Istanbul – Constantinople – Bysantium. If a city has been around long enough, and occupied by enough different conquerers, it gets a variety of names. Modern day Istanbul is a beautiful blend of its Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman past.
Brittany, Sharon and Mike spent five days in this huge city where Europe meets Asia. We stayed in a very nice boutique hotel in the old section of town within easy walking distance of the major attractions. In fact, Brittany had a view of a portion of The Blue Mosque from her bed.
The skyline of old Istanbul is dominated by the largest of the more than 1,000 mosques found in the city. The most famous, The Blue Mosque, dates back to the early 17th century and derives its name from the 20 thousand or so blue tiles that adorn the walls and ceilings of this magnificent building.
Facing this structure is The Aya Sofia, a former church converted into a mosque by the Ottomans and now serving as a museum. This is another incredible place that dates back to the Roman Emperor Justinian. We also visited the Sulemaniye Kulleyesi, a complex of buildings including the Suleymaniye mosque, (not pictured here) which may be the largest of them all. They are all magnificent structures, inside and out.
Istanbul has much more to see than mosques. The Topkapi Palace took a good part of a day to tour. The palace sits on a hill at the head of the peninsula overlooking the Bosporus and The Golden Horn and was the seat of power of the Ottoman empire for hundreds of years. The original tiles used to adorn walls and ceilings are largely intact and are both priceless and stunningly beautiful. The tile work in the harem was particularly gorgeous.
One interesting and unexpected place we saw was the Basilica Cistern. This underground water storage site, believed to have been built by Emperor
Constantine in the 4th century, is across the street from Aya Sofia and is a fascinating and haunting diversion.
And of course there was shopping. The Grand Bazaar is well known, but we found it to be so huge, and the sellers to be a bit too aggressive, so we did not stay there long. The Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the spice market, was more to our liking, and the spices and teas on sale added color and aromas to the shopping experience.
One of the highlights of the trip was going to a Turkish bath house. We booked a visit to the oldest one in Istanbul, frequented by the Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in the 16th century.
Donning just a towel (Mike) and bathing suit type top and shorts (Sharon and Britt) we began by lying on a heated marble slab for 40 minutes to sweat out toxins. Just when you think you can’t stand the heat and humidity any longer, a masseuse brings you into a room where he douses you with cool water and scrubs you with a loofa to take off dead skin. You are then directed to lie face down on a marble table where you are covered in bubbles, washed and given a very vigorous massage. After a final rinsing you are given dry towels to cover yourself and are offered drinks. We left feeling invigorated and clean like never before.
The food in Istanbul is also fabulous. Fish and lamb are common. We had “testi” several times. This is a stew like meat dish served from a hot pottery crock that is brought to the table on a flaming plate.
The waiter then cracks open the pot and pours out the steaming meal onto your plate. We ended most evenings with some baklava and turkish tea. Yummy!
Istanbul has a European feel to it; Old Istanbul is on the Eurpoean side…we never got to the Asian side, although we did cross The Golden Horn to get to The Galata Tower for a view of the old city. It has an excellent public transportation system, including a street tram that we used quite a bit.
And finally, without Brittany at our side we would not have spent so much time enjoying the cats and kittens of Istanbul, which must outnumber the mosques 3 or 4 to 1 at least.