Tibby and spent three days in Istanbul in September 2023 before visiting our friend, Annie Cumming, in Yalikavak, Turkey
We had flown in from London, the day before, on Saturday 9th September and were staying at The Wings Hotel in the Karakoy area of Istanbul, near the Galata Tower and Galata Bridge.
Arda Dincol met us at our hotel, showed us how to buy a transit pass and travelled with us on the tram to the area of the Blue Mosque.
We visited the Blue Mosque, also known by its official name, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It was completed just over 400 years ago and has a capacity of 10,000 worshippers. Over 21,000 tiles, featuring over fifty different designs, are found inside the mosque. The predominant tile colour is blue which is the reason for its unofficial name.
We then walked down to the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. The last of three church buildings to be successively erected on the site by the Eastern Roman Empire, it was completed in 537 AD. It was an Eastern Orthodox church until the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, then a mosque until 1935, then a museum and then from 2020 a mosque again. Many Christian mosaics and engravings can be found in the mosque.
It was then an easy walk to Topkapi Palace. From the 1460s for four hundred years, Topkapı Palace served as the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire, and was the main residence of its sultans. The complex expanded over the centuries, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and the 1665 fire. Female members of the Sultan’s family lived in the harem, and leading state officials, including the Grand Vizier, held meetings in the Imperial Council building.
The palace is an extensive complex rather than a single monolithic structure, with an assortment of low buildings constructed around courtyards, interconnected with galleries and passages. Few of the buildings exceed two stories. Seen from above, the palace grounds are divided into four main courtyards and the harem. When it was lived in the first courtyard was the most accessible, while the fourth courtyard and the harem were the most inaccessible. Access to these courtyards was restricted by high walls and controlled with gates.
We visited the extensive kitchens, the Imperial Council Chamber, the Audience Chamber, the extensive Harem, which includes the Hall of the Ablution Fountain, the Courtyard of the Eunuchs, the Courtyard of the Sultan’s Consorts and the Concubines, the Apartments of the Queen Mother, the Baths of the Sultan and the Queen Mother, the Imperial Hall and the Courtyard of the Favourites.
We spent a lot of our time in the Conqueror’s Pavilion which contains the Imperial Treasury which is a vast collection of artworks, jewellery, heirlooms and money belonging to the Ottoman dynasty. Highlights include the Topkapı Dagger and the Spoonmaker’s Diamond.
We ended our visit with a visit to the terrace with wonderful views over the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus.
After lunch we moved on to the the Basilica Cistern. The Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. The cistern is located near Topkapi Palace and was built in the 6th century. The cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill, including, in later years, Topkapı Palace.
This cathedral-sized cistern is an underground chamber approximately 138 metres by 65 metres by 9 metres high – capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres of water. The ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 5 metres apart. One of the columns is carved with raised pictures of a Hen’s Eye, slanted branches and tears. Ancient texts suggest that the tears on the column pay tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the Basilica Cistern. The bases of two columns In the northwest corner of the cistern reuse blocks carved with the face of Medusa.
The Cistern’s water came from a forest, 19 kilometres north of the city. It travelled via the 971-metre-long Valens Aqueduct, and the 115-metre-long Mağlova Aqueduct.
The existence of the cistern was forgotten by all but the locals who still drew water from it. It has recently been restored and opened to the public. The water is now only about 30cm deep. Artworks have been positioned between pillars.
This was a wonderful reminder of the wonders of Istanbul.
We finished off the day by going to the rooftop bar of the Peninsula Hotel and drank margaritas while looking over the Bosphorus.
We had a slow start this morning but then caught the tram to the top of the Grand Bazaar. Tibby had first visited the Bazaar in 1974 and we had since visited it in 1979 and 2011. We wandered up and down the alleys enjoying the assortment of wares for sale.
We made our way to the carpet shop, Galeri Sirvan and its owner, Erol Kazanci. Our friend Annie was travelling with us from London to Kathmandu in 1979 and took a photo of Erol in his shop. In 1986 she visited another companion on that trip, Chris, and his wife Marion, who had been living there for a few years. They had a dinner with Annie and Erol at which point Annie realised that they had met before in 1979.
Annie has lived in Turkey since that time and she and Erol are good friends. Erol served us tea and told us about his life. He has sold carpets all his adult life and used to visit the ‘stans’ to find old carpets. He no longer travels to those countries because he says all the old carpets have been bought. His main source of old carpets these days is previous clients who return to him when they want to sell. His wife and sister joined us.
They were all impressed at how attractive Annie, Chris and I were in 1979 when I showed them a photo. What lovely people.
We walked out of the Grand Bazaar and on to the Spice Market to be assailed by wonderful colours and tastes.
We crossed the Galata Bridge and remember buying friend fish from a boat in 1979. Now there are many fish restaurants on the water’s edge, under the bridge.
We walked up the hill to the Galata Tower and marvelled at the views of Istanbul from the viewing deck.
Instead of walking up the Galata Hill, we found and used the funicular.
We visited the Museum of Turkish Jews. Although Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, its situation at the crossroads of cultures means it has a particularly cosmopolitan past. There have been Jewish communities of varying sizes in Turkey since at least the 5th century BC. However, the numbers significantly increased following the expulsion of over 100,000 Sephardic Jews from Spain, Portugal, South Italy, and Sicily in 1492 (as part of the Spanish Inquisition). The reigning Ottoman Sultan, Beyazit II, extended an open invitation to all those expelled, and many took up home in Istanbul. Turkey was once home to as many 500,000 Jews, but, for a number of reasons, numbers of the Istanbul Jewish community have since dwindled to around 17,000. The museum does a good job of explaining the history of Jews in Turkey. The museum is in the same building as the attractive orthodox Neve Shalom Synagogue.
In the afternoon I caught the 35 minute ferry from Eminonu to Ortakoy. Using my transit card the journey cost me 13 lira or about 35 British pence. I enjoyed seeing the impressive skyline from the water. I also saw the cruise liner, Azamara Quest, which we have cruised on before.
The next day we flew to Bodrum to stay with Annie in Yalikavak.
We loved being with Annie in the beautiful stone house that she has built. We met her cousin, Ian, and his wife Helen who were visiting her as well. We met several of Annie’s friend and enjoyed the Lionfish Festival at Xuma Restaurant.
Grapes have been grown for wine around the Mediterranean for millennia. At Karnas Winery, near Bodrum in Turkey, the Zinfandel and Syrah vineyards have only been in place for a decade, but this is their natural home. Annie took us to the winery. A happy tasting was complemented by lovely meze. A few bottles made it home to London.Back to the Travels index