Istanbul: Where East Meets West
by Steve Smith
My love affair with Turkey began in Istanbul, a city whose history is as rich as any in Europe, or indeed Asia because the City sits in two continents. Its real historical riches are very much on the European side where the Ottomans made their home from the day they took Constantinople (its previous name) in 1453 to effectively end the Byzantine Empire.
It was home for well over five centuries during which they left a legacy that leaves all visitors, myself included, with a wealth of memories and hopefully photographs to reinforce those memories. With just a day on my first visit the pressure was on. However ancient cities generally had fairly small centres so a walking tour of Sultanahmet allowed me to see its highlights:
The Blue Mosque is the most impressive of the vast number of mosques in this city. Visitors are welcome outside the hours of prayer with stunning shades of blue the overall impression a visit provides.
Hagia Sofia, just a very short distance away, was once a Christian Church before the Ottomans decided it should be a mosque. Christian frescoes were plastered over but many have now been revealed. It is now a very impressive museum with a first floor gallery looking down on the original prayer area.
The Justinian Cistern is a fascinating place, the underground water system the Roman Emperor Justinian constructed back in the 6th Century to provide water for Constantinople. It is a minutes from Hagia Sophia and worth a visit before heading to the home that the Ottomans used until the middle of the 19th Century.
Topkapi Palace has beautiful gardens, and idyllic and tranquil setting which during the times of a number of Ottoman Sultans was anything but tranquil. The Treasury holds exhibits that are utterly priceless while the Harem, not empty of course, is another highlight on the site. The Palace sits on high above the Bosphorus.
Two other places on the European side must be included while there is still daylight though one is open long after the sun sets:
The Grand Bazaar and the smaller Spice Bazaar employ thousands of people, street after street, all undercover selling a huge range of products. Realistically I knew it would take me at least a day to walk the many streets but a short visit gave me a flavor of what I might see at a later date.
The Dolmabahce Palace became the Sultans’ home in the middle of the 19th Century until the Empire’s final collapse. It gathered together the best of European fashion at the time including a huge Irish crystal chandelier weighing 4 tonnes.
Istanbul is a huge city with a famous skyline and one of the best ways to enjoy that skyline is from a cruise on the Bosphorus which divides the city. That skyline of the European side viewed and photographed as the sun sets makes a great finish to the daylight hours of a day in Istanbul.
Taksim Square is the centre of Istanbul’s nightlife with plenty of bars and restaurants. There was no time on this trip as it was off to the metro station for a train to Ataturk Airport to head south.
Steve Smith graduated in Politics from Liverpool University; he has worked abroad and in the UK and travelled for most of his life, mostly for holidays. After visiting Istanbul and the Turquoise Coast in South West Turkey he has made the country his home.
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