istanbul was constantinople

January 23, 2011 § 9 Comments

It seems the “plane” of paper, plate, and plane is lagging far behind.  I hope to make up for the lag today.  The third installment of my Istanbul trip was on my to-blog list for December.   Over the holidays, instead of compiling my own thoughts and experiences of Turkey, I watched Hallmark Channel’s reruns of Martha Stewart’s adventures.  They were a great reminder of the marvelous time I spent in Istanbul last summer and of the delay my travel posts are experiencing.

Back in November, I began recounting my trip to Istanbul in the posts Inspiring Istanbul ( dedicated entirely to Turkey’s beautiful İznik Tiles) and Turkish Delights (highlighting all the mouth-watering exotic fare that had me bursting at the seams during my trip).  I left out the most important post for last — the historical sights of Istanbul.  Istanbul is rich in history, having been the seat of four empires throughout history.   Yes, once upon a time, Istanbul was Constantinople.  I think we all learned that from a song!

Istanbul is the only city in the world situated in both Europe and Asia.  The continents are divided by the Bosphorus Strait, along which the city is built.  Most residential areas are in the Asian side of the city, commerce and main historical sights on the European side (shown above).  There are two very busy bridges connecting the two continents, but the best way to cross the strait is by taking one of many frequent ferry rides across.

Our first stop — the most famous sight in Istanbul, the Hagia Sofia.  Now a museum, it was once the largest church in the world for nearly a thousand years.  It wasn’t the architecture that had me in awe, as is usually the case when I travel.  What had me marvel here was the combination of Christian and Muslim relics.  The Hagia Sofia was once converted into a mosque, and despite being so, the Christian iconography was not entirely eradicated.

The next stop was just across the way, Sultanahmet Mosque or Blue Mosque — a breathtaking structure with walls fully adorned with blue tiles.  My most memorable moment at the Blue Mosque was outside in the busy courtyard where O.T. left me alone for a few minutes.  A Turkish lady, around my age, approached me, paying compliments to my dress and purse and asking what country I came from and how I was enjoying my tour.  I automatically felt wary, as I had been forewarned about the rampant pick-pocketing happening throughout the city.  In the end, I realized she just simply enjoyed speaking to foreigners, likely wanting to practice her English, which she spoke very well.  I was embarrassed that while she spoke to me about her cousin in Montreal and her hopes of visiting North America one day, I had my purse guarded with both arms across my chest.  I feel awful!

Within the same tourist block is the famous Topkapı Palace, from which there is a magnificent view of the Bosphorus Bridge and the Asian side of the city.

I was wide-eyed at the sight of beautiful İznik tiles at Topkapı Palace.  Every building within the palace walls were either gilded with gold or covered in porcelain.  I also had my first ever visit to a harem.

Down the street from Sultanahmet Square is an underground wonder, the Basilica Cistern.  It is a large ancient underground water receptacle, built way back in the 6th century.  When I first discovered the sight years ago through an episode of The Amazing Race (I’m a loyal fan), I knew it is one of those sights I had to visit in my lifetime.  I’m happy I had the chance.

Of course, my absolute favorite place in Istanbul is a market.  But not just any market.  The Egyptian Spice Bazaar.  I will go back to Istanbul in a heartbeat just so I can go back for a stroll in the Spice Bazaar.  I love crowded markets.  I fell in love with everything that was there.  Turkish delight confections (as shown in my previous post), exotic spices, dried fruits and vegetables, ceramics, belly dancing outfits, hookah pipes.

I begged O.T. to take me there more than once.  I had to go back to try a turban (I really wanted a belly dancing outfit, but they are expensive!) and he went back for a ceramic trinket as a souvenir for my aunt in San Francisco (how sweet!).

Next door to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar is the Grand Bazaar — the largest covered market in the world, with nearly 60 covered streets and 4,000 shops!!!  It was an overwhelming labyrinth of stalls selling rugs, ceramics, clothes, and other Turkish knick-knacks.

Another famous site is the Maiden’s Tower on a tiny little island in the middle of the Bosphorus, a prized landmark in Istanbul.

For one entire day, we took an hour long ferry to Big Island in the middle of the Sea of Marmara.  We embarked on a 2 hour bike ride along the perimeter of the island, as well as through the busy shop-lined streets of the island’s center.  That was my most favorite day.

Thanks to my projects being featured on Marifet, I realize I have some Turkish readers on this blog.  To my Turkish friends, I would like to say Merhaba!  Bloguma hoşgeldiniz!  To my friends who haven’t seen Istanbul, I hope I could inspire you to visit the city one day.  If these photos here don’t convince you, I’m sure Martha Stewart’s episode “The Istanbul Show” can make the sell (I have watched it so many times).  I plan on returning to Istanbul many times over.

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