Istanbul, Turkey is the only city in the world to be located on two continents. The beautiful city is rich in history, culture, arts, and names. Originally known as the Greek city of Byzantium, it was re-founded by Roman Emperor Constantine and the name changed to Constantinople. Upon the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the name Istanbul became formally used to refer to the city. Translated, Istanbul means “in the city” and what a city it is.
The city is home to over 13.5 million people making it the second most populous city in the world. The Turkish people are very proud of their religion, culture, and country. As the city sits on a important trade route, merchants have always been a vital part of the history in Istanbul. Today that spirit lives on in the people who always looking to sell all kinds of unique arts and handmade products. And of course the most sought after item is the handmade Turkish carpets!
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque sits on a hill overlooking the city and from this position the minarets are seen from much of the city. A call to prayer is sounded five times a day and practicing Muslims come here to show their devotion to Allah. The mosque is often referred to by another name, the Blue Mosque, because of its magnificent blue tiles which line the interior of the mosque. Inside the Blue Mosque I had a beautiful and peaceful experience.
The Byzantine style of architecture is much different than the places of worship in Western Europe. The large domes and minarets provide a completely different experience. As in any mosque, upon entering the Blue Mosque you are required remove your shoes. Ablutions is the process of washing ones feet, hands and head before prayer. In the courtyard a row of fountains are available for the worshipers to use before entering the Blue Mosque.
While the exterior is quite impressive, it is the interior of this mosque that cannot be missed. Everywhere you turn is the fabulous tilework in blues and golds. The beautiful pattern work and the inscriptions are truly inspiring.
Hagia Sophia, or Saint Sophia, has a history nearly as long and tumultuous as the city. The current structure was built in 523 AD as an Eastern Orthodox church. Several earthquakes and fires have caused significant damage over the years including dome collapses. When the Ottomans captured the city, they converted the church into a mosque. It remained a mosque until 1935 when the Turkish government converted the building into a museum.
If you are in Istanbul it is necessary to experience Turkish carpet making. I was mesmerized by watching how quickly the Turkish women weave the fabric. With a simple design to use as a guide she quickly and skillfully matched it perfectly. Everywhere you look there are these completed works of art.
The Grand Bazaar is another highlight of any trip to Istanbul. Originally constructed to house the textile traders, the Bazaar quickly grew. Now over 60 streets are covered which consists of over 3,000 shops. Everyday over a quarter-million people visit the Bazaar to purchase everything from textiles, to spices, to jewelery and to clothes.
The Topkapı Palace was the home to the Sultan’s for over 400 years. The place is definitely fit for a Sultan, with multiple courtyards, baths, halls and even a mint. The power and money that the Sultans possessed can been seen at every corner of the palace. Again detailed tilework covers the interior walls of the palace.