I have already visited Istanbul from Sunny Beach some years ago, I wrote about it here => 20 Photos of Istanbul, the Blue Mosque and the Spice Bazaar
Now I went there again. I remembered it had been really tiring, now I relived it.
It started at 22.00 with some excitement for me: I almost missed the bus. The bus stopped at my bus station, I asked if it was the one I was waiting for, the guide said it was in Russian. Ok, there will be another bus coming. I was waiting and waiting and I thought it was time to call the agency to ask what had happened. The agency ordered the bus back for me, the guide had another pick up point for me.
So the journey started, we arrived at the border in the middle of the night, we had to get off, there was a long line of tourists, we had to wait, we got a stamp on our passports, we got on the bus again and at last at around 6.00 a.m. we arrived in Istanbul. First we had breakfast then sightseeing tour.
The ancient Hippodrome was amusement district and center of Byzantine public life and the scene of chariot races. Today, here is a fountain, an Egyptian obelisk, the Serpent Column (the head is broken) and a stone obelisk.
It is easy to find all the important sights at the Hippodrom Square, the Blue Mosque is there, opposite the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia. Walking towards the Hagia Sophia you pass by the Hamam of Huerrem (I didn’t pay enough attention on it, pity). You come out of the Hagia Sophia and on the right corner is the Basilica Cistern, next to the Hagia Sophia is the Topkapi Palace.
We went to the Blue Mosque first and I heard many interesting stories about the church.
The mosque has 6 minarets, but it is not usual, most of the mosques have maximal 4, so why 6? Because 6 in Turkish is similar to gold in Turkish. When the sultan saw the complete building for the first time, he asked the architect where his Golden Mosque was, the architect didn’t understand it because he had built a Mosque with 6 minarets as requested. The architect wasn’t punished for this mistake.
The Great Mosque of Mecca had 6 minarets and a 7th minaret was paid by the Sultan Ahmed I. and gifted to Mecca to make it more superior than the Blue Mosque.
Even the Sultan must take a bow in front of Allah, but the architect was afraid to tell it to him or ask him to do so, that is why he did a trick, he put chains hanging down at the entrance so when the sultan came to the Mosque on horse back, he had to bow to be able to enter.
It was built by Sultan Ahmed I in the 17th century and its name is ‘Sultan Ahmed Mosque’ but it is commonly known as ‘Blue Mosque’. Why blue? Outside it is not blue… But inside there are more than 20 thousands blue Iznik tiles decorating the mosque. It is really beautiful.
It is free of charge, you receive a dress to cover your arms, legs and also your head.
After the lunch we had either free time or facultative program to the Hagia Sophia or a ship excursion on the Bosphorus. I went to the Hagia Sophia (I didn’t see it last time).
Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)
It is the most famous and most important monument in Istanbul, a World Heritage sight. It was built as a Byzantine church on ancient ruins by the emperor Justinian in the 6th century, converted into a Mosque in the 15th century and it is a museum since 1935.
There are brilliant Christian mosaics depicting saints, beautiful chandeliers inside. The material came from every corner of the Empire from pagan churches. The building represents ‘Perfections comes from inside‘ with its simple outer surface opposing its richly decorated inner part.
Nobody knows how the Hagia Sophia was built, it is a mystery. If they removed the roof of it, the whole building would collapse.
The weeping column is also interesting, the water comes from the Basilica Cistern beneath the church. If you touch it your wishes will come true.
You can go to the gallery (accessible with wheelchair by elevator) but not on stairs rather on a steep surface, it is slippery.
From above you have a nice view over the whole church. Pity there are construction works, the half of the church was covered.
Entrance fee: 40 TRY
In these buildings totally isolated from everyone lived and reigned the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire 15th-19th century when it was the court of the Ottoman empire. The Topkapi is a city within a city.
There are four Courts: After the entrance comes the First Court – this was the only place open for the public. In the Second Court were the coronation ceremonies and official receptions, it has a nice park-like setting. The third court is the heart of the Palace, here is among others the Harem. In the forth court you can find the private garden of the Sultan.
I concentrated on the HAREM, that is the most important highlight. It is where the sultan’s concubines and children spent their days.
The word ‘harem’ means ‘forbidden’, the Harem life was governed by traditions and rules. (I would have suffered there, no freedom at all)
There is a separate entrance fee, 25 TRY and I can say it is worth it. I have never seen such richly decorated rooms, they are marvellous.
Hundreds of beautiful women lived here and nobody was allowed to enter it only the Sultan and the Eunuchs, who were protecting the women.
There can be found 300 rooms, hamams, mosques, small hospital. The Harem complex has six floors, but only one of these can be visited.
Entrance fee: 40 TRY, Harem 25 TRY
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici)
There are many underground cisterns from the ancient times/ middle ages under the city, but this is the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul.
This huge underground hall, supported by 336 columns is more than 1500 years old. It was able to store up to 80,000 m3 water delivered via aqueducts and designed to service the Palace and surrounding buildings with water. It was closed after that rediscovered in the 16th century but unfortunately the Underground Palace was still abandoned and it became a dumping ground for rubbish and even for corps. The cistern was cleaned and renovated in the 1980s and opened as a museum.
I wanted to see it very much and I wasn’t disappointed (in the Hagia Sophia I was, I expected something more grandiose)
It has a mystical atmosphere with the many small lights. I especially liked the Medusa Columns, they are at the back of the Cistern, 2 columns with bases of Medusa head carvings, one on its side and one upside down. Legend says they were positioned like this to neutralise the killer gaze of the Mythological monsters (If you look into the eyes of the Medusa you will become stone).
Entrance ticket: 20 TRY
So that is all I saw during my second visit in the city. Hope you can use some information you reads here if you plan to visit Istanbul.
From Bulgaria the excursion is very tiring, we arrived home on the next day at 3.30 a.m. So more than 24 hours travelling on bus/ sightseeing/ not sleeping in normal bed…. But once you can survive it…