city (pop. 2.5 million), which rings the gulf of the same name and is backed on the east and south by mountains. Overnight at Manisa (ancient Magnesia ad Sipylum).

Begin the day with a field trip to Spildag National Park where tulips, which were introduced into Europe from Turkey in 1554, are part of the natural vegetation. The 13,603-acre reserve lies on Spildag (5,020 ft), a few miles from Manisa. Look for Kruper's nuthatch in the vines near the summit of the mountain. In the afternoon, the site of Sardis is the focus. As the capital of Lydia, Sardis was the political and cultural center of Asia Minor from 650 B.C. until the death of Croesus (c. 546 B.C.). Lydia's legendary wealth was based on the gold washed down from 7,000 foot-high Boz Dag (ancient Mount Tmolus) by the Pactolus River, and it was in Lydia that coinage was invented. Upon returning to town, visit Manisa's 14th-century Ulu Cami (Grand Mosque).

Drive northward to Bergama, where tour the ruins of Pergamon, a brilliant center of Hellenistic civilization in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. Pergamon's library contained 200,000 volumes written on parchment (which takes its name from the city) and was second only to the library at Alexandria. Continuing north, motor along the Aegean coast and around the Gulf of Edremit to the seaside village of Assos, where the Greek island of Lesbos can be seen across the bay.

Start the day from Hissarlik, the site of Homer's Troy, on a hill above the plain of the Kucuk Menderes River and commanding a view of the entrance to the Dardanelles (ancient Hellespont). Since its discovery by Heinrich Schliemann in 1871, archaeological evidence has uncovered nine main levels and some 46 sublevels that testify to continuous habitation of the site from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the 4th century A.D. The Troy of The Iliad is believed to have been destroyed in about 1260 B.C. From Troy drive east, enjoying spectacular views of the Dardanelles and the Sea of Marmara on the way to Kuscenneti (Bird Paradise) National Park. Here, among the willows and reedbeds of the shallow Kus Golu (also called Manyas Golu), great number of birds breed, winter, or make migratory stops. Black-crowned night heron, gray and squacco heron, little egret, pygmy cormorant, Eurasian spoonbill, purple and little bittern, Eastern white pelican, and glossy ibis are among the 239 species recorded in the park. In the late afternoon continue east to the city of Bursa (ancient Prusia ad Olympium), which was the capital of the Ottoman Empire for much of the 14th century.

Bursa lies in a broad plain at the foot of Ulu Dag (ancient Bithynia­n Mount Olympus), the highest mountain in northwestern Anatolia (8,343 ft). Drive to Ulu Dag National Park, see plain, olives and bay trees give way at about 820 feet to a belt of beech, chestnut, walnut, elm and other broadleaved trees followed by the Austrian pines and Bornmueller firs of the coniferous belt, which is replaced in turn by the dwarf vegetation above treeline. The vistas are stunning as the road climbs, and keep an eye out for lammer­geier, alpine chough, alpine accentor, Kruper's nuthatch, and red-fronted serin. Ravens are plentiful here, and swallowtail and brimestone butterflies might be spotted. Leave Bursa in the afternoon and drive to the Sea of Marmara, rounding the Gulf of Izmit on our route to the Bosporus and Istanbul. The slopes that lie to each side of the 20-mile-long Bosporus are steeper than those along the Dardan­elles and are covered with rich vegetation. Just 1,800 feet wide at its narrowest point, the Bosporus is easier to cross than the Dardanelles, and the wide, deep natural harbor of the Golden Horn favored the establishment of Byzantium.



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