Travels with V
In the city of the Ottoman rulers
Istanbul part one
Istanbul is a city like no other, packed with exciting history, dramatic power struggles, magnificent buildings, wonderful food and surprises around the corner. I hadn’t been there before, but I was lucky to go there when I did. Today you may think twice due to the increasingly autocratic president and the islamization in Turkey.
Top five in Istanbul:
- Best must-see: It’s almost a dead heat between the Blue mosque, Hagia Sofia and maybe the palace Topkapi (that we didn’t see this time) but if we must pick a winner it’s Hagia Sofia. Here’ you’ll find so many remains from different periods during a thousand years, even viking runes!
- Best excursion: Prince Islands. A fresh sea voyage, entertaining salesmen demonstrating kitchenware, islands peaceful in the absence of noises from cars and motorbikes, lovely scenery and good for biking.
- Best dining: Very subjectively, in three days you’ll only see a fragment. But Imbat was a pleasent surprise. And Mikla we’ll definitely visit next time!
- Good hotel: Aslan was absolutely a more than ok budget place, clean and nice and good service. There are lots of small hotels (and restaurants) here behind the Blue mosque.
- Café: We took a chance on Maya’s Corner, which we did not regret!
Our hotel, Aslan, is in the south-east part of Fatih, the area behind the Blue mosque where there are lots of small hotels and restaurants. It’s perfectly located, from hear you can reach a lot of places on foot.
We start with the Blue mosque or Sultan Achmet which is its true name, after the sultan who had it built. It’s one of the biggest masques in Istanbul and the most accessible for tourists (and non-muslims). Built in the first part of the 1600s a.d. and truly gigantic. And the famous blue mosaic decorating the walls is truly amazing.
As a visitor you have to follow the common rules for sanctuaries, wear long-legged trousers, women must cover hair and shoulders. No photos during prayers, and surprisingly – no kissing!
Most tourists probably do a triple here – the Blue mosque, the Hippodrome and Hagia Sofia are ll found in the neighbourhood. The Hippodrome is an open space in front of the Blue mosque that in Roman times was an arena for horse racing with chariots. Some of the runway’s features are still visible, like the obelisks.
Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya in Turkish) has the outside features of a mosque, and sure enough, it once was. But it was built as a Christian basilika in the Byzantine era and was later rebuilt by the ottoman conquerors. Surprisingly many of the christian features were spared, among them astonishing mosaic predominantly seen on the upper galleries.
Hagia Sofia was transformed into a museum by Kemal Atatürk in 1934, and displays still both islamic and christian features. Among the latter four so called Serafs, angels with six wings painted on the arches under the main cupola. The interior has mindboggling dimensions, it’s fnbtastic that is was built in the 600th century.
There is a fourth piece of old history not far from here, but to find it you have to go under ground. Here the Romas build large cisterns, water tanks for the city in case of a siege. The Basilika cistern is the largest, so you’ll have to endure some queing to enter. It’s kind of a ghostly atmosphere down here, fish swim in the clear waters and the roof is supported by no les than 336 marble pillars. .
Next we head of to the Grand Bazaar. Walking here is a breeze compared to the narrow and crammed bazaars in for example Jerusalem. In Istanbul there’s plenty of space. The shops display glittering gold and silver, spices and fruit, and if you stop for just two seconds someone will be at your side asking you to enter the shop.