My journey to Türkiye began and ended in Istanbul, so to finish off this series, here is a glimpse of this fabulous city and the treats within. There is so much to see and enjoy and we merely scratched the surface, so maybe another visit is in order to experience and learn some more about this ancient city, with a modern vibe.
Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, ancient Byzantium, is the largest city and principal seaport of Türkiye. It was the capital of both the Byzantium Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The old walled city of Istanbul stands on a triangular peninsula that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. Sometimes as a bridge, sometimes as a barrier, Istanbul for more than 2,500 years has stood between conflicting surges of religion, culture and imperial power. For most of those years it was one of the most coveted cities in the world.
Although only ‘scratching the surface’, what we did manage to see in Istanbul were some of the most famous sites and sights – the Haghia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and a boat trip along the Bosphorus. On our first day, I logged some 17,000 steps and perhaps some of the explanations from our guide along the way have been lost to me. However, I trust some of the photos below will be familiar to those who already know Istanbul, and for others, it will give a glimpse of the richness of the city.
Haghia Sophia, the ‘Church of Holy Wisdom’ is among the world’s greatest architectural achievements. More than 1,400 years old it stands as a testament to the sophistication of the 6th Century Byzantine capital and had a great influence on architecture in the following centuries. The vast edifice was built over two earlier churches and inaugurated by Emporer Justinian in 537 AD. In 1453, Mehmet the Conquerer converted it into a mosque and the minarets, tombs and fountains date from this period. In 1935, Ataturk declared it into a museum, and in 2020, it was again converted into a mosque. It remains as a major cultural and historical site in the city.
Floodlit at dawn, it is an impressive sight
Looking through the Imperial Gate, now the public entrance,
although previously only the Emperor and his entourage were allowed to pass through it
Looking up into the great dome
The crowds below and the beautifully gilded ceiling above
The Sultan’s Loge was used by the Sultan to join the rituals without being seen by the public
and it was also to protect the Sultan from possible assassins.
The grills are carved marble in Turkish rococo style, and the columns are Byzantine.
A father, or maybe grandfather, and son checking their photos of the mosque
A detail of one of the gilded paintings under the arched ceiling
After the visit, Jeanne and I were surrounded by a group of women who had travelled
more than 12 hours to visit the Haghia Sophia, and wanted to know if we liked their country
The Topkapı Palace, or the Seraglio, is a large museum in the east of the Fatih district of Istanbul in Turkey. From the 1460s to the completion of Dolmabahçe Palace in 1856, it served as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire, and was the main residence of its sultans until the 17th century. The palace, a marvelous imperial labyrinth is set on the tip of a peninsula where the Golden Horn joins the Bosphorus.
Arched walkway in the palace gardens
Beautifully ornate doorway between rooms
An audience hall with raised platform
Same room, different angle with a canopied throne
Everywhere through the palace there were beautiful ceramic tiles
More tiles and glass mosaics above another velvet throne
Looking up to the wonderful painted ceiling
The Tower of Justice viewed up a narrow alleyway
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city. The cistern, located 150 metres southwest of the Haghia Sophia on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of the Byzantium Emperor Justinian I for storing the imperial water supply. This underground chamber measures approximately 138 meters by 64.6 meters and is capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water. The ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns. Today it is kept with little water, for public access inside the space, and also now houses a number of pieces of art.
The illuminations add colour and dimension to the cistern
From another angle with other colors
One of the art installations rising from the water between the pillars
An ever-moving hologram of a tree reflected in the still waters
Metal and glass jellyfish float above the water
A more stark view of the cistern with only white lights, but showing the length
and height of the cistern and the massive columns
The Süleymaniye Mosque is both a tribute to its architect, the great Sinan, and a fitting memorial to its founder, Süleyman the Magnificent, the longest-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire (1520-1566). It was built above the Golden Horn in the grounds of the old palace between 1550 and 1557. The truly staggering size of the mosque is one of its most distinctive features. It is not just the awe-inspiring size that is impressive (the central dome stands 47m high), but also the elegantly decorated interior. The sense of space and light is emphasized in the supporting semi-domes to the northwest and southeast and the monumental arched spaces to the southwest and northeast.
Like the city’s other imperial mosques, the Süleymaniye Mosque was not only a place of worship, but also a charitable foundation. The mosque is surrounded by its former hospital, soup kitchen, schools, caravanserai and bathhouse. This complex provided a welfare system which fed over 1,000 of the city’s poor – Muslims, Christians and Jews alike – every day.
The approach to the mosque giving a good indication of just how huge it is
A corner view showing the arches, mosaics, windows and part of the dome
The beautifully painted dome
Inside the courtyard and one of the minarets
The view of the city from the terrace of the mosque
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops on a total area of 30,700 m², attracting between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.
The entrance to the Grand Bazaar
One of the side streets inside the market hung with flags
Such an incredible assortment of spices, teas, dried fruits, soaps …
… and perfumes and more
Hanging lamps make for a colorful display
Belly dancers’ costumes and other traditional clothes
Ceramics, paintings and more tea and spices
An amazing assortment of colorful and sooo delicious Turkish Delight
A tea for every possible need – off to the left, something for the in-laws, your guess!
Baklave and other sweet desserts and cakes
Every size and design of the evil eye
Looking down the main street of the market, with crowds wandering, haggling and meeting friends
The Bosporus unites the Black Sea and the sea of Marmara and separates the Asian (Anatolia) and European parts of Türkiye. It is 30 km long and has a maximum width of 3.7 km at the northern entrance and a minimum width of 750 metres between the Ottoman fortifications and its depth varies from 36.5 to 124 metres in midstream. In its centre a rapid current flows from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, but a countercurrent below the surface carries water of greater salinity from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. The Bosporus is heavily fished, since the channel is a seasonal migration route for fish to and from the Black Sea. Both shores are well wooded and are dotted with villages, resorts, and fine residences and villas.
We enjoyed a sunset boat trip along the Bosphorus to see the city from another angle, and below are just a few of the magnificent buildings we sighted along the river.
Along the bank of the Bosphorus close to the city centre
The Ciragan Palace
A waterside mosque
One of newest, and rather grand mosque with no less than 6 minarets
The Dolmabahçe Palace
One of the bridges across the Bosphorus, busy boats and the city skyline
Another of the bridges and the Süleymaniye Temple silhouetted against a blazing sunset
Although we only had three packed days in Istanbul, there was also a little time to wander the streets and capture some typical sights of colorful streets, shops, vendors and people going about their business
As in many cities worldwide, there are hop-on, hop-off bus tours and this one cleverly named
Carpets galore, Aladdin would be impressed
Roasted corn and chestnuts for a snack on your wandering
Sweet delights everywhere to taste and to purchase
Local bread stuffed with all manner of things, my favorite with cheese and spinach
Late afternoon walk in the sunshine
Another street vendor selling bread and pretzels
From our hotel room we had a lovely view of this small mosque
Friday morning prayers
A boy dressed as a sultan prince for his circumcision as a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood.
This is usually celebrated as a family festival with food, music and dancing
The Dome and minarets of the famous Blue Mosque. It is being renovated so we did not visit this time
Looking into a small cafe, I loved the multitude of colored lights
A typical street corner and restaurant getting busy at dusk
So that’s a wrap for my whistle-stop tour of Istanbul. I thought, and said, that this would be the last of the series to share with you. However, I think I have one more story to tell, and that will soon follow. It will be, of course, about the Cats of Turkey.
Dear friends and readers, wishing you all the best, and don’t forget to leave a comment or question in the section below.
Great pictures, as I’ve come to expect of Jo! And a very good balance of text photos. There’s much more, that could be said about many of the places visited, but this is just the right amount of text for a travel account. I loved it! I visited Istanbul many years ago, and this brought back great memories and added to them.
I have never been to Istanbul and thought it was just lovely. When the world opens up after Covid, I will be asking my buddy Sasha if he would be interested in coming with me for a visit. I thought all of this blog was quite a delightful trip; thanks so much for sharing,