On the Other Side of the Golden Horn

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

A visit to Istanbul is not complete without crossing the Golden Horn to the other side of European Istanbul.  And it cannot be any easier.  A short walk from the Grand Bazaar you can cross the Golden Horn (which back in the day was closed with a long chain to prevent ships from coming in) by bridge or by a short boat ride to the Galata/Karaköy area.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, sea, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Walking to catch a boat to cross the Golden Horn (Galata Tower to the upper left)

I opted to cross by boat.  Upon landing on the other side, I went past a spot with a lot of activity where fishermen came in with their goods.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, fish, Karakoy, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Fishermen with their goods

The sea was right there, no big barrier between the sidewalk and the beautiful blue waters of the Bosphorus!

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Looking back across the Golden Horn towards Topkapi Palace

I made my way to the Galata Tower (about 67m high) built in 1348 by the Genoese who had commercial interests in then-Constantinople.  It sits on a hillside so you will do some exercise getting there and then you will climb it.  Yes, lots of work but you will rewarded with great views of Istanbul landmarks like Topkapı Palace, the Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, photos, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

View from the Galata Tower towards Seraglio Point. You can see, from left to right, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Blues Mosque

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking towards the Asian side of Istanbul

Along the way, I stopped at the Neve Shalom Synagogue that had been bombed a dozen years earlier (and then 5 years after my visit).  It is not an old building by Istanbul standards having been finished I 1951 but it is the largest Sephardic synagogue in Istanbul.  The guards were not sure if to let us in but they spoke Turkish and Yiddish only, languages none of us knew.  Thankfully German (which I spoke at a very elementary level) and Yiddish sort of relate a little – enough to say we were American, to understand they wanted to know what hotel we were staying at, and answering.  We were allowed in.

Beyond these places, I enjoyed a local place called Ece Bar in Tramvay Caddesi, facing the Bosphorus.  It was a three level locale with the bottom level offering a feel for traditional local music and dance.  We were hosted by the owner, Ece, and it was a neat experience.  Other levels offered more standard restaurant and bar services.  I have tried to see if it is still in operation but have had no luck.

I also meandered up some large avenue going east-ish from the Golden Horn which gave me an opportunity to see more of modern Istanbul, not just the old quarter where I spent most of my time.  Istanbul offers contrasts in so many ways:  the population reflects in its “look” the mix of peoples that have been through here; modern buildings sitting side by side structures from days long gone in one incredible juxtaposition.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, modernity, juxtaposition, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The juxtaposition is everywhere

At the end of this walk I met my friend’s girlfriend for lunch and then I decided not to walk back as I was tired and ended up with a mini-adventure.  See, I wanted to come back by water so I could admire the grand old mansions that sit right by the shores of the Bosphorus.  However, I somehow got lost trying to find a boat stop and the locals I ran into spoke none of the languages I could communicate in at the time (English, Spanish, French and German).  After a lot of walking and beginning to wonder what to do, I ran into an older Dutch couple who had a clue and who were doing exactly what I had hoped to do – success!!

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Dolmabahçe Palace, an European style palace built towards the end of the Ottoman years; where Ataturk died

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

Other grand buildings along the Bosphorus

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

Other grand buildings along the Bosphorus

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

Other grand buildings along the Bosphorus

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

Can you imagine living on the building right under the bridge??

I highly recommend the crossing of the Golden Horn and a boat ride along the shores of the Bosphorus (not just crossing the Golden Horn) as you will a glimpse of the Istanbul of today – and of yesteryear.

The Ottoman Ruler’s Residence: Topkapı Palace

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Topkapı Palace sits at the entrance to the Golden Horn, an inlet of water that splits the European side of Istanbul.  It is located quite close to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  It was the Ottoman ruler’s humble abode for part of the time they ruled the empire (the rulers eventually moved to a different type of palace of a more European style further up the Bosphorus).  This palace is where the Empire was managed from – an empire that at peak included, more or less, Southeast Europe, Western Asia, part of North Africa, and the Horn of Africa.  A Muslim empire that was quite tolerant of other religions.  And an empire feared in Christian Europe.  Eventually the empire disintegrated over a period of a few decades finally ending its life after World War I.

The palace is strategically situated high on a promontory on the tip of Istanbul (Seraglio Point) west of the Golden Horn which affords great views of the Karakoy/Galata area, the Bosphorus and the Asian side of the city.  It consists of many buildings and gardens so it was not a massive building as were more European-style palaces like Versailles or El Escorial.  The most important buildings sit up high with the rest of the complex working its way down to the shores of the Bosphorus where the complex is walled with some parts of the walls going all the way back to what was then the acropolis of Byzantium.

An interesting part of the palace is its imperial harem where the sultan kept his many wives, concubines but also where the women of the royal family lived – and schemed.  It must have been an interesting place with all the intrigues, jealousies and power fights.  The mother of the sultan ruled the roost so it surely must have been a fun place!  You may picture the harem as a big room with women just laying around (I did, anyway) but it really is a series of buildings consisting of over 400 rooms!  Of course, space was allocated according to rank.  Oh, and this also included the eunuchs (slaves especially trained –and castrated- to serve in the harem) who guarded and took care of the harem.

Today, the palace is a museum, letting the visitor get a glimpse of some of the spaces, enjoy the vistas, and see some of the collection of important artifacts in the gallery.  I enjoyed learning more about the sultans and Ottoman Empire, especially in such an incredible location in such an incredible and unique city.

Below is a gallery of photos of the buildings, rooms, grounds, and vistas of the Topkapi Palace, a must-see in Istanbul!

Click on the pictures to enlarge and view.

A True Representative of Its Hometown: Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia

Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Hagia Sophia, church, mosque, museum, dome, minaret, Justinian, Great Schism, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

After having had some challenges getting out of Egypt, my arrival in Istanbul continued to offer “experiences” as there was an unexpected change of plans that I shared in my Boarding Pass Series post about Istanbul.  Since I had to find a place to stay all of a sudden, I opened my guidebook and fished around for some hotel that looked well situated, cheap enough, and nice enough. And that’s how I found the Hotel Pierre Loti, a small but well located hotel that became my source of accommodations for 5 days.  It was definitely an easy walk to the main historic sites, like Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque, and a score for the price point.

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A city that straddles Europe (foreground) and Asia (background), divided by the Bosphorus

Each of the places I want to share with you deserves its own post, not only because of what I want to say about them but also because of the photos I want to share.  If you are visiting Istanbul, one thing to keep in mind is that most of the places I write about are within walking distance of each other so it is only a matter of how much you can or want to cover in one day.

In this first post, I will share what I consider to be the crown jewel of Istanbul as a history and architecture lover –  its “grand dame”: the Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom.

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Without further ado, the Hagia Sophia

A church is born

This is one of the most amazing structures that I have seen.  It is not imposing in the same way that, say, Versailles is amazing.  But if you hear or read its story and consider how old that structure is, it is nothing short of incredible.  I stood in the center of the museum looking around in awe and disbelief that I finally got to see in person this unique piece of architecture and history that I had learned about in high school days.  The ability to build a structure that could support such a large dome back when the church was built is incredible in and of itself (the dome has had repairs over the centuries).

The current structure with its massive dome has its origin in the 6th century when it was built by Roman emperor Justinian as a Christian church (it was the third church built on that site).  It was one of the most magnificent churches in the world at that time and for centuries to come.  In fact, it was the world’s largest cathedral for a thousand years!  (You may wonder “who” dethroned it… the Cathedral of Seville built in 1520).

Istanbul, Turkey, Hagia Sophia, church, mosque, museum, dome, minaret, Justinian, Great Schism, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

A massive base was needed to support the dome

Hagia Sophia was decorated with mosaics all around and it is said to have re-defined the course of architecture.  While it remained an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral for close to 900 years, for a very brief period (at that time scale), it served as a Roman Catholic Cathedral.   In a way, Hagia Sophia was at the epicenter of the Great Schism that resulted in the split of the Catholic Church into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox “versions” around the year 1053.

Transformation into a mosque

The Christian church was converted to a mosque when Constantinople fell to the conquering Ottomans who came from what is today Asian Turkey in 1453.  Lovers of history (or those with good memories of their world history class) know this was a key turning point in history.  This event ended the existence of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine eastern half of the former Roman Empire).  In essence, this killed off the last remnant of the Roman Empire which had existed in one form or another for around 1,500 years.

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Ablution fountain added in its conversion to a mosque for ritual purification

As part of the conversion to a mosque, minarets were added to the church so it would be a proper mosque and the mosaics were covered up or removed as images of people are not appropriate in a mosque.  While I realize this goes with the belief system, I am saddened to think of all the beauty we don’t get to see.  But at least the beautiful Islamic features compensate the loss of a good number of the mosaics.

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One of the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia (Virgin and Child flanked by Justinian I and Constantine I)

Its current state

Eventually, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire (around World War I), Turkey moved to a more secular state under the guidance of its modernizing leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (my visit coincided with the 60th anniversary of his death hence you will notice flags at half mast in photos I may show in other posts from this trip).

During his presidency (he founded modern Turkey and was its first president), the Hagia Sophia was secularized by being converted into a museum.  Like with any of the places on this list, a guided tour or audio guide (if available now) are the way to go; you will not truly understand the significance of the place without getting all the background.  But the good news is that, so we can appreciate the history of the place, a few of the mosaics have been exposed.  Impressive.  The Hagia Sophia had fallen into disrepair but, mercifully, thanks to corporations and governments, the various issues are being worked through.  One key item that was addressed was the potential risk to the dome’s long term viability.

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Ritual purification urn brought in during its time as a mosque

For me and my interests, nothing beats the Hagia Sophia as the number one sight to see in Istanbul.  And the day I return to Istanbul, you can be sure I will be going again.

Before you go, which days it is open (as with anything).  Last I checked it was closed on Mondays.

A structure that represents its city

Istanbul, like the Hagia Sophia, has gone through a lot of “conversions”:  Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul.  Due to its location at the crossroads of the “world” for many centuries, Istanbul has had a part in or been affected by most events in that part of the world.  I am still fascinated by this incredible city that has seen so much and serves witness to all it has seen and by this structure that reflects all that perfectly.

I would really enjoy returning and spending another week exploring the many things I still did not get to discover in my only visit there.  Stay tuned for more posts about the sights and sites of this great city.  I leave you with a rewarding view of the Bosphorus.

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The sun sets on the Bosphorus and Istanbul

 

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