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On the way to New Zealand we took some time out to see some of Istanbul ….




Like almost everyone else, we stayed in a little hotel in Sultanahmet, -the historical old city on the European, western side of the Bosphorus

The taxi trip on the motorway from the airport is traffic ridden and slow, then once through the old gates of the city walls it is a maze of narrow, cobbled, mostly one way streets. There are more major delays while the meter ticks on, -waiting for traffic to move… but the old city has instant appeal.

It’s best walked, -or by using the busy trams, but is compact, safe, clean and an eclectic mix of old and new.

 Istanbul is an old city, it was founded by Byzas as Byzantium in 657 BC, then became Constantinople of Roman times, when in about 330 AD Emperor Constantine took over and developed it as the centre of his Roman Empire. It remained under the control of a succession of Roman Emperors for several hundred years. Many of the old Roman features remain.
The ottoman Sultan Ahmet, (hence the name of the old city), -took it over in 1451 and to establish his power-base undertook a further major building programme. Many of the present day monuments and landmarks are from his and the subsequent Ottoman rule.
Grand palaces were built, there was a great deal of opulence over hundreds of years, it was ‘Paris of the East’even still into the 19th century.
When Ataturk founded the Turkish Republic after World War 1 he moved the centre of power to Ankara, meanwhile,Istanbul decayed, until in the 1990s when there was a belated revival of interest in the city.

It became recognised as a cultural centre, museums and galleries were built, transport was improved with bridges over the Bosphorus and a tramway system; many of the old structures have been brought back to life.

The Cemberlitas, or Banded Column is one erected in AD 330 by Constantine, one of those monuments still awaiting it’s turn for renovation.

Off the same main road, the Divan Yolu Caddesi, are the tombs of the Ottoman well-to-do

cool, well maintained, they are popular a sanctuary of quiet off the busy road outside.

A little further along and just off the same thoroughfare is the Grand Bazaar

This is the main market for the old city and has been for centuries. It is a maze of narrow alleys, thousands of little shops and now since being roofed in several hundred years ago, all covered, locking up at night.

It is a complete shopping town within itself; becomes hectic later in the day, but is manageably quiet in the morning

and is a place selling almost anything you’d expect in a Turkish market….

but some not so expected, -windfall for a tin-toy collector!

Although this is the big city, there’s no shortage of fresh fruit from the provinces

and  fresh squeezed juice is available everywhere, (pomegranate to be recommended in this, their season)  although this is not the produce market.
Along from the bazaar is the Suleymaniye Mosque. Built in Ottoman times, it’s said to be one of the grandest in Istanbul, but unfortunately was closed for major renovations, surrounded by construction site panel fencing…there was little to see…

-but there was the tea house, the Lale Bahcesi, the old Soup Kitchen attached to the mosque, pleasantly cool and shaded beneath the trees and almost beneath the ground.

Food is everywhere, restaurants of all nationalities and it’s good. It’s not always expensive and the simplest local stuff is often hard to beat.

The donor being constructed of raw meat and sloppy spicy sauce in the morning becomes the dinner at night…

followed  with a little sweet treat…


Istanbul’s best known sights are in Sultanahmet and within a few hundred metres of each other, among parks, trees and fountains (not surpisingly, the area has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site).


Blue Mosque


The Blue Mosque was built in around 1600 by Sultan Ahmet as his personal place of worship

-minarets towering above the trees

-and with an intricately patterned, blue tiled interior equalling the external grandure.

Outside the precinct of the mosque is the hippodrome, a Roman chariot race track and the centre of city life during those times. The race track is still a clearly defined open area, but has been marked over time by several obelisks, columns and the more recent, more decorative addition of Kaiser William’s fountain. he gave it to the city during a visit in 1901.


Aya Sofya


Across a large fountain courtyard from the Blue Mosque is the Aya Sofya,

originally built as a Christian church by Emperor Justinian in around 530 AD, some of that original building remains, although most of the present structure has been added at various times over the centuries.

(and reconstruction by UNESCO continues).

In 1453 it was removed from Christian use to become as a Mosque the internal decor is now mainly from that time,

and includes the Sultan’s filagree private kiosk of 1700

But mosaics around the upper walls date back to the early Christian years. These were covered by the Muslims and are now, as the Mosque has been declared a museum, being painstakingly uncovered.

Architecturally, the most amazing feature for a building of its time is the very high central dome, built of an particularly light clay block, not needing and without the usual columns, it seems little supported.


Topkapi Palace

Adjacent to the Aya Sofya is the Topkapi Palace, probably the most important attraction in Istanbul and the home of Ottoman Rulers from 1453 until 1839.

Outside the main gate is the fountain of Sultan Ahmet III, built in 1728,

and within the thick, gated walls are large park-like grounds, this part of the palace was always open to selected public.

Within that is the private palace complex in a further walled and gated compound.

Topkapi is on a point of land above the junction of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, elevated, with commanding views over both seaways for defence and strategic reasons.

The palace comprises a series of courts and pavilions, built at various times, -treasury, kiosks, terraces, audience chambers, kitchens and sleeping quarters, but the most sumptuous is the Harem, the very private home of the Sultan’s multiple wives (both legal and concubines) and children.

It many rooms are richly decorated with tiles, gilt and ornate ceilings,

marble and gold plumbing fixtures,

plush upholstery, 4 poster beds

silver braziers, inglenook fireplaces and mother of pearl inlaid panels.

the other sectors of the palace are linked to it and themselves with covered courtyards, verandhas and passageways. There is a lot to see, if you care, but it needs time and patience! As the day goes on, the crowds are more, and they all must file through the treasury to ogle the amazing jewels and other ornamentation, -there is all too much, all too at once…

Although the harem is said to be the most spectacular, it’s all similarly, ‘gob-smackingly, over-the-top!




Way more mundane, but nicely cool and uncrowded, are the ancient cisterns over the road.

Apparently they were constructed from ruins of other buildings, hence poor Medusa having been placed at the base of a column with her head on the side for 1500 years!
They are pleasantly cool to visit, the ceilings drip, there’s not a lot to see, but it is an ‘atmospheric experience’, -artificial lighting and boardwalks make it possible to keep above the water level, -while beneath lurk oversized carp…


Down the hill from and out of old Sultanahmet is Eminomu, on the Golden Horn, a branch of  the Bosphorus

The Bosphorus goes on through to the Black sea, the Golden Horn is short with a blind ending a short way into the European side of the city.

A focal point there is the Galata bridge over the Horn, -it has 2 levels, the top for traffic, the lower for restaurants -and fishing.

Eminomu is also where there are the railway, ferry and bus termini, so there is good food and cheap restaurants everywhere.

Immediately adjacent to the Galata Bridge  are the famed fish sandwich makers.
The fish sandwich is an Istanbul institution, cheap and delicious, -a freshly fried fillet of fish in soft crusty bread with a cluster of salad, -very popular and very cheap.

They once were sold directly from the boats that caught them, but now are served from highly decorated old style fishermen in highly decorated old style fishing vessels.

They never go fishing now, but are dedicated galley cooks docked at the Golden Horn,

but passing wash gets them going with a fair old roll, -it is as well that fish fillets are flat and they don’t serve drinks!

Apart from fish sandwiches; hawkers selling crusty sesame bread rings (simet) and all the restaurants of the Galata Bridge, Eminomu has the Spice Market.

Traditionally this sold imported spices and still does, but now there’s great food of all sorts, -especially if you are into dried fruit, nuts and sweet treats… -my type of shopping!

Being the major transport hub, Galata is a busy place, ferries coming and going from both sides of the bridge

there’s a constant stream and are often doubling up at the docks,

but still the determined fishermen dangle (and tangle) their lines, -not for the catch they can eat I am sure!


The Bosphorus


Beyond the Galata Bridge, over the Golden Horn and up from the prominent Galata Tower, is the newer commercial and more western part of Istanbul, Beyoglu.

Taksim Square is at its centre on the top of the hill, but there’s nothing special to it. It is a confusing tangle of buses, pedestrians, Simet sellers and to one side is the large grey concrete reservoir tank after which it was named!

The Istiklal Caddesi, the main street leading up to it from the Galata Tower, however is strikingly different.
It  is lined by fashionable shops, has an elderly tram running the line up the middle and to either side are quaint alleys of excellent eateries,

then further down the hill, narrow streets of period houses with personality.

It is not difficult to get a boat ride on the Bosphorus, plyed constantly by the ferries, but also from the Galata Bridge there are many excursion boats, with very enthusiastic touts on the quayside -like the carpet sales, it is harder NOT to take a boat ride!

Of course we wanted to anyway, it was high on our agenda, we submitted readily to the first offer, the easiest sale he’d had all day! -and and on the upper deck of a little old boat, headed out towards the Black Sea.

Above the Galata Bridge are the roofs of the Topkapi Palace,

on the other side of the Golden Horn are the cruise liner terminals

then stately Port Authority offices.

Up the hill behind on the same, European side of the Bosphorus are the towers of the commercial centre and Beyoglu.

Next along the waterfront, the first of the Sultan palaces, -the mosque,

and the 2 major parts of the 19th century Dolmabahce Palace, built by Sultan Abdul Mecit who decided that the Topkapi was not sufficiently grand for his liking!
Like the Topkapi, it is in sections around courtyards, -parts for the men, the harem and the public reception areas. From the Bosphorus, it’s pretty impressive, we haven’t yet seen the interior of the grounds or living areas, although open to the public, we thought we had done enough lavish buildings for a time, -but it is reportedly ornate and opulent to the extreme.

Next in the row of palaces is the Ciragan Place, now Hotel, built a little later, -and said to be more restrained…(?)

Approaching the first of the major road bridges, the Bogazizi is the Ortakoy Mosque

and the Ortakoy ferry pier,

Under the bridge the area becomes residential Arnavutkoy

with wooden houses along the seafront dating from the Ottoman era, built as yali (beach houses) for the rich and famous of the period.
The older ones are very special and all well preserved, rigorously protected as heritage buildings.

Just before reaching the second Bosphorus bridge, named after Fatih Sultan Mehmet is the old fortification known as the ‘Fortress of Europe’, (Rumeli Hisari)  built by Sultan ‘Mehmet the Conqueror’ in 1452 when setting up the siege of Constantinople.

It is at the narrowest part of the Bosphorus, enabling him to control all sea traffic between the old city and the Black Sea.
The excursion boats all turn at this second bridge, (like airlines, they have pack mentality, -they travel the same routes at the same times and for about the same price!) to follow the Asian, Eastern shore back to Eminonu.

On that shore, the yalis are even grander, more spacious and many date back to around 1700.

There is the amazing ‘wedding cake’ Kucuksu Kasri Palace,

-just a ‘pocket place’ built by Sultan Abdul Mecit in the 1850s, at a time when it was popular to go and picnic in the parks on the seafront there,

-in its ornate Rococo style/filagreed iron work, he picnicked in style!

Back at the Eminonu, late in the afternoon, back-lit on the hill of Sultanahmet above are the domes and towers of the Suleymaniye Mosque, the place I couldn’t see up close because of construction site baricades, -it looks good from here!

Istanbul Boat Show


Our last objective in istanbul was to see the Boat Show, -one of the better in the region.
It was held in a marina a long way across town on the Asian side, we took a ferry then a long bus ride to get there.

Unsurprisingly, the first impression we had was that it was little different from any other boat show we have been to, -the same exhibits by the same exhibitors selling the same old stuff,

whether it be in Auckland, Sanctuary Cove, Singapore, -or Southampton

but there were some differences, many boats had the stylish, expensive European look. And it was about boating in the Mediterranean. We learnt a lot and easily filled more than the time available…we hjad to forsake the bus and take a fast taxi ride back to the ferry, we had a plane to catch back to NZ!


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