Footsteps of St Paul, St John and the early Christian Church

 

 

 

 


Day 1          Athens
 

Upon arrival at Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens, you are met and transferred to your hotel.  Balance of the day at leisure to rest and adjust to the new time zone.

 

Day 2          Athens  

Today we enjoy the day exploring Athens,its highlights and visiting the world renowned Acropolis and the new Acropolis museum.

Athens, the capital of Greece, is one of the oldest cities in the world spanning a history of 3,400 years. Home of the great minds, philosophers and teachers of ancient times such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, Athens is the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western Civilization.

A bus tour will guide us through the highlights of Athens; House of Parliament, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Presidential Palace, Panathenaic Stadium, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, to lead us to the world renowned Acropolis.

We will walk through the architectural wonders of the Golden Age of Pericles; the Propylaia, the Parthenon and the Erechtheion.  We walk to Areopagus or Mars Hill, the site where trials were heard before the Council of Elders and where St Paul delivered his speech to the Athenians.  We visit the ancient Agora where Athenians gathered not only for commercial purposes but also for political and religious ones.  Our visit is not complete without a tour of the New Acropolis museum, which houses the findings of the Acropolis of Athens.

 

Day 3          Corinth – Athens

This morning we shall cross the Corinth Canal to the Peloponnese where we visit Ancient Corinth.  We return to Athens for a free afternoon.

Drive through the coastal road to the Corinth Canal, which separates Peloponnese from the Greek mainland and connects the two Seas, the Ionian and the Aegean. Continue to Ancient Corinth, one of the most important trading cities of ancient Greece dating back to the 6th century B.C. Visiting the archaeological site we will come across the Temple of Apollo, the agora, the sacred spring and the Peirene Fountain. The apostle Paul resided in Corinth for 18 months in A.D. 51–52.  Here he wrote the First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians.  We shall visit the site of   the Bema of St. Paul, where he preached. 

Take advantage of your free afternoon to explore, relax and shop in the neighborhoods of Plaka and Monastiraki in central Athens.

 

Day 4          Athens – Delphi – Kalambaka 

Today we travel north to Delphi where we explore the archaeological site and museum before continuing our drive to Kalmabaka.

In antiquity Delphi was known as the center or the navel of the earth for it was believed that when Zeus released two eagles from opposite sides of the world they would meet in Delphi.  It reached its height in power in the 4th century as the sanctuary to the god Apollo.  Pilgrims would gather here to seek advice from the great oracle, Pythia, on various matters including waging wars.  We explore the sanctuary by walking up the Sacred Way to see the Treasuries, the Theater and the Temple of Apollo.  Visit the museum of Delphi and marvel at the unique collection of artifacts from the excavation, including the bronze “Charioteer” one of the best preserved ancient works of metallurgy.

 

Day 5          Kalambaka - Veria - Thessaloniki

This morning in Kalambaka we visit the Byzantine Meteora monasteries and continue to visit Veria and Vergina before entering Thessaloniki.

Amongst striking scenery, perched on sheer-sided gray rock pinnacles of varied and spectacular shapes and appearing to be suspended in mid-air, stand the ageless 14th century monasteries of Meteora.  The monasteries contain beautiful Byzantine art and offer an insight into the mystic world of the monks still residing there.

The town of Verias dubbed “Little Jerusalem” for the many churches that are built across it.  Here we will visit the Bema of St Paul where the Apostle stood and preached the Gospel to the Veroeans in 49 AD. 

 

Day 6          Thessaloniki – Vergina – Thessaloniki 

We go on a short drive to visit Vergina and then return to Thessaloniki and explore its highlights.

Vergina or ancient Aegae, was the first capital of the kingdom of Macedon. Although the capital was later transferred to Pella, Aegae remained the city where sacred rituals and ceremonies would take place.  Here we will visit the very impressive site of the Royal Tomb of King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. Displayed within this tomb are the finds such as the gold ossuary with the 16 pointed Macedonian star, gold leaf wreaths, frescos and ornaments.

Thessaloniki was built about 315 B.C. by King Cassander, brother-in-law of Alexander the Great, who named the city after his wife Thessaloniki.  It was a major commercial center in Roman times as well as the second largest and wealthiest during the Byzantine era.  In 50 A.D. St Paul visited the city and wrote two epistles to the ancient Thessalonians.  At present Thessaloniki is Greece’s second largest city.

We explore the city, coming across the White Tower, the Arch of Galerius, the Rotonda, the oldest of Thessaloniki’s churches, Aristotelous Square, the fortress and Ramparts overlooking the city and its gulf.  We also visit the Byzantine churches of St Sophia and St. Dimitrios, an early convert to Christianity martyred by the Romans.

 
 

 

Day 7          Thessaloniki – Kavala – Philippi – Alexandroupolis

Today we travel East skirting the Lakes Koronia and Volvi into Kavala.  We visit Kavala and Philippi and continue to Alexandroupolis.

Kavala, ancient Neapolis, was the main port of Philippi and where St. Paul accompanied by Silas, Luke and Timothy, first set foot in Europe and sowed the seeds of Christianity.  Aside from the great panoramas of Kavala, the city has a Byzantine castle, aqueduct, and museum containing finds from Ancient Amphipolis and Philippi.  Follow the Via Egnatia, remnant of Rome's highway system, viewing Roman and Greek tombstones and ruts of ancient chariot wheels.

Philippi, as its name implies was established by Philip II of Macedonia in 358 B.C.  It was here that Octavian and Anthony defeated Brutus and Cassius, last defenders of the Roman Republic in 42 B.C.  St Paul first arrived at Philippi around 50 A.D.  It was one of the first European cities to accept Christianity.  Here he delivered his first sermon and baptized the first Christian convert, Lydia, on European soil.  We will view the baptismal site and visit a crypt dating from the Roman period that is thought to have served as a prison for Paul.  We will also see the famous Acropolis, the Market Place, Basilica, and the Theatre. 

 

Day 8 Alexandroupolis – Istanbul

Today we cross the land borders from Greece into Turkey and continue our drive to Istanbul.  In the afternoon we will visit Istanbul’s Spice Market before boarding a cruise for a relaxing sail on Bosphorus.

The Bosphorus, one of the world’s busiest commercial channels, is a long strait that joins the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, runs through Istanbul and separates Europe from Asia.  A cruise on its waters will acquaint us with the various

magnificent sites this city is so famous for. We will get a glimpse of Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, Yildiz Park and Palace and the Bosphorus Bridge.

 

Day 9          Istanbul 

We spend the day exploring Istanbul, visiting its churches and museums.

Istanbul is a city of wonders and one with a very rich history.  Its strategic position on the Silk Road and straddling the Bosphorus, a strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, made it a stronghold and a very significant city in history. It was founded in 660 BC as Byzantium and altered its name to Constantinople as capital of the Byzantine Empire by King Constantine.  In 1453 the city was conquered by the Ottomans who changed its name to Istanbul, build several palaces, the Grand bazaar and made the city into a cosmopolitan center. In 1922 the last of the Ottoman sultans was deposed and the city officially came under the rule of the Republic of Turkey.

The Church of Chora was built in the 5th initially outside the city walls.  During its history it went through several changes suffered from earthquakes and was rebuild and finished in 1321 with the finest of frescoes and mosaics. During the Ottoman Empire it was turned into a mosque but today it is officially a museum

Hagia Sophia was constructed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in 537; it was the official seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople and one of the largest Orthodox Cathedrals for a thousand years. Its architecture was an inspiration for several other Ottoman mosques.  It was converted to a Catholic church during the Latin Empire and later into a mosque under the Ottoman Empire. Today it is a museum which is visited by millions of tourists annually.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque as it is sometimes called was built from 1609 by the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I.  Its size is majestic and overwhelming as it has one main dome, eight secondary ones and six minarets. The interior of the mosque is adorned with mostly blue ceramic tiles, stained glass windows, verses of the Quran in exquisite calligraphy and chandeliers.

The Topkapi Palace was the residence of the first Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet II built in 1459. It contains hundreds of rooms and resided up to 4000 people; it also contained mosques, a hospital and a mint. The museum displays holy relics of the Muslim world, robes and weapons from the Ottoman era, porcelain and fine jewelry.

The Istanbul Archaeology Museum houses a number of artifacts amassed from the areas dominated by the Ottoman Empire and after an imperial decree was enforced to protect cultural objects.  The collection includes the astonishing and ornate Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, other Classical Greek and Roman statues and parts of temples. Also it contains many Ottoman artifacts and Islamic art from early civilization of Mesopotamia and the Middle East.

 
 

 

Day 10 Istanbul – Troy – Canakkale 

Our drive takes us towards the Aegean Sea in search of the city of Troy and then to Canakkale for the night.

Troy is the name of the Bronze Age city featured in the Trojan War of ancient Greek oral and literary tradition and the name given to the archaeological site in the northwest of Asia Minor (now Turkey) which has revealed a large and prosperous city occupied over millennia.  There has been much scholarly debate as to whether mythical Troy actually existed and, if so, whether the archaeological site was the same city; however, it is now almost universally accepted that the archaeological excavations have revealed the city of Homer’s Iliad. 

 

Day 11          Canakkale – Pergamum – Izmir – Kusadasi

Today we drive south to Pergamum and then to the city of Izmir and end the day in Kusadasi.

Pergamum in the 3rd century was one of the greatest of Greek cities and  later became the capital of the Roman province of Asia. It was a well known learning and healing center.  The city was guarded by four deities, Zeus, Athena, Dionysus and Asclepius.  Pergamum was mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelations as one of the Seven Churches of Asia where chrisianity was adopted in the 1st century AD. We shall visit the Acropolis, Temple of Athena, Royal Palace, the steepest theatre in the world and he altar of Zeus.

Izmir is Turkey’s third largest city and the second largest port.  Its location as a port entry to the Aegean has always been significant dating back 3000 BC.  The birthplace of Homer, captured by Alexander the Great, the city was inhabited by the Romans and Byzantines and later the Ottoman Empire.  It flourished culturaly and became a very important trading center.  Our sightseeing will take us to the highest point in the city, Mt Pagos, for a view of the city and its harbor.

 

Day 12          Ephesus – Kusadasi

We shall dedicate our morning for the visit of the magnificent city of Ephesus.

Founded in the 10th century, Ephesus was one of the most vibrant and important Greco-Roman port cities in Asia Minor.   The goddess Artemis was the diety venerated in the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  In early Christianity, 52-54 AD St Paul resided in Ephesus.  It is also believed that Mary, mother of Jesus, lived her last years of her life in Ephesus.  We shall walk through this ancient city to see the public buildings, residences, the impressive library of Celsus, the temple of Artemis and the theatre. We will also visit the Basilica of St John believed to also be the site of his burial.     

 

Day 13          Kusadasi – Patmos

Today we leave Kusadasi on board a cruise ship.  We shall be sailing to the Greek islands starting with Patmos, the “Holy Island”.

Patmos is known as the sacred island. St John sought refuge here in the 1st century AD.  It is here where St John heard the voice of God and wrote the Book of Revelations in the Cave of the Apocalypse.

We will disembark in Patmos and will have ample time to visit the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of St John “the Theologian”.

 
 

 

Day 14 Rhodes 

Our next destination is the island of Rhodes where we will visit the old city of Rhodes and Lindos.

Rhodes is the capital and the largest of the Dodecanese islands.  Its history dates back to the Neolithic times. It was inhabited by the Minoan Greeks, invaded by the Mycenaeans, became part of the empire of Alexander the Great and later the Roman.  It was most famous for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  After the Byzantine era came to end the island was occupied by the Knights Hospitaller, the Knights of St John, who build the Palace of the Grand Master and a city reminiscent of a European medieval one. We shall have time to go through D’Amboise Gate and walk on the Street of the Knights, visit the Palace and stroll in the old town.

In  Lindos we will visit the ancient Temple of Athena, built in 300 B.C. and the Church of the Virgin Mary (Panagia) of Lindos, with frescoes dating from the 15th century. 

 
 

 

Day 15          Crete –Santorini

We will sail to the island of Crete, home of the great Minoan civilization where we tour the 4,000 year old Knossos Palace.  We will then sail to Santorini, the island that sits on the rim of an ancient volcano that erupted in 1500 B.C. 

Crete has a rich history of which the Minoan Civilization is most legendary.The Minoan Palace of Knossos, built around 2000 B.C. was the capital of that civilization and the frescoes discovered give an insight into the way of life of the Minoans their traditions and culture.  We shall go through the Palace into the various chambers, throne rooms, courts and theaters.

Santorini is one of the most visited and spectacular of the Greek islands. Most impressive are the towns built on the sheer cliffs created as a result of the massive volcano that erupted 3600 years ago. Ancient Akrotiri is the archeologicalsite, which we shall visit. Aprehistoric city that dates back to 4th millennium B.C., it was one of the main urban centers and ports on the Aegean.  Most noteworthy are the buildings, which are three to four floors, the elaborate drainage systems and the various vessels that were found.  Many of the frescoes that were also uncovered and which retain their original colors, can be seen at the Archaeological Museum ofAthens and the Museum of Prehistoric Thira of Santorini.

 
 
 

 

Day 16          Departure

This morning we disembark at 7:00 a.m. and make our way to the airport. While this pilgrimage comes to an end, our Christian journey is sure to have greater depth and meaning.