Our second day in Istanbul was still on the cultural side. With our apartment close to city life we were reminded on a daily basis that the major religion in Istanbul is Islam with the adhan prompting Muslims for the five daily prayers. The calling for prayer at pre-dawn was the one that woke me the first few nights, but its amazing how your body clock can get used to that. We also had all the windows open, so every sound filtered through… and it was never quiet!
So on our second day we took a bus tour through the city. I know it is very touristic, but it is just one of these things that when you want to get a picture in your mind of what a city looks like these bus tours are the thing to do. They give you background and give you a systematic lay-out of the city. On top of that you can hop on and hop off as you like, and maybe just decide to do something else…
So we got on the bus at Taksim Square, because our apartment was close to the Square. Taksim Square has been in the news since end of May this year because of a peaceful protest over a decision to turn the bordering park into a shopping mall. Unfortunately these protests have snowballed into something much bigger, calling for the resignation of the Turkish AK ruling party. At least five people have died because of these protest and the government’s handling of it. The police presence was impressive when we were there with hundreds of police men deployed standing with shields waiting. The media presence was also notable with journalists sitting at the different restaurants bordering the square waiting for action… We heard singing and marching a few nights from our apartment, but they all seemed peaceful.
We were tourists in Istanbul and also saw Taksim Square as the leisure district it is with restaurants, wonderful shops and hotels in the heart of modern Istanbul, which we really enjoyed!
Parts of the old city walls or the Walls of Constantinople are very visible from the bus tour. These city walls were a series of stone walls that have surrounded and protected the city of Constantinople (Istanbul) since its founding as the new capital by Constantine the Great. The walls were largely maintained intact during most of the Ottoman period until sections began to be dismantled in the 19th century as the city outgrew its medieval boundaries. Many parts are still standing today.
Other places we saw from the bus tour were the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the different bazaars and many more monuments and places of historical value.
The Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Mosque as called by the Turkish people, was built between 1609 and 1619 with six minarets and blue tiles on its pillars. According to a story many moons ago ancient sailors recall that when the ships would sail past this mosque on the Marmara Sea, the blue of the sea would reflect on the mosque, that is why is was called the Blue Mosque. One cannot experience that anymore because so many high buildings have in the meantime been built between the sea and the mosque. I would think the name derived from the more obvious reason – the blue tiles which are really striking on the pillars, but also when you lift your eyes up to the domes. It is still an active building so it is closed to visitors during prayer time.
The Hagia Sophia Museum is of great architectural importance as well as an important monument for both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It was first a church, then a mosque and now a museum. The queues were very long when we arrived, so we had to give that a miss unfortunately.
And yes we did fall for the luring into a carpet shop. What a feast for the eyes – all those colours and textures, carpets rolled up leaning and others stacked against the walls. The seller laid some of the carpets out on the floor which showed off their beautiful intricate and elaborate patterns, one more beautiful than the other.
He knew how to make us feel welcome and offered us delicious apple tea, a winner in the heat of the day. But we said we’ll think about it….the carpet that is.
And to the Prince’s Islands next….