After a gorgeous but early (7.15am) breakfast (included in our 70 Euro per night rate – 10 Euro extra to securely park the ANIMAL) at the very welcoming Emerald Hotel (just off Taksim Square) we got ready to be picked up for our half day walking tour of Istanbul – Byzantine Relics with She Tours at 8.15am.
Before we were collected we dropped into a nearby store to pick up some SD cards for our cameras as we have run out (100 TL for a 32 Gig Card). Our Guide collected us and walked us to a nearby bus which took us to the old town across the river where we saw our first glimpse of the biggest Mosque in Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque overlooking the Golden Horn, a striking landmark for the city of Istanbul. A part of the mosque bears resemblance to the Byzantine basilica, especially, the Hagia Sophia (which we saw later as part of our tour). Although we did not go into this Mosque, I have read that in contrast to the imposing size, the interior of the mosque is minimalistic. The striking feature is the fineİznik tiles in the mihrab. The mosque has four monumental columns, one brought from Baalbek, one from the city of Alexandria, and two from the Byzantine palaces in İstanbul. İbrahim the Drunkard worked on stained-glass panes of the windows. The walls of the mosque are embellished with the verses from the Koran. Like the Blue Mosque, it has reserved spaces for the women in the form of galleries located over the entrance and on the sides. It is sturdy enough to have survived many earthquakes, without a single crack. We soon arrived outside the walls of the old city, where we had to change buses and Guides (according to our tour which was No 1) and we set off for the Blue Mosque. From here the rest of the tour was on foot.
At the Blue Mosque we had to line up for about 15 minutes…the guide explained that in about half an hour the line would be so long it would be several hours wait! We passed by the ablution area where they wash themselves before prayer and women had to wear a head scarf (you can wear your own or they loan you one) and those who had uncovered arms and legs had to were other clothing issued (both men and women). Vince and I were relatively prepared in that our off bike gear includes long pants and long sleeved shirts. I had not brought a head scarf so just borrowed one from the Mosque. Vince said I looked very fetching….like a professional! LOL The Blue Mosque (Called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) is an historical mosque in Istanbul. It is called the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the interior walls and was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasa and a hospice. Besides being tourist attraction, it’s also a active mosque, so it’s closed to non worshippers for a half hour or so during the five daily prayers. The best way to see great architecture of the Blue Mosque is to approach it from the Hippodrome. (West side of the mosque) If you are non-Muslim visitor, you also have to use a different entry and entrance to Muslims….their entrance is from the side and ensures that they are facing Mecca as as they enter. We then saw the Hippodrome of Constantinople (now Istanbul) and capital of the Byzantine Empire, which was the sporting arena (Greek hippos = horse) for horse and chariot racing. Today the square is called Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) with just a few parts of the original structure remaining. Emperor Constantine brought works for art from all over the empire and set them up as monuments in the middle (spina) of the Hippodrome. One was the Tripod of Pletea (Serpant Column) cast to celebrate the Greek Victory over the Persians in 5th Century BC. It was taken from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi but the golden bowl and three serpent heads went missing…one is now in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. The Obelisk of Thutmose III was cut by silk thread and 21m brought from the Temple of Karnak in Luxor Egypt to the Hippodrome (1489 BC) and has survived 3500 years in excellent condition. The third is the Walled Obelisk which was built in the 10th Century BC by Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus and was covered in golden bronze plaques but in the Crusades these were stolen. Only the core remains now.
We walked passed the water fountain that was a gift from Austria (Germany) and our Guide explained the reasons that the Turks sided with the Germans during the first World War.
We then arrived at the Hagia Sophia (meaning holy wisdom). It was originally a Church, then became a Mosque and is now a Museum (opened 1 Feb 1935). Famous in particular for its massive dome it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. Hagia Sophia is the second-most visited museum in Turkey, attracting almost 3.3 million visitors annually.From its initial conversion until the construction of the nearby larger Sultan Ahmed Mosque(Blue Mosque of Istanbul) in 1616, it was the principal mosque of Istanbul.
From here we walked 500m down to the Grand Bazzar…it is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is listed No.1 among world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors. We could have gone back on the bus to be dropped off at the hotel, but we opted to just do our own thing. We spent about 2 hours looking around and I bought a pair of silver studs, a cotton top, a Hajib that is easy to put on (no pins required) and some Turkish sweets. We stopped for lunch at a stall and got ripped off with a huge “Service Charge” for a couple of Kebabs, a coke and a juice….60 TL ….when Vince questioned it the waiter showed him the menu with fine print….I through Vince was ready to smack him out……another 3 Aussies were about to sit down, but we put them straight as to what had just happened and they got up and walked out with us! Vote with your feet guys!
On the way to the Bazzar we passed a Pandora shop and we bought a little silver teapot charm (in Aust it would be around $30) they charged us 139 TL (A$68) more than double the RRP….absolute robbery!!!!! They must think tourists are dumb! We won’t forget Istanbul in a hurry and we certainly won’t hurry to come back!
We had a bit of an adventure on public transport to get home…..catching the tram for 4TL each to Kapatas and then the funicular (another 4 TL each) up the steep hill to Taksim Square. From there just a short walk to our hotel. Later we went to the Currency Exchange and got some of the notes we no longer need, Kunu, Lek and UAE money, converted into Turkish Lera. We then found a restaurant and had dinner….a cheese platter and pizza with a couple of beers for Vince and scotch and coke for me….this cost 137 TL …..puts my teapot charm into context doesn’t it!!!!!