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ISTANBUL - FORMER CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

“travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” (Ibn Battuta)

Istanbul

This ancient city is the only one in the world that spans two continents and holds the prestigious reputation for being the capital city of the world for over 1500 years. Two bridges knit together the shoreline of the Bosphorus River that meanders through this marvelous, history woven city which in days past was best known as Constantinople. Istanbul is a city of mosques and minarets. It is these minarets that are used by muezzin (prayer caller) five times a day to announce the call to prayer and to this day they, along with the domed mosques, signify the style of Islamic architecture.

On our recent visit to Istanbul, a long awaited tunnel that connects the two continents under the Bosphorus River had just been completed and locals and tourists alike were given the opportunity to experience it firsthand at no cost for two weeks after which a toll came into effect. The work on this 0.8 mile long tunnel began in 2004 but its completion had been delayed due to an unexpected discovery of an ancient harbour at the Asian side.

Bosphorous River, Istanbul, Turkey


It is estimated that up to two million people commute between the two continents every day and therefore the tunnel will serve to ease the congestion. Up until now, the population of Istanbul relied on the bridges crossing the river as well as hundreds of ferries to provide transportation between the continents. Along with the bridges and the tunnel, the ferry system is well utilized and, to a visitor, it may appear that it is a constant ripple of activity as the ferries are in continual to and fro motion across the river.

We had arrived in Istanbul at dusk. The sun was setting quickly and shortly into our drive to the port, we were greeted by the sights of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in the distance.

The Walls of Constantinople, built by Constantine the Great, lined the road we were on and gave us a preview of the historical journey we were about to embark on. This fortification system is one of the most elaborate ever built and protected the ancient city of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire from many attempted attacks until the mid- 1400s when the Ottoman rule took over after a six week siege. While the sights of this centuries old wall were a little eerie, we were excited at the thought of exploring this city with its 1001 Arabian Nights picturesque scenery.
Istanbul at night
Hagia Sophia & Blue Mosque at night


Istanbul is one of those cities in which one day does not satisfy. There are so many things to see and places to explore. There are mosques, markets, and malls. There are bridges to cross and continents to see. There are new foods to taste and real Turkish coffee to partake in with new found friends. And, for those more adventurous, there are deals to be made employing every bartering method known to mankind. It usually begins with Turkish tea served in a tulip shaped glass cup. The longer you linger at any one place, the more time you wish you had. But this is what cruising is all about -- exploring the ports of call and planning your next vacation.

And so it began. Although the cruise excursions desk offered several tours through Istanbul's most recognized attractions; due to the fact that we had to consider mobility issues, we decided on employing a local taxi (taksi) driver who proceeded to show us around his city along with a very colourful commentary. All this with a promise to “show us his family's business with handmade carpets and pottery”.

First destination – Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Cisterns and the Topkapi Palace – all of which are within a very short walking distance of each other. Due to time restrictions and accessibility, we visited the Blue Mosque, walked down the Byzantine Hippodrome with its two obelisks, and strolled to the Topkapi Palace. With Hagia Sophia looming in the foreground and inviting travellers in to visit the museum which is now within its walls, we wandered to the Blue Mosque with its six minarets, beautiful courtyards, and even more beautiful and detailed mosaics decorating its walls and domed ceilings.

Sultanahmet area (old town),
Near Hagia Sophia in the Old Town area

The mosque was built by Sultan Ahmed to compete with the architecture of Hagia Sophia and is, to this day, used as a place of worship. This is definitely a must see when you are visiting Istanbul. .

Prayer Hall
Prayer Hall

Blue Moseque Domes
Detail of the Domes
As this is considered to be holy ground, be prepared to take off your shoes before entering (plastic bags are provided) and ladies, head coverings are a must. We strongly encourage you to bring a scarf or shawl of your own however scarves are available at the entrance if you need to borrow one. Even for those people who are dependent on mobility devices, the keepers of the mosque have 'indoor' wheelchairs available for use. This is strictly enforced


Once inside, you will be awed by not only the architecture of this magnificent building but by the details in every corner and every nook. The main prayer hall is reserved for male worshippers and visitors may view most of the mosque from behind a railing that spans the width of the interior.


There are cordoned off areas reserved for only women to worship – these areas tend to hug the outside walls of the mosque.

Whether you are a first time visitor or have been here many times before, take in the detailed mosaic walls, the supporting marble columns, and appreciate the handiwork and creativity of those who designed this complex which had originally included more than just a place of worship.


Directly opposite the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia. It is presently under renovations so the full beauty of it cannot be appreciated. For those who have some time to explore, it is strongly suggested that you visit the museum that is now housed within its walls. The structure that is open to visitors is actually the third Hagia Sophia built, as the first two succumbed to fires centuries ago. Visitors can now admire the gold mosaics that represent both Christian and Muslim art, beautiful calligraphy, wander through the grand foyers filled with marble columns with intricately carved supports, white marble floors and marvel at its fascinating history.
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Even if your schedule does not allow time to fully explore, take the time to sit on a bench or walk through the park between the two mosques. Despite the busyness of local vendors and tourists milling around, you can be guaranteed an awe-inspiring and thought provoking view.

Carper Weaing
Carpet Weaver at her loom
It is difficult to describe Istanbul in anything but from a historical perspective. A city that has been around for thousands of years tends to hang onto its history, not only in its architecture but also in its culture and art. However, not all art is made of marble and mosaics. Wherever you go, you will surely come across a carpet weaving artisan or shop keepers that will encourage you to come in and see this ancient craft.

It truly is amazing to watch how skillful these carpet weavers are. And although these carpets do not come cheap, one must keep in mind the amount of time it takes for such an artisan to weave this work of art.

For example, a 2 ½ 'x4' carpet depicting 1001 Arabian Nights (my favourite) would take the weaver approximately 18 months to complete. For those that can appreciate the intricate and time consuming work, the asking price is quite reasonable though always open for negotiating.
Istanbul is on our list of places to return to. One day is not enough to experience all it has to offer.

Whether you are a bargain hunter and want to try your skills at bartering, a history buff who wants to learn more about the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, or just someone who loves interacting with and experiencing a different culture, this is one place where you will not be at a loss for things to do.

And if you decide to take a 'taksi' tour, you will most likely be treated to the views of Istanbul from both shores of the Bosphorus River along with a commentary of its past, present, and future. Not only that, but chances are that your driver will be more than willing to be of help if you have a mobility or any other physical challenge and of course take you to visit his family's carpet business.

Enjoy all this beautiful city has to offer.

Güvenli seyahat


Barb Salivar
Barrier-FreeCruising.com
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