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Tour group in front of the fortifications at Essaouira, Morocco
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Travel Tour Program

Visit remarkable monuments in ancient and Islamic worlds
Our tours are designed for members of the general public who are fascinated by archaeology and history. Our destinations have included Jordan, Syria, Oman, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Mexico, Turkmenistan and China.

For over 30 years, we have run tours for anyone with a general interest in Near Eastern culture and history. Fully escorted by leading experts who share their personal love of travel and archaeology with their tour participants, our program is run in conjunction with Sydney-based companies Academy Travel and Alumni Travel.

Upcoming tours

06 – 29 March 2020

Oman

Far to the east of Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, Jerusalem and the other great cities of the Levant exists a completely different world, namely that of the Arabian peninsula. The peninsula, of course, is dominated geographically by Saudi Arabia whilst to the east we have Oman and Yemen, the land of Sheba.

Oman may lack ancient cities comparable in wealth or splendour to Palmyra, Petra or Jerash but it possesses some of the most stunning natural scenery to be seen in the Middle East. At its northern tip is the Musandam Peninsula (‘the Fiords of Arabia’), without doubt one of the most dramatic landscapes in the whole of Arabia, still gloriously unspoilt and remote. To cruise these waters by dhow (which we do—the sea is also perfect for swimming) is to enter a world of striated mountains spectacularly thrust and twisted upwards, whose sheer cliff faces plunge dramatically into the clear (and dolphin-filled) waters of the Gulf.

In contrast central Oman, with its spectacular mountain ranges and desert vistas, its vast palm groves, its hidden oases whose waters remain absolutely translucent, and its traditional mudbrick villages with their imposing tribal forts and cool suqs, retains much of the flavour of Old Arabia which has long since vanished elsewhere. Further to the south, we enter the tropical world of Salalah the capital of Dhofar, Oman’s southern province. During the months of June to September Dhofar attracts the south-west monsoon and, as a result, its coastal strip (fringed by superb white sandy beaches) is remarkably fertile with abundant cultivation of tropical fruits (coconut, papaya, bananas) and exotic plants (bougainvillea, hibiscus).

Behind the coastal strip, and separating it from the vast Rub’ al-Khali (Empty Quarter) are the Dhofari highlands. It is on the slopes of these mountains that the finest frankincense in Antiquity was grown—as it still is today. Of the numerous frankincense ports that dotted the coast of Arabia Felix during Roman times, one of the most important (and one that we will explore) was Sumhuram whose great wall and gate, projecting towers, storehouses (formerly filled with incense), houses and temples have recently been uncovered by a joint Omani-Italian team of archaeologists. Although the great days of the frankincense trade have long since passed, its aroma still permeates Omani suqs and houses where it is still valued for its fragrance.

As well as its stunning landscapes Oman boasts some of the most hospitable and friendly people in the Middle East. Despite the numerous trips I have made to Oman (both travelling privately and leading tour groups) it remains one of my favourite destinations and I am delighted to be sharing it with you.

Jordan

Lying within the ‘cradle of civilisation’ Jordan has frequently played an important role in the history of the Levant due to its strategic location on the crossroads of the ancient world. For such a small country Jordan has a wonderful diversity of landscapes from the green and wooded hillsides of the north Jordan Valley (covered in wildflowers in springtime), the spectacular Wadi Musa (“Grand Canyon of Jordan”), the dramatic red deserts and high peaks of the Wadi Rum and the extraordinary Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, in which we can swim (or more accurately float) without any effort!

Jordan is also home to a remarkable array of spectacular monuments and sites. Many of these we shall visit including the 10,000 year old village of Beidha, one of the earliest settlements in the Middle East, the sprawling and superbly preserved Graeco-Roman cities of Gadara (modern Umm Qais) and Jerash, Crusader castles, Mount Nebo (from where Moses viewed the Promised Land) and, of course, the incomparable Nabatean city of Petra, “rose-red and half as old as time”, that became so wealthy due to its key position at the head of the frankincense route. We also visit the University of Sydney’s excavations at Pella, arguably “the most historically significant site in the whole of Jordan”, where I started my archaeological career some 40 years ago and now, as Co-Director, am still involved in the ongoing excavations there.

In many ways Jordan lies closer to my heart than any other in the Middle East, as a result of my long and close association with it and its people who have always been incredibly generous and welcoming towards us as archaeologists and guests in their country.

It is therefore a real pleasure for me to welcome you on this tour and to be able to guide you through both these truly wonderful countries.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Alumni Travel : www.alumnitravel.com.au  |  1300 799 887  |  (02) 9290 3856

09 – 30 May 2020

At the crossroads of many civilizations, Western Turkey is the site of Homer’s Troy and other great cities of the classic periods of Ionian Greece, the Roman and Byzantine periods. You will see castles built by the Crusaders, caravanserais from Seljuk and Ottoman times and the poignant battlefields of Gallipoli.

Besides this general exposure to the glories of Western Turkey, we will be looking at two historical periods, both stretching over hundreds of years, that had a profound influence over a geographical area way beyond the present political borders of Turkey. The Byzantine Empire, heir to Rome, challenged Persia, survived the advance of the hordes that descended on Europe, and managed to hold out against the growing strength of Islam until 1453. Then using the administrative organisation set up by the Byzantines, the Ottomans remained the only Eastern force capable of bringing a challenge to the gates of Europe, and although weakened considerably, were still able to present a military force at the time of WW1.During our tour, there will be time to talk to Turkish people, to visit their villages and homes, to enjoy their music and dance, to see the workmanship of their skilled artists, and to discover a little of the rich cultural life of this fabulous country.
There are no early morning starts to the day, or quick overnight stops. We stay at comfortable hotels in the centre of town, usually for two or three nights, each personally selected as representing some aspect of Turkish life.
Meals are excellent, there are no hidden options and guides have been specially selected.
All entry fees and tipping for hotels (for the group) are included, dress is casual and there are always special surprises along the way.

Download tour brochure here

Alumni Travel : www.alumnitravel.com.au  |  1300 799 887  |  (02) 9290 3856

14 March to 2 April 2020

Jordan and Israel are at one of the great crossroads of civilisation and are bursting with archaeological and historical gems: the world’s first villages, mighty Bronze Age cities, sites reaching back to the origins of Judaism and Christianity, Crusader castles and splendid Islamic monuments. Discover the awe-inspiring history of this region on this new 20-day tour, combining celebrated sites such as Jerusalem and Petra and lesser-known locations that bring out the historical and cultural diversity of these countries. This tour is a must for anyone interested in the history and archaeology of the Near East.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

October 18-November 8 2020

Travel through the marvellous mountain and desert landscapes of Persia and visit some of the most remarkable monuments in the ancient and Islamic worlds. This 23-day tour explores the art and history of Iran, from Tabriz and Tehran in the north, to Isfahan and Shiraz in the south. The tour visits ancient Achaemenid palaces and royal tombs, mysterious Sasanian fire temples, and enchanting mud-brick cities on the desert fringes, and explores Islamic Iran with its enchanting gardens, caravanserais, bazaars and stunning mosques. Throughout we encounter the unsurpassed friendliness and hospitality of the Iranian people.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

3 – 21 May, 2020

Explore Ancient Greece on this 19-day tour, focussing on two of the most remarkable eras: the Aegean Bronze Age and the rule of the Macedonian kings, Philip and Alexander the Great. The tour begins with the sprawling palaces of the Minoans on Crete and then continues to Athens and the Peloponnese, entering the world of Mycenaean kings with their forbidding palaces and monumental burials. It then visits the great classical sites of Olympia and Delphi before arriving at Thessaloniki, gateway to ancient Macedon.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

13-30 October, 2020

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are central links along the Silk Road and have extraordinary
histories, from the great empires and conquerors of the ancient and medieval world, to
the migrations and exchanges between vastly different cultures. Nevertheless, these two
countries have retained their distinctive cultures, seen most clearly in their traditional
arts and crafts. This 18-day tour uncovers the wealth of history and culture in the ‘Stans’,
with visits to the Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, to Sasanian citadels,
Achaemenid and Parthian ruins, the palaces of the emirs and the desert oasis of Merv.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

Previous tours

2019

The Persian Empire, based within modern Iran’s borders, was a significant force in the ancient world, when it competed and interacted with both Greece and Rome and was the last step on the Silk Road before it reached Europe and one of the first steps of Islam outside Arabia. In its heyday, Iran boasted lavish architecture that inspired Tamerlane’s Samarqand and the Taj Mahal, and its poets inspired generations of Iranians and foreigners, while its famed gardens were a kind of earthly paradise. In recent times Iran has slowly re-established itself as a leading nation of the Middle East.

Over 23 days we travel through mountain and desert landscapes of Iran and visit some of the most remarkable monuments in the ancient and Islamic worlds. We explore Achaemenid palaces and royal tombs, mysterious Sassanian fire temples, enchanting mud-brick cities on the desert fringes, and fabled Persian cities with their enchanting gardens, caravanserais, bazaars, and stunning cobalt-blue mosques. Perhaps more importantly, however, we encounter the unsurpassed friendliness and hospitality of the Iranian people which leave most travellers longing to return.

The exotic Silk Road within China is rich in historical and cultural highlights. From the might of Imperial China in the east, to brilliantly decorated Buddhist monasteries and caves in the west and the desert steppes and Islamic influences of Turpan, Urumqi and Kashgar, we discover the treasures and influences of the Silk Road. This tour will be both a journey through the changing face of China today, as well as an examination of its deep and awe-inspiring history and culture.

Our 21-day tour commences in Beijing with visits to the Forbidden City, Great Wall and the Ming tombs. We fly to Xi’an, terminus of the Silk Road and home to an army of terracotta warriors. Heading further west to Tianshui and Lanzhou, we visit Buddhist Grottoes carved into the side of mountains and the great yellow hat Labrang Lamastery at Xiahe. Travelling into the Taklaman Desert we explore the archaeological sites of Jiaohe and Gaochang and the Flaming Mountain. See well-preserved mummies in Urumqi and immerse yourself in the bustling Sunday Bazaar at Kashgar before concluding our journey in Chengdu.

Discover the extraordinary world of ancient and Aegean Bronze-Age Greece, from the sprawling palaces of Minoan Crete and the citadels and monumental tombs of the Mycenaeans, to the incomparable museums of Athens and the emergence of the Byzantines at the end of Antiquity. Get to know the deep history of the cultures that made Greece the cradle of western civilisation on this 17-day tour by land and sea, travelling from Crete to the Peloponnese, Olympia, Delphi and Athens, visiting archaeological sites and museums, and enjoy the dramatic landscapes – mountains, spectacular coastlines and rocky islands – of the Greek world.

In Crete we explore the sprawling palace of King Minos at Knossos, home to the legendary Minotaur, along with the lesser known but equally fascinating Minoan palaces of Archanes and Phaestos and the charming town of Chania with its historic links from Minoan, Byzantine and Venetian cultures through to its occupation by the Germans in World War II. In Athens we board the 25 cabin Motor Sailer Galileo for an eight-day cruise circumnavigating the Peloponnese region. Docking in port each day we are able to delve into the most important archaeological and classical sites on mainland Greece at Epidauraus, Mycenae, Venetian Pylos, Ancient Olympia and mystical Delphi.

After traversing the spectacular Corinth Canal, we disembark in Athens for our final four days. We explore the Acropolis and the superb Acropolis Museum, walk through the ancient Agora, investigate the finest Greek art and sculpture at the National Archaeological Museum and the collections at the privately owned Benaki Museum and Museum of Cycladic Art.

This tour from Cairo to Abu Simbel provides a wonderful blend of traditional Upper & Lower Egyptian sites as well as exploring the several sites of Middle Egypt.

It encompasses great monuments of the ancient Egyptian world such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, the glories of Upper Egypt including the Temple of Karnak and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens with their many tombs and lesser known funerary temples.

As well it includes visits to Middle & New Kingdom sites in the Faiyum, Beni Hasan, Tel el Amarna (the ancient capital of Akhenaten), Tuna el-Gebel and Abydos.

A special feature of the tour is a 5-day cruise down the Nile with visits to a number of Ptolemaic temples, Aswan and Abu Simbel. Travellers will also have a chance to explore the colour and bustle of Islamic Cairo with its medieval mosques, quaint museums and maze-like Khan el-Khalili Bazaar.

2018

9-31 October 2018

Over 23 days we travel through mountain and desert landscapes of Iran and visit some of the most remarkable monuments in the ancient and Islamic worlds. We explore Achaemenid palaces and royal tombs, mysterious Sassanian fire temples, enchanting mud-brick cities on the desert fringes, and fabled Persian cities with their enchanting gardens, caravanserais, bazaars, and stunning cobalt-blue mosques. Perhaps more importantly, however, we encounter the unsurpassed friendliness and hospitality of the Iranian people which leave most travellers longing to return. 

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In March/April 2018 20 NEAF members travelled to Morocco to find the country bursting with the vibrant colours of one of the best spring seasons the country has seen in many years.

The three week started in Casablanca and visited the stupendous Mosque of Hassan II, walking along the corniche with the Atlantic rollers thundering in. Travelling north we visited Rabat, a lovely town on the Bou Regreg and once home to the famous Sallee Rovers - a dreaded band of Barbary corsairs in the 17th century. From Rabat we turned inland to visit Meknes - famously constructed by the ruthless Moulay Ismail - Roman Volubilis bedecked in its finest spring bloom, and finally the hustle and bustle of Fes: one of the great oriental cities.

From Fes the tour crossed the Middle and High Atlas Mountains and entered a different world of deserts, verdant palm plantations and kasbahs. The great river systems that bring life to Saharan Morocco - the Ziz, Todra and Draa - form visually stunning panoramas with crumbling mudbrick villages and lush green gardens framed by barren, red hills. From Erfoud to Ouarzazate we saw the desert, camels, fossils (and more fossils), most of the thousand kasbahs that are meant to be in this area, and heard the Muslim call to prayer sung for us in an old mosque overlooking the gardens at Tinghir.

Crossing the High Atlas again but this time heading north, we returned to the more agricultural Morocco and one of its great cities: Marrakesh. After stocking up in the endless markets at Marrakesh, we headed to Essaouira for some well earned R&R at the old Phoenician port of Mogador. Then, in what seemed like a twinkle of an eye, we were back in Casablanca and getting ready to return home. But while the tour seems to go fast, the memories of this diverse and beautiful country will stay with us for much longer.

2017

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In September 2017 20 NEAF members retraced the ancient Silk Road across China from Xi'an in the Chinese heartland to Kashgar in far western China. 

This trip is an examination of the ancient and modern faces of a mighty nation whose time has come again. Just as we marvelled at beautiful Buddhist frescoes pained over 1500 years ago, we also marvelled at modern engineering feats as China relentlessly builds awe-inspiring freeways through mountainous terrain or sparklingly new cities where only 10 years ago was farmland. This juxtaposition of the old and new is what makes this tour so interesting: while we enjoy the remains of China's previous four great periods - the Han, Tang, Song and Ming dynasties - we are also acutely aware that we are eye-witnesses to China's fifth great age which will undoubtedly be remembered for centuries, if not millennia, to come. So too was the modern relevance of the Silk Road along which we travelled.

As we moved to the west, we constantly saw reference to the Chinese President Xi Jinping's pet project: the one belt, one road initiative. Again, harking back to the age old link between the east and west, the modern world is remaking and rethinking this link albeit with bullet trains and four lane highways. In short this tour is an eye-opener and while we enjoyed the best of what ancient China has to offer - from Great Walls to terracotta armies - we also came to understand and appreciate modern China: a nation that means so much for us here in Australia.

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In April/May 2017 21 NEAF members travelled to Iran to explore this extraordinary country so often misrepresented in the western press.

This tour began in Tehran, Iran's capital: a busy, often smoggy city but with some fantastic museums to help us prepare for the trip ahead. Leaving Tehran we headed to the Caspian Sea and the very different world of Iranian Azerbaijan. Here rice paddies dominate the landscape framed by wooded mountains to the west and the Caspian to the east. Next, making Tabriz our base, we explored this unvisited but important city and journeyed out to Maragheh: home to a Mongol Period observatory and some fine Seljuk Period tower tombs.

From Tabriz we then travelled to Zanjan visiting the incomparable Mausoleum of Oljeitu along the way. This towering edifice dates to the Mongol Period and demonstrates the 'Persianization' of the conquering Mongols superbly. From Zanjan we travelled up into the Zagros Mountains on a beautiful Spring day to visit one of my favourite sites, Takht-e Soleiman, once the home of one of the four imperial fires of the Zoroastrian religion.

Returning to Tehran we flew to Shiraz to complete the triangle of Shiraz-Yazd-Isfahan. We were now back on the tourist route - but with good reason as some of Iran's most famous sites and cities are in this area: Sassanian Bishapur and Firuzabad, Achaemenid Persepolis and Pasargadae, Timurid Yazd, Safavid Isfahan and some very early mosque complexes at Fahraj and Na'in. In between we wandered the bazaars in Shiraz and Isfahan, explored Yazd's old city and even got to see some of the sand dunes that typify Iran's desert regions.

By the time we returned to Tehran we felt we had seen a lot of what this amazing country and its friendly, cosmopolitan people have to offer.

2016

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In October 2016 21 NEAF members travelled to Morocco to explore the land of a thousand kasbahs, the Atlas Mountains and the legendary cities of Fes and Marrakesh.

Morocco can easily be divided into two zones: the area north of the Atlas where the majority of the population have traditionally dwelled, and the areas to the south of the Atlas on the fringes of the Sahara Desert and the home of the Touareg peoples. In the north are the royal cities of Rabat, Meknes, Fes and Marrakesh where, at various times, Morocco's ruling families have established their capitals. This has left a rich architectural legacy spanning from the ninth century CE to the present day in the cities, as well as the hustle and bustle of markets in places like Fes along with quiet residential gardens and agricultural vistas. Across the Atlas, date palms dominate, as do the wonderfully exotic mudbrick kasbahs that dot the fertile river valleys in an otherwise forbidding environment.

The group, over 20 days, were able to gain an appreciation of both these faces of Morocco, along with time in the modern entrepot of Casablanca and delightful Essaouira whose ramparts hold back the mighty Atlantic. Along the way we enjoyed a variety of foods (some good, some not so, with the ubiquitous tagine never far away), saw some splendid historical monuments including the Roman period Volubilis and a wide range of people, both Berber and Arab. The variety present in Morocco has to be seen and we hope the group came away with a great impression of what this marvellous country in north-western Africa has to offer.

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In April/May 2016 21 NEAF members explored the highways and byways of Iran: from the little-visited north to the sensational sights of Persepolis and Isfahan in the south. 

Iran is a delightful country to visit, notwithstanding the common comment from friends before departure: "is it safe?', or "Why would you want to go there?". In fact Iran is very safe (well, apart from crossing the street as the traffic in Iran has to be seen to be believed) and for those who visit the country there are stunning landscapes, fantastic archaeological sites, and a fascinating modern culture and cuisine (even if you do get a bit overloaded with rice and kebabs).

This tour took us from the rice paddies along the Azerbaijan border (yes, who would have thought Iran would have rice paddies!), past the Mongol capital at Tabriz and deep into the Zagros Mountains to visit the Zoroastrian complex at Takht-i Suleiman. These places we had virtually to ourselves as they are seldom on the regular tourist trail. However, we also needed to see the highlights of Iran: Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd and Isfahan. While fellow travellers were more conspicuous at these places, tourist numbers are still low and at no time do you feel you are on the 'tourist treadmill' as you may experience elsewhere. 

In the north we were cold but in the south the desert lived up to its reputation and the weather markedly warmed - but it is all relative. In Yazd the group talked to the locals who said “what lovely weather we’re having”. When our people replied, “But it’s so hot!”, the locals replied, “You call this hot?”!

To repeat, Iran is a safe travel destination and the one common comment from the group was, "it's so different to what I expected". NEAF has been taking tours to Iran for over 30 years now - all without incident. Like the 2016 tour, a trip to Iran settles misconceptions and introduces you to a cosmopolitan nation with a deep and fascinating history.

2015

Tour Leader: John Tidmarsh

During late September and early October 2014 twenty NEAF members traced part of the route traversed by Alexander the Great through Turkey and Iran during his great eastern conquests between 334 – 323 BCE.

In Turkey we explored many of the cities conquered by Alexander (often only after a prolonged siege) including Sardis, Miletos, Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassos, home to the renowned Mausoleum) as well as mighty Ephesos and exquisite Priene, where Alexander dedicated a temple to Athena at his own expense. We visited the Pamphylian cities of Side and Aspendos which rose to prominence under the rule of Alexander’s successors, and climbed high into the mountains of Pisidia to the wonderfully picturesque remains of Termessos, whose impregnable citadel defied even the Macedonian king. 

We then flew to Iran and entered the world of the formidable Persian empire destroyed by Alexander. We visited the great palaces of Persepolis and Pasargadae, the awe-inspiring Achaemenid royal burial ground of Naqsh-i Rustam, the wonderfully preserved Median fortress of Nush-i Jan( whose columned hall finds close parallels in the audience halls of Persepolis) and the ancient Achaemenid summer capital of Hamadan (ancient Ecbatana) where Alexander arranged for the execution of his old general Parmenio and mourned his closest companion, Hephaisteion. We also explored the vast city of Bishapur, capital of the great Sasanian king Shapur I who attempted to emulate the conquests of his Persian ancestors, as well as Isfahan (‘Pearl of Islam’) among whose earliest inhabitants were those Jews from Babylon freed by the Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid empire.

Although much of his route through these two countries was not travelled by us, this tour served to emphasise once again what a remarkable general and leader of men Alexander must have been.

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

NEAF and Academy Travel's May 2014 tour of Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan concluded with 16 NEAF members enjoying warm but fine spring weather throughout Central Asia. 

The tour focussed on the major sites in these countries including the living Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, as well as the ruined metropolis of Merv. In between times we walked in the footsteps of both Alexander the Great and Tamerlane (Emir Timur), visited ancient Bronze Age settlements in the Kyzylkum (Red Sand) Desert, Parthian capitals (Nisa) and desert fortresses built to protect the agricultural centres based around the Amu Darya River (ancient Oxus). Both countries were central to the ancient Silk Road and, for a brief time in the early fifteenth century, were the centre of an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the western borders of China. 

Travel in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is not easy as the tourist trade is in its infancy but our group handled the rigours with aplomb, not even complaining (too much) about having to wheel their suitcases the 1.5km across no-mans land between the Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan borders!