An October 2003 trip
to Istanbul by hagnel2
Quote: Istanbul is a culturally rich and diverse city. Divided by the Bosporus Strait, it sits astride two continents. Originally known as Byzantium, then Constantinople, it conjures up images of star-filled nights and caravans on the Silk Road to China. It was an unexpected delight.
You can view countless artifacts in some of the cities finest museums or dine at the bottom of a Roman cistern. Contemplate the fabulous jewels in the treasury and gasp at the 86-karat spoon-makers diamond.
Join the hustle and bustle in the historic Grand Bazaar, a virtually covered warren of streets. Wander randomly; you will lose your bearings and still fall under its spell. Brush up on your bargaining skills and have fun.
Enjoy the terraces along the Bosporus, sip apple tea or sweet Turkish coffee, and hold the moment. Along with the coffee sample and syrupy baklava, ahhh . . . to be in Turkey.
Tourist offices are located at the Hilton Hotel Arcade, the Grand Bazaar, and the airport. They are open from 9 to 5pm and are very helpful. The staff will give you maps and brochures. They speak English fluently.
Taxis have two tariffs. One light glows on the meter for day trips, two for night. Ensure the driver changes the meter. It is a good plan to have small bills, as the taxi driver will often keep the change from a large bill. It is confusing with the large number of zeros (we paid the equivalent of for a ride), and the driver insisted we had given a different note.
ATMs are located in shopping districts and we had no problem using them. An alternative form of transport is the shared taxi/minivan.
The electronic ticket AKBIL is good for ferries, trams, and the subway. If you are staying 3 days or more, you can save up to 50 % of the fare. If you get on a bus with a ticket seller aboard, you cannot use the pass. Use small notes, as they won’t give change.
For the electronic ticket, you are given a plastic key ring. You deposit and you can add increments of 1,000TL.
You will note bus booths signed AKBIL satilil. Press the tab into reader. Remove the tab and insert money, press again. The machine will then beep if you have enough, but if not, a red light blinks and will beep. The readers are also located on the buses and trams.
All this can be confusing, but if you intend to travel around the whole city and on the ferries, it is a good deal.
The bus to Sultanahmet from Taksim Square (in the modern section) is bus no. 61B.
There are many modern upscale shops steps away from our hotel. This district is also known as the old Pera district overlooking the golden horn and Bosphorus and is a 20-minute walk to the old city.
The Mercure is a very modern high-rise hotel located next door to the famous Peri Palis hotel (haunt of Mata Hari and several royals and also the place were Agatha Christie wrote part of Murder on the Orient Express).
This is a good, solid value hotel, admittedly lacking in the Oriental charm that I would have liked, but its roof-top pool and proximity to the modern shopping center and Taksim square is a plus.
As you enter, the revolving doors the reception desk is located to the left in a small area, but the friendly receptionists are ready to assist with any practical questions. On the same floor on the right is a gift shop and patisserie alongside a small bar area. One floor down is the Internet-access, hairdresser, and laundry areas. The restaurant is located on the second floor. It is also the breakfast room.
Rooms are modern and decorated in restful colors with firm double beds and good bedding. There is the usual en-suite bathroom with fluffy Turkish towels, robes, marble sinks, hairdryer, and usual toiletries.
There is a mini-bar, but no safe. (A safety box is at reception.) Bedside lighting was great (general and dim), individual, and adjustable. It was handy when reading over the next day’s plans.
We were disappointed to find that our room overlooked the main street, as rooms on the west side of the building overlooked the Golden Horn and you can view the blue mosque. Ours overlooked a square and the outlying suburbs. We couldn’t change rooms, as the hotel was full.
You may complain of being awakened by the call to prayer, but the heavily lined drapes should diminish the sound (we left the window open). We were awakened by noise from a nightclub located across the road; however, when I closed the window, the sounds were inaudible.
The whole place is spotless and the staff greets you with smiles and humor. This hotel also offers sightseeing tours and is very eager to help you to get the most out of the city. There were many business clients and a few tour buses.
A full buffet breakfast is included in the room price. It is varied and a good value.
Unfortunately, I did not take photographs of this hotel except for the two taken from our window. (With pre-igougo travels, I rarely took pictures of our hotel). Our accommodation per night was $100.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 24, 2004
Mesrutiyet Caddesi Terebasi
800 695 8284
Attraction | "Sultanhamet Cami/ Blue Mosque"
Six minarets reached like stalagmites toward the incredibly blue sky. It was a stunning and unforgettable image evoking the tales of the Arabian Nights.
The Turkish architect Mehmet Aga built the mosque in the 1600s. The intention was to build a mosque to outshine that of the Sofya Aya. Both edifices are magnificent. Sultan Ahmet the First ordered that the mosque have six Minarets, but he had to pay for a seventh to be added to the mosque in Mecca.
We entered the mosque by a side door; only Muslims may enter through the massive main portal. An impassive custodian ensured all footwear was removed whilst scrutinizing the dress of females, as a hair covering is required and supplied if needed.
The interior is awash in a sea of blue Iznic tiles (approximately 20,000). It is said that one tile is worth about $35. Soaring aloft is a canopy of heavenly domes supported by four massive pillars. The center dome is109 feet wide and the pillars are 15 feet thick.
Shafts of light from hundreds of stained glass windows bathe the entire room in a magical pale blue haze, which imbue this massive space with illumination and serenity. A huge chandelier lit with tiny bulbs hangs from the center. The wires holding it are barely visible, creating the feeling of a star-filled room.
It was a totally mesmerizing experience and I know my description fails to impart its sheer splendor and majesty. The floor coverings are rich ruby-red Turkish carpets with smaller prayer mats atop, but it is the soaring domes and the sheer size of the interior that astounds the visitor.
Don’t miss the sound and light show every evening at dusk. The show is in a different language each evening, but whatever the language, it is not to be missed.
Sultan Ahmet died around 1617 at the age of 28. His tomb is near the mosque and is well worth seeing. The ebony doors worked with inscriptions from the Koran and the tile work inside is amazing. Entrance to the mosque is free, but a donation will be requested as you exit. Fee for the tomb is $1.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 24, 2004
Aya Sofya/ Church of Holy Wisdom
Sulyman the Magnificent ordered that the mosaics be removed, in accordance with the Muslim law forbidding icons. Fortunately, plaster was used, and many of these mosaics have since been restored. As you pass beneath the lustrous vaults of the portico, the stunning mosaic image of an emperor prostrating himself at the feet of Christ leads you into the massive central space of the church. It was in this space that emperors were crowned.
None of the treasures from the interior survived when the church was looted by the crusaders, and many of the mosaics were defaced by the Iconoclasts in the 8th century. The bronze door and the lovely marble work around the entry are original. In the apse, an exquisite Virgin and Child mosaic is stunning. The Virgin’s softly modeled face and wide luminous eyes appear almost human.
Follow the ramp up to the gallery for a closer view of the soaring domes and to view the remains of lovely mosaics. It is also a great spot to survey the gilt calligraphic inscriptions on the round plaster medallions, which bear the titles of Allah and the names of the Prophet, since the first four caliphs are located high on the columns. When Ataturk turned the building into a museum in 1936, the medallions were taken down but were then re-hung in the 1950s.
At the far end of the south gallery, in the mosaic of Christ between Empress Zoë and her husband, Constantine is unique because his face was superimposed over the faces of Zoë’s last two husbands (he outlived her).
When the church was turned into a mosque, two large alabaster urns were brought from Pergamon to be used for the ritual washing. The baptistery became a mausoleum holding the tombs of two sultans, Mustafa 1 and Ibrahim. The garden also holds tombs of sultans and a few murdered princes.
A popular spot is the weeping column. The fluid is purported to have miraculous powers. People stand in line to stick their fingers into a small niche. In reality, the porous stone draws water up from an underground cistern. Of course, I had to try this phenomenon, and I did feel a small damp spot!
Two popes have visited this church, Pope Paul VI and John Paul I. It is truly a masterpiece. Open Tue-Sun, 9:30am-4:30pm. Admission $6.50, students $2.50.
On our first morning, we were awakened at 5am with the Muezzins call to prayer; it is an eerie sound at any time of the morning. I hurried to the window; not to close it, but to savor the moment. Looking out of the window, I saw a man with a cart filled with bread. He poured water upon his feet and head, then prostrated himself upon the ground. I learned later this ritual washing is a requirement before devotions. It was an awesome experience, watching the sunrise in that fabled city whilst listening to the ancient call to prayer.
After breakfast and armed with maps, we walked to the historic section. We set off early, because we wanted to beat the tour buses at the Topkapi palace. The walk was lovely and mostly downhill. Throngs of people on their way to work added to the atmosphere.
The Sultanahmet is where you will find the main monuments: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Cami, Grand Bazzar, Hippodrome, Archeological Museum, Basilica Cistern.
The highlight of our visit to Istanbul was the Topkapi palace, the sumptuous home of past sultans and seat of the Ottoman Empire, which was a breathtaking experience. The palace consists of four courts with a collection of buildings totally unlike like British palaces.
We spent half a day there, and I know we skimmed only the surface. Don’t miss the fabulous horde of treasure and precious stones in the treasury. The treasury exhibits are breathtaking. It is an Aladdin’s cave overflowing with riches. The treasury, with its entire cache, takes up four rooms. The famous spoon-maker’s diamond sits alone on a cushion. It weighs 86 carats and was awe-inspiring. My husband didn’t spend much time there, as he was decidedly nervous. Perhaps he felt I would want to top the visit off with a shopping spree.
Seeing the famous Topkapi dagger encrusted with diamonds was spectacular; in fact, the whole exhibition was mind boggling. Guards standing at the door must get quite a kick out of seeing us tourists pressing our faces to the glass like kids in a candy store.
There is a collection too of dazzling Turban crests studded with diamond lumps. As we left the treasury, we saw two beautiful emeralds that once hung from the ceiling. They weighed three pounds and six pounds respectively.
After leaving the treasury, we crossed the courtyard to the pavilion of the holy mantle. It is a sacred place; the Koran is read out loud all day in front of an alcove. The alcove contains a cloak, two swords, and other relics of Mohammed. We did not linger. It was a small area quite crowded with heavily veiled pilgrims, and we just felt a bit like interlopers.
On the west side of the court is the Imperial council chamber (Divan-Humayuna). All state affairs were conducted there. It was known as Divan because the council lounged on the couches that lined the walls. Just to keep them on their toes and to prevent plots, the sultan spied on the them by means of a latticed window hidden by a curtain, known as Eye of the Sultan
I have only touched on a few of the highlights of the palace, but there are many more.
The palace kitchens, where meals used to be prepared for 5,000 people, have a unique collection of Chinese porcelain. The vast harem with its apartments and terraces are well worth the extra cost.
Admission to the palace is $6.50 while the Harem is $4. It is open Wednesday to Monday 9am to 4:30pm. The harem closes at 4pm. The tours around the Harem are guided (mandatory) and commence every 30 minutes.
Lunch at the restaurant in the fourth court was good value for the view, atmosphere, and food. We each had a beer, plus a rice and very tasty pepper dish. (The bill was less than $10.) We had a table overlooking the Bosporus. As we sat there, we watched odd-looking crafts plying the river. (I learned they are called kayics.) They were flat and wide, and both ends seem to taper upwards. We also saw a large cruise ship, but couldn’t see the line.
After lunch, we decided to visit the blue mosque. The mosque is not blue, as it gets its name from the stunning blue tiles that cover its interior. (See activity entry)
A short walk from the mosque is the Hippodrome, the scene of many riots, including one in 532 that gutted the entire St. Sofia area. At one time, it was the main place where all mass assemblies were held. Severus, the Roman emperor, laid out the area in A.D. 203. Chariot races, circuses, pageants were all held here.
In the middle of the racetrack stood the obelisk of PharaohThutmes111. This was brought from Egypt by Theodosius the great. It still stands along with the broken remains of a serpentine column purloined from the temple of Apollo at Delphi. A fountain donated by Kaiser Wilhelm11 in 1898 can still be seen.
Yerebatan Saray Sarnici
In my mind, this underground cistern built by Justinian in 532 has to be one of the best sites in Istanbul.
After a 39-foot descent, you will be awed at the spectacular vaults upheld by 39 illuminated columns. This Byzantine built cistern was connected to an aqueduct to ensure fresh water during sieges and to provide the palace.
There is a definite air of intrigue and mystery. This cistern was restored around 1987 and a wooden platform ensures dry feet. There is also a café were you could sit, eat, and admire the elaborate archways; it is eerily fascinating. Admission is $5. Open daily from 9am to 4pm This account ends our first day in this wonderfully intriguing city.