Goes Ashore in Europe:
to see & things to do
one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, the sprawling city of
Istanbul spans two continents. Modern buildings are poised alongside
monuments that reflect a diverse and ancient history and reminders
of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. Istanbul is a heady
mixture of sights, sounds, smells, and cultures with a new discovery
around every corner.
Cruise ships dock at
the pier on the European side of the Bosphorus where transportation
is available into the city. Bus
and tram services and taxis are relatively inexpensive and cruise
lines often also provide shuttles.
Many sights in the old
city are easily explored on foot and a good place to
begin is at the Hippodrome, once a center for sports, theater, and
political gatherings. Over the centuries other structures were built
on top of the Hippodrome and all that remains today is the
serpentine column of Emperor Constantine and the Obelisk of
there it is a short walk to Istanbul's most famous landmark, the
Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, or the Blue Mosque, so called because of the
Iznik tiles that line the interior walls.
Small domes first come into view, precursors to the main dome
and minarets that achieve their objective of lifting the eyes
heavenward. Only worshippers
are allowed entrance through the main door; visitors are admitted
through a side passage. A
word here about clothing—respectful attire is required and knees
and shoulders must be covered. Rugs
cover mosque floors and shoes are removed before entering (wearing
socks is advised). The tiles,
frescoes, and stained glass windows of the Blue Mosque are quite
your walk, the next stop is the nearby Hagia Sophia, the Church of
Santa Sophia. The Blue Mosque
was built in 1609 by Sultan Ahmet to surpass the beauty of this
building, Emperor Justinian's 6th century AD Christian church.
When it was converted to a mosque in 1453, all mosaics and
paintings were covered, as mosques cannot contain drawings of humans
and animals. Now a museum,
Hagia Sophia is undergoing restoration and the results thus far are
stop... Hey! This looks like Sleeping Beauty's Castle!
Sure enough, Disney modeled that familiar structure after the
Royal Gate of Topkapi Palace, the home of the Ottoman Sultans.
Through the gardens and courtyards, a variety of chambers
contain such treasures as eight-pound emeralds, the 86-carat
Spoonmaker diamond, and the Topkapi dagger set with three large
emeralds. Other rooms house
gem encrusted thrones, priceless silver, porcelains, and holy
relics. Don’t miss the cool
breeze from the Bosphorus on the Balcony of Life.
Tours of the Harem are also available.
Palace, a must-see that is not on ships' tours. The palace is
administered by the Turkish government with its own guided tours and
visitors are required to pay in Turkish lira (an exchange booth is
located next to the ticket window). Cameras
are allowed inside but there is an additional charge for picture
Palace and Harem are in separate sections and a one hour tour of the
Palace alone is available or a two hour tour of both.
This is the ultimate—the palace to end all palaces. Imagine
a sultan with more grandiose ideas and worse taste than you thought
humanly possible. Then picture a tranquil setting and place the most
ostentatious building and contents on it. Hollywood couldn't have
created this opulent setting; it's too much crystal and marble, too
many mirrors and immense chandeliers, and it's everything a palace
is expected to be. This is
how sultans should live! The
Palace and Harem guides are well trained and answer questions in
addition to presenting their narrative.
cruising is once again on your agenda, this time on the Bosphorus,
tours are available along the waterway at the heart of Istanbul.
Separating the European city from the Asia Minor city, the
Bosphorus' strong current from the Mediterranean meets the current
from the Black Sea causing it to churn and sparkle in the sunlight.
Lining the banks on both sides are "wooden houses,"
the splendid homes of the well to do, some dating back to the
1600's. A leisurely boat ride
may conclude at Sadberk Hanim Museum, a privately owned museum
established in one of the waterfront mansions.
The Turkish and Islamic art, costumes, and archaeological
objects are as fascinating as the building itself.
the river, you’ll spot the Fortress of Rumeli Hisari at the
narrowest point of the Bosphorus. Amazingly, in 1452, 10,000 workers
built this Ottoman fortress in just four months. From here, Mehmet
the Conqueror controlled the strait and was able to conquer
interesting attractions include the Suleymaniye Mosque and
over 4000 shops, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, or Covered Market,
contains an amazing array of merchandise. You may think dropping
bread crumbs to find your way out is a good idea but soon it becomes
apparent that there is a scheme to the layout of the bazaar’s
maze—with jewelry down one way, leather items down another, and so
on. Fleet-footed runners deliver a bottomless supply of tea to
refresh weary shoppers while they make their selections. Shop for
rugs, onyx, leather goods, meershaum pipes, and more. Accepting a
cup of tea or soft drink is a ritual of Turkish hospitality and
doesn’t obligate you to purchase anything, but bargaining if you
don’t intend to buy an item is considered very bad form.
Fashionable shops are
located in the Taksim, Sili, and Nisantasi districts. In the Topkapi
district daily flea markets are held and the Misir Carsisi, or spice
bazaar located next to the Yeni Mosque, is a treat for the senses.
Finding things to buy is an easy matter as persistent street
merchants will urge you to examine their silk scarves, leather
items, and watches as you walk along. Don’t be surprised to see
signs on shop doors in English proclaiming, “Sorry! We are
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