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Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
The Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Mosque

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, with a population of over 13 million.  It is located on the Bosphorus at the Sea of Marmara and sits at the crossroads between Europe and Asia.  Founded as Byzantium around 660BC, Istanbul became the head of the Roman Empire in 330 AD when it became known as Constantinople, after the Holy Roman Emperor Constantine I.  The Ottomans ruled the area from 1299 AD - 1923 AD.  Under their influence, Istanbul became largely Muslim.

Weather:

Istanbul is closer to the Black Sea than the Mediterranean and experiences a slightly cooler climate and higher humidity as a result.  In the summer months of June - August, expect average highs of 80 F (26 C) and average lows of 68 F (20 C).  In the winter months from December - March, average highs are 48 F (9 C) and average lows of 40 F (4 C).  Precipitation is higher in the winter months.  June is an excellent time to visit Istanbul for nice weather.

   

Transportation:

Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) is about a 30 minute cab ride from the downtown attractions.  İstanbul Ulaşım (Istanbul Transport) operates 4 metro lines in Istanbul.  The M1 line will take you from the airport to the tourist area in about 45 minutes.  There are numerous other buses, trams and ferries in Istanbul that are a benefit to the experienced traveler.  Rail connections with Vienna and the rest of Europe are excellent.  Cruise ship passengers who want to skip an organized tour can walk to the Galata Tower and then cross the Galata Bridge to visit all the major attractions of the old city.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia

Things to see and do in Istanbul:

  • Hagia Sofia - A Byzantine church built in 600 AD, converted to a mosque and now a public building.  It is located a short walk away from the Blue Mosque.  When Hagia Sophia was turned from a church to a mosque, the altar was repositioned to face Mecca.  Some of the original Christian figures remain in mosaics despite the fact that Muslim do not portray the human form in their mosques.  They only use patterns and phrases praising Allah.

  • The Blue Mosque - It gets its name from the use of turquoise and turquoise gets its name from the word Turkey.  The Blue Mosque is also known at the Sultanahmet Mosque after Sultan Ahmed I, the Ottoman Emperor who had it built in 1616 AD.  

  • Don't miss the Basilica Cistern subterranean chamber with 336 marble pillars supporting the roof.  Its entrance is hard to find, located 500 feet (150 m) southwest of the Hagia Sophia.

  • The Hippodrome - next to the Blue Mosque.  The Hippodrome was built in 200 AD by the Romans and chariot races were held here.  It also includes the Egyptian Obelisk transported from Egypt.  The structure is only 1/3 its original height.

  • Topkapi Palace - the residence of the Ottoman Emperors, located within easy walking distance of Hagia Sophia.

  • The Grand Bazaar - one of the largest bazaars in the world, with over 1,200 shops and sections.  Sample a Turkish Delight and buy a carpet!

  • The Egyptian Spice Market -  at the southern end of the Galata Bridge .

  • Cross the Galata Bridge - the bridge crosses the bay known as the Golden Horn.  The bridge is two levels and joins the cruise ship port and the new city to the old town.  Expect lots of fishermen on the top level, which means lots of fish lines in view when you eat on the lower level or walk across it.  Smoke a nargile (Turkish water pipe) here or try a fish sandwich cooked on boats docked beside the bridge.

 Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Topkapi Palace

  • The Galata Tower - right beside the cruise ship terminal and the Galata Bridge.

  • Istiklal Avenue and Taksim Square - the busy heart of the modern city.

  • Take a cruise or ferry on the Bosphorus.

  • Suleiman Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii) - 16th-century mosque built by Suleiman the Magnificent.

  • Beyazit Tower - on the campus of the University of Istanbul, near the Suleiman Mosque.  This former Ottoman fire tower now produces weather reports based on the color it emits.

  • See a Whirling Dervish performance.

  • Visit a Turkish bath (hamam).

  • Cross the Bosphorus Bridge to Asia.

  • Rumeli Hisari Fortress - built by the Ottomans just prior to conquering Constantinople

  • Ortakoy Mosque

  • Dolmabahçe Palace

  • Istanbul Archaeology Museums

  • Little Hagia Sophia

  • Princes Islands - in the Marmara Sea near Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Fishing off the Galata Bridge

Istanbul Tours:

Hotels in Istanbul:

Take That Vacation Recommendations for Istanbul:

Istanbul Ataturk Airport - (IST) - including a list of hotels with a shuttle.


View Istanbul map

A day in Istanbul

by Tim Anderson
Our entrance to Istanbul by sea was grand, with a sail past of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi Palace. We docked right near the bridge and near to the Ruby Princess. That meant we could avoid the taxis altogether. We left the tourists behind and wound our way a short distance to the Gelata Bridge, also known as the Golden Horn Bridge. Both sides of the upper deck were lined with fisherman. At the western side were the small boats that rock in the waves and sell fresh cooked fish in much the same manner as a hotdog vendor. We were quickly in to the Egyptian Bazaar and literally a world of Turkish delights. From there we headed up to the grounds of Topkapi Palace but decided not to go in. The Ruby Princess tour group passed us, following the Princess symbol raised above the crowd – not how I care to visit places at all. We went to Haiga Sofia. At the ticket booth they only took Turkish lira, so we had to leave the grounds and buy the currency from a designated vendor just outside the gates. Hagia Sofia is an unusual structure and I’m glad I went. It is gloomy even though it lets in considerable light. The large stone structure has the appearance of a giant fortification and doesn’t belie its origins as a church and then a mosque. Today it’s simply a tourist stop. There are some remaining Christian mosaics, but after it became a mosque, the emphasis switched to patterns and text praising Allah. The altar was modified off center to align with Mecca. 

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Next we had a very unusual experience at the Blue Mosque. It was closing for 2 hours for prayer and we were turned back. A man who indicated he wasn’t a tour guide convinced them to let us in the exit. Inside we were unnerved that he turned out to be a carpet salesman doing his best to make us indebted to him so that we would make a purchase at his shop after our mosque tour. We indicated we would not be buying a carpet and he quickly latched on to one of the few remaining tourists in the temple. It was interesting to be in the mosque as the crowds dwindled and only the Moslems remained. It was not nearly at beautiful inside as the impression it makes over the city from the outside.

Spice Market, Istanbul, Turkey

Spice Market

Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar, which we amazingly found without too much trouble. We wandered about through the crowds, carpets, jewelry and vendors rushing to deliver hot glasses of tea. It was pleasantly crazy. Vendors continually and quite politely solicited our business. We asked a couple of times how to find the spice market and received conflicting directions that never helped us along. We left the bazaar and wandered the streets on its edge toward the bridge. We stopped and bought some lamb and chicken gyros. From there the volume of people in foreign dress and vendors shouting for attention reached a maximum. Suddenly there were spices everywhere and lovely aromas. We were very comfortable in the bazaar, but we weren’t in Tourist Land any more. I asked a price on a bronze mortar and pestle and offered slightly less. When the vendor wouldn’t move on the price, I politely said goodbye and was surprised he made no effort to retain my business. None of the tour groups were around and we felt we were getting a more realistic view of Istanbul. We emerged from the chaos right at the bridge and easily returned to the ship. We’d conquered Istanbul on our own!


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