So, on the way back from Uzbekistan (see previous posts) I stayed a few days in Istanbul.
Istanbul is of course specific in the sense that the city is split between Europe and Asia, situated around the Bosphorus. With a total population of about 14 millions, it spreads widely, but as a tourist for a few days you must of concentrate on the historic centre.
Some history: Under the name of Byzantium, the city was founded by Greek colonists 657 BC. Then it was baptised Constantinople in 324 AD as the new capital of the Roman Empire, which later became known as the Byzantine Empire. The Column of Constantine was erected in 330, on the order of Constantine the Great. It stood then in centre of the Forum Constantine, disappeared since. The split between the Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism was confirmed in 1054. In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by Turks and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire, started to be known as Istanbul. Islamic culture took over. The Ottoman Caliphate (an Islamic State, led by a caliph, supposed to be the successor of Muhammad) was declared and was abolished only in 1924, when the first president of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, abolished the institution of the Caliphate.
(In the bottom of this post, you may see a map, where I have indicated the places I describe.)
Here are first some pictures of the Hippodrome (yes it rained the last night I spent there), which was the centre of the Roman and Byzantine Constantinople. On the top of the since disappeared Emperor’s box, where he could watch the races, used to stand the four horses, which were captured by the Venetians to decorate the St. Mark Basilica, later captured by Napoleon but given back to Venice. Today remain, among other things an Egyptian obelisk brought here during the 4th century and a fountain building, a gift by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Ottoman Sultan…
… and from the close by Sultan Ahmet Park...
… you can admire the Sultanahmet Mosque from 1616, the beautiful “Blue Mosque” with its six minarets. It’s still used as a mosque and is closed during ritual hours. As in all mosques, you must take off your shoes, be decently covered…
… and the Hagia Sophia (see also top picture), dating from the 6th century, originally a basilica, for over 1000 years the largest covered space in the world (until the Seville Cathedral was completed). Between 537 and 1453 it served as the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople until the Ottomans arrived and it became a mosque and got its minarets. It became a museum in 1935. The mosaics were covered during the Islamic period.
The city is full of mosques. I could not visit them all.
The underground Basilica Cistern dates from 532. It’s the largest of several hundred other underground cisterns. If full, it could contain 100.000 tons of water and actually continued to provide water until rather recent times. The Medusa visage column bases have obviously been placed upside down and sideways for pure practical reasons, taken from some older temple.
The Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman sultans 1485-1856 until they moved to the Dolmabahçe Palace on the Bosphore banks. There are four major courtyards and a number of buildings. Some 4.000 people lived here. It’s now a museum – since 1924. In some of the rooms you can admire some fantastic treasures, Islamic relics, jewellery… (no photos).
You can also visit the harem, actually the home of the sultan’s mother, the wives and the concubines, the children, the servants, the eunuchs … in more than 400 rooms.
There are facilities for eating and drinking with a fabulous view over the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, the Marmara Sea…
A must is of course the Grand Bazaar from 1461 with a number of entrances…
… some 60 “streets” and some 3.000 to 4.000 shops. Today it’s of course mainly “touristic”, but it played a real role as a market for all kinds of goods during centuries.
The immediate surroundings are definitely also to be considered as part of the market...
… and the commerce and the restaurants are all over the city. (Please note the “Kuaför de Luxe”.)
Some wooden houses.
Islamic graves are supposed to be simple (forgetting the mausoleums of course). This cemetery with Ottoman graves, with pillars, obviously made for some prominent personalities, may be an exception?
A visit around the Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn. There were plans to build a bridge here since ages, Leonardo de Vinci, Michelangelo and others made plans, but the first bridge came as late as 1845. The present (5th) bridge is quite recent. A nice and lively area to visit with its little fish market.
A boat tour around the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus is a must. There is a heavy traffic of cargo and some cruising ships, and of course the steady flow of ferries. Along the banks you can admire some of the old Sultan Palaces (partly museums, partly transformed to luxury hotels) The Roumeli Fissar fortress stands where the strait is at its narrowest point, built by the Ottomans around 1451, already before they conquered Constantinople, of course a perfect place to control the access to and from the Black Sea. The Asian bank is full of nice, often wooden, private houses. There are two fantastic suspension bridges connecting Europe and Asia, both quite recent, one from 1973, one from 1988.
It’s amazing to see the number of idle ships on the strait, waiting for cargo, waiting for a berth…?
A curiosity in Istanbul is the number of dogs and cats which walk freely around (or sleep).
The Islam is quite visible, and audible – loudspeakers with preachers may wake you up early morning.
Women are often covered. Please note the Chanel version.