Straddling Continents and Cultures in Istanbul

Istanbul is quite the unique city. It strategically sits on the Bosphorus Strait, one of the world’s busiest trade routes, that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and ultimately the Mediterranean. The city also straddles two continents: Europe and Asia. It’s unparalleled location gives it a unique blending of Eastern and Western culture mixed in with over 2,500 years of history.

The Hagia Sofia

The Blue Mosque

Istanbul’s main historic and religious sights date back to Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods. Two of the most famous religious buildings in the city lie directly across from one another at Sultanahmet Square: The Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.

The Hagia Sofia was originally built as a Greek Orthodox cathedral in 537.  It served as a church until it was converted into a mosque when Constantinople was taken over by the Ottomans in 1453. Since 1929, however, the building no longer holds services and is considered a museum.

The Blue Mosque was built much later between 1609-1616.  Its official name is the Sultanahmet Mosque but is commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque due to the blue titles that adorn the interior.

The interior of the Hagia Sofia

Mosaics and stone tiles lining the walls of the Hagia Sofia

Based on timing, we chose to only visit the inside of the Hagia Sofia. The interior of the Hagia Sofia is beautifully decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics, large stone titles, and marble pillars. The decorations within have changed and evolved over the many centuries since its initial construction.

The detail and color of the mosaics were incredible

A mosaic of a Hexapterygon or six-winged angel

Crosses that were painted over with Islamic art.

The interior of the dome

We noticed these fliers placed on the interior walls and instantly recognized them as lidar survey markers. Way cool!

Some of the painted(left one) and real(right two) stone tiles lining the walls inside.

Artwork adorning the Hagia Sophia – interestingly, the stone on the far left depicts dolphins and tridents – both relating to worship of the sea god Poseidon/Neptune, which pre-date Christianity.

Immense scaffolding being used to do restoration work on the interior

Egyptian Spice Bazaar

After the Hagia Sofia, we headed to the two famous bazaars in the city: the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar was an explosion of color and smells. Here vividly colored spices are displayed alongside Turkish delight, nuts, and every kind of dried fruit imaginable. Built in 1660, the bazaar was and still is the center for spice trade in Istanbul.

One of the many streets in the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is HUGE. It spans 61 covered streets and contains over 3,000 shops. The core of the Bazaar was constructed in 1455 and continued to expand until the 17th century. The Bazaar can be like a maze, trapping visitors for hours as they wind their way through shops selling leather, jewelry, metal work, spices, and carpets.

Views from the Bosphorus Straight

Near the Spice Market is Topkapi Palace, the home of the Ottoman sultans from 1465–1856. The Palace lies on the shores of the Bosphorus and at one point housed over 4,000 people. Thick, tall walls surround four large courtyards and numerous buildings.

One of the views of the Bosphorus from Topkapi Palace

Architectural details around Topkapi Palace

Dome interior at Topkapi Palace

Kaleidoscope of Islamic tiles from Topkapi Palace

From Istanbul we flew to Nevşehir and the Anatolian plains to visit Cappadocia, a region of unwordly beauty and fascinating geology. Bring on the adventure!

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