There are so many great cities in the world: London, Paris, Rio, New York, Cairo, Tokyo, to name a few. Add Istanbul to that list. Regardless of whether you are visiting Europe, Asia, or Africa, extend your trip and visit Istanbul. You’ll be glad you did.
Istanbul is a fascinating, frenetic city rich in history and culture. I was blown away by the beauty of the mosques, the excellent cuisine, and the friendly people.
|In deep thought
||The Blue Mosque
||Grand bazaar cafes
A city where more than 15 million people with various backgrounds, languages, religions and cultures live together in peace, Istanbul connects the continents of Europe and Asia via its many bridges. It is a meeting place where new ideas and concepts from both continents intermingle on a stage provided by the beautiful historic hills of a city decorated with monuments of bygone superpowers. Most importantly, Istanbul represents civilization, peaceful coexistence and beauty.
Before going to Istanbul, I had barely given it a thought. Now, a few weeks later, it is often on my mind. That is mainly because it provides what is rarest in travel: an aesthetic and even sensual surprise.
Pay attention to the blue tiles and windows of the Blue Mosque that Turks call ''Sultan Ahmet Mosque!" Built between 1609-1616, this impressive six minaret complex has some stunning architecture. Why is it called "Blue Mosque?" There are two stories: the first, more common one is that the interior is covered in blue İznik tiles. The second explanation is that many, many years ago, ancient sailors sailed by the mosque on the Marmara Sea and the blue of the sea would reflect on this beautiful mosque.
Oh, the Grand Bazaar! I've never experienced anything quite like it. 10,000 vendors under one enormous roof, endless labyrinthine corridors with barrel-vaulted ceilings, dizzying colours, and aggressive salesmen, each with a different line or gimmick vying for your lira. It's among the most invigorating, frustrating and overwhelming places I've ever experienced.
Then there’s Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian, and was one of the largest basilicas in the world. After the Ottoman conquest, it was converted to a mosque and is today one of the most magnificent museums in the world. Take a moment to linger here to admire the fine Byzantine mosaics.
Topkapi Palace is the largest and oldest palace in the world, the crown jewel of the Ottoman Empire. With its harem, treasury and exotic buildings overlooking the Golden Horn, Topkapi is a truly fascinating experience.
Take time too to visit to the underground Cistern. Built in the fourth century, this is one of the underground cisterns that riddle the foundations of the city. Extensively excavated and renovated, it is worth visiting and exploring while listening to the tunes of classical music.
Suleymaniye Mosque although less visited by tourists than the Blue Mosque is even grander and more peaceful. One of the finest creations of Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, it was commissioned by Sultan Sulemaniye and has a huge dome and pencil-slim minarets from each corner of the courtyard, an exquisite essay in symmetry and elegance.
Built in the 1550s, the site also contains the tombs of Sinan, Sultan Suleyman I and his wife Roxelana decorated with intricate tiles, the original apartments of the mosque astronomer, charitable foundations, caravanserai and fountain, all set around a tranquil courtyard. There are several outdoor tea-houses in a row behind the mosque in what was formerly known as ‘Addict's Alley'.
I would rate Istanbul the second best photographic destination next to Italy.
View Asif Jiffry’s work at www.pedlarsinngallery.com or visit the gallery at Pedlars' Street Galle fort.