Istanbul: A City Of Minarets, Ornate Palaces & Byzantine Monuments – Part 1

I’ve recently returned from three days away in Istanbul. It’s a magical but chaotic city. Magical because of its beauty, vast monuments and fabulous food but also chaotic because it doesn’t seem to know which culture it belongs to. I’d heard the old saying about how Istanbul is the city where the West and East truly meet but I didn’t realise how much the two cultures could both contrast so obviously and yet work together so well. There was a sort of beauty in the chaos and a whole spectrum of different people living side by side.

Galata Bridge

View of Suleymaniye Mosque from the Galata Bridge

 We visited a number of sites during our short stay in the city and ate a whole host of fabulous food. We arrived in the early evening of the first day and headed straight down to the Fish Market in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. The food in Istanbul was, from what we tried of it, delicious and always fresh. The fish was incredible and reasonably priced. We also tried Turkish pizza, known as pedi, which is diamond shape and traditionally topped with mince.

New Mosque

The courtyard of the New Mosque.

On the second day we crossed the Gelata Bridge, which has amazing views of the city, and headed straight to the New Mosque. The New Mosque is hardly new, as it was built in the C16th, but it is strikingly beautiful with fantastically ornate domed ceilings and vast chandeliers. Women have to wear headscarves and both sexes have to remove their shoes and cover their legs before entering the building. This is standard practice in all mosques so trousers or long skirts are recommended whilst visiting the city.

New Mosque ceiling

Domed ceiling of the New Mosque.

Afterwards, we headed up the extremely steep hill to Sultanahmet, the area where most of the major sights are located. We visited the Aya Sofya (also known as the Hagia Sofia in Greek) which was once a church, then a mosque and is now a museum. The vast building was built by the Byzantium emperor Justinian in 537CE and was a church until 1453, when it became an Imperial mosque. The whole place speaks of decaying grandeur and is certainly both breathtakingly beautiful but also delicate. Once you become accustomed to the sheer size of the building, there’s an awful lot to see including: the mosaics, a marble door, some possibly Viking graffiti and huge Islamic medallions. Perhaps most bizarre of all is the Weeping Column which was supposedly blessed by St. Gregory and is now moist. As the story goes, if you put your thumb in the hole in the column and your thumb is damp when you remove it, the moisture will cure your ailments.

The Aya Sofya from the gardens of the Blue Mosque.

The Aya Sofya from the gardens of the Blue Mosque.

After lunch (kebab – when in Istanbul and all that.), we headed to the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar. Shopping in Istanbul is not a relaxing experience: the vendors are attempting to lure you into their shops with flattery and are fairly persistent too. If you hate to haggle (as I certainly do) then be on your guard. Nevertheless the bazaars are beautiful and the assortment of olives, cheeses, spices, Turkish delight, baklava, lamps, tiles, cloth and jewels is certainly an assault on the senses.
Check back next week for part 2. Thanks for reading 🙂

The Aya Sofya

The Aya Sofya


Mosaic in the Aya Sofya. The Madonna and Child are flanked by the Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (L) and the Empress Zoe (R).

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