To celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, my wife Jan and I wanted to travel somewhere exotic and far away. We settled on Istanbul, Turkey, and booked our trip immediately. Despite our impulsive decision, the choice proved to be an excellent one. Of all the places that I have traveled, no destination has delivered an experience like Istanbul. Our week in the city was everything you hope for in travel.
Istanbul has been known by many names, the most famous being Byzantium, the center of the Byzantine empire, and Constantinople, the center of Christendom until the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453. The layers of history and intrigue seem tangible to the senses as you arrive in Istanbul. The Islamic call to prayer is heard five times each day, broadcast from the minarets of the innumerable mosques in the city. The call serves as a repeated reminder of the exotic locale.
During one of our evening meals, I recorded the final call to prayer of the night. At the time, we were near two of the most famous structures in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. What you will hear in the recording is an alternating call to prayer, originating from each of the two mosques.
Click the play button to hear the recording.
Call to prayer, duelling muezzins, Istanbul, July 2012
Entrance to the Grand Bazaar, over 4000 shops in a maze of covered streets.
A lamp seller in the Grand Bazaar.
A street or hallway inside the Grand Bazaar.
Another entrance to the Grand Bazaar
Visiting a carpet seller was quite an experience. After a thirty minute process and the unfurling of dozens of rugs, we settled on this one.
An ancient column on the Hippodrome, and a mimosa tree. We also noticed magnolias in some places.
The famous Sultanahmet or "Blue" Mosque.
Inside the courtyard of the Blue Mosque
Domes of the Blue Mosque.
Stained glass inside the Blue Mosque. You can also see the mihrab or niche that indicates the direction of Mecca.
The Blue Mosque was beautiful, but also crowded and hot.
The namesake blue tilework of the Blue Mosque
Exterior of the mosque. Arches and minaret.
Flowers were everywhere in Istanbul. This is on the grounds of the Blue Mosque
More green space outside the mosque.
Another view of the Blue Mosque
The Hagia Sophia, a nearly 1500 year old church, then mosque, and now a museum.
Hagia Sophia was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years.
Inside the Hagia Sophia.
Domes upon domes inside the Hagia Sophia
The domes of the Hagia Sophia. Note the intricate calligraphy at the pinnacle.
More Hagia Sophia. A tile mural is visible in the upper right.
Ornate column and archway inside Hagia Sophia.
A view from inside
Stained glass, and the mihrab.
The Islamic calligraphic roundels were added during a renovation in the mid 1800s.
Two of eight roundels representing Allah, Muhammad, the first four caliphs, and two grandsons of Muhammad
The Deësis tile mosaic dates from 1261.
Closeup of Christ from the tile mosaic.
This Virgin Mary mosaic is older still, dating to 1122.
Another mosaic from the 11th century
A last view of Hagia Sophia which captures the magnitude of the space.
The New Mosque, "only" 300 years old.
The Süleymaniye Mosque, built on the orders of Süleyman the Magnificent. Completed in 1558.
The Galata Tower, as seen from the old city across the Golden Horn
From our boat tour of the Bosphorus Strait, a mosque on the waterfront.
The Dolmabahce Palace.
The sultan moved his family to Dolmabahce in the 1850s, upgrading to a more modern style from Topkapi Palace.
Boats moored off the Bosphorus
The first bridge was built over the Bosphorus in 1973, connecting Europe and Asia across the narrow strait.
The waters of the Bosphorus were beautiful and clean, and we saw many swimmers.
Fortress built at the narrowest part of the strait to control sea traffic in the 15th century.
Like so much of Istanbul, the modern lies amidst the ancient
The local pilsner Efes was a welcome relief from the July heat.
Ottoman cuisine focuses on baked dishes like this one at Bodrum restaurant.
A similar Turkish shrimp dish, in contrast to the vast selection of Turkish kebabs.
Jan at an Indian restaurant called Dubb, one of our favorite meals of the trip
Cats are everywhere in the city. In restaurants, the cat in residence would often lie down next to our table.
The city’s many minarets are illuminated in the evening. This is the Blue Mosque.
Another view of the mosque from our restaurant table. The call to prayer recording is from this spot.
The archaeological museum was amazing, with a vast collection of artifacts
The museum houses over a million items, one of the most renowned collections in the world.
A large collection of sarcophagi were unearthed by the museum’s founder Osman Hamdi Bey.
Ken in the Archaeological Museum.
The well-preserved carvings on the sides of the sarcophagi were striking
The Tiled Kiosk museum features porcelain and tile work from Turkey.
Blue tile detail.
The museum’s namesake Tiled Kiosk or Mihrab.
Arch decoration at the Tiled Kiosk museum
Artifact with large gemstones in the skirt.
A view of Topkapi Palace from the Golden Horn.
Suleyman Mosque, also from the Golden Horn.
Returning from our boat tour, approaching the Galata bridge
Fish restaurants under the Galata bridge, our next stop.
A whole fish encased in salt, cooked tableside. The waiters then use a rubber mallet to break the salt away, debone the fish, and serve.
Another view of the New or Yeni Mosque.
The Sirkeci train station, once the endpoint of the Orient Express from Paris
Another mosque at dusk.
Inside the Sirkeci train station.
Excellent tea was served everywhere, always in this distinctive shaped glass.
Fresh cherries at the market
Near the Sea of Marmara, we stumbled into an amazing row of fish restaurants preparing to open.
Row after row of tables, each restaurant delineated only by a change in color of the tablecloths.
The restaurants extended the entire length of the street.
Fisherman at the seashore of the Sea of Marmara
Finally we headed to Topkapi Palace, home to sultans for four centuries after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople.
It seems that amazing calligraphy adorns everything in Istanbul. The circular piece is a sultan’s tughra, or seal.
The main gate into the palace.
From our meal at Topkapi, you can get a sense of the busy Bosphorus traffic with boats heading in all directions
With centuries to outdo each other, the sultans added more and more ornate decorations to the palace.
The harem was where the sultan’s hundreds of concubines lived.
The only males allowed inside the harem were the sultan and his sons, and the eunuchs.
One of my favorite shots from the harem, the courtyard of the black eunuchs
Inscriptions on the wall of the eunuch’s courtyard.
Deeper into the harem.
Tiled domes inside the harem.
The sultan’s mother’s courtyard in the harem.
Sitting area in the harem.
Notice the intricate window ironwork.
Jan in the sultan’s courtyard.
Another view of the sultan’s courtyard in the harem, with a burka-clad visitor
Other side of sultan’s courtyard, complete with an exhausted tourist!
Back at our hotel now, at the rooftop restaurant. The ships are moored in the Sea of Marmara.
A street scene from our bus tour of the area
Flowers and green space again.
A view of the first Bosphorus bridge. This side is Europe, the other Asia.
Approaching the bridge, headed for another continent.
Views from the bridge toward the Golden Horn and Marmara
On the Asian side, looking north over a Turkish flag.
Looking north toward the Black Sea from the bridge.
The Pera Palace hotel, built to receive passengers from the Orient Express.
The Pera Palace was the first European-style hotel built in Istanbul
Ken, enjoying a cocktail at the Pera’s terrace bar.
Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express while staying here.
Hemingway included the hotel in one of his short stories.
On nearby Istaklal street, this shopping mall extends four floors above the street, and four more below
Looking up the escalators.
Kneading bread in a storefront.
Ferry boats enable inter-continent commuting.
Car ferries and pedestrian ferries leave constantly from this port
These salesmen on the Ataturk bridge are sleeping on the job.
The trams are a convenient and cheap, but sometimes crowded option for getting around.
Even after several days in the city, it was still amazing to just look around at the architecture.
With its hilltop presence overlooking the water approach, Suleyman mosque remained one of the big draws for my attention
On the final night, we returned to the restaurant Dubb to enjoy the Indian food and the view of Hagia Sophia. What a city