© 2012 Kim

Istanbul, Turkey Day 5 – Walking Tour of Istanbul

Today, we toured Istanbul extensively with our private tour guide, Denizhan, from Tours by Locals. We started off the morning with a light snow fall that soon stopped and became a beautiful albeit chilly day. According to the locals, it doesn’t snow very often in Istanbul, so it was a special added treat for us to see.

First stop was the Blue Mosque located a short distance from our hotel. The Blue Mosque was built by the imperial architect, Mehmet Aga between 1609 and 1616. It is called the Blue Mosque because of the mainly blue Iznik tile work decorating the interior of the mosque. This mosque is also the only one to have 6 minarets. The legend of the 6 minarets goes something like this. Sultan Ahmet I asked for an “altin” (or gold) minaret, but the architect thought he said “alti” which means six. So this mosque has 6 minarets. The Blue Mosque is still actively used by the Muslim’s of today. You can hear the Imam (prayer leader) or Muezzin (a man chosen for his talent in correctly voicing) the call to prayer 5 times a day. Those 5 times are always changing based on the lunar calendar- rise and set of the sun and moon. To enter the mosque for prayers, one must wash their face, hands and feet. Friday is the Muslim holy day. After the mid day call to prayer, there is an additional short service of more prayers and announcement. Men and women pray in different areas of the building. Women must have their heads, shoulders and knees covered. To visit the mosque to tour you must remove your shoes only and can not visit during prayer times.

Next stop of the day was the Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Square). The Hippodrome construction began in 203 AD and was completed in 330. The Hippodrome seated 30,000 spectators for sport activities, riots, public entertainment, wedding ceremonies, bazaars and appearances of royals. The U shaped racetrack was used for chariot races and sport events. The center area (spina) was used for art exhibits, monuments, sun clocks,  and obelisks from all over the world.

Then on to Hagia Sophia which is now a museum to showcase Christian and Muslim in one place. Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) was built in 532-537 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian. It served as the “eastern Vatican” or Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople for 900 years before being converted to a mosque under the Ottoman rule in 1453. The Muslims did not destroy the Christian mosaics, but covered them with a type of “white paint” that is now slowly being removed to restore the beautiful mosaics underneath. A special side note, Denizhan’s mother’s grandfather was the final Imam of Hagia Sophia before it was converted to a museum.

Next was the Topkapi Palace (formerly called: Saray-i Cedide-i Amire) was built in 1475-78 AD and used by the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years. Topkapi means “canon door” and is referring to one of the gates on the old Byzantine wall along the Sea of Marmara. In 1924, it became a museum to the public. Inside the museum, you will find collections of jewels, armor and weapons, ceramics, costumes and many other artifacts. There is also a mosque – Hagia Eirene (Aya Irini Kilisesi) which means Holy Peace.

Snack at Simit Sarayi where we tried some simple Turkish snacks including Sahlep. Sahlep is a drink made of orchid with a dash of cinnamon on top. They refer to it as “white hot chocolate”. It was very good and reminded me more of warm egg nog.

Then we were off to the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi or Covered Markets) and its lattice of shops before heading into the Spice Market and shops where the locals go. The Grand Bazaar was established by Mehmet II in 1453 as the first “shopping mall”. The Grand Bazaar remained a major international commercial hub until the 1950’s. The bazaar now has over 4,000 shops. The Spice Market (Misir Carsisi) was built in the 17th century and many vendors selling spices, herbs, medicinal plants and pharmaceuticals set up shop and are still selling today. The air is “heavy” with exotic aromas.

Over the Galata Bridge that crosses the Golden Horn Strait was our next destination. The bridge connects Galata to Eminönü and opens in the middle to allow larger ships to pass through. The original bridge is now in the Rahmi Koç museum up the river. This bridge often has hundreds of people fishing into the Golden Horn below.

As we headed toward the Galata Tower, we climbed up the Stairs of Camondo. Theses steps were donated by a wealthy Jewish family for their children to get to school. The Galata Tower is 60m tall and was built in the 6th century to monitor shipping. It is now the housing for a restaurant. Then on up to the music shop to purchase a Saz – a Turkish Guitar. Zach collects traditional instruments from around the world. Denizhan was our translator to the clerk who helped Zach find just the right one.

Next stop was a road of only pedestrians : Istiklal Caddesi where we found, riot police, a Christian Church and dinner of local Turkish foods. The riot police were on standby in an area known for protests. We didn’t see any demonstations, but were thankful they were there just in case. We made a brief stop in St. Antoine of Padua. It is a Roman Catholic church built by the Italians of Istanbul in 1725.

We ended the (approximately) 8 mile walking tour with a walk back to our hotel with Denizhan leading the way because we had no idea where we were at that point.

Before we close out this post, I wanted to write a special thank you to Denizhan. We hired him from Tours by Locals for our tour in Ephesus. We found out he was going to be in Istanbul as well so we hired him for this tour too. Thank you Denizhan !! Thank you for sharing all your knowledge and love of your country. We learned so much about the history and culture that we could not have learned on our own. Thank you for encouraging us to try “what the locals” eat. Thank you for being flexible with stopping when we saw something of interest and engaging the kids in trivia and hands on activities. It was great that we could introduce you to chocolate baklava for the first time in your own country. Last but not least, thank you for helping me get these blog posts just right. All your input has been put to good use in sharing this with our family and friends. Thank you!





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  1. By The Cooper Family » 2012 Memories and Reminiscing on December 16, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    […] including Kim’s parents and Sharon Schneider. We toured Istanbul and Ephesus, Turkey with the Christies, enjoyed the beaches and history of Tarragona, Spain as we supported Zach on his tour, and savored […]

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