Istanbul, or better known as Constantinople is the only city in the world which stradles two continents. Just over a year ago, we visited the location where the European and American continents meet. It was an eerie location outside Rejkjavik, the Icelandic capital city. The Asian and European continents however is separated by a deep sea channel called The Bosphorus. Constantinople, or Istanbul as its now called is built across both these continents. Whatever it is called, it is a city experienced with centuries of history through several documented eras: the Byzantine, Ottoman and the present Turkish Empires. Its rich history, the effect throughout Europe and life today were the reasons for our visit to the country.

The Byzantine, Ottoman and Turkish Era
Constantinople used to be called Byzantium, before now being named Istanbul. The Byzantine Empire lasted more than a thousand years - 306 AD to 1435 AD - spaning across the Mediterranean Sea onto most of modern day Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. In the year 330 AD, Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor renamed Byzantium to Constantinople after rebuilding it from the ruins of war.

Constantinople survived numerous crusades and was also captured several times throughout the centures. She fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. She became its capital until 1922. During that time, its Persian, Byzanatine, Greek and Islamic cultures influenced the region.

The Ottoman Era lasted past the Second World War with the secularisation of Turkey and was renamed Istanbul in 1930 by the Turkish Postal Service Law, as part of national reforms.

Evidence of the Byzantine christian culture and the Ottoman and Turkish muslim cultures can be witnessed throughout the city with the many mosques, monuments and other relics displayed throughout Istanbul. However, it was most interesting to see how the cultures became interwoven throughout history.

Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia is perhaps the most famous mosque in the world. It was built during the Byzantine reign as a church, evidence of which can be seen throughout the building which operates as a museum. It's quite amazing to see the building as it survived the occupancy of the different civilisations, wars, crusades and natural disasters such as earthquakes.

As you can see from the photographs we've taken, detailed Christian artwork dot the entire building. One can not help but feel the sense of space inside the Hagia Sofia, since there are no columns withiin the building to support such a large dome. The building became a mosque under the Ottoman regime, retaining the majestic dome structure and adding to it several minarets and other buildings.

Basillica Cistern
A basicilla. complete with gardens, paths and waterways existed near the Hagia Sophia during the Byzantine era. After being devastated by riots several hundred years later, it was converted into a cistern to Supply water to the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace next to it and several other regions. In fact, aquaducts can be seen around the city. These structures were used to transport water beyond the immediatiate vacinity of the cistern.

The cistern, a large underground open space held up by huge columns was an interesting visit. It was in the location shoot of the James Bond movie, "From Russia with Love."


 

 


Image Library



Jeanette standing next to
the statue of Atatürk
in Taksim Square

 


Simit stall
in Taksim Square


The Dolmabahçe Palace on The Bosphorus


Beyond experiencing the cultures of the yesteryear doted throughout the city of Istanbul, it was fun too to experience shopping in the city. You are obviously able to find shops on the streets - like in all capital cities, selling merchandise ranging from local handicraft to international fashion. What is unique about Istanbul was that beyond street shopping and shopping centers (malls), there is the bazaar.

Bazaars are large covered olden day shopping centers with hundreds of stores crammed in narrow alleyways. Always a fun place to see and experience things but beware, any sign of interest in what's on display and the suddenly vendors will be all over you like a rash. Everyone is friendly, offering you service and what they have to sell to sample, smell or touch but this is when the pressure to buy mounts. A popular method used to lure tourists to stop by their store starts with the innocent question, "Hello, where do you come from?". Still, it was a fun experience to delve into the local culture, even if we were forewarned of pickpockets on several ocassions.

The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar (also known as Egyptian Bazaar) were easily reachable by public trasport. In a kaleidoscope of colour, exotic smells and tastes, both offer a large range of things to see, bargain and buy. The Grand Bazaar holds over 4,000 stores while the Spice Bazaar, obviously focus on food is smaller. It was good fun walking through the bazaar, looking through what's offered for sale and talking with the vendors but it was hard work trying to discourage the "forced" sale. It was just as important to keep an eye out for each other, our pickpocket defence mechanism.

Different types of flavour inflused teas did take our fancy, but we understand this to be a "tourist thing" rather than something common to the Turkish people. Actual pieces of the flavouring material is used to influse the tea, whether it be pieces of orange, blueberry or apple, even chocolate, jasmin, pomegranate or cinammon. By mixing some of these ingredients, different kinds of aromas develop - some of which smell wonderful.

The Bosphorus
We did not get a chance to go to Anatolia - the Asian side of Turkey - but we did have the opportunity to take a cruise up The Bosphorus, the waterway which divides Istanbul. The cruise gave us more opportunity to see Istanbul from a distance; quite obviously a beautiful place to live in - reminiscent of living by the waterways of Sydney. The Bosphorus divides Turkey's geography into two: 3% on the European side and the remaining 97% in Asia.

Prior to visiting Turkey, our only vision of Turkey was that from the movie "Midnight Express", the Turkish immigrants in Germany and how well the Turkish football team did in the World Cup. It didn't help that the movie depiced Istanbul in a crude, ancient way (but to be fair, most of the movie was filmed inside a Istanbul jail). Today, Istanbul is with modern roads, transportation (albeit cofusing ticketing) system, some tall modern buildings, fashion and modern lifestyle intermingled between period architecture.

We found a great deal of wealth among the Turkish people - in fact, we saw a lot of luxury automobiles among the cars being driven in Istanbul. Even with exchange rate in mind, the cost of living in Istanbul is quite high, compared to that in Germany.

 


Shoes offered for sale
at the Grand Bazaar

 


Some finely painted
bowls at
the Grand Bazaar




Insde the Hagia Sofia

Turkish Food
Turkey is famous for its kebabs, which we enjoyed the many varieties of during the trip. A kebab is essentially grilled meat of some kind (lamb, pork or beef) on a spit but these days, the spit is a modern mesh grill. Meat, slowly grilled on a vertical grill is commonplace back home in Australia and Germany, but perhaps rare in Malaysia. The vendor (called the Kebabci) simply slices finely cooked pieces of meat from the grill to be served with some salad on a pita bread or bread roll. Iin Istanbul, the varity of kebabs on offer was astounding. Our favourite was the Iskender - thinly sliced grilled lamb from the spit, braised in tomato with generous spreads of sheeps butter and yonghurt and some pide bread on the side.

Our walk on the famous Taksim Square, not far from where our hotel was gave an access to many eateries - restaurants, corner stores, takeaways plus a seafood lane lined with restaurants displaying the days catch for you to pick and be prepared from. During the days of our visit, we sampled different kinds of meats, breads and seafood, it gave us a different appreciation of Turkish food back in Munich. We did enjoy the "Nar Suyu" - freshly squezzed pomegranate juice, rich in antioxidants and cholesterol lowering properties. The juice was simply squezzed out of freshly halved pomegranates, about four whole fruits for one 500ml serve cup.

However, the variety or abundance of Turkish desserts in stores, shop windows and along bazaars was overwhelming. We can only name the Turkish Delight and Baklava, but found in Istanbul was a plethora of other choices; different types of nougat rolls, puddings, tons of syrup soaked desserts like the tulumba (fried batter) and balkava (dough pastry), syrup preserved fruit .... the list is long and overwhelming. (We wondered if there is a huge diabetes problem in Turkey?)

During the few days we spent in Istanbul, we visited most of the major sitghts. The rest of Turkey has more to offer - resorts, remnants of previous Greek and Roman operation. Perhaps ,one day we'll have the opportunity to experience that too...

 


Turkish Baklava
dessert

 


Nougat rolls dressed
with pistaschio nuts


We hope you enjoy the pictures, even as the rain made it challenging to capture photographs well.

 

Jeanette and Raymond
January 2011