Sultanahmet is the heart of Old Istanbul on the site of the old Byzantine settlement and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has many of the city's most famous sites, including Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.
Aya Sofya was originally built as a church by the Byzantines and was later converted by the Ottomans into a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul. Now it is a museum. The dome took over 1000 years to build. The dome was ruined many times due to earthquakes and fires. The current building was built between 532 and 537 after the first two churches were destroyed.
One of the minarets was built from red brick while the other three were built from white marble. They are build with different masses to counterweight the building. They say this is one of the earliest seismic engineering efforts in the world.When the church was converted into a mosque, most of the mosaics were cemented over due to Islam's ban on representational imagery. The Deesis Mosaic is from 1261 and was commissioned to mark the end of 57 years of Roman Catholic use and the return to the Orthodox faith. Christ is in the center with the Virgin Mary on the left and John the Baptist on the right begging Christ for humanity on Judgement Day.The Empress Zoe Mosaic is from the 11th century with Christ is in the custom blue Byzantine robe and Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe on each side of him. They are holding a purse and scrolls as symbols of donations they made to the church. Previous heads were scraped off and replaced by the present ones. It is thought so because perhaps the earlier mosaic showed one of Zoe's first two husbands or her adopted son or that the heads were of a previous emperor and empress.The Mosaics of the Comnenos date from 1122. Emperor John II Komnenos is on the left and Empress Eirene is on the right with blond hair, rosy cheeks and gray eyes depicting her Hungarian descent.The biggest scaffolding I have ever seen.The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 and is nicknamed after the blue tiles inside. Sultan Ahmed I set out to build the mosque that would rival and surpass Aya Sofya. The interior is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles in more than 50 different tulip designs. There are also more than 200 stained glass windows. They say that ostrich eggs are on the chandeliers which are meant to avoid cobwebs by repelling spiders. I don't know why this would work but they also do it in Romania.The Blue Mosque is one of two in Turkey to have six minarets.The Hippodrome is in front of the Blue Mosque. It is the place where chariot races took place and was the center of Byzantium's life for over 1000 years and of Ottoman life for another 400 years. It is the site where countless political and military dramas were carried out and where in 1909 riots caused the downfall of Abdul Hamit II and the rewriting of the Ottoman Constitution. The Obelisk of Theodosis was carved out of granite in Egypt around 1500 BC. Topkapi Palace was the residence of Ottoman sultans for almost four centuries. The palace was built in 1453 and a long line of sultans lived here until the 19th century when Mahmut II was the last sultan to occupy the palace. His successors preferred to live in European style palaces such as Dolmabahce which they built on the banks of the Bosphorus. The Harem was closed when we were there which was annoying because they didn't tell us that when we waited in line for hours to buy tickets.
The Great Imperial GateCircumcision Room where the sultans' sons would rest after their painful rite of passage to manhood. It was the best room.The Palace KitchensThe kitchens were full of only some of the 12,000 pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain.The Imperial Treasury houses gold, silver and crazy huge jewels. There was an uncut emerald weighing over 3 kg. Photos were absolutely not allowed. The Spoonmaker's Diamond is an 86 carat rock that was found in a garbage dump and bought by a street person for three spoons. Then he sold it to a jeweler who realized it was real and the world's fifth largest. When Sultan Mehmet II heard, he demanded it be given to him and made into a turban pin.Beautiful TilesView from the PalaceThis building was outside the exit of the palace.The Basilica Cistern was part of an ancient aqueduct. It was built in 532 and is an enormous water storage tank constructed by Emperor Justinian. It is 70 meters wide and 140 meters long and its roof is supported by 336 columns.Columns from ruined buildings were reused in the construction. Water was pumped from a reservoir near the Black Sea and delivered to the cistern through nearly 20 kilometers of aqueducts. It could store over 21 million gallons of water which was enough to support part of the city during sieges. It gradually became a dumping ground for corpses. Now it is full of huge coy fish.There are Medusa heads supporting two of the columns. One head is on its side and the other is upside down and people can only speculate why they are turned the way they are.Tomb of Sultan II Bayezid who was the eigth Ottoman Sultan.The tomb was so beautiful, had 15 windows and the name of Allah written all around the dome.The Grand Bazaar is a labyrinth medieval shopping mall with about 4500 shops together with mosques, banks, police stations, restaurants and workshops. I hate feeling so hassled in places like this but it is a spectacular place although a complete tourist trap. It was a winding maze of colorful shops.The Cevahir Bedesteni or jewlery warehouse is the original core of the bazaar dating from the 15th century.SpicesTurkish Delight or Rahat in Romanian which also means shit.A juice seller. He carried the metal pot on his back and bends over to pour sour cherry juice into a small cup. It was yummy!Kitties Kitties Everywhere!The Turkish were surprisingly nice to the millions of adorable cats. A delightful surprise after witnessing the horrible way the Romanians treat them.Would you like some vintage postcards or a cat?Perhaps vintage books and a kitty.Maybe recordsCemeteriesThe Nuruosmaniye Camii (camii means mosque) was built by Mahmut I and his successor Osman III between 1748-55. The name means The Light of Osman.Taksim Square is where we stayed because it was near the eye clinic. It was very nice and right next to a main bus station. The Republic Monument was created by an Italian sculptor and finished in 1928. The two main sculptures show Ataturk as the leader during the War of Independence and as founder of the Turkish Republic.Istiklal Caddesi (Beyoglu Street) is a pedestrian road that stretches 2.5 km from Taksim Square to Tunel Square. It is full of shops, tea houses and hookah lounges. There were so many people walking through here on a daily basis that it was hard to move.Every side street led to an amazing adventure.Sweet ShopAn old fashioned tram runs the length of the street and travels to Tunel, the second oldest subway line in the world after London.I loved these lamps. They were so pretty but way overpriced.Dolmabahce Palace is right on the water front and was built between 1843-56 as a home for some of the last Ottoman sultans. Ataturk died here in 1938 and all of the clocks are stopped at 9:05am at the time of his death. The name means The Filled Garden.The Gate of SultanThe palace stretches for 600 meters along the Bosphorus shore. The land under the church was built up over the water by filling in the sea. It is said that 14 tons of gold and 40 tons of silver were used for the decoration.The ornate four story clock tower was built between 1809 and 1894.Eminonu is the area right by the Galata Bridge at the point where the Golden Horn runs into the Bosphorus. The Yeni Cami (New Mosque) is actually 400 years old. It is also called the Pigeon Mosque because they are everywhere! You can buy bird food from the street sellers all around the square. The Spice Bazaar entrance was also right next to the Mosque. There was a fast food stand at the entrance with the yummiest sandwich rolls! I thought it was the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul. It was amazing and bright.The Golden Horn and Bosphorus were FULL of jelly fish. There were millions around the boats next to the New Mosque below, where they were making fish sandwiches. They were very tasty but full of bones. Cristian can eat fish like that with no problem but I have to take every single bone out. His mom laughs at me because it takes me an hour to eat a piece of fish when they are done in 10 minutes. I don't know how they can actually stand still to make the fish because the boats were rocking back and forth violently.The Bosphorus Strait, between the Black and Maramara Seas, divides Europe from Asia. On the shore of European Istanbul, it is further divided by the Golden Horn River into Old Istanbul in the south and Beyoglu in the north. We took the TurYol boat cruise three times because it was inexpensive and had awesome views. We even saw a pod of dolphins going from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. That was amazing!!Beylerbeyi Palace on the Asian sideThere were huge mansions all along the straitSome not yet redoneBefore the Bosphorus Bridge was constructed in 1973, the only way to travel between the European and Asian parts of the city was by boat.Rumeli Hisari Fortress was built in 1452 in only four months by Mehmet for the planned siege of Byzantine Constantinople.Ciragan Palace from 1861. The original palace burnt down and was rebuilt into a luxury hotel.Buyuk Mecidiye Camii - from 1854We took a day trip to the less exciting Asian side to Uskudar. Hairy ArmsKiz Kulesi - Maiden's Tower - In ancient times, the tower was a toll booth where they would close off the Bosphorus with a chain between sides. The legend of the tower is that a maiden would die by a snake bite so her concerned father put her in the tower but a fruit seller came to the island and sold her a basket of fruit with a snake in it and she died.Bunny Fortune TellersRoasted Chestnuts. So good!Bread PastryFish SandwichesGalata Tower is neighborhood Beyoglu's oldest landmark. It was first built as the Tower of Christ in 1348. In the 17th century, a bird man flew from the top to the Asian side. Then it was a prison, observatory and fire lookout before it caught fire itself in 1835.In 1967 it was restored. It had the best views of the city at 66 meters tall and on a hill. View of Galata BridgeView of the Golden Horn and Topkapi PalaceTrain StationCharcoal for the hookahTiny old lady recyclingWe stumbled upon a music video. The girls were jumping all over the old cars with high heels. Grandpa would have had a heart attack to witness this!Fishing on the Galata Bridge. Under the bridge, there are dozens of terraces with hookahs and food. It was really nice and breezy.The fish market was right near the bridge. Cats were everywhere sneaking off with the fish. More cats sleeping in a fishing net.We ate lunch next to the fish market and the fish was really good. They grilled it.Miniaturk - We saw every important Turkish monument here in one day! Everything was mini and cute. There were 105 models done in 1/25th scale. There were lizards everywhere!! They were all over the buildings, going in and out of the windows and climbing on the mini people. It was really funny.Aspendos TheaterDivrigi Great MosqueBasilica CisternEgyptian Obelisk and Blue MosqueBlue MosqueAya SofyaMount Nemrut RuinsMardinSumela MonasteryTemple of Artemis