Sunday, February 8, 2015

ISTANBUL, Turkey Part I

In the words of a Turkish poet, one life is not enough to see and be saturated in this city.

Istanbul is a diverse, beautiful and intriguing city. It is 2600 years old, one of the oldest cities in the world. It is the only city which was the capital of two great empires of the world for almost two millenniums. The prehistorical era dates back to 3000BC. Followed by the migrants of Megara who settled around Kadidoy. In 7 BC others settled around Sarayburnu which was named Byzantine. Ruled by the Spartins for two years in 478 BC The city was then ruled by its own people in a form of democracy for several centuries until it was affiliated to the Roman Empire in 196. It was declared the new capital of the Roman Empire by Constantine in 330. and the name Byzantine was changed to Constantinople.
After the division of the empire into West and East in 395, the city remained as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire from the 4th century until the 15th century. In 1453, the Byzantine era was closed and the Turkish-Ottoman era started. Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century to the 20th century.
It is the only city which resides on two continents (Europe and Asia) connected by the Bosphorus Strait and the Marmara and Black Sea. Three-fifths of the city stands on Europe, while two-fifths stands on Asia.

 Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue
Taksim Square is the center of modern Istanbul. It is a lively and crowded square which leads to IstiklalAvenue. The monument in the center of the square consists of the figures of the Ataturk, the founder and the first president of Turkey. The monument also features figures Voroshilov and Frunze, two Russian generals. There are figures of soldiers and women on the sides of the monument.

Istiklal Avenue is a lively boulevard filled with cafes, restaurants, bars, retail stores, boutique type speciality shops and thousands of young people wandering about the streets. The adjacent streets to Istiklal consists of the nightlife scene with numerous bars and restaurants to keep the young occupied until dawn.

The buildings are constructed in the art-nouveau style of the 19th century. In the middle of the avenue is the Galatasaray High School which is the oldest western school of Istanbul where the sons of emperors were also enrolled. Passing by the high school, the avenue leads to the Saint Anthony of Padua Church, the most famous Catholic church of the city.

For shopping, it is best to browse in the morning before the crowds appear

Taksim Square

Taksim Tunnel nostalgic streetcar

Galata Tower

The Romanesque style tower was built as Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) in 1348 during an expansion of the Genoese colony in Constantinople. The 360 degree panoramic views of Istanbul are Spectacular. Be aware, the wind can be quite intense. Alas, the battery in my camera was not charged so I have no photos.
Located at Galata Square (Galata Meydanı), Şişhane (go straight down hill at the end of Istiklal Caddesi). Open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM (7PM in summer). There is an admission fee.
View of  Galata Tower from Old Istanbul

The area surrounding the Tower is nice for exploring a few shops. There are also a few cafes with a view of the Tower however are overpriced. I stopped at a cafe on one of the side streets which was pleasant and relaxing after a long tedious walk.

From the Galata Tower,  it is easily walkable to Galata bridge where locals fish, walk across the bridge to Old Istanbul. I learned how to cross the very busy street safely in Istanbul. Attach yourself to a local and dart between the cars, buses, taxis.
The New Mosque is located here which is an example of Turkish-Ottoman architecture.
The Spice Bazaar is the market place of the New Mosque. It is much smaller than the Grand Bazaar and has a variety of spices, herbs, teas, cheese and shops selling jewelry.

View of the fishing boats Old Istanbul

Food carts are evident throughout the city at the squares
Corn, roasted chestnuts, pretzels yummy for a snack

 Fresh fish by the Bosphorus

Sultanahmet Square
The most important places of interest in Istanbul are in Sarayhumu and Sultanahmet regions in the center of the Historic Peninsula. During the Roman Empire, Byzantine and Ottoman periods, the heart of the city was always this region where palaces of the emperors were built. The biggest church,  the most glorious mosques and the greatest museums of the city are in this area. Two of the seven hills within the historical peninsula are in this region. On one of these, the Topkapi Palace, and the other the Blue Mosque. One can easily spend a few days in this area to visit the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque, Archeological Museum, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts and the Mosaic Museum. The streets surrounding the area are also enchanting to explore. 

Touring the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, Bosphorus Boat trip, lunch and exploring the surrounding streets was a full day. 

The Sultanahmet is the most splendid and largest mosque of Istanbul and one of the leading works of classical Turkish-Islamic Architecture. It is called The Blue Mosque due to the color blue in both china and other ornaments. The construction of the Mosque began in 1609 until 1616.
The main space is illuminated by 260 windows. More than 21,000 pieces of Isnik china were used in the interior decoration. There are ornaments on the upper level of the windows are floral patterns of authentic Turkish-Ottoman art called hand drawing. The mosque has six minarets. The two minarets at the ends have two muezzin balconies. 

                Sultanahmet Mosque (The Blue Mosque)

View from the Bosphorus

Views from the Bosphorus boat trip

Dolmabahce Palace is on the shores of the Bosphorus. Its style combines German rococo, French  baroque and English neoclassical architecture. The construction began in 1842 until 1856. It covers and area of approximately 250,000 m2 including the garden. The grounds are gorgeous with a view of the Bosphorus. The palace consists of 284 rooms and 44 halls.

Dolmabahce Palace 

The Dolmabalice Clock Tower built in 1890
                                                           in front of the gate to the Palace

 Lion Sculpture on the grounds

           Enjoy! Stay tuned for Istanbul Part II
  • Tea-a way of life in Turkey
  • Turkish delights
  • freshly squeezed juice
  • fresh fruit
  • variety of food
  • Shoes are not permitted in the mosques. The Blue Mosque provides foot coverings.
  • Be sure to carry a scarf with you to enter the mosques
  • Turkish scarf is called a Hijab
  • Istanbul is built on seven steep hills, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes

Here is a video with a nice overview of Istanbul

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