The two great medieval cities of Istanbul and Venice, straddling East and West, are indissolubly linked through their shared history, mercantile culture, art and outstanding physical beauty. Explore the links between these two powerful civilisations in depth, on our 15-day journey. We begin in Istanbul, imperial capital of both the Byzantines and the Ottoman Turks, Venice’s implacable enemy. We then fly to Italy, spending two nights in Ravenna, Byzantium’s capital in the West, before spending six nights in Venice, whose unique art and culture is profoundly influenced by its links to the East.
Cruise up the Bosphorus to visit the Sultan Mehmet II fortress
Sumptuous Ottoman craftmanship at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Constantinople’s mosques, decorated with Iznik’s famed blue tiles
Two nights in Ravenna, with its lavish imperial mosaics
The revolutions of the Italian Renaissance, at Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Private after-hours tour of St Mark’s Basilica, for the illumination of the mosaics
The art of Carpaccio, Bellini, Titian and Tintoretto in Venice’s palaces, confraternities and churches
Lunch at the legendary Locanda Cipriani on Torcello island
Days 1–6: In Istanbul, survey the mosaics in Hagia Sophia and the Great Palace Museum, cruise the mighty Bosphorus and admire Ottoman architecture and decorative arts at the Blue Mosque and Topkapı.
Days 7–8: Fly to Venice, travelling first to Ravenna for its stunning mosaics.
Days 9–15: Return to Venice via Padua’s extraordinary Scrovegni Chapel. In Venice, examine the extensive connections with the East at St Mark’s Basilica, the Correr, Jewish Ghetto and Accademia gallery. Explore the island monasteries of San Lazzaro and San Giorgio and cruise the Venetian lagoon, visiting Burano and Torcello.
The tour begins at our hotel in Istanbul and ends at our hotel in Venice. Emirates and Qatar Airlines offer the best connections into Istanbul and out of Venice from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Thursday October 15: Arrive Istanbul
If you have booked your air travel through Academy Travel, we will organise a transfer to our hotel in the historic heart of Istanbul, Sultanahmet. Please note that hotel rooms may not be available until early afternoon. After time to check in and freshen up we meet in the hotel bar for early evening welcome drinks followed by an early dinner in the hotel. Overnight Istanbul (D)
Friday October 16: Imperial Istanbul
Following a lecture on Istanbul’s classical and Byzantine past, we visit the Basilica Cisterns, a cavernous space that allowed for 100,000 tons of water to be filtered before it arrived at Constantine’s Great Palace. Two centuries later Justinian I reconstructed a magnificent church adjacent to the palace, dedicated to Hagia Sophia or Holy Wisdom. It inspired generations of architects in the east and west. We compare Hagia Sophia with two other churches built by Justinian: the Hagia Eirene and Sts Sergius and Bacchus, a beautiful mosque known as ‘Little Hagia Sophia’. After admiring the 6th-century mosaics in the Great Palace Museum – one of which shows a group of drunken spectators at a chariot race – there is time to browse the adjacent Arasta Bazaar, a comfortable introduction to Turkish shopping. Tonight is our welcome dinner. Overnight Istanbul (B, D)
Saturday October 17: On The Bosphorus
We spend today on the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Asia and Europe. We transfer by coach to Sarıyer, with a stop to visit the Rumelihisarı fortress built by Sultan Mehmet II. The view from the fortifications is superb. In Sarıyer we visit the Sadberk Hanım Museum. Its two historic yalı houses, 19th-century wooden structures, allowed Istanbul’s elite to enjoy summer by the water. Today the Museum houses an important archaeological collection. After a break for lunch, we join a Bosphorus cruise, stopping at the Istanbul suburb of Ortaköy to view the fine mosque. Overnight Istanbul (B)
Sunday October 18: Byzantine Istanbul
After a lecture we visit the Theodosian Walls, which defended the city for a thousand years until it was taken in 1453. We visit the Postern Gate where the walls were breached, the Golden Gate through which the Byzantine army once passed and St Saviour in Chora, whose 14th-century mosaics and frescoes are evidence of a late flowering of Byzantine art. After lunch in a local restaurant, we visit Zeyrek Mosque and Fethiye Mosque, once important Byzantine churches, and walk around the Galata district where the Italian merchants lived. There is the option of remaining in Beyoğlu to take tea in the historic Pera Palace Hotel. Overnight Istanbul (B, L)
Monday October 19: The Ottomans
Ottoman Istanbul is our focus today. We visit the Blue Mosque, built in the early 17th century and famed for the Iznik tiles which decorate its interior. Afterwards we discover the delights and treasures of the Topkapı Palace, once home to the Ottoman sultans. Our visit to the palace includes a tour of the Harem and the Treasury and there is time to enjoy the palace grounds, overlooking the Bosphorus. After lunch in a nearby restaurant, the afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to join an optional visit to the Grand Bazaar, founded by Mehmet II in the 15th century and home to thousands of shops. Overnight Istanbul (B, L)
Tuesday October 20: Mosaics, Tiles and Calligraphy
Today we gain an appreciation of fine and decorative arts in Ottoman Turkey. We began with a visit to the Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mosque, designed by imperial architect Mimar Sinan in the 16th century for the Grand Vizier. Its interior is famed for its vibrant İznik tiles. At the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, we gain an appreciation for the training and craft behind the ceramics, glasswork, manuscript production and textiles of Ottoman Turkey, an important parallel with the organisation of the arts in medieval and Renaissance Venice. After a break for lunch, we visit the Archaeological Museum, home to an impressive collection of classical sculpture, including the stupendous Alexander Sarcophagus, and at the adjacent Tiled Kiosk there is more beautiful İznik decoration. We farewell Istanbul this evening with a meal on the waterfront. Overnight Istanbul (B, D)
Wednesday October 21: Istanbul to Ravenna
We fly from Istanbul direct to Venice this morning and transfer by coach to Ravenna, a few hours to the south. En route we visit the fine medieval Benedictine monastery at Pomposa, an excellent example of Romanesque architecture. Dinner and overnight Ravenna. (B, D)
Thursday October 22: Carpets of Stone
It is in Ravenna, after the fall of the Roman Empire, that the Byzantine visual style of gold-ground mosaics first developed. After a talk we tour the city, visiting the palaces and churches that sprang up during the reign of Theodoric the Great. Our first stop is the basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, with its glittering depiction of the royal court. We then tour the 6th-century baptistery and cathedral museum, which conserves the superb Ivory Cathedra. After lunch we view secular mosaics in the Domus dei tappeti di pietra, next to the basilica of San Vitale. The church was inspired by the design of Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia and its mosaics celebrate its builder, Emperor Justinian. In the grounds lies the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, a jewel-box of Byzantine mosaic. There is time this afternoon to look in Ravenna’s shops. Overnight Ravenna. (B)
Friday October 23: Padua
On leaving Ravenna this morning we stop at nearby Sant’Apollinare in Classe, a splendid basilica with vivid mosaics. We then travel to Padua, a prosperous town since the Middle Ages whose university was the intellectual base of Venetian society. After time for lunch in the bustling Piazza delle Erbe, we visit the Scrovegni Chapel. The extraordinary fresco cycle painted by Giotto here was completed in the same period as that at Constantinople’s St Saviour in Chora. After transferring to Venice in the afternoon, there is dinner in a restaurant near our hotel. Overnight Venice (B, D)
Saturday October 24: The Venetian State
We spend today examining aspects of the extraordinary Venetian state, from its most basic level to the most exalted and symbolic. After a talk we visit the Arsenale and Naval History Museum, illustrating Venice’s superior sea power. After lunch we walk to St Mark’s Square for a brief visit to the Museo Correr, which contains historic maps, paintings and other records of Venice’s civic history. This evening we have a private viewing of St Mark’s, so that we can enjoy the spectacular mosaics lit up without the bustle of the usual crowds. Overnight Venice (B)
Sunday October 25: The Merchants of Venice
Trade was the lynchpin of Venice’s relationship with the East. We begin the day at the Rialto, where merchants from all over Europe came to purchase goods from the Venetian traders, whose convoys from the East bought fine fabrics, exotic foods and rare art. We pass by the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a warehouse for German merchants and visit the Ca d’Oro, a 15th-century merchant’s house on the Grand Canal that houses an exquisite museum of medieval and Renaissance art. After lunch in Cannaregio, a quiet district where tourists almost never venture, we tour the Ghetto, one of several districts where foreign groups were required to live separately. The afternoon is at leisure but there is an evening talk on foreign communities in Venice. Overnight Venice (B, L)
Monday October 26: Venice’s Communities
Today’s sightseeing focuses on parishes and confraternities, where the welfare and social life of Venice’s communities was played out. These places contain great art by Bellini, Carpaccio, Titian, Tintoretto and others. We begin at the Renaissance church of San Zaccaria and the nearby Museum of Icons, reminding us of Venice’s Greek community. We then visit the nearby scuola (confraternity) of San Giorgio, home to the Esclavonian seamen, and the Scuola di San Marco. After crossing the Grand Canal we visit the church of the Frari, and the Scuola di San Rocco, the most magnificent of the Venetian confraternities, dedicated to plague saint Roch. Overnight Venice (B)
Tuesday October 27: The Islands of San Lazzaro and San Giorgio
This morning we travel to the island of San Lazzaro, where we visit the convent of the Armenian monks, who in the 18th century were granted refuge by the venetian senate. The monastery has been a centre of Armenian learning and culture since then. Lord Byron stayed on the island for a time, compiling an English-Armenian dictionary, and the monastery contains an eclectic collection including some very rare manuscripts. On our way back to Venice, we stop at the island of San Giorgio, home to a major Benedictine monastery since the early Middle Ages, and also Palladio’s most magnificent church. We enjoy the panoramic view from the belltower. This evening has been set aside for a performance at Venice’s beautiful opera house, La Fenice. Overnight Venice (B)
Wednesday October 28: The Lagoon
On our final day we gain a sense of the geography of the Venetian lagoon and the city’s appearance in its earliest days. We travel by ferry past the Lido to the peaceful lagoon islands of Burano and Torcello. On Torcello we view the church with its mosaics and Byzantine decorations, as well as the small museum of the Venetian lagoon. We then enjoy a relaxed farewell lunch at the legendary Locanda Cipriani on Torcello before returning to our hotel, where there is an evening talk. Overnight Venice (B, L)
Thursday October 29: Departure
This morning is free. In the early afternoon a group transfer is available for those transferring to Venice airport for onward flights. (B)
A cultural historian and founding director of Academy Travel, with a strong interest in visual arts, architecture and music.
Robert Veel is a cultural historian with over 20 years’ experience leading tours to Italy, the USA, Scandinavia and Turkey. He has a strong personal interest in the visual arts, architecture and music, and is a founding director of Academy Travel.
Robert holds a BA, Dip. Ed and M.Ed, all from the University of Sydney. He worked as a lecturer at the University of Sydney before a long stint at the University’s Centre for Continuing Education, lecturing in Italian history and culture and working as Assistant Director. Robert continues to teach occasionally in Continuing Education courses.
Robert’s historical and artistic knowledge stretches from the Middle Ages through the early 20th century. In Italy he has led many tours focusing on the Medieval and Renaissance periods. In the United States he likes to focus on the founding of the Republic and the Gilded Age of the early 20th century. In Scandinavia he is particularly interested in national identity and its role in Scandinavian literature, design and architecture. Robert speaks fluent Italian.
Robert led his first tour to Italy in 1990 and has not looked back! He has led more than 50 tours and designed many of Academy Travel’s most popular tours, including Sicily, New York, Rome and Venice residential tours, and our Scandinavia tours. More recently Robert led the first offering of Academy Travel’s tours to Tasmania and New Zealand.
We asked Robert, what do you enjoy most about leading tours?
“I really enjoy travelling with like-minded, interested travellers who are up for a bit of an intellectual adventure. It’s often the unexpected things that create the ‘shared joy’ of group travel”, says Robert “a wonderful, but little-known painting, a great performance or a fabulous meal. These are the things we travel for.”
“Over the years travellers have commented on my seemingly boundless enthusiasm. It’s true that I am curious about most things – people, places, history and artistic expression. There’s a kind of alchemy when this enthusiasm rubs off on others – hopefully with a bit of useful information as well!”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity