Port of call – Istanbul

Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City83This is the city from which we started and ended our Black Sea & Aegean Sea cruise.  We Oct 02 - Taksim Sq09arrived from Toronto a few days early so we would have plenty of time to explore this interesting city which straddles two continents.  The city is divided by the Bosphorus Strait which puts Asia on the east side and Europe on the west.  The strait flows from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, and can lead through the Dardanelles to the Aegean Sea and eventually to the Mediterranean Sea.  Our hotel was in the Oct 01 - Istanbul Old City08Old City on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait.  From here you can walk to such tourist venues as the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Park, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian or Spice Market and many more attractions.

Oct 02 - on the street by the hotel04Oct 01 - on the street by the hotel13Oct 01 - Bosphorus cruise26Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City118Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City108

Sept 29 - Istanbul Old City18The drive from the Ataturk International Airport takes about an hour but probably doesn’t cover that much distance.  Inside the old city, the streets are cobblestone, narrow and winding.  Suddenly our driver pulled the van over, and without saying anythingOct 02 - Taksim Sq07 disappeared down an alleyway.  He returned about 15 minutes later with a porter who then took our bags and led us through an even narrower street lined with restaurants and shops to our hotel.

Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City104Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City101Oct 01 - on the street by the hotel17Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City74Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City105Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City44Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City41

Oct 02 - Istanbul02Despite the city being old, the transit system is modern and efficient with its tracks embedded in the cobblestone and powered by the overhead electric wires.  On one excursion Oct 01 - on the street by the hotel07we took the train to the area of the Dolmabahce Palace.  Built between 1843 and 1856 this palace has the largest ballroom in the world and is still intact with all its inner decoration, furniture, silk carpets and curtains.

Oct 02 - Dolmabahce Palace16Oct 02 - Dolmabahce Palace11Oct 01 - Bosphorus cruise03Oct 01 - Bosphorus cruise38Oct 01 - Bosphorus cruise21Oct 01 - Bosphorus cruise13Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City90Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City60Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City35Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City30Sept 30 - restaurant4lowres

Oct 01 - Beyoglu Area24A short walk from the palace is where we took the funicular up cliffside to Taksim Square, a commercial area of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants.  The cobble stone continues from the square down a wide lane packed shoulder to shoulder with shoppers, vendors and tourists.  You could easily be mistaken in thinking this was aOct 01 - Beyoglu Area01 pedestrian walkway, until the toot of a horn warns you of an oncoming vehicle, usually motorbikes or commercial trucks taking wares to the various shops.  Just before you head downhill back to the Golden Horn (a flooded river valley), stands the Galata Tower which provides exceptional views of the waterfront and city below.

Oct 01 - St Anthony of Padua Church01Oct 01 - St Anthony of Padua Church10Oct 02 - Istanbul06

Oct 01 - Galata Tower1Oct 01 - Galata Bridge11Oct 01 - St Anthony of Padua Church06Oct 01 - Galata Bridge09Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City30Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City37Oct 01 - Galata Bridge08

Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City138The heart of Old Istanbul is Sultanahmet which borders Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque.  Hagia Sophia is one of the most amazing religious monuments built in 537 AD during the Byzantine era that still survives.  In his novel Inferno, Dan Brown describes the Hagia Sophia; “Not so much a building…as a Oct 01 - Aya Sophia28mountain.”  …”the colossal silhouette of Hagia Sophia appeared to be a city unto itself.  It’s central dome – impossibly broad and ribbed in silver fray – seemed to rest upon a conglomeration of other domed buildings that had been piled up around it.  Four towering Oct 01 - Aya Sophia45minarets – each with a single balcony and a silver-gray spire – rose from the corners of the building, so far from the central dome that one could barely determine that they were part of a single structure.”  He continues, “For nearly a thousand years, it had been the largest church in the world, and even now it was hard to imagine anything larger.”  “The emperor Justinian, upon the completion of HagiaOct 01 - Aya Sophia08 Sophia, had stepped back and proudly proclaimed, “Soloman, I have outdone thee!”  “The walkways were lined with the ancient cannonballs used by the forces of Mehmet the Conquerer – a decorative reminder that the history of this building had been filled with violence as it was conquered and then re-tasked to serve the spirtual needs of assorted victoris powers.”

Oct 01 - Aga Sophia38

“The mosaic was a ninth-century image of the Pantocrator Christ – iconic image of Christ holding the New Testament in his left hand while making a blessing with his right.”Sept 29 - Aya Sophia1

“The building is seven hundred years older than Notre-Dame.”

Oct 01 - Aya Sophia47

…”more than a hundred and fifty feet overhead, to the the sprawling golden dome that crowned the room.  From it’s central point, forty ribs radiated outward like rays of the sun extending to a circular arcade of forty arched windows.  During the daylight hours, the light that streamed through these windows reflected and re-reflected off glass shards embedded in the golden tile work, creating the “mystical light” for which Hagia Sophia was most famous.”

Oct 01 - Aya Sophia40Oct 01 - Aga Sophia35Oct 01 - Aya Sophia19Oct 01 - Blue Mosque18 Oct 01 - Blue Mosque19 Oct 01 - Aya Sophia29Sept 29 - Blue Mosque06

Across the square and facing Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque, built between 1609 and Oct 01 - Blue Mosque061616.  Again in Inferno, Dan Brown talks of the building’s “six fluted, pencil-shaped minarets, which had multiple serefe balconies and the exotic, fairy-tale quality of the Blue Mosque’s balconied minarets had inspired the design for Cinderella’s iconic castle at Disney World.  The Blue Mosque drew its name from the dazzling sea of blue tiles that adorned the interior walls.”

Oct 01 - Egyptian (Spice) Market04The Grand Bazaar is also nearby as is the Egyptian or Spice Market.  Both worthy of a walk through although it was not a short walk and crowded at the best of times.


Oct 01 - Egyptian (Spice) Market08Oct 01 - Egyptian (Spice) Market05Oct 01 - Beyoglu Area17

Oct 01 - Egyptian (Spice) Market01Oct 01 - Beyoglu Area06Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City136Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City102Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City86Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City76

Sept 30 - Basilica Cistern02

Also off of Sultaahmet Park is the Basilica Cistern which Sept 30 - Basilica Cistern01was begun by Constantine and then expanded by Justinian in 532 AD for storing the imperial water supply.  Again in Dan Brown’s Inferno it is described.  “The cistern is enormous.”  …”a cathedral-size subterranean room – nearly two football fields in length with a ceiling spanning more than a hundred thousand square feet and supported by a forest of 336 marble columns.”  “Rising out of the water, meticulously Sept 29 - Basilica Cistern01arranged in seemingly endless rows, were hundreds upon hundreds of thick Doric columns, each climbing thirty feet to support the cavern’s vaulted ceiling.  The columns were lit from below by a series of individual red spotlights, creating a surreal forest of illuminated trunks that telescoped off into the darkness like some kind of mirrored illusion.”

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Istanbul is a city of diversity in religion, architecture, history, people, and even geography with part of the city being European and part Asian.  Two long bridges cross the Bosphorus Strait to connect the two continents.

Oct 02 - Taksim Sq04Oct 01 - Beyoglu Area04  Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City113 Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City121 Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City111Sept 30 - Istanbul Old City125

Note:  Text in quotation marks describing Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern, are from the novel, Inferno by Dan Brown.  Doubleday Press, 2013. 


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