ONE CITY TWO CONTINENTS

 

The sheer charm of Istanbul encouraged author Alphonse de Lamartine to say, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” Well organized shore trips are what make this Mediterranean city such a valued destination, and our Istanbul shore excursions are the ideal way to experience the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar among others.

Get ready to experience a fascinating Istanbul private shore excursion with a licensed English speaking guide . You will simply love exploring this amazingly diverse city with a professional guide who knows all the attractions of Istanbul .

Connecting the continents of Asia and Europe – your Istanbul shore excursion with Ephesus Deluxe manifest a wealth of history & a dynamic urban culture. Cruise the Bosphorus with your local guide & witness the splendid places, mosques, and fortresses on this private shore excursion of Istanbul. Also, explore the museums and bazaars that bear witness to Istanbul’s central place in history. The Hagia Sophia is also worth exploring as it boasts Muslim and Christian marvels beneath one roof.

 

BLUE MOSQUE (SULTANAHMET CAMII)

The Original name is Sultan Ahmet Camii but since the dominant color inside is blue ,it is called Blue Mosque now.It was built by Sultan Ahmed I. in 1616 as one of his charity works for public.Sultan Ahmed is the 14th. sultan,ascended to throne when he was 14 years old and died of malaria 14 years after he became a sultan.Interesting numbers:) The architect was Sedefkar Mehmed Aga, one of the students of famous Architect Sinan.

During our tours everybody asks why he built his mosque right next to Hagia Sophia,good question. I think it is just the location…If you come to Istanbul by a cruise ship you understand what I mean;the first thing you see will be The Blue Mosque. Anyway he wanted it to be that way and it is now..And they completed the whole complex in just seven years.Amazing,right? In many European countries they built cathedrals in hundreds of years….but the Turks could build huge and beautiful mosques in a few years…How? Passion and money…if you can put these two things together ,you can make anything in a short time.

As you can see in the pictures it has six towers,we call them ”minaret”.They are used to call people for prayers.In the good old days somebody”müezzin” used to go up and call for prayers without any loud-speakers. Nowadays we have microphones and loud-speakers, so nobody climbs the stairs:)

Once you get in, you will be amazed with the Iznik tiles in different colors but mostly blue. We have 21046 pieces of them.. Imagine in 1600s a tile shop could make only one or two pieces a day. And they needed 21000 of them, so sultan ordered the tile-shops to work for him only. So they could finish the work in a shorter time but this caused something bad…Tile-shops lost their market, customers.. so after the Blue Mosque most of them closed their shops. And the ones in the Blue mosque are the last beautiful Turkish tiles from Iznik, the tile center of the Ottoman Empire.

In Turkish tiles you will see some certain things such as tulips, roses, plum trees, and some other flowers, mostly floral designs. Tulip represents God”Allah”, Rose represents ”Mohammad” the prophet of Islam, and the other flowers and trees represent Heaven.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople

One of the most significant sights in Istanbul, the Hippodrome of Constantinople, was originally built by Emperor Septimius Severus in 203AD to compensate the damage he had done to the city a couple years ago. About a hundred years later, Constantine the Great wanted a much bigger and grander hippodrome for his new Capital city; New Rome. In 330AD a 480 meters long and 117 meters wide hippodrome with a 100,000 spectator capacity was completed.

Not much of Constantine’s Hippodrome is left, as the Ottomans recycled most of it to build the famous and must see Blue mosque, only 3 significant columns standing right in the middle of the park stand today.

The Egyptian obelisk:

It was originally erected in Karnak in Upper Egypt for Pharaoh Thutmose the third in 15th century BC. And brought to Constantinople in the 4th century AD to adorn the new capital. The obelisk we see today is not the whole thing; it is just one third of the original obelisk but probably was cut to transport. It looks brand new as it is made of granite. On it is written, ‘’Thutmose, who crossed the great river of Naharin (Euphrates) as a mighty conqueror at the head of his army.’’

Serpent Column

Right next to the Egyptian obelisk there is a strange looking bronze column which is a triumphal statue of three snakes intertwined each other. Originally erected in front of Apollo temple at Delphi in Greece to commemorate the victory of 31 Greek city states over Persians in the island of Plataea in 479 BC. The original statue had a golden cauldron on top of the snake heads but not present now along with the heads unfortunately. When Constantine the great moved the capital to Byzantium, he needed some new adornments for his new capitol that’s why Serpent column is in Istanbul today. Golden cauldron was stolen by the 4th Crusaders in 1204 and we don’t know what happened to it. As for the snake heads, one of them is in British museum in London like everything else, one of them is in Archeological museum in Istanbul, and the other is still missing; probably in a private collection.

The Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus

This column is at the west end of the Hippodrome and looks older than the other monuments but actually it is younger. Probably it was erected by Constantine the Great but in 10th century Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus had it encased in bronze and inscribed in the celebration of the deeds of his grandfather; Basil I Macedonian. As you may guess, the bronze was stolen by the 4th crusaders leaving only the plain obelisk beneath.

German Fountain

The last monument in the Hippodrome is called ‘’ German Fountain’’ as it is given by the German Kaiser Wilhelm the second as a generous gift. Well, when you look at the history, you certainly understand that there is no such a thing as gift from The German as they were only after the railway job and in the end they got it. So even now some of the railroad in Turkey was built by the German. But I must say that it is a beautiful octagonal fountain and still works.

HAGIA SOPHIA

Before the first Hagia Sophia was built there was a pagan temple on the same spot and Constantine The Great planned to build the first church there .Same place different door!

The first Hagia Sophia was built by the Emperor Constantius, the son of Constantin the great in 360 AD and it was a basilica planned church with a timbered roof. When the emperor Arcadius exiled the patriarch of Constantinople, JohnChrysostom for his open criticism of the empress Eudoxia, people got angry and burned down the first church in 404 AD.

11 years later emperor Theodosius II built second Hagia Sophia at the same site. The second church was again basilica planned and again had a timbered roof. And it lasted a little bit longer than the first one but its destiny was almost the same with the first one. People were having some fun with chariots in Hippodrome and two factions; Blues and Greens, had a fight and it turned into a big riot; NIKERIOTS. Since the rioters shouted ”NIKE, NIKE, NIKE’’ repeatedly during the riot, it is known as NIKE RIOTS or NIKA RIOTS. Theyset fire too many public buildings and tried to depose the emperor JustinianI. Actually he was scared to death and was about to leave the city but his wife Theodora made a speech and changed the destiny. She convinced Justinian to stay and fight instead of leaving like a coward. And Justinian sent his famous and glorious general Belisarius to handle the rioters. And he did it very well, killed them all in Hippodrome in 532. But it was too late for second Hagia Sophia.

10 days after the riots Justinian started to build a new church, a much bigger one and brought the best architects and workers of the country. They completed the work in five years and ten months and the third Hagia Sophia was opened for services in 537.It was the greatest church of the Eastern Roman Empire at that time and used as a church up until 1453.

When the Ottoman conquered the city, as a tradition, it was converted into a mosque and was a mosque till 1935.

It was then converted into a museum by the order of Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and is a museum now.

It is open every day except Monday, from 9 AM to 4 PM and the entrance fee is 40 Turkish Lira. They do not accept any other currency but the credit card is okay. The present building is mostly original and in extremely good condition. At the inside of the building it is possible to see some Christian icons, Islamic additions made by the Ottomans.

TOPKAPI PALACE

One of the most popular attractions and most visited museum in Turkey, Topkapi Palace, was built by Sultan Mehmed II in 1478 as the seat of government and the original name is Saray-I Cedid which means the New Palace as it is the second palace built in Istanbul by the Ottomans after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

With its four courtyards, today it is the second largest palace complex in the World covering an overall area of 700,000 square meters. In the first courtyard there is an old Byzantine church built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, Hagia Irene, which is being used as a concert hall for special occasions today. Next to it there is the imperial mint, for centuries gold and silver coins minted there, is closed to visitors at the moment. As you move forward you will reach the monumental gate of Topkapi palace ‘’ Bab-I Selam’’ with two high towers on its sides. This gate is where the museum starts today.

Remember to look up as you move with the crowds not to miss the beautiful 19th century Rococo ceiling. After you pass the counters on your right side you will see the imperial kitchens, for a long time was the largest kitchen in Europe, where the precious Chinese and Japanese porcelains are exhibited now. During the Ottoman era every single day about 5000 people were fed from these kitchens, and once every three months on the payday of soldiers they cooked for 15000 soldiers and served them in this courtyard. Across from the kitchens there is a very intricate hall where the Viziers, we can call them Ministers today, had meetings four days a week starting early in the morning till noon without the Sultan. That’s right, Sultan did not join these meetings but it is said he was listening to them from a window opening to this hall.

And behind the Imperial hall we have the legendary Harem, there is an extra charge for Harem, be aware. Harem is like a big maze where Sultan, his mother, his wives, his kids and their servants lived. But unfortunately in the Western World Harem is misunderstood. They always imagined that Sultan had some affairs with all the women in the Harem which is definitely wrong. Most of them were just servants.

In the third courtyard we have the highlights of Topkapi palace; treasury and Holy relics. Even though the relics here are the most important ones in the whole World not so many people are aware of them. I hope after I publish this article, this will change. I am sure most of you have seen the movie ‘’ TOPKAPI’’ a long time ago and still remembers the dagger with emeralds. It is still in the treasury and shining.

As for the Holy Relics, here is what we got there;

  • 01The sword of David

  • 02The staff of Moses

  • 03The turban of joseph

  • 04The cooker of Abraham

  • 05The arm and the skull of John the Baptist

  • 06The robes of Mohammad

  • 07The old keys and locks of Holy Kaaba in Mecca

  • 08The sword of Mohammad and many more important objects are kept and exhibited in this section of the museum.

People always ask me how these relics ended up here, and my answer to that question is; they were passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years and they were in the possession of Caliph of Islam Mutevekkil, an Abbasid caliph ruled in Egypt and surrounding countries, and when Sultan Selim I conquered most of middle east and north Africa in 1517, The Ottomans took over the relics and brought them to Istanbul. And later on some more were sent by other Islamic countries around the World and since 1517 they are in Topkapi palace and 24 hours a day, seven days a week Koran is being resided in this section of the palace as a sign of respect and devotion. Wearing inappropriate clothes, filming and photography are strictly forbidden.

The last courtyard is maybe the most scenic place in the World. One side is facing the Golden horn, and the other side is facing the Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus.

Another must see sight in Istanbul is Basilica Cistern or the Sunken Palace ”Yerebatan Sarayi” as the Locals call it. The original name used by the Romans is Basilica Cistern since it used to lie beneath the Stoa Basilica, one of the two great public squares on the first hill of Constantinople.

BASILICA CISTERN ISTANBUL

The Basilica Cistern was built by Emperor Justinian right after the Nike riots to extend the water supply as the city used to suffer from scarcity of water in summer. The water stored here mainly supplied the Great Palace of Romans and some other buildings in the area. And it is the largest of all the Roman cisterns in Istanbul covering an overall area of 140 by 70 meters with 336 columns from obviously different temples or buildings as they are all different. And when it is filled with water from bottom to top it can take 80,000 m3 water which is a lot. And when you visit Basilica Cistern today, you will see some fish in the water. Don’t be surprised they are local to the cistern, in other words they are natives there. The Romans put the fish in the cistern as an early warning system which is just like the birds in the mines. As you know Constantinople was quite a rich city and has a perfect location which made it a target for almost anybody throughout history and as we know it was besieged by the enemy 29 times before The Ottoman Turks conquered it in 1453. Imagine, the city is under siege and you need provisions in the city. So you built cisterns to reserve water, and garden to supply food. But the water supply is not in the city; it is in the mountains about 15 miles away and as you may guess outside the walls. So you built some aquaducts to bring the water to the cisterns but during the siege you cannot protect the aquaducts and enemy can easily access your water supply and poison it to break your resistance. And if you drink the poisoned water you know what will happen. So the smart Romans put the fish in the cistern so that fish would die first and then they would know that the water is not drinkable any more.

After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 the cistern was used to water the plants in the gardens of Topkapi Palace.

And now it is a very well restored museum for visitors from all over the World.

ISTANBUL TOURS

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