Posted on Sep 19, 2013 in Gems of Turkey and Greece, Instanbul

Istanbul

 

Arrival
We started out in the marvelous city of Istanbul, rich in history and architecture. We arrived at our hotel in the early evening. After a nice dinner of kofta and kabobs, we settled in for a good night’s sleep. We were awakened by the call to prayer from the mosque next to our hotel early in the morning. We were excited by the reminder that we were immersed in our new culture. After a large breakfast overlooking the Blue Mosque from the roof of our hotel, we headed out to explore the city. Istanbul was called Byzantium and then Constantinople. It was an important seaport. First ruled by the Romans, it later became the capital of the Roman Empire.  The city was then captured by the Turks during the Roman Empire and renamed Istanbul.  Sultan Mehmet Square is where all the top highlights of the city are.

The Blue Mosque
Our first stop was the Blue Mosque, also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque. This stunning mosque features six minarets and eight secondary domes. It incorporates Islamic architecture along with Byzantine elements.  The interior of the mosque is lined with 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles.

 

Istanbul Mosque

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

 

Blue Mosque 3

 

 

 

To enter the mosque, visitors are asked to cover their head and clothing with scarves and robes that are provided at the entrance.

 

 

Hagia Sophia Museum (Holy Wisdom)
Hagia Sophia 2 Hagia Sophia 1A few feet from the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia, a museum rich with architectural beauty and embellished with gold detailing and marble. It stands as a monument for both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It was once a church, later a mosque, and is now a museum.

 

 

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

 

The Spoonmaker’s Diamond
The fourth-largest diamond in the world, at 86 carats, is found in Topkapi Place. Legend has it that a poor fisherman in Istanbul found the shiny stone among the litter, carried it in his pocket, and showed it to a jeweler. The jeweler convinced him it was a piece of glass and gave him three spoons for it. Later, its value was discovered, and it was sold to a dealer and eventually went to the Sultan.

 

Cistern Basilica in Yerebatan, Turkey
Beneath Istanbul lie hundreds of Byzantine cisterns. The largest is the Basilica Cistern. Also known as the sunken palace, it holds 671,000 barrels of water and has 336 marble columns, adorned with upside-down Medusa heads. The Basilica was featured in the James Bond movie “From Russia with Love,” in which Mr. Bond could be seen rowing a small boat. The main purpose of the cistern is to store water for the various palaces in Istanbul.

 

Hammams (Turkish Baths)
One of the highlights of Istanbul is visiting a Turkish Bath, also known as a Hammam—an experience you won’t want to miss. Wearing a bathing suit you are provided with, you are escorted into a sauna like room with a cement circle to lie on along with 10 other tourists. You lie down, relax, and wait your turn to be scrubbed and exfoliated. Looking above you, you see a dome shaped with star and moon designs. A Turkish woman approaches you and begins scrubbing you with a dry loofah, then flips you over and exfoliates you from head to toe. Then, without any advance notice, she pours a huge bubbly cloud of soap over you and scrubs your body. She then lifts you into a seated position and splashes you with force with water, before washing your hair. Finally she leads you to a Jacuzzi to relax before you head into the resting room, where you can have coffee or tea and a snack.

 

Bazaars
Not to be missed is the night bazaar, which is also in the vicinity of all the attractions. Here you can purchase anything from souvenirs of the Blue Mosque to Turkish delights.

We bid farewell to Istanbul with a rewarding view of the Blue Mosque at sunset as our ship sailed away.

 

Mosque at Sunset

 

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