Travels

1. Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace served as a residence for sultans for nearly 300 years. The Palace is actually a huge complex of several courts and living quarters within each one. In its heydey, the palace held a population of over 3,000, from servants to concubines to officials, and was the absolute last word in lavish luxury and opulence. Decorated in rich gold leaf and filled with a lush garden, treasury is filled with ornate jewellery from various empires that occupied what is now modern day Turkey as well as impressive gifts given to Sultans from foreign allies. In the harem one can see rooms that were used by the eunuch guards, and even the Sultan's own room, all built from hand-painted tiles and gold.

Home to Selim the Sot, who drowned in the bath after drinking too much champagne and brahim the Mad, who lost his reason after being locked up for four years in the infamous palace kafes (cage), the famous Topkap Palace would have to be the subject of more colourful stories than most of the world's museums put together.

The Topkapi Cistern

Across the st from the Palace. Ancient & well preserved. Torch lit cistern, which consists of several hundred pillars. Make your way to the far corner and see the two pillars supported by pillaged ancient Greek statues - giant Medusa heads to be exact.

Open: daily except Tues 9-5

Location: Topkapi Sarayi, Sultanahmet


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2. Hagia Sophia

This incredible building was the greatest church in Christendom until the fall of Constantinople, then the finest mosque in Islamdom until it was declared a museum. The fantastic dome and interior must be seen to be believed.

(church/mosque/museum) Called Hagia Sofia in Greek, Sancta Sophia in Latin and the Church of the Divine Wisdom in English, Istanbul's most famous monument has long and fascinating history. Built by Emperor Justinian, it was constructed on the site of Byzantium's acropolis, which had also been the site of two earlier Aya Sofyas. Emperor Justinian (527-65) had the Aya Sofya (known as Haghia Sofia in Greek and also called Church of the Divine Wisdom) built as part of his effort to restore the greatness of the Roman Empire. Recognised until 1453 as the greatest church in Christendom, Mehmet the Conqueror had it converted into a mosque until 1935, when Atatrk proclaimed it a museum. Emperor Justinian (527-65) had the Aya Sofya (known as Haghia Sofia in Greek and also called Church of the Divine Wisdom) built as part of his effort to restore the greatness of the Roman Empire. Recognised until 1453 as the greatest church in Christendom, Mehmet the Conqueror had it converted into a mosque until 1935, when Atatrk proclaimed it a museum. 1500 years ago, Justinian exclaimed, 'Glory to God that I have been judged worthy of such a work. Oh Solomon! I have outdone you!' Entering the building today, it is easy to excuse his self-congratulatory tone. The interior, with its magnificent domed ceiling soaring heavenward, is so sublimely beautiful that many seeing it for the first time are quite literally stunned into silence. Traditionally, every mosque had a hamam (bath) included in or around its complex of buildings. Aya Sofya was no exception and this elegant symmetrical building known as the Haseki Hrrem Hamami (Baths of Lady Hrrem), was designed by Sinan in 1556-57.

Open daily except Mon 9.30- 4:30.

Price: 15 YTL

Location: Sultanahmet Square.Tram: Sultanahmet.


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3. The Blue Mosque

The city's largest and busiest mosque was meant to surpass the Hagia Sophia, interior of blue tiles and motif of elegant domes drawing the eye skyward. Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, has six minarets and the courtyard is the biggest of all of the Ottoman mosques. The interior similarly grand: the blue tiles that give the building its unofficial name number in the tens of thousands, there are 260 windows and the prayer space is huge.

Mosque: Open daily, access restricted during prayer times, especially at midday on Fri. Museum: Tues - Sat, 9-4

Price: Mosque free, museum small fee.

Location: Hippodrome, Sultanahmet; Tram: Sultanahmet.


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4. The Hippodrome

The Hippodrome was the centre of Byzantium's life for 1000 years and of Ottoman life for another 400. The scene of countless political dramas during the long life of the city, the rival chariot teams of 'Greens' and 'Blues' had separate sectarian connections. Support for a team was akin to membership of a political party and a team victory had great effects on policy. A Byzantine emperor might lose his throne as the result of a post-match riot. The scene of many Imperial Games and counterpart to the famed Coliseum of Rome, this elegant structure still holds many carvings testifying to the grandeur and beauty of the Byzantine Empire.

Location: Atmeydani, Sultanahmet.


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5. Basilica Cistern

Byzantine relic, which once stored the drinking water of the city. The construction incorporated many leftover elements of ruined buildings, lending an eclectic, occasionally bizarre appearance. Built by Justinian in AD 532, largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul.

Takes 30mins Open daily except Mon 9- 6.

Location: Yerebatan Caddesi, Sultanahmet.


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6. Grand & Egyptian Bazaar

AKA Kapali Carsi Built in 15th century, when the smallish warehouse was turned into a teeming bazaar by a constant stream of traders, selling everything.
Daily except Sun, 8.30-7. Location: Kapali arsi, Beyazit to Eminn Harbour. Tram: Beyazit, niversite or Sirkeci stations

Egyptian Bazaar

Spices, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, lokum, jewelry. At the southern end of the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn in the Eminn district, right next to the New Mosque (Yeni Cami). Hasircilar Caddesi, the narrow bazaar street running west from the market building, is particularly colorful, with lots more shops selling spices, snacks and housewares. A few blocks westward along Hasircilar is the Rstem Pasha Mosque, one of Istanbul's finest small architectural gems. You can take my Istanbul Bazaars Walking Tour along Uzunarsi Caddesi from the Grand Bazaar downhill through the Tahtakale market district to the Rstem Pasha Mosque, and Hasircilar Caddesi, ending up at the Egyptian Bazaar.

Location: From Sultanahmet is via the Kabatas-Zeytinburnu tram along Divan Yolu to Eminn. Closed Sunday.


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7. Galata Tower

Guard tower in 1348. Best to go at sunset for an amazing view. The tower is less than 30mins walk towards the city center from Taksim

Price: under 10 USD.

Address: Buyuk Hendek Sokak, Beyoglu.

Directions: Just up hill from Galata Bridge. Just down hill from Istaklal Caddesi. The tram will take you close - Galata Bridge on the "right" side of Golden Horn.


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8. Turkish Bath

A thoroughly respectable bath house in the city's oldest hamams. There are separate sections for men and women for the enjoyment of the famed Turkish bath.

Pricing: 90 212 522 79 74.

Getting Here: Vesirhan Cad, No 8, 34440 Cemberlitas.

Seperate facilities for men and women, as is tradition for less than 6 Euro = 5!! - sauna, shower, scrub, and massage. Kocamustafapasha Cad. 441

Mike: The Kadikoy area is very nice (near Fenebache, on Asian side), and you can walk along the shoreline (you get a distant view of the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia). You can get a ferry there from Besiktas. Ortakuy is a nice area (on European side). In Topkapi palace there is a really nice restaurant in the far corner, which has a great view.

Location: starts in Taksim Square

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