We spent two days in this amazing port. It also holds with it much distinction among places I’ve been. Autumn is coming, bringing with it the end of the high tourism season, and a super appreciated mild yet warm and sunny climate. Our first day we set right out to accomplish two of the popular sites – the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern.
Now after taking a tour of the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi less than a month ago, the grandeur of the Blue Mosque is weighted a little differently in my eyes. I truly value the historical significance of this Turkish one and since the Emirate mosque is recently built, they shouldn’t even be compared on the same scale, but one can’t help but notice the difference. The tile work throughout the interior of the Sultanahmet Mosque, its official name, is beyond impressive with patterned mosaics reaching to the tiptop of the highest domes. The building itself is not blue, but is referred to as that because of the hue given off the exterior on a hazy day. It actually contains six minarets on the grounds rather than four because the greedy little 19-year-old sultan who ordered it built in 1609 must have slurred his demand for gold ones since the word for six and gold are very similar.
Our next stop, the Basilica Cistern, is one of the most amazing places I’ve seen in a port. A cistern is basically an underground receptacle created to store rainwater. Turkey contains hundreds of them beneath the streets. I had never heard of them before but I saw a picture and decided I had to experience it for real. Totally worth it! 336 columns hold up the stone ceilings and are lit from below with beautiful orange lights giving it a gorgeous surreal glow. Carp of all sizes swim through the shallow water below, which was imported from a neighboring town. In the back corner are two gigantic Medusa statue heads, one upside down, the other laying sideways, beneath two of the columns. Their origin is unknown.
We experienced our first hookah bar in the evening with a large group of crew members to end our beautiful day and charge us up for another enthralling one of running around this ancient city. We caught the metro the second day up to the Topkapi Palace Museum and had a look around the yards and treasury, much of it containing jewels and relics taken from other countries, including an 86 carat diamond known as the Spoonmaker’s Diamond. Unfortunately, the Friday we visited appeared to be a national children’s fieldtrip day. The grounds were CRAWLING with children, adorned with more stylish clothes and more recent technological devices than the four of us, yet half the manners.
We anxiously headed out to the Grand Bazaar to begin our shopping spree, which ended in exciting and colorful votive lanterns, many a clothes for the boyfriend, Turkish tea, and even a unique hookah. The shopping center is a maze of countless stalls and shops offering basically the same few items in different colors and sizes: mosaic lanterns, hookahs, decorative painted plates, leather jackets, and name brand knockoff clothing. It’s an uncommon treat to come across a unique stall offering something different.
We found our way back through the crowded streets without the aid of a map getting back just in time to enjoy a freshly squeezed pomegranate orange juice before saying goodbye to the beautiful city of Istanbul.