Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Istanbul Part I

Seeing Istanbul

Istanbul is a lot to take in, and our time there left me with a lot to sort through.  A lot of tastes, smells, words, questions, and most of all, pictures.  Tomorrow I'm going to try to put some of those things together into a coherent run down of staying, eating, drinking, and being entertained in Istanbul, and on Friday I think I'll have some reflections on the whole trip to share.  But today, I haven't quite figured out what to say yet or how to say it, so instead, I'll show you what I saw.

This is Istanbul.

{from the Galata Bridge}

{fishermen on the Galata Bridge}

{ <3 }

{the Bosphorous Bridge}

{strolling in Besiktas, the fancy part of town}
{outside the New Mosque}

{straight out of the camera}

Istanbul is like a 3D history book.  When you're there, there are some sights that you absolutely must see.  The hoards of tourists can be overwhelming in the summer, but for us in September, it wasn't bad at all.

Topkapi Palace
Built in 1453 by Mehmet the Conqueror and home to all of the crazy Ottoman emperors (and their wives (4 each), eunuchs, and harems) until 1839, when sultans started building their own European-style palaces to live in on the shores of the Bosphorous.  If these walls could talk....

{the harem}

Aya Sofya
Built in 537 and harolded as the greatest church in Christendom until the conquest in 1453 when Mehment the Conqueror turned it into a mosque (can you imagine the uproar if that happened today??), and now a museum thanks to Ataturk.  With a cupola that seems to be suspended in the air without any support, a story told through Islamic script layered over Christian mosaics, and a scale that demands awe, this was perhaps my favorite sight of them all.

{no entry...except for cats}

Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque was built by a later sultan who aimed to outshine Aya Sofya (clearly impossible). Instead, he left the city with another beautiful monument, and a still-working religious center, with tiles painted a perfect turquoise that could not be recreated for centuries.

{you have to cover your knees and shoulders to be allowed in}

The Basilica Cistern
The cistern was built by Emperor Justinian in 532 and was used to supply water to the nearby Topkapi Palace.  Sometime before the conquest, it was forgotten and closed until 1545 when a scholar researching Byzantine antiquities rediscovered it by interviewing people who lived in the area and who told him that they could get water by lowering a bucket under their house.  And sometimes they even caught fish (giant carp that still swim in the shallow pool)!  It's dark and eerie in here, but also kind of peaceful.

{mysteriously placed Medusa heads}

The Grand Bazaar
No trip to Istanbul is complete without at least a walk through the Grand Bazaar.  It's now mostly a tourist market, but some of the things that you'll find in there will shock you.  There is an area of shops selling vintage and antique items and we even found Nazi war medals among the riff-raff.  While I stayed away from those, I did purchase a leather jacket (thanks, Dad, for the haggling!), a pashmina, and lots of presents.  You should always bargain here - don't be uncomfortable about it because the merchants here expect it.  I.e. a pashmina should cost you around 15-35 TL depending on the percentage of silk, but they will start off asking for at least double the proper price.  (You're not supposed to take pictures in the bazaar so I only snuck in a few...shhh don't tell.)

(Gold is priced by the ounce (they weigh it and then calculate how much that amount of gold would cost based on the daily market price of gold), but don't forget to ask them to subtract out for any stones that are in the piece you're buying.)

{modeling my new pashmina}

Tomorrow I'll be here with some stories about staying, dining, and playing in this amazing city!


Amanda said...

I am loving this series. Your photos are beautiful, and I love places full of history. I want to get in an airplane RIGHT THIS MOMENT.

Ashley said...

Thank you, Amanda! Istanbul is easy to photograph - it's such an enchanting city!