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Science, Photography, and Trip Reviews

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Istanbul, Turkey


Palaces, ancient churches, mosques, minarets, and museums

Old City, Bosphorus, Golden Horn, and Marmara Sea

Grand Covered Bazaar, Turkish rugs, leather goods, and jewelry

Blue Mosque & Haghai Sophia, Istanbul.

   

Haghai Sophia museum, Istanbul.

Blue Mosque and Haghai Sophia Museum, viewed from the Bosphorus.

   

Haghai Sophia Museum as seen from the Blue Mosque.

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Location and brief history of Istanbul

Istanbul has more than fifteen million inhabitants and stretches across two continents. The Bosphorus, which is a body of water that goes north to the Black Sea, separates Europe from Asia. Europe is to the west and Asia is to the east. The main part of Istanbul is in Europe. The European portion is divided by the Golden Horn, which is a narrow body of water that the Bosphorus empties into. North of the Golden Horn is the new part of the city called Beyoglu, where many visitors choose to stay in hotels. South of the Golden Horn is Old Istanbul, and this is where you find most things of interest. The south shore of Old Istanbul is on the Sea of Marmara.

Istanbul has previously been known as Constantinople and ancient Byzantium. It has also served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Turkish Republic. During its Byzantium history, which lasted more than one thousand years, it was conquered many times by different powers including Persians, Athenians, Spartans, and Romans. In 324 A.D. Constantine I became head of the Roman Empire. He made Byzantium the capital of the Roman Empire and named the city after himself. Constantinople became one of the great world capitals. Constantine I had adopted Christianity, and consequently this became the religion of the people. The Christian Empire lasted for 1,130 years. In April 1453 the Turkish Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, began his siege of Constantinople. He was eventually successful, and the city was soon completely transformed. The Byzantine churches were converted to mosques, and more mosques were built as well as palaces. The modern day Turkish Republic was born in 1923. Its founder was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Mosaic in Haghai Sophia museum.

   

Rebecca at Moist Column in Haghai Sophia, Istanbul.

Mosaic of Mary and Christ Child in Haghai Sophia Museum.

   

Rebecca at the Miraculous, Moist Column in Haghai Sophia Museum.

Haghia Sophia museum

We began our tour of Istanbul at the museum of Haghia Sophia. The name means divine wisdom. This magnificent building, shown in the pictures at the top of this page, was built by the ruler Justinian I. It was built in only five years and dedicated in 537. They had no wooden scaffolding, so the construction was accomplished by heaping up soil. After twenty years the very large dome collapsed. The dome was rebuilt and made smaller but higher. This church was the center of religious life during the Byzantine Empire. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks the church was converted to a mosque. The four minarets were added. A minaret is a slender lofty tower surrounded by one or more balconies, which are used to summon people to prayer. One is pictured below.

During the Christian Empire beautiful mosaics were added to the Haghia Sophia, such as the one pictured with Mary and the Christ Child shown above. These were covered over during the conversion to a mosque. In 1934 Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, had Haghia Sophia converted to a museum. This led to a restoration of the mosaics.

The northwest pillar in the north aisle of the Haghia Sophia is the famous Moist Column. This column is believed to be miraculous, and it is said that it weeps water. Over many centuries people have worn a hole in the column by constantly rubbing it. When you go there be sure to put a finger in the hole and make a wish. The Moist Column is pictured above.

Blue Mosque Interior, Instanbul.

   

Blue Mosque minaret, Istanbul.

Blue Mosque interior.

   

Blue Mosque minaret.

Blue Mosque

Opposite Haghia Sophia is the Blue Mosque. This impressive mosque has six minarets. You can count them in the picture on the left at the top of this page. It is the only mosque in the world to have six minarets. A picture of a minaret attached to the courtyard of the Blue Mosque is shown above. The Blue Mosque was built for Sultan Ahmet I. Construction began in 1609 and took eight years to complete. The dominant color used in decorating the interior of the mosque is blue. This can be seen in the picture of the Blue Mosque interior above. Before entering a mosque you are required to remove your shoes and leave them at the entrance.

The Hippodrome

Located to the west of the Blue Mosque is the Hippodrome. It was first built in 203 by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus and later extended by Emperor Constantine. During the Byzantine Empire it was the place to go for chariot races, gladiator fights, and celebrations for the emperor. At that time there was seating for 40,000 people. The stadium no longer exists. The Hippodrome was twice the place of bloody riots. During the Roman era in 532 Emperor Justinian had 40,000 rebels killed there, and in 1826 the Turkish Sultan Mahmut II had 30,000 rebellious janissaries executed. The janissaries were the sultan's elite corps of guards.

A fascinating Egyptian obelisk is found in the Hippodrome. It had been erected by King Thutmose III of Egypt at Deir el Bahri in the fifteenth century B.C. In 390 A.D. It was removed from Egypt and taken to Istanbul (Constantinople) by Roman Emperor Theodosius I. The obelisk is 65.6 feet (20 meters) high. The lower part of it is seen in the picture below.

Suleymaniye Mosque

The Suleymaniye Mosque is considered to be the most important building in Istanbul that was constructed during the Ottoman period. It was built from 1550 to 1557 by the famous builder Sinan for the Sultan Suleyman I known as the Magnificent. This mosque has four minarets, a large courtyard, and a large dome. Black ostrich eggs hang from the dome. Because of their odor they are said to have repelled spiders and therefore prevented spider webs. The interior of the Suleymaniye Mosque is shown below.

Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome, Istanbul.

   

Suleymaniye Mosque Interior, Istanbul.

Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome.

   

Suleymaniye Mosque interior.

Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace should not be missed. You will need a minimum of several hours there, and many visitors will want to stay longer. The palace was built in 1459 by the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II who conquered Istanbul (Constantinople). It is very large as it contains a number of buildings and is much like a university campus. There are four grand courts and a harem section. The harem section was added in the sixteenth century. About 4,000 people lived in the palace complex. The palace was used as the official residence of the sultans until 1839. At that time Sultan Abdulmecit I moved to the new Dolmabahce Palace, which he had built at a location further up the Bosphorus.

At the Topkapi Palace the First Court contains the main entrance and is now used as a parking lot. The Second Court is where an enormous kitchen is found. The kitchen is a long building with ten rooms. From outside the building the chimneys are easily noticed, and some are seen in the picture below. The kitchen was in use for three centuries and had a staff of 800 to 1,000 men all working at the same time. The kitchen now houses a very nice display of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. Opposite the kitchen is a building that contains a collection of European porcelain and silverware. The Second Court also has on display Turkish, Arabic, and Persian armor. The Sultan's stables showcase imperial carriages and harnesses.

The Third Court has an Audience Room, which is a nicely decorated building where the sultan sat upon a gold and emerald throne to meet foreign visitors. To keep the conversations from being overheard noise was created by water running in a fountain. The quarters where the white eunuchs stayed are nearby. There is a collection of embroidery. You also find the School of Expedition for Page Boys, which has a collection of royal gowns.

A highlight of the Third Court is the Treasury. It was built as the summer palace of Sultan Mehmet II, but was converted to the Treasury in the sixteenth century. There are four rooms which contain beautiful jewelry and precious items owned by the sultans. This is a very impressive display, and you can spend hours admiring everything. You will find armor, bowls, diamonds, golden candlesticks, a golden music box, swords and daggers with gold jewels, thrones, and much more. Of special note is the biggest emerald in the world weighing 7.2 pounds (3,260 grams) and the Spoonmaker's Diamond of 86 carats mounted in silver surrounded by 49 brilliants. You can also see the famous dagger with a golden grip containing three emeralds seen in the movie Topkapi. Within the Treasury and other parts of the Topkapi Palace you are not allowed to take photographs.

Palace Kitchen with Chimneys, Istanbul.

   

Grounds of Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace kitchen with chimneys.

   

Grounds of Topkapi Palace.

The Third Court also has a gallery of portraits and miniatures, and collections of clocks, relics, and calligraphy. A library contains 13,500 books and manuscripts.

The Fourth Court contains the Tower of the Head Physician. There are also a number of Pavilions: Terrace, Baghdad, Revan, Mecidiye, and Sultan Ibrahim. The latter Pavilion is where young princes were taken to be circumcised. The Mecidiye Pavilion displays Turkish architecture with European influence. This pavilion also contains a restaurant.

A fascinating part of the palace is the Harem. In the tenth century Turkish people adopted Islam. The religion permitted men to marry four wives. There is actually a practical basis for the law. The countless wars led to the deaths of many men thereby creating a large number of widows. Through polygamy the widows were provided for and the male offspring became recruits for the armies. In 1926 the great Turkish leader Ataturk did away with polygamy and the country became once again monogamous.

The Harem was built in the sixteenth century. Prior to that time the sultan's harem lived outside the palace. The very attractive Harem was designed so that everything is conveniently located with respect to the sultan's private quarters. Close to the Harem entrance is the area occupied by the black eunuchs. They had their own guardroom, mosque, yard, apartments, and rooms. The sultan's mother had her own apartments and her own bath. She was the ruler of the harem. The sultan's favorite ladies in the harem were called concubines. They had their own apartments, slaves, and eunuchs. Some of the concubines became the official wives of the sultan. The first one to bear a son became the first lady. The princes were confined to live in their own apartments, and they had their own school in the Harem.

The grandest room in the Palace is considered to be the Hall of the Emperor. This is where the sultan entertained his close friends. Most people were not allowed to enter the Hall. Those allowed in the Hall included the sultan's mother, the first lady, the favorites, and their children

Showing rugs, Istanbul.

   

The Covered Bazaar, Istanbul.

Selling Turkish rugs.

   

The Covered Bazaar.

Grand Covered Bazaar

The Grand Covered Bazaar is a domed building that contains a maze of 65 windy streets and approximately 4,000 shops and restaurants. Some stores are seen in the picture above. It is said that this is the largest number of stores under one roof. For many this is a shopper's delight, especially if you are looking for things like rugs, leather, clothing, jewelry, and antiques. It is important to bargain to get the best price and to be on the lookout for junk.

Turkish rugs

Turkey is a great place to buy rugs. It is interesting to learn about the different weaves and types of rugs available. Weaving a beautiful rug takes months of detailed work. In the picture above we are examining many beautiful rugs. Be careful that you buy from a reputable dealer.

Taksim Square

Taksim Square is located in the new part of the city. We stayed there and enjoyed walks around the area as it gave us an opportunity to experience modern day Turkey. This is where you find the Monument to Independence which is shown below. The monument contains a statue of the great leader Ataturk and others. Near the monument is a pedestrian mall.

Strolling muscians

On a Friday we had a delightful evening at a restaurant which was one of many situated side by side on both sides of a pedestrian street. There was both indoor and outdoor seating with room for many people. We had been taken there by Gul and Mustafa Altaee from Gur Tour, a local travel and tour agency in Istanbul. Everyone was having a wonderful time and some people were singing. There were also strolling musicians, and some are pictured below. The food was very good, and we found this to be the case in Istanbul.

Istanbul is a fascinating place which has a lot to offer. It is a place that we want to visit again.

Monument of Independence, Istanbul

   

Strolling Musicians at Dinner, Istanbul

Monument of Independence.

   

Strolling musicians entertaining at dinner.


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Photos by Sunny Breeding. We sell prints and images.