Istanbul, 2007

Istanbul - crossroads of the world. Known as Byzantium to the Greeks and Constantinople to the Romans, it was the western terminus of the old Silk Road and later the southern terminus of the Orient Express. It was the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and before that the capital of the Byzantine Empire, and before that it was the second capital of the Roman Empire, after the emperor tired of Rome. Located in both Europe and Asia, it is perhaps best known as the subject of the They Might Be Giants song "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," which we heard playing all over the city.

(Okay, we only heard it in our heads.)

I've wanted to go there ever since learning about a building named Hagia Sophia in art class, and in April Andrea and I flew to the former capital to have a look around. While we were there we had some great Turkish coffee, saw more representations of a guy named Atatürk than you can shake a stick at, and even spent a few hours on another continent.

But first things first ...

Food and Drink

Turkish Coffee
This is one of the essential things I associate with Turkey. Enlarge it to have a look. Turkish coffee is thick, with a cap of coffee foam and an underbelly of fine coffee sludge. It is made with much finer grounds than, say, espresso. What is basically a rich coffee powder is placed in a small pot called an ibrik along with some (optional) sugar and heated over a stove or in hot sand. For the record, you are not expected to drink the coffee sludge lurking in the bottom of the cup. In Greece Turkish coffee is called Greek coffee, and in Armenia it is called (wait for it) Armenian coffee, but only the Turks serve it with a small piece of Turkish delight.
Andrea with apple tea in Kybele Hotel
On the tea side of things, everything is served in cute little glass beakers. This is a glass of apple tea, which was extremely good.
Grape leaves, Humus, İmam Bayildi, Crepe and Efes Beer in Sultanahmet Restaurant
Here's the ultimate spread of Turkish food: On the far left are some of the best stuffed grape leaves you'll find anywhere, then comes the humus, and then an eggplant dish I could eat every day for the rest of my life called İmam Bayildi, which is made by mixing the chopped eggplant with onions and exactly the right blend of oils and spices. These are collectively called mezes, a word that means "wonderful nibbly foods that you will actually have difficulty finding during the first couple days in Turkey." The far right dish is our main, a vegetable crepe. The beer is Efes, a Turkish pilsner served virtually everywhere.

Near Our Hotel

Walled Obelisk in the Hippodrome from Hotel Alzer
This is the view from our hotel room, right over what the Turks call Sultanahmet Square after an Ottoman Sultan. The square predates the Sultan: in fact, it wasn't built as a square at all, but is actually the ancient Hippodrome, Istanbul's answer to the Circus Maximus. Romans once raced their chariots around it.
Walled Obelisk in the Hippodrome
When Constantine moved the Roman capital to this "New Rome" (which came to be called Constantinople after him) a number of major public works were executed, including improvements to the Hippodrome, which had been built when the city was run by the Greeks. The Romans liked racing around monuments, which they arranged down the spina, or central axis of the track. So in Constantinople they erected some impressive monuments along the spina, including this custom-built one called the Walled Obelisk. It later became a rock-climbing challenge for a local cult, which is why it looks a bit worse for wear. All three monuments rise out of the ground from pits, as they stand closer to the original ground level in Roman times.
Serpentine Column in the Hippodrome
Slightly north of the Walled Obelisk is the Serpentine Column. This has a rather interesting history. In the fifth century BC the Greeks fought the Persians in various wars. When the Greeks won the Battle of Plataea at the end of the last war, they celebrated by melting the bronze Persian weapons and using them to make a sculpture of three intertwined snakes, whose heads held a golden bowl. The monument was placed prominently at Delphi, but centuries later Constantine ordered it moved to his New Rome and placed along the Hippodrome spina. The golden bowl was lost in the Crusades, and the heads of the three snakes broke off. All that remains is the bodies of the three snakes, which form a nearly 2,500-year-old column.
Obelisk of Thutmosis III in the Hippodrome
Even older is the obelisk of Thutmosis III. It was cut into three pieces, and this is just the top, so the original must have been a great deal taller. It was taken from Karnak in Egypt and is nearly 3,500 years old.
Obelisk of Thutmosis III in the Hippodrome
Considering its immense age, it looks great. The hieroglyphs might easily have been carved yesterday.
Ed with the Million Stone
This squinty-eyed person is standing next to the Million Stone, from which the Romans measured all mileage from Constantinople. The word "million" here does not refer to the modern number, but is a derivative of the Roman word for a thousand (the word mile comes from mille passus, or a thousand paces).
Blue Mosque
Near Sultanahment Square is the Blue Mosque, one of the most famous mosques in the world. More on this further down the page.
Hagia Sophia
The main thing I came to see in Istanbul was Hagia Sophia. It was once a cahedral, built to replace an older church that burned down after a riot in AD 532. This building was completed under the directionin of the Emperor Justinian I by the year 537. It was the largest cathedral in the world, and remained the largest for 1,000 years.
Hagia Sophia
The Ottomans arrived in 1453 and converted it into a mosque - hence the four minarets that surround the original building.
Hagia Sophia
An ancient grave stone just outside the building.
Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
This is the outer narthax (or "hallway" to you and me).
Hagia Sophia
In the inner narthax is the Imperial Gate, a massive wooden door in a bronze frame (we're talking about the far door in this photo, not the near one). Above it you can see one of the remaining mosaics. When the invading Turks made it a mosque in 1453, they gradually added a lot of Islamic details, covering up or destroying the original mosaics, but in some cases the Christian art still remains. In some areas of the building the Islamic art would have to be destroyed to reveal the older Christian art, so a balance is struck throughout the building.
Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
More of the inner narthax ...
Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
Inside the nave. The dome at Hagia Sophia is famous. So what's the big deal? Well, by definition domes are round, but this room is reasonably square, and before Hagia Sophia was built in the Sixth century no one had ever put a round dome on a square building. Hagia Sophia has triangular masonry in the corners of the rooms called pendentives, which hold up the edges of the dome and merge the square with the round. Again, this is the first building that ever had this feature, and every other dome over a square room is a copy of it. This includes most large mosques, which are largely based upon this building.
Hagia Sophia
The dome is rather high. It seems to float because of the windows about its base, which was another first.
Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
If you're lucky the sun will throw a few shafts of light across the nave for you. This was the best I could do.
Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
One of the occupational hazards of visiting ancient buildings is that many of them are in a state of perpetual restoration. While Hagia Sophia is famous for its dome, at the time of our visit it was somewhat obscured by one of the largest expanses of scaffolding I had ever seen. Oh well - it's not the original dome anyway, but rather a "new" one installed during restoration after an earthquake in the year 986. So it's "only" about a thousand years old.
Hagia Sophia
The Byzantine columns were spectacularly carved.
Hagia Sophia
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Ed in Hagia Sophia
To prove I was there ...
Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
The building has ancient ramps arranged in a spiral pattern like flights of stairs. They are not suitable for people wearing high heels.
Hagia Sophia
It's amazing that a building built in the 500s still has a second floor you can visit.
Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
The view from above.
Hagia Sophia
While the nave has four large roundels of Islamic calligraphy, it is actually no longer a mosque, but rather a museum.
Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
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Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia
A view of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia.
Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia
Another very beautiful mosaic.
Bronze Door in Hagia Sophia
This bronze door is one of the bits of the building taken from older buildings, in this case from a Second century BC temple in Tarsus. There are also columns in Hagia Sophia that were taken from Heliopolis a Roman colony in what is now Lebanon.
Bronze Door in Hagia Sophia
A closer look at the ancient door.
Hagia Sophia
The building from outside ...
Hagia Sophia and Turkish Flag
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Fountain of Ahmet III
The highly decorative Fountain of Ahmet III near Hagia Sophia.
Byzantine Basilica Cistern
Underneath the north corner of the old Hippodrome the Eastern Romans built a massive cistern, or water tank, to hold water brought to Constantinople from Belgrade Forest. It's really an impressive space, and I'd imagine that visiting it would be welcome relief on a hot summer day. It was built in 532.
Byzantine Basilica Cistern
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Byzantine Basilica Cistern
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Byzantine Basilica Cistern
The cistern has 336 columns. The Ottomans were unaware of it for a century after they invaded, but apparently people in houses above it discovered that they could catch fish through holes in their basements.
Byzantine Basilica Cistern
A couple of the columns have Medusa's head at the base.
Byzantine Basilica Cistern
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Byzantine Basilica Cistern
And one of them is carved with peacock feathers.
Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome from Hotel Alzer
This was our view at breakfast. It was atmospheric being near the Blue Mosque, but unfortunately it meant that we were subjected to the evening and very early morning prayer calls. Which are LOUD.

Around Town

Constantine's Column
We walked over to the Grand Bazaar, a massive market, and on the way walked by a column called Constantine's Column, which once held a statue of Constantine. It was installed in what was once the Forum, in celebration of the moving of the Roman capital to Constantinople. Still there, but the statue fell years ago.
Grand Bazaar
The massive and labrynthine Grand Bazaar. About ten percent of the people in this photo want my attention and would like me to buy something from them. Very nice, good quality, only twenty lire. Okay, eighteen lire. Hey, where are you going?
Grand Bazaar
Shiny things.
Detail from Ironmonger Goods at Grand Bazaar
We stopped at an ironmonger and bought a couple ibriks for making Turkish coffee.
Süleymaniye Mosque
Up the hill to the west is the most important mosque in Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque. It is where the sultan Süleyman is entombed.
Süleymaniye Mosque
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Süleymaniye Mosque
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Süleymaniye Mosque
If the dome looks familiar, it is because its style is derived directly from Hagia Sophia.
Süleymaniye Mosque
The Islamic artistry is fabulous.
Süleymaniye Mosque
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Ed and Andrea at Süleymaniye Mosque
Camera on timer.
View of Golden Horn and Bosphorus Strait from Süleymaniye Mosque
The courtyard has great views of the port. The distant water is where a flooded estuary called the Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus Strait. The land on the other side is Anatolia, technically in Asia.
View of Golden Horn and Bosphorus Strait from Süleymaniye Mosque
The Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn.
Tea at the Spice Bazaar
On the way down the hill we walked through the Spice Bazaar. Here is a tea merchant.
Spice Bazaar
And here is the main part of the bazaar, which looks like an extension of the Grand Bazaar. Again, about ten percent of the people in this photo want my attention and would like me to buy something from them. Hola. Bonjour. Hello. You need figs? Kahve? Hey, where are you going?
Dried fruit at the Spice Bazaar
I'm a sucker for dried fruit. Near the far right before the dates are dried kumquats, which were my favorite. Note also the dried kiwi above them.
Spice Bazaar
The bazaar is named for the spices sold here for centuries. Istanbul was the western terminus of the Silk Road, so spices have long been a major import.
Fishing poles and the Süleymaniye Mosque from Galata Bridge
The Galata Bridge is a two-level bridge crossing the Golden Horn. The lower level is filled with restaurants, and the upper (street) level is crowded with fisherman. Here the Süleymaniye Mosque rises above the city beyond the endless fishing poles.
Tram on Tram on İstiklâl Caddesi in Beyoğlu
Beyond the bridge is an area called Beyoğlu. The İstiklâl Caddesi in this neighborhood is one of the most crowded streets I've seen, filled with shops and restaurants, and a tram.
Monument to Atatürk, Taksim Square
Omnipresent in the city is the visage of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, shown here at the center of a monument in Taksim Square, but also present in framed photographs in restaurants everywhere. Atatürk was a military man who fought for the Ottoman Empire in the first world war. When the Empire was disassembled after his side lost, he led a Turkish national movement into the 1920s, setting up a secular state rather than an Islamic one and thoroughly Westernizing Turkey. While we were in town there were a particularly large number of Turkish flags and Atatürk-related material around, as people were staging overwhelming demonstrations against theocratic government.
The Galata Tower in Beyoğlu is one of the most visible buildings in the city, overlooking virtually everything at 60 meters in height. It dates to the sixth century but most of it is Medieval.
Pano view of Bosphorus to Galata Bridge on Golden Horn from Galata Tower in Beyoğlu
You can see most everything from the top. At the left is the Bosphorus Strait, which meets the Golden Horn near the big Turkish Flag on Seraglio Point before running out to the Sea of Marmara. To the right of Seraglio Point's flag is the former home of the sultans, Topkapı Palace, which is recognizable by its small tower. The two mosques close to each other are Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, and finally the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn.
Man taking photo of man taking photo on Galata Tower in Beyoğlu
I couldn't resist this. I am a man taking photo of man taking photo of a man taking a photo.
Efes beer on Galata Bridge
We stopped at a restaurant on the way back over Galata Bridge.
Restaurants on Galata Bridge
They were pretty popular places to eat. I should mention that about five percent of the people in this photo want my attention and would like me to dine in their very fine restaurant, even if I explain that we just ate at the restaurant next door. You want some lamb? Or fish, very good? Hey, where are you going?
Galata Bridge
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Galata Bridge
This mosque is called the New Mosque. As distinctive as the Turkish flags in this photo are the numerous fishing poles hanging over the edge of the bridge.
Lamps in Kybele Hotel
A lot of places decorated with a plethora of lamps, but the hotel where we finished off the evening with tea and coffee was particularly well-decorated.
Our Ferry in Eminönü Port
The next morning we hopped on the Istanbul-9, our Ferry from Eminönü Port in Istanbul to the north end of the Bosphorus Strait, where the strait meets the Black Sea.
Bosphorus Bridge
The impressive Bosphorus Bridge was the longest suspension bridge outside the United States when it was first built. The small ferries passing in front of it is a tiny taste of the vast amount of boat traffic around the city.
Bosphorus Bridge
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Fortress of Europe and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge
The next bridge along is the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, and just south of it here you can see a castle called the Fortress of Europe. It was built in 1452 by Mehmet II as part of his preparation to invade Constantinople.
Fortress of Asia
On the Asian side immediately across from the Fortress of Euope is the Fortress of Asia, built by his predecessor, Beyazıt I, fifty years earlier.
Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge
Another view of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
Yogurt from Kanlıca with powdered sugar on Ferry
On the way up we stopped at an Anatolian port called Kanlıca, which is known for its yogurt. A vendor came around with some shortly after we left the port. Since it's plain yogurt with a slightly tart taste they serve it with a generous helping of powdered sugar, which the wind then blows all over your clothes.
Ed on the Bosphorus
Behind me is just one of the many massive container ships we saw moving up and down the Bosphorus.
View up Bosphorus to the Black Sea
And this is our first view into the Black Sea.
Genoese Castle in Anadolu Kavağı
On the Anatolian (Asian) side is a Byzantine castle called Genoese Castle, which was built in the fourteenth century and has great views in Anadolu Kavağı.
Monument to Atatürk in Anadolu Kavağı
A monument to Atatürk in the town of Anadolu Kavağı. He is here, as he is everywhere else. I took a photo facing this direction because in the other direction were about forty people who wanted my attention and would have liked for me to buy food from them. Or water? Coke? Ice cream? Is very nice, only four lire. Hey, where are you going?
Atatürk in house window in Anadolu Kavağı
Here's Atatürk again on the way up to the castle.
Genoese Castle in Anadolu Kavağı
The Byzantine castle.
Genoese Castle in Anadolu Kavağı
See how this guy's climbing up and pulling himself through a little hole to get into the upper floor of the castle? Yeah, I went.
Genoese Castle in Anadolu Kavağı
The view from the upper level.
Andrea and Bosphorus from Genoese Castle in Anadolu Kavağı
And looking down toward the Bosphorus. Andrea is in the middle, reading our guide.
Andrea and Bosphorus and Black Sea from Genoese Castle in Anadolu Kavağı
Here she is with the Black Sea.
Ed and Bosphorus and Black Sea from Genoese Castle in Anadolu Kavağı
My turn.
Military warning sign at Genoese Castle in Anadolu Kavağı
The Turkish military controls the area north of the castle. I couldn't resist taking a photo of a sign with the words "Forbidden Zone" on it.
Mecidiye Mosque on the Bosphorus
Returning on the Bosphorus we spotted the Mecidiye Mosque, a pretty ninteenth century mosque north of Istanbul.
Flowers in Gülhane Park
Flowers in Gülhane Park. This is alongside Topkapı Palace, not ridiculously far from our hotel, and used to be part of the palace grounds.
Flowers in Gülhane Park
I have no idea what the red ones were but I liked them.
Flowers in Gülhane Park
Yes, those are black flowers.
Flowers in Gülhane Park
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Third Century Monument to Victory over the Goths in Gülhane Park
At the north end of the park near Seraglio Point, where the Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus, there is a third century column erected to commemorate victory over the Goths. It's in great shape.
Third Century Monument to Victory over the Goths in Gülhane Park
The old column rising from the woods at sunset reminded me of something Turner would have painted.
Bosphorus Bridge from Gülhane Park
The Bosphorus Bridge from the shore.
Baloon over Bosphorus from Seraglio Point
We occasionally saw a large yellow hot air baloon rise over the Bosphorus from the Asian side. Not sure what it was.
Moon and Baloon over Bosphorus from Seraglio Point
With the moon in the top left and the baloon in the lower right, I am reminded of a playing card.
Ahýrkapi lighthouse on Sea of Marmara
We walked along the Sea of Marmara. It is lined with the walls of the old Byzantine palace. This is a much later addition, Ahýrkapi lighthouse.
Radar Tower and Fisherman on Sea of Marmara
Radar towers like the one near these fisherman are all over the area. They are used to track the movements of ships and provide assistance to them as they move up and down the Bosphorus.
Hagia Sophia from roof terrace at hotel in Sultanahmet
We walked into Sultanahmet, not far from the Hippodrome and our hotel, and found a nice restaurant with a roof terrace. This is Hagia Sophia at night.
Blue Mosque from roof terrace at hotel in Sultanahmet
And the Blue Mosque. For some reason the local seagulls ignore Hagia Sophia, but love flying around the Blue Mosque. Since this photo is a long exposure, the seagulls appear as stringlike shapes over the mosque.
Foot washing stations at Blue Mosque
The next morning at the Blue Mosque. These are foot washing stations, which many mosques seem to have. All of this is built over the ruins of part of the Hippodrome and the old Roman imperial palace, and some remnants of the older buildings have occasionally been unearthed.
Blue Mosque
I couldn't get over the thickness of the columns supporting the dome.
Blue Mosque
Again, this is a dome inspired by the ancient Hagia Sophia across the road.
Blue Mosque
The tiles are from the city of İznik, which was once known as Nicaea.
Blue Mosque
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Blue Mosque
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Blue Mosque
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Blue Mosque
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Topkapı Palace Entrance
Our last stop was Topkapı Palace, former home of the sultans.
Topkapı Palace
This is the tower you can see from other areas of the city, including Galata Tower across the Golden Horn.
Columns Near Treasury in Topkapı Palace
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Bosphorus from Topkapı Palace
A last view of the Bosphorus Strait from the palace.