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Note: The photos in the posts below are mine. Every day when I get back from touring, I'm choosing the best ones to share. Having my laptop on this trip is a wonderful thing!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Incredible Istanbul

There’s just so much history in Istanbul, it’s hard not to be swept into the past as you walk the streets. Such a city of contrasts. The traffic rivals that of Manhattan, modern skyscrapers have popped up dotting the skyline and the Grand Bazaar – once inside – feels more like a shopping mall than an exotic market (well, except for the bartering!). But make no mistake – Istanbul is definitely an ancient city.

I choose to do a walking tour of Istanbul that covered all the major sites – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Hipppodrome, the Underground Cisterns, Topkapi Palace and of course the Grand Bazaar. Needless to say, by the time I got back to the ship, I didn’t have the energy for much more than dinner, a shower and falling into bed!

Turkey has a modern government with a president, prime minister and parliament (the last Sultan was ousted in the early 1920s when the current form of government was instituted). The people here are proud and quite adamant in informing tourists that Turkey does NOT have an Islamic government and that Turkey is secular – where all religions are tolerated and accepted. This tolerance makes Turkey a very interesting place, considering that the countries that border it are Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Despite their secular rule, 94% of the people in Turkey are Muslim and that is quite evident by the fact that in Istanbul alone, there are more than 3,000 mosques. I know this sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. And as you sightsee and shop you are clearly reminded of this fact by the call to prayers that broadcasts loudly over speakers all across the city 5 times each day. What also made this visit unique is that Muslims are currently in the midst of Ramadan (a holy time that is marked by month-long fast during daytime hours, among other things).

Visiting the Sultanahmet Mosque (more commonly known as the Blue Mosque) was just as awe inspiring as the first time I came here (I visited here on my first trip to Turkey back in 2001). It is an active mosque, so during the call to prayers, visitors are not allowed in. But outside of those 5 times each day, visitors are allowed. And they were there in droves from every corner of the world. As I took off my shoes, covered my shoulders and respectfully entered, I heard chatter from those around me in the crowd in more languages than I could count. The massiveness of the mosque is almost hard to take in. As you stare upward at the ornate mosaics, you literally have to remind yourself to look where you’re walking. Thousands of people – all staring upward with their jaws hanging open – can be quite hazardous!

In the Hippodrome there is an Egyptian obelisk that dates back to 1,500 BC! It was brought to Turkey in 390 A.D. by the Byzantine emperor Theodosius.

I saw so much it was almost sensory overload – especially for a history major – lest anyone forget, that is what I am ;-)

I took a break mid-afternoon and had a snack at a café at Topkapi Palace overlooking the Bosphorus River. Many don’t realize that the Bosphorus splits Istanbul between two continents, with half of the city in Europe and the other half in Asia Minor. Seriously, when you drive across the river on one of the city’s many bridges, there are actually signs that say “Welcome to Asia” – last time I was here we took a cab across specifically to see the sign – Sthen turned back (typical crazy tourists).

I took nearly 300 photos in Istanbul alone. So choosing the best to share was nearly impossible. But I’ve included a few that I hope will help capture the essence of the city. When I get back, I’ll post full galleries.


Chris said...

Fantastic pictures! I must see this city for myself one day.

Garcia said...

me too!