Istanbul is a vibrant, crowded city of 15.46 million people with a history stretching back to the Hittites ( 13 century BC). Peel back the layers of many conquerors to discover an intriguing weave of cultures that tickle the senses.
There are restaurants, such as Deraliye Ottoman Cuisine where you can feast on authentic recipes from the Ottoman Sultans, or try any place serving Greek inspired Doner ( Gyro) and Kabobs. The best Baklava is a Syrian owned place called Karakoy Gulluoglu. If you want Turkish delight, bypass the cheaper fructose products in the Spice Market and sample the real-deal—varieties made with honey, nuts, fruit ,chocolate and even caramel.
After you’ve satisfied your tummy, listen to the music floating through the night air—from Arabic inspired folk or rap to the haunting call to prayer. Why does light seem more golden in Istanbul? Ottoman Empire tiles further delight your sight with intricate colors and patterns.
Vendors in markets will invite you to sit and enjoy a cup of tea or Turkish coffee and all negotiations begin with shared conversations about delightful things. This is a time-honored courtesy, so keep your heart open to the experience.
Roman emperor Justinian built this former Orthodox Christian church in 532-537 AD. The very same guy who accomplished this feat of architecture also burnt the worlds most extensive library in Alexandria, Egypt. Who in the world burns books? Those who don’t want education about things that don’t jive with their religious viewpoint. This should be a warning to us in the States right now with the extreme right fractions taking control of our government and education. Banning books is as bad as burning them.
This church had a bloody history. Do you remember reading about the Chism between the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic church? Crusaders decided to fight under the banner of the Roman Pope to sack Constantinople. In other words, killing and forcing Greek Orthodox Christians to eliminate the division. That senseless violence escalated in 1453 with the rise of (Muslim ) Mehmet the Conqueror. He turned Sophia into a mosque. Now mosque’s around the world follow this signature architecture with a huge dome and open space. Although statues and anything with a face have been removed, a few mosaics have been saved, such as the one above right depicting Justinian handing Mary ( and Jesus) this church. Look for the one Seraphim angel whose face has been fully uncovered.
Hagia Sophia is once again an active Muslim Temple. Head scarves are required for all women and shoes are removed before entering. Bring a bag to put your shoes in and carry them. Otherwise, you risk not being able to find them again. Before you enter, stop to look at the beautiful marble panels in the hallway. These were taken from the Roman temple of Artemis in Ephesus and reused here.
Mehmet the Conqueror started the cosmic rise of the Ottoman Empire with a ferocious 55 day siege of Constantinople ( AKA: Istanbul). Afterwards, everyone wanted to keep the Sultan happy. This palace was built for him and 5,000 workers kept it humming. There are many buildings with exhibits in some –such as the holy relics of Muhammad (no photos and head scarves for women to enter). There are displays of the sultans armor and weapons that’s interesting and sometimes beautiful. But the biggest deal is the Spoon Sellers Diamond. The story spins that the spoon seller found this diamond in the dump. It’s 42 carat diamond surrounded by 84 smaller carats.
Then there’s the haram. It’s an additional ticket to enter this fascinating place where the girls were kept and trained. The sultans were allowed 4 wives and as many concubines as they wanted. Many ladies were the most beautiful slaves taken from other lands. Also living in the harem were unmarried daughters and young sons. Next door to the harem is the (castrated) black Eunuch’s living quarters. These guys were taken by Arab horsemen raiding in Africa. Although they were slaves, some of them became quite powerful because they had the ear of the sultan.
On a warm day, it’s quite the treat to tour the Bosphorus on a boat. One of the later sultans wanted a palace that was more European, so he built it at the water’s edge. There’s two medieval fortresses and beautiful mosques. Homes you view sell for millions and millions of dollars.
Located in Sultanahmet square close to both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
The word Hippodrome means “Horse” and “Way” which describes what this place was—a place for gambling on Roman chariot races (203-330 BC-2 AD). But it was also used for gladiator fights, executions, and ceremonies. 40,000 people could attend games for free, so it once was immense. Remains of the serpent column from Delphi and the obelisk from Egypt are here and were used to show how vast the Byzantine empire was at the time. The Ottomans also used the hippodrome as a square, but created damage when the Blue Mosque and the Pasa Palace ( now the Turkish and Islamic Art museum) were built.
**** The Blue Mosque is under a several year construction repair project and you can’t see a thing. I visited during the highest holy days of Ramadan, so the Grand Bazaar was closed. Add them into your itinerary if they are open when you visit. Blue mosque at night pictured below.