Photo. The Blue Mosque turned to red in Istanbul. Travel Explorations.
About a third of Istanbul population inhabits the Asian side while most of the historical marvels and landmarks lie on the European side, including the Hagia Sophia, a church turned mosque turned museum. My first impression was that Istanbul was a complete chaos. So much sound, people all over, sounds, cars and especially motorbikes in hight speed all over. I am now thinking it`s the perfect chaos. In one or another way most things worked out so smoothly. The city is one of the most over-crowded cities in the world, with a population of approximately 15 million and rising. The city sprawls over 2,063 square miles, spanning the Bosphorus Strait that separates East and West, forming the largest urban agglomeration in Europe and the Middle East. As far I know Istanbul is the most inhabited city in Europe after Moscow. Anyway, based on my experience, it was a charming, exotic and friendly place I never will forget. Nice people and excellent service. I still miss the fantastic food.
Overall, in the city I could observe architectural wonders. From the top of my hotel in the old town I got a good overview. Here I got breathtaking views of the Sea of Marmara and historical wonders. My first exploration was the Hagia Sophia, an UNESCO World Heritage site. It‘s an architectural marvel that has stood the test of time. Originally built as a cathedral by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD, it was later converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in 1453 and then in 1935, it became a museum. The building’s massive dome, intricate mosaics, and stunning calligraphy was far more than I ever could dreamed about.
My next exploration was the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, also known by its official name, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The mixture of two styles – Byzantine Christian and traditional Islamic architectural elements, makes the huge building a historical wonder of the world. Constructed between 1609 and 1616, it is renowned for its six minarets and breathtaking blue Iznik tiles. The mosque is still an active place of worship. So, when we entered, we were properly dressed and removed your shoes. The mosque was full of amazing decorations inside and we could really feel the unique atmosphere. In the evenings I could observe from the top of my hotel in the old town that this mosque turned to red.
The day after I visited the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul: here I could admire beautiful paintings, prized ornaments, green courtyards, and with a lavish harem. The harem was the ultimate symbol of the sultan’s power. His ownership of women, mostly slaves, was a sign of wealth and power.
I also almost got lost in the mythical corner of Istanbul. Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets - an ancient labyrinth, a shopping paradise and an incredible busy. The Grand Bazaar is in fact a separate world within Istanbul. It is an active, crowded, inviting, and indispensable part of Istanbul. Here dived into a colourful, traditional shopping style of Ottoman culture. Hard on bargaining. Got offers from antique dealers, jewellers, bag makers, leather shops, carpet sellers and even more. This bazaar is one of the world’s most famous shopping destinations and, at 30,700 square meters, the world’s biggest enclosed bazaar. Once inside, the Bazaar’s 64 streets and smaller alleyways house roughly 4,000 stores and the mosque, post office, cafes, banks, and police station, making it a little central city. Thanks to the GPS-navigation on my phone during my first visit here, I found my way out again.
Gedikpasa Bath is an old hamam in Istanbul. Here I felt like a Sultan experiencing traditional rituals. It was good to relax and being revitalized. Gedikpaşa Bath was built by Gedik Ahmet Pasha in 1475 by the most famous architects of the Ottoman period, Hayrettin the Architect. It is located near the old city centre Sultanahmet, only 250 metres away from the Grand Bazaar.
On my way around in Istanbul I observed so many cats. They are like holy animals in the city. Hundreds of thousands of cats roam freely, and for thousands of years they have entered and exited people's lives. As I could understand the cats have a very special role as guardians of souls and bearers of good luck for the inhabitants.
Islam praying, especially in the evening in Istanbul, was an extraordinary adventure. According to the tradition, the imam climbs to the top of a minaret to call the faithful to prayer. From several corner of the city, I heard the call to prayer amplified by loudspeakers. Five times a day throughout the streets of Istanbul I heard the dramatic call to prayer, also known as ezan. The singing from every angel in the city created a chaotic concert. I wonder who had the tallest voice? I also experienced Istanbul’s call to prayer from inside the Blue Mosque. It was really loud, and when people heard the sound, they rushed the mosques, fell down on their knees for a short while, praying and returned to back to their business.
Istanbul is full of highlights and fairytale adventures. Take your time and soak up the unique atmosphere. Enjoy the friendliness of the inhabiation and enjoy top service.
Stein Morten Lund, 27th May 2023
Istanbul, Turkish İstanbul, formerly Constantinople, ancient Byzantium, largest city and principal seaport of Turkey. It was the capital of both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire.