Sunday, 28 December 2008

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

One part of Istanbul which especially Nitoli was very keen to visit was the huge indoor Grand Bazaar, filled with all sorts of stores. In fact there are more than 6000 shops here spread out on 58 streets - all roofed. The first parts of the bazaar were made in the 15th century but most parts parts have been added later or at some point destroyed and then reconstructed We spent a good deal of hours hiding from the midday sun in the kilometre long lanes of the bazaar.

Cool old shop

Goods on display

Another kind of goods for sale. I can't say whether it is all advertisement hype or it actually works!

One of the busy main lanes

Nitoli at a very cosy Grand Bazaar restaurant, about to enjoy a meal. She was not generally a big fan of Turkish food but I mostly liked it.

Cute little house inside the bazaar. I have no idea what it is for.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Crossing the Golden Horn

The Galata Bridge leading across the Golden Horn. Under the driving lanes the bridge is filled with restaurants. The Galata tower is rising above it all.

As I wrote in an earlier post most of Istanbul's famous attractions are located in or around Sultanahmet south of the Golden Horn. But thankfully we also made our way up to the Golden Horn and beyond and had some truly great experiences there. Whereas there are fairly few standard tourist sights there it is where ordinary Istanbullus come to enjoy life, which makes it a great place to experience the Istanbul of today.

Enjoying a cup of Turkish tea near the Horn

When you cross the Golden Horn you pass the appealing Sirkeci Train Station, which was the final station for the famed Orient Express

Everywhere you see people doing actual fishing in Istanbul. I'm surprise it works, but I guess they wouldn't all stand there if it didn't.

The street of İstiklal Caddesi forms the backbone of Beyoğlu district, and this is where you come to eat, drink and be merry - there is quite a bit of shopping to be done as well plus cinemas and theaters to entertain you. We spent two evenings here enjoying ourselves. But we also took the metro even further north to go to what is allegedly Europe's biggest mall, Cevahir. Nitoli was excited to go, whereas I found it to be pretty much like any other mall - with the exception that it contains an indoor amusement park, including a pretty big rollercoaster.

İstiklal Caddesi.

İstiklal restaurant arcade seen from outside

Same arcade (if I remember correctly) seen from inside. Where atmospheric place.

İstiklal bookshop

Nitoli window shopping for sweets

Some of the goods for display. Yummy!

Nitoli front of a map of Istanbul painted in the metro. The Golden Horn is the stretch of water seperating the top bit from the big land mass in the left part of the picture

The bottom part of the roller coaster in Cevahir mall's underwater themed amusement park

And finally we also managed to make it to a football game in Besiktas - a must-do attraction for anyone who is football interested as Turkish fans are known for their fanatical vocal and visual support. Nitoli is not much of a football buff, but in the end I managed to persuade to go - and she didn't regret it. She didn't pay much attention to the game itself, but found herself plentifully entertained simply from watching the crowds. It was a UEFA Cup match between Beşiktaş and Bosnian team Široki Brijeg. The home side won very comfortably 4-0 and advanced to the next stage.

Eating a snack at the game

Beşiktaş has played through the Bosnian defence and will score in less than a second...

Fanatical supporters celebrating. The atmosphere was incredible and the range of routines these supporters have is quite impressive

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Other Sultanahmet Experiences

Istanbul's Basilica Cistern

My last two posts covered two world famous sights in Sultanahmet, but there is more to this part of town, which I will try to convey in this post. This is also the area where you'll find the funky Basilica Cistern, which was part of the very advanced Byzantine water supply system. The cistern was constructed in the 6th century and forgotten during the city's decline. It was rediscovered in 1545 by a scholar who had heard reports about locals in the area who would lower their buckets down their basement floors and magically get water - and sometimes fish - back up. Now it has been restored and cool lighting provides for an interesting atmosphere.

Other than we walked around town including the old Hippodrome where chariot races used to be held. There's not much trace of that, but a couple of monuments and other stuff to look at.

One of two stone Medusas in the cistern. It is not known why it is upside down.

All the pillars in the cistern are plain except for one single decorated column with a tear drop-like design.

Egyptian obelisk brought to the city in 390 when it was already more than 1800 years old

Nitoli in front of the marble display on which the Egyptian obelisk stands. The self-congratulatory displays show Emperor Theodosius showing off in various scenarios

The Spiral Column brought here from Greece. It commemorates a Greek victory against the invading Persians

A found donated by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany hoping to forge a closer alliace with the Ottomans

The fountain still works as Nitoli demonstrates here

The street of our hotel - the building to the right. This picture was taken on a public holiday, hence all the flags

Nitoli enjoying Sultanahmet Park

Nitoli feeding the pigeons with seeds bought from the old lady on the bench

Nap time...

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The Blue Mosque - Star of Istanbul's Skyline

The Blue Mosque seen from its courtyard

After visiting the Aya Sofia, next on our to-do list was a visit to the Blue Mosque, also known as Sultanahmet Camii. Only about 400 years old it does not hold the same sense of timelessness and history as the Aya Sofia, but with it's 6 tall minarets (something considered proposterous by some as the only other mosque with 6 minarets was the one in Mecca) and beautiful exterior it is the defining feature of Sultanahmet's skyline.

It is the biggest of all Ottoman mosques, and takes it's affectionate nickname from the blue tiles within its interior. Following are a few pictures of the Mosque - next post will look at the rest of Sultanahmet.

Once again I tried to stitch several images together to convey a sense of the central space of the Mosque

The lighting is created mostly by low hanging lamps, meaning that the central space of the Mosque gets dominated by the many strings and wires coming all the way down from the roof.

Nitoli enjoying the experience inside the fenced foreigner section

The Blue Mosque seen from a boat in the sea of Marmara

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Aya Sofia - Millenia of History

First floor gallery in Aya Sofia

On the very top of our to-do-list in Istanbul was a visit to the iconic church-turned-mosque-turned-museum Aya Sofia. It was built by Emperor Justinian and completed in the year 537. It was easily the greatest church in the world, until it was converted to a mosque following Mehmet's conquest of Istanbul. It was then a mosque until Atatürk had it converted to a museum in 1934.

The Aya Sofia's interior is stunning with an enormous unobstructed space with a dome that seems to be unsupported by anything. Even by today's standards it's an engineering marvel. In the 6th century surely the unparalleled the magnificence of this structure must have been seen as direct manifestation of God's greatness.

It would take an extreme wide-angle lens to take a picture of the interior that captures the sense of space. Since I don't have that, I tried instead to stitch together 3 different pictures. They didn't align with each other 100% but I think it's good enough to give a sense of just how big the Aya Sofia is. Following that picture below are som shots of both the inside and outside of Aya Sofia:

The central space of the Aya Sofia in a composite image

A mosaic showing Jesus along with John the Baptist and Virgin mary. It's known as the Deësis mosaic and is believed to be from 1261

Ongoing restauration work means that scaffolding takes up a good part of the old church. Although it would have been nice to see the whole space in its entirety, the scaffolding helps illustrate how tall it is. It's like a 20-story building standing under the dome

Nitoli at the Weeping Column. There's a small hole - if you put in your thumb and it comes out moist it means all your ailments will be healed. Unfortunately it came out dry in this case.

Nitoli admiring a big alabaster urn made out of one single block of marble

The Mihrab - altar showing praying Muslims the direction towards Mecca

I love this. It may look like just a small piece of graffiti. Well, it actually is but what makes it special is that it was carved here by a visitor who had come all the way from Scandinavia and visited the church in the 9th century! His name is Halvdan and he wrote his message in runes, the alphabet of my distant forefathers.

Nitoli and I posing in fron of the beautiful mosaic filled ceiling in the Inner Narthex

Nitoli just outside the entrance of Aya Sofia. In the pit behind her a panel of sheep are the remnants of a Theodosian Church who lay he before the Aya Sofia was built

Aya Sofia seen from the rooftoop of our hotel, the Side Pension & Hotel

A characteristic yellow Istanbul taxi in front of the Aya Sofia

The Aya Sofia seen in all its glory from the Sea of Marmara