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Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium...

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Seeing Maria's recent photos from Morocco on her blog My Place In the Sun http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/mariai/reminded me of a wonderful visit I made to Istanbul and central Turkey. I traveled there in 2004, before I had a digital camera, so the top photo of the spectacular Blue Mosque is by Steve McCurry for National Geographic magazine, which has named Istanbul as one of its Places Of a Lifetime. It's definitely worthy of that designation.

I also traveled to central Turkey, to Cappadocia (shown in the second photo, wikipedia) a ruggedly beautiful region.

Istanbul has, at various times in its long history, been known Byzantium and later, as Constantinople (after the Roman emperor Constantine I.) It's filled with historic and cultural treasures including the stunning Blue Mosque, completed in 1616, and featuring six minarets instead of the typical four. Alas, this mosque also features a spectacular sound system, and so every morning I was awoken around 5:30 a.m. by the call to prayer from the minarets.

My very inexpensive hotel had been chosen for its proximity to the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofya (aka Hagia Sofia, in Greek) the Hippodrome and other landmark sites in the oldest part of Istanbul, the Sultanahmet. Staff at this hotel were extremely friendly and the location was fantastic -- there was even a tiny rooftop terrace with excellent views of the Blue Mosque -- but the one-time mansion wasn't especially sound-proofed.

But no matter. I loved wandering around the rolling historic centre, visiting the Grand Bazaar (below, photo from tourism website istanbul.com) and the spice market, the Topkapi Palace, and other really exotic sites. I traveled with a former friend, who didn't enjoy the trip so well and left well before me. This marked the last time I traveled with anyone!

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I had a fabulous day "cruising" up the Bosporus on a rather weathered old ferry that stopped at every small settlement on the Asian side of the waterway on the ride up, and the European side coming back. Istanbul itself stretches along the Bosporus strait for 30 kilometers between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, and is still crucial for trade routes in all directions. (Photo below from istanbul.com)

Istanbul may be the only city in the world to span 2 continents, a fitting metaphor for the way it bridges cultures, philosophies and religions from Europe, Asia and almost everywhere else!

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The people in Istanbul were so friendly and lively. I watched whirling dervishes; endured a rough Turkish bath at the Çemberlitas Hamamii, a beautiful communal bathhouse with shapes of stars and crescent moons cut into the round, stone roof; ate a fair amount of milk puddings; and frequently got lost.

The Topkapi Palace, and its harem, were fascinating to tour. The palace was built by Mehmet the Conqueror over the ruins of Constantine's Imperial Palace and occupies one of the seven hills of Istanbul, right at the tip of the historic peninsula overlooking the sea. Topkapi was a residence of the sultans, administrative seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years, and the source of legend on life in the harem.

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Cappadocia was also fascinating, an ancient region that fought hard against Alexander the Great, is mentioned in the Bible, and contains several underground cities largely used by early Christians as hiding places before their faith became an accepted religion.

Comments (11)

Marcia:

Another place on our 'bucket' list.

Yay! I was hoping you'd blog about your trip there. It's high on my wish list because I keep reading about all the stuff the Venetians plundered from them! Are you allowed to go inside the Blue Mosque? It's a gorgeous building.

Milk puddings?! Was that the highlight or the lowlight of the food there?

sandrac:

Marcia, I hope you are able to get to Istanbul! I have to find someplace to get my old snapshots scanned, so I could post some personal photos.

Annie, I had to laugh -- guidebooks talked a lot about how many restaurants and snack bars in Istanbul would serve milk puddings. Apparently, it's a centuries old tradition. These desserts seemed to be everywhere, so I had to try a few because they just seemed so incongruous! In fact, the taste was kind of bland.

But, oh -- Istanbul was really fascinating. And so many connections with Venice, across history.

I was allowed inside the Blue Mosque, after removing shoes and covering my head. It was very beautiful inside, with stunning tiles and mosaics. But also very open and simple-- obviously, none of the statues or pews, tables, candles or things we associate with Christian churches.

I think you'd love it.

Kim:

After reading The Historian, and then a few trip reports, and now this, it's so moving up my list!

I am a little behind on your blog but I promise to catch up after the weekend! (Am going out of town.) Have a great weekend!

sandrac:

Kim, The Historian looks like a real page-turner. I hadn't heard of it before (and just now googled it) -- thanks for the tip.

Have a great weekend, Chiocciola!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, wow I really enjoyed reading about your trip to Istanbul and central Turkey. The Blue Mosque would be so interesting to see in person. So much history, I would totally love to visit there too one day soon (I hope)!

Thanks you for this wonderful read this morning Sandra. Have a great weekend!

Kim:

Sandra, definitely read it. It was the first book in a long time that had me blowing things off to sit on the couch and read. Really enjoyed it.

Amazing photos! I have heard a lot about Istanbul and central Turkey. I would love to visit the Blue Mosque. I would not be too happy being woken up at 5:30 every morning though. Interesting that this was your last trip traveling with a friend (after your friend was not such a great travel companion).

What a wonderful treat was reading about your trip to Turkey! Interesting to see the five minarets of the Blue Mosque. The architectural style is so different from the minarets we saw in Morocco. How did you arrange your visit to the mosque? I understand that non-Muslims are generally not allowed to go inside a mosque.

The prayer calls did not bother me one bit, in fact, I loved hearing them. It felt so exotic and kind of mysterious to hear the voice echo throughout the city.

sandrac:

Hi Maria, actually the Blue Mosque has six minarets -- i believe that's very unusual.

Visitors are allowed in, except during prayer times (which I think are five times a day) and we couldn't enter through the main entrance, but instead went in a side door because we were tourists and not there to pray.

I wonder if many other mosques allow visitors? You raise an interesting point!

You're right about the call to prayer being beautiful and exotic -- I shouldn't complain! I get crabby when my sleep is interrupted but that's a poor excuse.

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