Founded at the crossroads of the known world, the city of Constantinople was the wealthiest, most powerful, and largest city in the West for centuries. The capital of the Roman Empire in the East, known as the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople was the home of Caesars, Senates, and millions of people from all walks of life.  In its opulent streets and forums one could find wealthy Greek patricians, busy Italian merchants, Christian clergy and religious of every sort.  Constantinople was not just the capital of a Christian empire, it was the greatest Christian city in the world.  Its landscape was dotted by hundreds of churches, monasteries, and shrines.  Its streets were decorated with beautiful columns, mystical icons, and ancient bronze statues of gods and goddesses.  It was a center of learning and scholarship.  It was the epicenter of commerce. It was a place like no other….it was The City.

But in 1453 after a long and terrible siege, the ancient Christian city was conquered by Sultan Mehmed II and Constantinople became the capital of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.  Most of its churches, including Hagia Sophia, the largest Christian church in the world, were converted into mosques.  For more than four centuries the Turkish sultans ruled from Constantinople, and the Istanbul that we see today is very much their creation.

However, the old Christian capital of the Byzantium still exists, if one knows where to look for it. Our sojourn will uncover that lost city, seeing in its surviving fragments and ruins the richness of its ancient and medieval past.  We will search for the remains of the once vast imperial palace, gaze at the beauty of Hagia Sophia, walk along the racecourse of the Hippodrome, and explore the underground cisterns still supported by thousands of ancient columns.  We will discover the lost Roman forums and ruins of great monuments – all hidden in plain sight – and travel along the mammoth Theodosian walls that safeguarded “the City” (as it was called) for more than a thousand years.

Our endeavor will be to discover the lasting legacy of Byzantium as we uncover the 1000 year history of the ancient city set at the crossroads of the world. As we explore the rise and fall of this empire from its glorious capital, we’ll recount its military victories, visualize its opulent beauty, and examine its crushing defeats. Most significantly we’ll come to understand how Byzantium played a vital role as custodian for the ideals, achievements, and scholarship of the classical world after the fall of Rome and how it ultimately served as a conduit that transmitted those treasures to a Europe on the verge of renaissance.

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