Thursday, April 12, 2012

Istanbul--Day 1

Jeff and I spent the Easter weekend in Istanbul, Turkey. We made the trip with a small, fifteen person, tour group. We’ve never done that before.  When we go somewhere new Jeff normally does some research, then planning and we go, but we were happy this time that we were with a group for a number of reasons which I’ll mention later.

Although there were certainly settlements in the area much earlier, Istanbul, as a city, began around 660 BC. Throughout its history Istanbul has been the capital of three empires; the Roman Empire from 330-395, the Byzantine Empire from 395-1453, with a 57 year break from 1204-1261 when the city was controlled by leaders of the European Crusades, and the Ottoman Empire from 1453-1922. Today, although the Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city with almost 14 million inhabitants, in order to promote a secular society, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the new Republic of Turkey, in 1923 selected Ankara as the country’s capital.

In 330 AD, Constantine named the city the eastern capital of the Roman Empire which then became known as Constantinople, the “City of Constantine.” That would be the name of the city, at least within Western circles, until the Republic of Turkey in 1930 requested internationally that all countries use Istanbul as the city’s official name.

Well, that’s probably more history of Istanbul than you care about so I’ll get to our pictures and with that some more tidbits about the unique history of Istanbul.


We’re at the Frankfurt airport to catch our flight to Istanbul. No smoking in the Frankfurt Airport unless you’re willing to go into smokers jail, the booth of the unclean, social pariah place or whatever you want to call it.

At the gate for Turkish Airlines flight 1592.

Jeff flew on Turkish Airlines, Türk Hava Yolları or THY, some twenty-five years ago. Back then he said the running joke about THY was that it stood for "They Hate You." Back then, it was kind of a marginal quality airline. They did have smoking and non-smoking sections on their planes but, amusingly, the entire left side of the plain was smoking and the entire right side non-smoking. Here’s our plane pulling up to the gate. It’s an Airbus A-320 and it appeared to be, both inside and outside, a brand new plane. Other than departing an hour late and circling over Istanbul for an hour we were very impressed with Turkish Airlines. 

Because of the delay and the holding, by the time we got to the Hotel Tulip Pera it was almost 2200 (10PM). So, too late to do much more than build our nest, grab a bite to eat, drink some wine and get ready for Day 1.


0900 pick up and we're on our way to the first stop of the day, the Topkapi Palace. This Ottoman designed Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III is outside the Topkapi Palace's Imperial Gate. It was built in 1728 was a gathering place for the people of Constantinople.

The Topkapi Palace was the residence of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years before moving to their new residence in 1856. This is the Gate of Salutation, part of the inner wall, leading to the second courtyard of the palace.

The Tower of Justice and, below, the Imperial Council hall and behind it, the Harem.

Entry to the Imperial Council which were the rooms where the council of ministers, advisors and state officials would meet to better advise the Sultan.

Below are pictures of the meeting rooms of the Imperial Council.  The Sultan was not allowed in the Imperial Council but in the first room, about ten feet from the floor, you can see an open window, covered only with a gold grid, which was known as the Golden Window.  This Golden Window allowed the Sultan to sit in an adjacent room and listen to the debates of the Imperial Council. Because the Golden Window was built so high on the wall the advisors within the Imperial Council never knew when the Sultan may be listening.

And now to the naughty bits. The Harem is a complex of rooms that was the home to the Sultan, his always powerful mother, concubines, wives, children and their servants, including the harem eunuchs.

Eunuch apartments.  Oh, if these walls could talk.  Of course, it would be in a high falsetto voice. There was actually two categories of eunuchs; black eunuchs and white eunuchs.  Black eunuchs were slaves captured in Africa who became the guards and administrators of the harem. White eunuchs were mostly Europeans from the Balkans who served the princes and country's elite at the Palace School.  Eunuchs served the sultans into the early 1900's.

Entrance to the harem apartments.

Apartments for the Sultan’s concubines.  It was not common but probably the most famous sultan of all, Suleiman the Magnificent, took one of his concubines to be his wife.

Entrance to the Sultan’s private apartments.

One of the Sultan's many rooms. There are around 400 rooms in the Harem complex but only a handful are open to the public.  You see lots and lots of porcelain tiles of varied designs and colors.

One of the rooms in the Sultan’s apartment.  Although beautiful and unique, the groups of tiles seem almost a randomly placed without any specific plan.

Jeff and I in the Sultan’s apartment. Most of the tiles have a floral design of some sort.

Dome in the Sultan's bed room.

More Sultan apartment.

Crowned Prince's room.

Windows in the Crown Prince's rooms. If you look closely you can see the flowers in the design are tulips, the most common flower used in the windows and tiles in the palace.

Golden Road. A walkway that the Sultan would take to the harem or that a girl of the harem would take to the Sultan’s apartment. Interestingly, the Sultan did not select which girls to share his bed, that was the task of his mother. The Golden Road got its name from the knowledge that any girl selected to walk this hallway would from then on have a special, golden, life.

On a terrace of the Topkapi Palace looking across the Bosphorus Strait to the area of Istanbul known as the Golden Horn.

Looking north from Topkapi Palace up the Bosphorus Strait. Europe on the left, Asia on the right.

We didn’t visit it but, as the sign says, the palace even has a circumcision room.

Chimney’s for the palace kitchens.

Next stop on the tour Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) was the largest cathedral in the world for a 1000 years. The present building was begun in 532.  10,000 workers worked on the project so that the cathedral could be finished in five years. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 their sultan ordered the cathedral converted into a mosque. All remnants of Christianity were removed; bells, altars etc. Priceless mosaics were plastered over. Four minarets were constructed along with other Islamic features and Hagia Sophia would remain a mosque for almost 500 years. Most Islamic mosques around the world, with their large central dome, are modeled after the Hagia Sophia design.  There was a huge line to get into Hagia Sophia but being in a tour group we were able to go right to the front.  That was the big advantage to being with a tour.

Turkish flag outside Hagia Sophia.

The massive interior of Hagia Sophia.

High in the center is a mosaic of Mary and Jesus. This is one of the images that was plastered over during the Ottoman Empire.

In 1931 Hagia Sophia was closed for four years by the Republic of Turkey to convert the building to a secular museum. Plaster was removed from the Christian mosaics. Today, Hagia Sophia is a museum and one of the few places in the world where the symbols of Christianity and Islam exist side by side. Here you can see a mosaic of Mary and baby Jesus with large green discs that state, in Arabic, the name of Allah, on the right, and Mohammed, on the left.

Really an amazing building. One bit of incorrect information during Jeff's comments here, Hagia Sofia remained the largest cathedral in the world until the Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520, not St. Peter in Vatican City.

View of Hagia Sophia from the upper level. The large gold object on the far wall is the mihrab which tells everyone inside a mosque the direction of Mecca

Jeff and I inside Hagia Sophia.

A Hamam (Turkish bath) outside Hagia Sophia. It was built in the 16th century and is still in operation today.

Lunchtime.  They eat a lot of bread here. Of course, this is mostly air but as you can see it’s almost as big as a football.

Nakkas carpet store. The little guy to my left in the checked shirt is our Turkish guide, Mehmet.

The Nakkas store is built on top of an ancient aquifer that we visited before our carpet tour.

The first stop on our carpet tour was a demonstration of the operation and techniques of a carpet loom. Then it was upstairs to the carpet presentation room.

Now this is the way to shop. Sit down with your glass of wine, beer, raki or çay tea and have the products brought to you. This was really a fun presentation on the various types of carpets made in Turkey. So many colors, so many designs. Because of the ply of a carpet, the colors and design can be drastically different depending on the angle you look at a particular carpet. I guess the beer and raki worked. Jeff and I walked out with two 14 foot runners.

The #1 entrance to the Grand Bazaar.

Images of Büyük Çarşı, the Grand Bazaar. The bazaar consists of 3000 shops on 61 covered streets; really an amazing place of sights and sounds. The Grand Bazaar was first established in 1461.

Istanbul does a very nice job of having plenty of public toilets available throughout the city. Although, at the Grand Bazaar their WC had traditional Turkish toilets like this one, they also had standard western toilets.

Jeff noticed that the urinals, very Western, had these water pitchers for each urinal. Apparently the only way to flush these was to fill the pitcher at a faucet then sploosh it into the urinal. Jeff figures that probably doesn’t happen very often.

Tour is done for the day so we’re on our way to the hotel. We had to pass through this 4th century Roman aqueduct. A major road connecting Istanbul, which crosses the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn inlet of the Bosphorus, passes through this ancient aqueduct. The aqueduct is only wide enough for one vehicle so three lanes that approach from each direct causes a perpetual traffic jam here.

Long day. Another quick evening sampling of the local Turkish faire, a couple Effes beers and desert. This nonstop sightseeing is serious work. More images of Istanbul on Day 2.

Iyi geceler.

END of DAY 1


  1. Stunning ISTUNbul ! Karl-Michael Sala of grants Sandy & Jeff some complimentary genealogy research consultation!

  2. Sandy and Jeff,
    Thanks so much for compiling pictures, history and a heartwarming account of your trip. It not only brings back cherished memories, it allowed me to impart some of my remembrances with my wife and son.
    God Bless your travels
    Dave Bohall

  3. Looks like you had a wonderful first day -- so much to see! We're going to Istanbul in 3 weeks (off a cruise ship) and this gets me really excited for our trip. Anything you recommend I have to come home with? I would love a Turkish rug, but have no idea what that would cost :) Lots of tea, perhaps. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Lara Hannum
    (GK Nato Base)

  4. The smoking booths are AWESOME. I wish we had those here. On the FGCU campus they have a designated place for the smokers. But it is in the middle of a corridor where the rest of the public has to walk through to get to classes.

    The Imperial Council the rooms are amazing. I love all of the decor. The apartments of the concubines are crazy, such a different culture. I love the dome in the Sultan's bed room.

    The Bosphorus Strait is beautiful! WOW, Hagia Sophia is massive. That is great that you didn't have to wait in line too. Very interesting that it is now a museum and that there are are Christianity and Islam symbols together.

    Where was Mom jumping around in the first video?!? She normally always does that.

    I love the carpet video. They are so beautiful. I wish we could get a big one for our living room now since the whole house is concrete. I love Dad's commentary about being concerned that the rug was going to hit his beer. So awesome seeing them spinning the rugs...that is great! Their English is really good too. I really enjoyed this video. I can't wait to see which ones you picked out. Hopefully, Nova won't chew them up again.

    I love the urinals. When you have done all of your traveling you will have to make a blog of just the different urinals and toilets that you took pictures of.

  5. This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing blog that understand the value of providing a quality resource for free. Istanbulpoints