The old imperial capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Istanbul is a connection to the past and also to middle eastern or as is sometimes called, oriental culture. While the traditional sites and ancient buildings are still there, western culture is being adopted more and more though outside of Istanbul tradition is still not uncommon.
In this sprawling, continent-spanning, polluted city you can tramp the streets where Crusaders, Roman emperors and Ottoman Sultans once marched; admire mosques that are the most sublime architectural expressions of Islamic piety; peer into the sultan's harem; and hunt for bargains in the Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar) - and get ripped off.
17 Jun 2007 - Istanbul, TurkeyGood-bye Istanbul! Today is my final day but its certainly been action packed. I arrived on Thursday night and now today, Sunday morning, I am preparing to go. Being on my own, it possibly allowed me to cover the great distances that I did; 26+ miles is some distance over two days. To do this with someone requires them to have the enthusiasm to see everything and also the stamina to do it. Because I was so busy going from place to place I didn't have too much time to think about anything other than what I was looking at or how to get to the next place.
When I slowed down though I did reflect on the fact that I would have liked to have had the experience with someone else. Outstanding places and experiences are so much better when shared.
Istanbul - The Hippodrome of Constantinople
With time for one last wander I made the short trip to the Sultanahmet to take a final view along the Hippodrome and the monuments.
The word hippodrome comes from the Greek hippos, horse, and dromos, path or way. Horse racing and chariot racing were popular pastimes in the ancient world and hippodromes were common features of Greek cities in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras.
Istanbul - Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus 10th Century AD, Hippodrome
One of the columns forming the axis of the Hippodrome. The inscription at the base reads "Ormedikilitas, Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus 10th Century AD". Covered with embroidered copper and brass plates seeable from great distances, after the Latin invasion in the 13th Century, like much of value in Constantinople was stripped, in this case to be melted into coins.
Istanbul - The Serpentine Column
This ancient Greek sacrificial tripod, originally located in Delphi, was later relocated to Constantinople by Constantine I in 324. The serpent heads remained until the end of the 17th century. It was part of the offering, or trophy, which was dedicated to Apollo at Delphi, after the defeat of the Persian army at Plataea in August, 479 BC by those Greek City States, who were in alliance against the Persian invasion of mainland Greece.
Istanbul - The obelisk of Theodosius, Hippodrome
This obelisk was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt during the reign of Tuthmosis III in about 1490 BC. Theodosius had the obelisk cut into three pieces and brought to Constantinople. Only the top section survives, and it stands today where Theodosius placed it, on a marble pedestal. The obelisk has survived nearly 3,500 years in astonishingly good condition.
A plaque at the bottom reads "The obelisk of Theodosius erected 390 AD".
16 Jun 2007 - Istanbul, TurkeyLeaving my hotel by 08:45 allowed me to see some of the streets before they filled with humanity, especially around the Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar).
My target for the day was to see the Aqueduct of Valens and the Suleymaniye Camii (a spectacular mosque). After that I would be left with crossing the Golden Horn via the bridge and exploring the Karakoy and Galata districts. Its been a settlement since Byzantine times but was regarded as a separate settlement and was in fact handed over to the Genoese in 1261 as a semi-independent colony as repayment for assisting the Byzantines in driving out the Latins who had been resident since the conquest by Crusaders of the 4th Crusade in 1204.
During the Ottoman siege the colony chose its friends wisely and stayed neutral as Mehmet the Conqueror conquered the city. The Sultan showed his gratitude by allowing the Genoese to retain their commercial and religious establishments though they had to tear down their walls (traces of which can be seen) and hand over arms. The Genoese subsequently built one of the most famous landmarks, the Galata Tower.
I hate not looking like I don't know where I am going as it draws attention. One chap asked me where I wanted to go and gave me some directions. Then he started a conversation. Friendly chap I though but what's his angle? That soon became apparent as he owned a shop selling leather jackets. Repeated attempts failed to get me to follow and I talked my way out of it ensuring that he saved face.
Leaving the old centre behind, I walked into the modern area which provided nothing of any interest but still had to be seen. I then returned to the Grand Bazaar. A marvel to see but a complete hassle as I cannot see any fun involved in playing the game of purchasing some tat via offer, looks of shock and counter offer. I then returned to my hotel for a time out,a shower and a change of clothes. At this point I was quite happy with what I had accomplished so far. All that was remaining was to take a ferry over the Bosphorous to see the Asian side.
This side is rarely visited by tourists and it is not much more than a commercial area. Nice views exist higher up but I didn't have time for this. I was only interested in doing some shopping and thankfully, as this side sees very few tourist I could see price tags on items in all the shops!!!!! Brilliant! I could actually see what things cost and compare them from shop to shop. My eventual purchase was a Turkish tea pot and then when I returned back to the European side, boxes of locum or as its called in the West, Turkish Delight. This was not the sickly Fry's Turkish Delight sort, but pistachio containing, coconut covered, tasty treats.
Something else amusing happened today. Watch out for the friendly Turks as they all have an angle. Earlier in the day, I was approached and by now I knew what was coming though I have to admit that this time I was surprised. It started off with the usual 'hello how are you, where are you from', then he said 'what do you think of the boys here?' Whooaaa, whats this leading to? I asked him what he meant and he said, 'the boys, selling everything'. Then I realised what he meant - all the hawkers trying to sell leather goods. He was persistent and carried on the salesman patter but I eventually got rid of him. They just won't take no for an answer.
By the way, I estimate that today I have covered another 13 miles all on foot.
Istanbul - Nuruosmaniye Mosque
This mosque is at the Nuruosmaniye entrance of closed bazaar. Construction of this mosque commenced in 1748 by Mahmut I and completed in 1755 by Osman III.
Istanbul - Shops near the Grand Bazaar
The narrow streets around the Grand Bazaar are line with shops selling all sorts of tat and many shops are selling the same tat as each other. This is an early morning shot which avoids all the crowds. At the bottom of this road is the entrance to the covered Grand Bazaar.
Istanbul - Aqueduct of Valens
The aqueduct usually called that of Valens was actually completed in 368 during the reign of this Eastern Roman emperor, but certainly planned and begun already in the time of Constantine the Great (272-337) or his son Constantius II (317–361). Water from the Belgrad Forest beyond the city was carried to the center of the city around the Great Palace near the Hippodrome. It was in use throughout the Byzantine and most of the Ottoman periods.
Istanbul - Galata district
Over the Golden Horn you will find yourself in the Galata district which follows the old street plan and more than likely looking for the Galata town. This is one such street you will take on the way to the tower.
Istanbul - This monument was built in 1314 by Genoese
The part of the Palace of the Genoese official Montani de Marinis, known as the Palazzo del Comune in the Genoese period and built in 1314, still stands in a narrow street behind the famous Bankalar Caddesi (Banks Street) which was the financial centre of the Ottoman Empire
The inscription reads 'This monument was built in 1314 by Genoese.'
Istanbul - View from the Galata Tower
Looking south across the Golden Horn at old Istanbul on Constantinople. The Haghia Sophia and Blue Mosque can both be seen with the Blue Mosque being furthest right.
Istanbul - View to the Suleymaniye mosque
Walking along the northern side of Istanbul with this large mosque looming large in the distance.
Istanbul - Busy shops in the narrow streets
This is what the streets around the Grand Bazaar look like at the peak of the shopping rush. Mevlane is the name of the company that sells Muslim religious merchandise like prayer carpets.
Istanbul - View from Asia
A romantic view of Istanbul at sunset from the Asian side of the Bosphorous.
15 Jun 2007 - Istanbul, TurkeyWith two full days for my trip it was going to be a challenge to see everything I wanted but I was out of the hotel by 10AM and thanks to the recce performed the night before had a good idea of where I needed to go.
A lot of the historical stuff is based around the Sultanamet and is quite a compact area which is excellent. My first stop was the Hippodrome - the old Roman/Byzantine racing track much like the one in Rome. A number of ancient monuments are visible here and formed the axis of the race track. The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace (the Sultan's home) can all be easily accessed from here.
Visiting the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi palace can take a long time due to the size of the buildings and also because of the length it of time it takes to absorb the significance of what you are looking at. In the over priced cafe in the palace I enjoyed refreshments overlooking the Bosphorous towards asia. The position of the palace is such that I could also see the sea walls which kept invaders out for centuries (but not the soldiers of the 4th Crusade who sacked Constantinople in 1204) and to look across the much famed Golden Horn.
After this rest and I then marched back to the Hippodrome and then from here to try and find the remains of the Bucolean Palace, the former imperial palace gradually given up for that of the Blachernae palace in situated in the land walls to the West. I couldn't find it, got lost and ended up in some poor residential area but eventually found my way to the southern coastline along the Sea of Marmara and followed the road (4+ miles) all the way to the beginning of the land walls at the Marble Tower. Along the way I could see parts of the sea wall but the state of this was variable.
This was a long walk and my concern was that I wanted to walk the length of the entire Theodosian walls (3.4 miles) before nightfall as this leads through some very rough areas of Istanbul. The walls are impressive and in some places they are well restored. All along though you can see just how formidable they would have been, with their 3 walls, moat and plenty of towers. In some places I went along the walls on the reconstructed areas to gain an experience of what it would have been like for a defender.
I followed the entire wall where possible but in some areas I need to walk through the residential areas which as it was still daylight it allowed me to see how the residents of Istanbul live - at least in these poor areas anyway. Following warnings, I obviously kept on my guard but I didn't see any signs of trouble.
Towards the end you come to the Blachernae Palace, notable because it was the former imperial palace where some of the great Byzantine emperors ruled. All that remains now is the Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (Turkish: Tekfur Sarayui).
With the land walls now completed it was a relatively easy walk back as a busy road follows the Golden Horn to the Topkapi (4.3 miles). From here I got a taxi back to the hotel and typically got done over by the taxi driver who took me the very long route. I found out the next day I was only about a 20 minute walk from my hotel. However, by this point I had been exploring on foot for 11 hours, my legs were tired and I just wanted to rest.
In all, including the walls which I have the distances for, my total walking today must have come to about 13-14 miles. I don't think many tourists do this but I saw so much, tried some more kebabs(!) and meant that I would be able to see everything I planned to see the next day.
Istanbul - The Blue Mosque
Otherwise known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), the mosque is one of several mosques known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice.
Istanbul - The Blue Mosque fore court
The fore court is about as large as the mosque itself and is surrounded by a continuous, vaulted arcade. It has ablution facilities on both sides. The central hexagonal fountain is rather small in contrast with the dimensions of the courtyard
Istanbul - The Haghia Sophia
The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, and was in fact the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site (the previous two had both been destroyed by riots).
Istanbul - Inside the Haghia Sophia I
Interestingly, the Haghia Sophia holds the grave of Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice and commander of the Latin armies that invaded Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade.
Istanbul - Judgement day I
Judgement day. Jesus Christ enthroned between the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist. 12th century.
Istanbul - Judgement day II
A close up of the same mosaic. Byzantine mosaics were designed to be seen by lamplight. These conditions showed the workmanship as the flickering light reflected in pieces of glass or gold which had been embedded as minutely disparate angles to give an appearance of life and movement.
Istanbul - Christ flanked by an emperor and empress
The inscriptions over the heads of these mosaic figures in the Haghia Sophia read, 'Zoe, the most pious Ausgusta' and 'Constantine in Christ, the Lord Autocrat, faithful emperor of the Romans, Monomachus.
Istanbul - Blue Mosque seen from the Haghia Sophia
A window from the upper floor of the Haghia Sophia affords a view across to The Blue Mosque.
Istanbul - Virgin and child flanked by two emperors
The Virgin between Justinian and Constantine.
To the right: Constantine presenting a model of his new city Constantinople.
To the left: Justinianus presenting a model of his new church, Hagia Sophia. 10th Century
Istanbul - Entrance to the Topkapi Palace
The defensive gate and entrance to the first courtyard of the Ottoman imperial palace. Dated to1542 during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror, the towers were added by Sultan Suleyman I the Magnificent during the 16th century. Only the sultan was allowed to pass this gate on horseback.
Istanbul - The Church of the Divine Peace
Inside the first gate to the Topkapi Palace is this church, built to replace the one burnt down in the Nika riots of 532 AD.
Istanbul - The second courtyard of the Topkapi Palace
From the great garden entrance take can take the visitor to the Divan, Inner Treasury, the kitchens, servants area and the entrance to the Harem. Silence was always maintained here as people obeyed the rules of conduct imposed in the presence - actual or potential - of the sultan.
Istanbul - The Divan
The council buildings, this one has a metal grille in front and was called 'the Eye of the Sultan'. Through this the Sultan could observe the imperial councillors.
Istanbul - The Harem - The entrance
Harem means 'forbidden' in Arabic, in Turkish it means the residence where the head of the house lived with his wives and female slaves and children. Here, it lay between the Sultans private quarters and the quarters of the Chief Black Eunach.
Behind are the quarters of the eunuchs who were responsible for running the harem. They only entered during daylight.
Istanbul - Courtyard of the women of the harem
Built in the 16th century and restored after the 1665 fire, the porticoed courtyard is surrounded by baths, a laundry fountain, a laundry, dormitories and the apartments of the Sultan's chief consort overlooking the Golden Horn. At the entrance to the quarters of the Queen Mother are wall frescoes from the late 18th century depicting landscapes, reflect western influences.
Istanbul - Imperial Hall I
The hall served as the official reception hall of the Sultan as well as for the entertainment of the Harem. Here the Sultan received his confidants, guests, his mother, his first wife (Hasseki), consorts, and his children. Entertainments, paying of homage during religious festivals, and wedding ceremonies took place here in the presence of the members of the dynasty.
Istanbul - Imperial Hall II
In the hall there are gilded chairs which were present of Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, while the clocks are a gift of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. A pantry, where musical instruments are exhibited and certain other apartments, opens to the Imperial Hall which gives access into the Sultan's private apartments.
Istanbul - Apartments of the Crown Prince
Outside the two privy chambers built at different times in the 17th century. These chambers represent all the details of the classical style used in other parts of the palace.
Istanbul - Iftar Pavilion
The gilded Iftar Pavilion, also known as Iftar Kiosk or Iftar bower offers a view on the city and the harbour and is a magnet for tourists. The pool was the scene of the revels among Ibrahim I and the women of his harem.
Istanbul - Some old housing
Spotted on my wanderings as I became lost south of the Sultanahmet.
Istanbul - The legendary land walls of Constantinople
Part of the greatest and most complex fortification system ever built, the walls surrounded the new city on all sides. Some sections of the walls were less elaborate, but when well manned, they were almost impregnable for any medieval besieger, saving the city, and the Byzantine Empire. Only the advent of gunpowder siege cannons rendered the fortifications obsolete, resulting in the final siege and fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans on 29 May 1453.
Istanbul - The triple wall defences of Constantinople
With a moat in front of the first and lowest wall, the height of all three walls ensured that an attacker could be hit from any point on the walls.
Istanbul - Gate of Charisius or Adrianople Gate
The gate through which Sultan Mehmed II entered Constantinople. The inscription reads 'Tuesday morning on the 29 of May 1453, Fatihan army entered Istanbul'.
Istanbul - The Blachernae Palace
Combined with the defensive walls, this area was the weakest section and was the focus of the Latin and Ottoman sieges which both ended in the conquest of the city.
14 Jun 2007 - Istanbul, TurkeyI left my job yesterday and start my new one next week so what better than to spend time before a new job than by visiting somewhere far off? I can think of nothing else so the target of my visit was Istanbul; Constantinople, Nova Roma, Byzantium - call it what you want but all it does is reflect the 2000 years of history that can be seen all over this city.
I arrived at my hotel at 10pm and after checking in I thought I would make use of the couple of hours left to have a quick recce of the area and to get a kebab whilst in the home of the kebab.
I established my location in relation to the outstanding monuments and buildings that I had to see but not only working out what was where, I took some time to have a look at the Blue Mosque - one of the major sites of the city. While wandering around some chap must have thought I was an easy target at this late hour and came over to me to tell me that the mosque was shut (no shit) and tried to engage me in conversation. This put an end to my wandering and my thoughts quickly turned to the sanctuary of my hotel.
As he followed me it turned out that he was a tourist too (really?) but from one of the islands (oh right) and he is here on work. His colleagues are all in the hotel. So what is he doing out then? Maybe the same as me. But I think he was either:
1) Trying to sell me something and was building up his patter.
2) Wanted to mug me/lure me away to his mates.
3) After a slice of tourist cock and arse.
Or he might have just been a really friendly chap...nah, he was definitely cruising.
Istanbul - My hotel room
Not the best hotel in town but certainly not one of the worst either. With my only need being a central base from which to explore, this hotel met the requirement. Only 4 minutes walk to the Hippodrome and the Sultanahmet historical centre, I was more than happy. Plus, I had good views of the Sea of Marmara and the Blue Mosque at night.
Istanbul - The Blue Mosque from my hotel's roof terrace
After fearing for my ability to remain anally retentive after the scare I had looking around the Hippodrome area at night, I returned to the hotel and took a trip up to the roof top terrace. On a warm night with a light breeze this was very pleasant and I sat back and tried to believe that I was sitting looking at an area which has been the centre of so much of world history. This is the view to the Blue Mosque.
Istanbul - The Hippodrome of Constantinople
Horse racing and chariot racing were popular in the ancient world and hippodromes were common features of cities in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras.
Today, the old racetrack has been indicated with paving, although the actual track is some two metres below the present surface. The surviving monuments of the Spina (the middle barrier of the racecourse) are two obelisks and the Serpentine Column.
Istanbul - The Haghia Sophia at night
For almost 1000 years the Haghia Sophia was the largest enclosed space in the world, designed to impress the strength and wealth of the Byzantine emperors upon their own subjects and visiting foreign dignitaries. The 30m dome that hovered over empty space rather than being supported by walls was unprecedented.
Istanbul - The Blue Mosque
On my nightime trip I got this great photo of The Blue Mosque. It was as I went to have a closer look at it that some annoying chap latched on to me.