Constantinople. Byzantium. Or, as we know it today…Istanbul. As we play pub trivia, cruise ship trivia, and even Jeopardy!, a frequent question is: “What is the only city in the world that is located on two continents?” Istanbul! When we used to play team pub trivia weekly, the quizmaster once asked: “What capital city of Turkey straddles two continents?” Loaded question! We went up to him and said, well, do you want the capital city or the city that straddles two continents? He looked at us like we were crazy. We said, Ankara is the capital, but Istanbul is on two continents. He told us we were wrong. We said, well, we are correct, but which answer will get us the points? He said…the capital is Istanbul; that’s what I am looking for. We shook our heads, walked away, and he hurried to look it up on the internet. Red-faced, he announced to the crowd that there were two cities that he would accept…a different one for each half of the question!
The Bosporus Strait separates Europe from Asia, with the historical and business side of Istanbul lying in Europe and about a third of its population living on the Asian side. Truly, a cosmopolitan city! We were on a cruise, and were in the city for one day. Everything you see in the photos below is within walking distance of each other! We went from the Hagia Sophia to the Blue Mosque to the Basilica Cistern to Topkapi Palace to the Grand Bazaar! We visited Istanbul on November 23, 2009.
So the first two photos are of the exterior of the Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”), built in 537 AD. Doesn’t she look marvelous for her age? The building is now a museum, but it started its life as the Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, and later was an Ottoman imperial mosque. It was an engineering marvel of its day and is known for its fabulous dome. The Hagia Sophia is said to have changed the history of architecture. We did not get to see the interior, as it was closed the day we were there, but we found out that had we booked a ship excursion to tour the city, we would have gotten in. We usually always think it is far superior to explore on our own. At any rate, seeing the rich mosaics and dome inside is one reason we want to return to Istanbul. One day in this huge and interesting city just wasn’t enough.
The photos following the Hagia Sophia are of the Blue Mosque, named due to the extensive blue tiles used inside and the blue lights illuminating it by night. Please note that the farther back we go in our travels, the poorer the quality of our photos. Cameras have gotten better year by year, and in addition, we were just taking tourist photos, not photos for a blog, documenting a place. Some of our older photos have been cropped so that you see the attraction rather than us! But we are trying to give you an idea of what these places looked like when we were there.
The next set of photos, the Basilica Cistern, illustrate our camera’s lack of quality very well, as it was not only a so-so camera, but the cistern is underground! And dark! And swathed in red lights! It was a really neat place to visit, though. Many people who have visited Istanbul have said they never heard of the Cistern, even though it is in the heart of the tourist attractions, and consequently, did not visit. It was built as an underground Roman water source, held up by 336 marble columns and covering an area of 9,800 square meters. We were pleased to see it in the Tom Hanks movie, Inferno. We found it fascinating and eerie, particularly the Medusa head on its side holding up one of the columns.
Our next stop, with accompanying photos, was Topkapi Palace, starting with the gold gate. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Palace served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. There are rooms crusted in gold, harem rooms, and even a circumcision room! Everywhere you looked, there were mosaics and gold fabulosities. When we got home, we watched the 1964 movie, Topkapi, but it was a crime/comedy film, and wasn’t so much about the palace.
After that are two photos of our last stop, the Grand Bazaar. It is one of the oldest and largest covered bazaars in the world, with 60 streets and 4,000 shops, and we are certain that we did not visit all 4,000! You can find jewelry, carpets, clothing, antiques, spices, tea, ceramics, Nazar evil eye ornaments (look it up!), and Turkish delight. Anything you want or desire can be found here. It seems very claustrophobic in places, and bargaining is definitely encouraged!
At the end are a few photos of the city, the “in-between” as we walked from site to site. It resembles many places in Greece and the Greek Islands, which of course, are not so far away. The last two are of a photo shoot, but we liked the glimpse of the city.