Somebody tell’s that Istanbul – like London, New York or Paris – is one of the world’s great cities. Maybe, I don’t know. New-York and Paris is still my dream, some day I’ll took a trip to that cities. But what I saw, Istanbul is the city in wich you want to return. My trip was taken in September 2014. Istanbul superbly situated either side of the blue ribbon of the Bosphorus Strait separating Europe from Asia it is, unlike any other city in the world, split between two continents.
It is an ancient city, originally founded by the Greeks in the seventh century BC. In the fourth century AD it became Constantinople, capital of a Byzantine Christian world which kept the warriors of Islam from Western Europe for several centuries, before finally falling to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The relics of these two great powers stud the old quarter, from the mighty Byzantine Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya), through to the splendid pavilions of the fulcrum of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapı Palace.
The best time to visit Istanbul is spring or autumn, when it is not too hot and the city will not be flooded with crowds of tourists from all over the world. One of the historical centers of the city is Sultanahmet. Here, in Sultanahmet, most of the independent travelers stops, including me. Sultanahmet district is named after the famous Mosque Sultanahmet Cami (The Blue Mosque), which is located here.
Well, let’s talk about the sights. Most of the popular and interest places to see.
- The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmed cami)
- Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)
- Topkapi palace
- Basilica Cistern
- Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam
- Archeology Museum
- Süleymaniye Mosque
- Chora Church
- Galata Tower
- The New Mosque (Yeni cami)
- Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Bazaar)
- Big Island (Büyükada)
The Blue Mosque (View from Hagia Sophia)
Facing Aya Sofya across a small park and mirroring its domed silhouette, the early 17th-century Blue Mosque is one of only a handful of mosques in the world to boast six minarets. Is it really blue? Well, not noticeably, although all the walls are papered with fine İznik tiles. To view it as the architect, Sedefkar Mehmed Aga, originally intended, enter via what looks like the side entrance from the Hippodrome. Afterwards, pop your head into a building the size of a small mosque on the corner of the complex. This houses the tomb of Sultan Ahmed I, the man who gave his name to both the mosque and the neighbourhood.
Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)
After decades in which scaffolding cluttered the interior of Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century Byzantine masterpiece, the thrill of being able to experience the extraordinary spaciousness of this famous church-turned-mosque-turned museum is hard to overstate. Downstairs the building is largely empty; the best of the glittering mosaics lurk in the galleries upstairs. Newly opened are the tombs of several early Ottoman sultans and their slaughtered sons – before primogeniture new sultans immediately had all potential rivals killed. Before the end of the year, the city’s finest carpets will go on display in the soup kitchen added after the church was turned into a mosque.
If there is one absolute must-see in Istanbul, it has to be the Topkapi Palace, home to generations of sultans and their wives, who were closeted in the famous harem. A collection of lush green courtyards and delicate kiosks, the Topkapi boasts a treasury to put the crown jewels in the shade, as well as views to die for over the Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus and Golden Horn. The secretive harem – really just the family quarters – is a warren of lushly-tiled rooms wrapped round a gem of a Turkish bath. Try to visit on a day when no cruise ship is in town to avoid the worst of the crowds.
The city’s most unexpectedly romantic attraction, the Basilica Cistern, offers an insight into the complicated system that once brought drinking water into Istanbul from Thrace (an area of the south-east Balkans now constituting Turkish land n the European mainland, and a chunk of Bulgaria). Constructed in the sixth century and then forgotten for centuries, the cistern that once stored the water has been fitted with lights and music. Fish flitter around the bases of the 336 columns that support the ceiling. Don’t miss the upside-down head of Medusa that forms the bottom of one column, proof that Byzantine builders saw Roman relics as little more than reusable rubble.
Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam
There are several magnificent steamy Ottoman bathhouses to choose from in the city, including the Çemberlitaş, Cağaloğlu, Galatasaray and Sülemaniye baths, but in 2011 for the first time it’s also possible for visitors to try out the spectacular 16th-century Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam right in Sultanahmet Square and designed for Suleiman the Magnificent’s scheming wife Roxelana. Think acres of marble, the sound of running water echoing around stupendous domes, and a massage fit for a sultan. You’ll come out almost purring.
I’ve visited Sülemaniye baths, guys, it is amazing, no words to describe, you must go and feel it.
Walk to Istanbul’s three-in-one equivalent of the British Museum via the grounds of Topkapi Palace or through Gulhane Park. If time is tight, go straight to the large porticoed building housing the glorious sarcophagus of Alexander which depicts scenes from the life of Alexander the Great in vivid 3D. Kids will love the model Trojan Horse in the children’s section. Then pop into the lovely Tiled Pavilion, one of the city’s oldest Ottoman structures, beautifully restored to show off its finest ceramics. Finally, catch a glimpse of a peace treaty from 1269 BC preserved in the part of the museum nearest to the gate.
Unmissable as you stand on the busy Galata bridge and look up at the city’s historic skyline is the mosque designed by the great Ottoman architect Sinan for Suleiman the Magnificent. Newly restored to its original splendour, it is generally regarded as the finest of the 42 surviving mosques he designed for Istanbul. Unusually, it retains much of the original complex of social service buildings that came attached to it, including several madrasahs, a hospital, a library and a hamam. Locals come here to eat kuru fasuliye, the Turkish take on baked beans, in a street once haunted by opium addicts.
It’s a bit of a schlep to get there but the restored Chora Church in the old city walls offers a stunning glimpse of late Byzantine splendour, its walls and ceilings adorned with glittering mosaics and breath-taking frescoes. Like Aya Sofya, it has made the journey from Byzantine church to Ottoman mosque and then to modern museum, and now stands in a neighbourhood of restored Ottoman wooden houses, prettily painted in pastel colours. Before you go back to your hotel, take a look at the nearby walls that ringed old Constantinople and date back to the fifth century.
Watery Istanbul is a city that cries out to be viewed from on high, and you can get a bird’s-eye view of everything from the balcony at the top of the Galata Tower in Beyoğlu, the modern part of old Istanbul that, in pre-Republican days, was home to the city’s foreign residents. Built in 1348, the tower once formed part of a sub-city belonging to the Genoese that stretched right down to the Bosphorus. In a footnote to aviation history, it was from this tower that Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi flew across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia in 1638, thus inaugurating the first ever intercontinental flight.
The New Mosque (Yeni cami)
History of Yeni Camii begun by Valide Safiye, mother of Sultan Mehmet III, in 1597, the mosque was designed by the architect Da’ud Aga, a pupil of Sinan. The chosen site was then a poor neighborhood; the inhabitants were paid to move out.
Construction initially dragged on for several decades due to water seeping and funding problems, then stopped completely when the sultan died – Safiye was no longer the Queen Mother so she no longer had the revenues or power to support the project.
The mosque was completed by another queen mother, Valide Sultan Turhan Hattice, mother of Mehmet IV (1642-93).
Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Bazaar)
The Spice Bazaar is the place to get your foodie fix of lokum (Turkish delight), dried fruit, nuts, herbs, and of course spice. Much of the money that helped construct it came from the taxes the Ottoman government levied on Egyptian-made products, which is why its name in Turkish (Mısır Çarşısı) means “Egyptian Market”.
Big Island (Büyükada)
Büyükada meaning “Big Island” is the largest of the nine so-called Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara, near Istanbul, with an area of about 2 square miles (5 km2). It is officially a neighbourhood in the Adalar (Islands) district of Istanbul Province, Turkey. Byzantine Emperor Justin II had built a palace and monastery on Büyükada in C.E. 569. A convent on Büyükada was the place of exile for the Byzantine empresses Irene, Euphrosyne, Theophano, Zoe and Anna Dalassena. There are several historical buildings on Büyükada, such as the Hagia Yorgi Greek Orthodox Church and Monastery dating back to the 6th century, the Agios Dimitrios Church, and the Hamidiye Mosque built by Abdul Hamid II.
You need to go to Istanbul, and you need to go there not for 2-3 days, you need to go there for 2-3 weeks, to plunge into the atmosphere of a wonderful historical city. In each of its lanes has its own story, its own atmosphere. Just walk and enjoy.
Photographer: Dmitry Ryabchenko for “PhotoMag.blog”