Take this turkish tour guide and discover the five must see sights at the place where the east meets the west and where various cultures collide: the historical city of Istanbul. What was once known as “Constantinople” and “Byzantium”, Istanbul is an old city where you can see the cultural influences and legacies of its conquerors.
The first stop in your excursion is the Hagia Sophia which was built by Constantine the Great in the fourth century and is the only building in the world that has served three religions: The Pagans, the orthodox Christians, and the Sunni Islam. Also, known as “The Church of the Holy Wisdom” and Aya Sofya in Turkish, the building was a former Byzantine church that became an Ottoman mosque and is now a museum. Even now you can still see the unique view of the Islamic calligraphic roundels together with the Christian mosaics and interestingly enough, both of these religious sights can mostly be found in the east end of the building. It was believed that the greatness of the building influenced Russia to choose Orthodox Christianity instead of Catholicism. Probably one of the reasons for the building’s mysticism is that it may be the only place where two completely different religions exist and worship side by side.
Next in this tourist guide is the Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmet Camii in Turkish, where over 20,000 blue handmade ceramic Iznik tiles decorate the interior in various tulips, roses, carnations, and lilies. This mosque was commissioned by 19-year-old Sultan Ahmet I and it has six minarets instead of the usual two or four which caused a huge scandal back in the day. It is still a functioning mosque so you can still here prayers being chanted six times a day but be aware that the mosque will be closed to tourists during these times. Hanging at the north entrance gate are symbolic chains that encourage everyone, even the sultan, to bow their heads in humility upon entering the place of divinity. Before visiting the place, remember to be respectful of their religion and wear the appropriate attire.
Then take a tour of the largest and oldest palace in the world: Topkapi Palace. “Topkapi” in Turkish means “Gate of Cannons” as the huge cannons used during the Conquest of Constantinople are displayed outside its gates. A part of the palace is called the “Harem” which has 400 rooms and is where the sultan kept all of his children and his 300 concubines. In the kitchen, you can find a 14th century Longquan celadon bowls that was rumored to change color when touched by poisonous food. Now turned into a museum, the palace is home to many rare treasures including one of the largest diamonds in the world: an 86-carat Spoonmaker’s diamond.
Then go on an adventure tour beneath the city of Istanbul and discover the largest Byzantine cistern in the city: The Basilica Cistern. Back in the day, it was used to supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill. The surreal underground palace was constructed using 336 carved columns that were salvaged from ruined temples and at the far northwest corner, you will see two Medusa heads casually used as column bases. It is said that a hundred slaves died in the construction of the Basilica Cistern and that one column was engraved with tears to pay tribute to them. So, go on and descend the fifty-two stone steps underneath Istanbul to experience a world that the sun and the sky cannot reach.
Of course, you cannot end your individual tourism without buying some souvenirs and what better place to go shopping than at the oldest and one of the largest covered market in the world: The Grand Bazaar or Kapali Çarşı in Turkish. Admittedly, the 60 streets filled with 5,000 shops that attract around 250,000 to 400,000 visitors everyday can certainly be overwhelming but getting a personal tour guide should solve the problem of navigating this maze. Dating back since the 1400s, every street was dedicated to a certain profession and although most of these merchants have disappeared, the streets are still grouped by the product they sell which makes shopping so much easier. And if you ever get tired of the hassle and bustle of the marketplace, you can rest at one of the cafes and watch the people pass by. Three things you must never forget though: one, get a map; two, BARGAIN, BARGAIN, BARGAIN; and three, if they keep asking you if you want to buy a carpet, at least ask if it can fly.
Travel to the historical city of Istanbul and discover the wonderful and unique blend of history, religion, and culture that is imprinted in the city’s walls. Visit palaces, places of worship, and markets that stood witness to different generations. A vacation to Istanbul is definitely one to check off your bucket list. A rewarding experience awaits at the only the city that connects the two continents of Europe and Asia.