Today we will take a step back in time in 2012, to tell you something about a long weekend (4 days from Friday to Monday) spent in a beautiful city, former capital of the Ottoman Empire:
This huge and full of people city – the second one in Europe, after Moscow – was already capital with the name of Byzantium first, and then Constantinople, passing from Christian to Islamic sovereignty in 1453 after the very famous “siege of Constantinople” by the janissaries Ottomans.
One of the many things we discovered when visiting these places, was that the Ottoman army, unlike the Crusaders before them, once they conquered the city did not raze the symbolic places of religion practiced by enemies, but in a more forward-looking way this places were “reconsecrated“; that’s what they did with the beautiful Basilica of St. Sofia that was turned into a mosque, covering the symbols of Christianity and adding the very high minarets, for the daily prayers of the müezzin.
Legend tells that, when the empire restorers were engaged in repainting one of the walls, a cross was always out of the overlapping layers of paint; that was interpreted by the Christians as a sort of opposition of divine nature to the conversion of the basilica into mosque.
Today it is strictly forbidden to practice any kind of cult within it, which has become a museum.
Like St. Sofia, the church of St. Salvatore in Chora was also transformed into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks, who also preserved the beautiful Byzantine frescoes in this case.
Beyond its beauty, what struck us most came after our visit:
outside, there was an aged street vendor, from whom we decided to buy the classic “fez” for children (look at the first pic); this aged man was so surprised by the fact that a “western” family had so many children, he began to give all he could to the children, and did not allow us to pay: I still remember his words, addressed to me, as family man: “You are a rich men” … he was absolutely right!
Church of St. Salvatore in Chora
Another place of worship (in this case “active”, but open to visitors) is the famous Blue Mosque, which has a beautiful internal atmosphere especially at sunset, when the filter light illuminates the turquoise tiles inside, giving rise to its name.
Obviously, as for any place of worship, strictly observe the rules for access, and more in general, be respectful.
Also the famous Topkapi Palace, that was the residence of Sultans and today is a museum whit a huge quantity of amazing jewels inside – including the golden dagger with diamonds and emeralds, and the diamond of about 200 carats, both in the forbidden dreams of museums, collectors and .. thieves all over the world – well this also was a place where we lived a nice anecdote:
just as we stood in front of the case where the famous dagger is – with a string to mark the necessary distance from the visitors – our son Maximo – who at the time was only 3 years and 4 months – thought that he could pass under the rope to get closer to the case; so I tried to catch it “on the fly” before any alarm system turned on, but …
well, I was rebuked by a museum guardian, a woman who said to me sternly: “Don’t touch children, ever!“. Right, even when they are about to throw themselves on a treasure 🙂
Dagger and diamond in the Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace
The Basilica Cistern is another enchanting place to visit: it’s a spectacular water reserve that makes you realize how great was the works that were made by engineers and architects more than 1,500 years ago: just thinking that this huge water reserve flowed from the territory of present-day Serbia, and was built reusing columns and materials from other disused previous works, and this explains the “strange” presence of 2 huge Medusa heads turned upside down as a base of columns. The music in the background makes it even more magical to walk on the catwalks, really not to be missed!
Basilica Cistern – 1
Basilica Cistern – 2
Basilica Cistern – Head of the Medusa
The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is another top and unmissable place, it is gigantic and nevertheless always full of people and tourists, you can really be lost between 4,000 shops and dozens of streets inside.
Remember that Sunday is closed, and the other days closing time is at 19:00. Have fun turning around and stop to drink an excellent tea to refresh yourself, or eat a pretzel bought by street vendors.
And don’t miss the stop at the Spice Market! It is about a 10 minute walking from the Grand Bazaar, even this requires its time to be visited, let’s say you could spend a whole day visiting both Bazaar and Market.
Last stop of our romantic weekend was the Bosphorus Tour: of course by boat, where usually tea is served (I already said how good it is here?!) and beyond the trip on a river that perhaps has nothing so extraordinary, you have to think about where you are:
this river is the border between the Black Sea to the north, and the Sea of Marmara to the south;
but above all it marks the border, or rather the meeting between the European continent and the Asian one, between East and West.
Bros on the Bosphorus
Bosphorus – Western side
The Bosphorus Bridge
Besides all the sad facts of blood and terror that have occurred and continue to occur in this area, it’s a fact that this city is ineluctably the “meeting place” between different cultures and religions.
A city that can, and must, continue to transmit this message to the whole world.
Last personal note:
This trip to Istanbul was made on the occasion of Lorena’s birthday, so:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAMI!
If you want more detailed information on what to visit and how to organize a weekend in Istanbul, please contact us!
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