Friday, November 4, 2011

Beautiful Istanbul, Turkey

This will be our first cruise on Celebrity. We’re starting in Istanbul, Turkey and visiting several cities In Turkey, Greece and Israel before heading into the Mediterranean Sea and across to Barcelona, Spain. The first leg of the cruise will end in Barcelona and the second will take us back to Fort Lauderdale with lots of sea days.

We met Jeff and Kathy on our wonderful Africa cruise, and when they emailed us with the details of this cruise, we decided to join them. It's fun to travel with people we know.

The clouds were really neat as we were flying into Istanbul.

I had hoped to get a nice shot of Istanbul from the air, but the airport is very close to the water, so that was all we saw before we landed.

Welcome to Istanbul! The area was originally known as Byzantium in 6 BC, and was renamed Constantinople in 330 AD. It was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, who occupied a small territory in the northern part of what is now Turkey, and their empire gradually expanded. The Ottoman empire was the strongest empire in history dating from 1299 AD to 1699 AD.

Today Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city with a population of 15 million, but the capital is Ankara. Istanbul is the only city in the world which is located on two continents, Asia and Europe. The Bosphorus Bridge is the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world and was completed in 1973, providing the first physical link between the two continents.

The flag of Turkey...

We stayed at the Tan Hotel right in the heart of the old city. 

The hotel was recommended by people on Cruise Critic. It had a tiny elevator which could fit three adults if you were very friendly. This was the view from our floor to the lobby below.

On our first night in the hotel, we met a group of Canadians who were traveling throughout Turkey. They kindly invited us to join them for dinner. Here is Jim, looking happy and healthy outside the hotel. The oxygen we are now using on flights has made all the difference in the world!

And our group of new acquaintances…Jim and I on the left, with Rosemary and Larry from Guelph, Ontario. On the right is Karin, who lives in Switzerland, and her mother, Adelaide from London, Ontario. Rosemary and Adelaide are cousins, so we were jumping right into a nice family unit!

The street near the restaurant was full of tiny outdoor patios, hanging lights, and cobblestoned streets. Already we were loving Istanbul.

The next morning after breakfast, we stood outside on the hotel rooftop terrace and realized what a perfect location we were in. The Blue Mosque was visible from the hotel and we took our first self-portrait.

The streets are so narrow that the cars often end up having to back up to let someone pass. The view from our hotel room provided entertainment as these cars tried to sort out the jam. Sometimes it was done without incident; at other times, with a lot of gesturing!

Cats abound in Istanbul. It’s sad, but a fact of life. This young girl was playing with Momma cat and her kittens.

We enjoyed a relaxing day walking around the area near the hotel. We had a few rain showers, but that didn’t stop anyone. We quickly discovered that Istanbul is a very clean city.


We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that Rosemary had recommended. Look at the size of the bread basket they give you. It was hollow, but still! A carb lover’s heaven!

I tried to make up for it with a veggie kebab. Beautiful presentation!


I find the call to prayer fascinating and you'll hear it five times a day. It's a bit disconcerting at 5:00 in the  morning, but you do get used to it.


That night, we joined Karin and Adelaide for dinner at a pizza place near the hotel.

The owner took quite a shine to Karin and his enthusiastic reply to anything was “very thank you!” It was pretty funny. In looking at this picture, I think he took a bit too much of a shine to Karin. No wonder we were laughing. Karin's mother was no help at all!

The next morning began our three-day tour of Istanbul that we had planned with a group from Cruise Critic. Our first stop on our walking tour of the city began in the Hippodrome, an ancient oval Roman stadium, built in 198 AD. Three obelisks formed the centre piece of the Hippodrome, and numerous chariot races took place there. The races were known to have political and military implications, and this was the centre of the Byzantium era for over 1000 years. This is what the obelisks looked like originally.

And this is what is left today. There is very little of the three serpentines remaining.

This obelisk was built in 1500 BC in Luxor, Egypt and the top 1/3 of it was brought here by the Romans. Can you imagine how tall it was!

The carvings on the obelisk represent the life story of the Pharaohs. It is just mind boggling that it has endured for 3500 years!

It stands on a base made in the 4th century AD showing the Emperor and his family watching various events. You can also see the original floor which was 4.5 m below the present day street.

This is what remains of a column brought from Delphi in 479 BC that originally supported three serpentine heads. One of the heads is currently in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul and another is in the British Museum. The third is either in a private collection or was destroyed.

From the Hippodrome, it was a short walk to the Blue Mosque. The mosque takes it name from the mainly blue Iznik tile work decorating its interior, and is one of the most famous religious buildings in the world. Sultan Ahmet I commissioned the mosque during a period of declining Ottoman fortunes, and it was built between 1609-1616. The splendor of the plans provoked great hostility at the time, because a mosque with six minarets was considered a sacrilegious attempt to rival the architecture of Mecca. A view of the mosque showing the interior…

And walking towards it…

The main steps…

Look at the details in the architecture. One of the many things the Turks are known for is their calligraphy, which is shown on the sign here. The Arabic language lends itself very well to the swoops and swirls of calligraphy.

Through the entrance and into the main courtyard…

One of six beautiful minarets. At one time, the muezzin would climb to the balcony five times a day to do the call to prayer. Now it is done by loudspeaker.

The lower arches are where the men wash before entering the mosque to pray.


The fountain in the courtyard is now purely ornamental as ritual ablutions are no longer carried out here.

This cat was the official greeter as we entered the mosque, and was petted by just about everyone as they went by.Well, OK...not Jim!

No cost was spared in the decoration of the mosque. It is covered with hand painted blue tiles and stained glass windows. The many chandeliers were installed in 19th century and were originally oil lamps before being converted to electricity.

The massive columns are made of Turkish marble and are called elephants feet. They are 5 m in diameter and have decorative calligraphy around them.

Thousands of blue tiles give the mosque its name. 


The tiles continue on the domes of the ceiling. The windows no longer have their original 17th century stained glass.

The mosque was amazing. And then we continued outside with our tour...

These dogs have yellow tags in their ears indicating they have been spayed or neutered. Although they are still strays, they are fed and are very friendly.


There were many vendors and corn on the cob, roasted chestnuts, bagels and pretzels were big sellers.

From the Blue Mosque, it was a short walk to our next stop, the Hagia Sophia. This was originally a basilica created from 532 to 537 AD at the command of the Emperor Justinian. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans converted the basilica into a mosque, adding minarets and covering the mosaic images on the walls. At this time, they made detailed notes of where the images where so that in 1934, when it was converted into a museum, the original mosaic images were uncovered by removing the plaster that had been placed over them.  At one time it had the largest dome in the world, and was the largest Christian church in the world until St. Peter’s Basilica was built.

This lovely fountain caught our eye as we waited for Lale, our tour guide, to get our tickets.

I was so used to hearing how the men and women were segregated for praying and just about everything else, that when I saw this sign, I thought this must be the separate entrance for girls. I hissed at Jim that he wasn't allowed in this entrance. He looked quite puzzled. No wonder...I realized it meant “entrance” in Turkish.

This minaret and the walls were not part of the original structure, but were added when it was converted to a mosque.

This is Lale, our guide, giving us our history lesson. She was fantastic, but rather like a school teacher scolding us when we didn't know the answers to her questions. One time, she said "You're not Christians!" We had to laugh.

This shows the interior after it was converted to a mosque and covered with beautiful Turkish carpets.

The interior today with parts of the mosaics uncovered. The giant roundel made of stretched camel skins says “Mohammed” in Arabic.

The cap on the column with its intricate lacework is carved from one solid piece of marble. Imagine doing that 1500 years ago!

The soaring dome ceiling and some of the mosaics that were uncovered.

The gold mihrab in a mosque indicates the direction of Mecca and the direction in which people kneel to pray. It also shows that this was added later when it was converted to a mosque; otherwise, it would have been centered under the windows, rather than being offset.

Part of the mosaic tile ceiling that was uncovered.

The mix of the two cultures showing the mosaics that have been uncovered with the Islamic writings on the roundels.

This beautiful mosaic shows the Virgin Mary holding Jesus with two great Emperors of the city. Constantine, on her right, presents her with the city of Constantinople, while Justinian offers her Hagia Sophia.

Outside Hagia Sophia, with the Blue Mosque in the background…

Our next stop on our walking tour was the Basilica Cistern. This vast underground water cistern is a beautiful piece of Byzantine engineering, and one of the most unusual tourist attractions in the city. It was built in 532 to satisfy the water demands of the Emperor’s Great Palace nearby. For a century after the conquest, the Ottomans did not know of the cistern’s existence. It was discovered after people were found to be collecting water, and even fish, by lowering buckets through holes in their basements.

Platforms have now been added to allow visitors to walk through the cistern. The roof is held up by 336 columns, each over 26 ft high. Only about 2/3 of the original structure is visible today, the rest having been bricked up in the 19th century.

When it was turned into a tourist attraction, carp fish were added to keep the water clean as they are known to be scavengers and eat the algae. As the water is stagnant, it was a good solution rather than adding chemicals to keep the water fresh.

Crappy photo (or should I say carpy!), but I was trying to capture some of the many fish...

These Medusa heads are unusual as one is on its side and the other is upside down. They are evidence of plundering from earlier monuments and were thought to keep evil spirits away.


The sign reads “This stone pillar is all that remains of a Byzantine triumphal arch from which road distances to all corners of the empire were once measured. Date IV Century AD”

And with that, it was time for lunch. By this time we were famished and needed to process all the information we had been given. It was hard to believe we did all that in one morning.

Next blog, lunch and beyond!

6 comments:

Nancy said...

Absolutely incredible photography and information. I feel like I was in Istanbul again, only now I have more information.

Mary said...

Wow...what a great blog. Felt we were back with you both touring. Can't wait for the next installment.

Yvette said...

Thank you so much for sharing. Amazing photos and loved the insert of the call to prayer.

Brian Losie said...

Great travelogue. keep 'em coming. what celebrity ship are you going on?

Brian Losie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bizim gizli mabedimiz.. said...

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