The crossroads of civilisations
Trip Start Jan 28, 2012
19Trip End Jan 28, 2013
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My knowledge of history isn't great, but from my time here this is what I have learnt and pieced together, so I apologise in advance to our Turkish friends for any misnomers :)
We arrived into modern day Istanbul, a beautiful city that looks feels and tastes like a European city which is the beating heart of Turkey. The city was founded by the Greeks in 657 BC and served as the capital of four empires (Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman). The Greeks founded the city on the European side of the Bosphorus strait; the only sea route between the Black Sea and Mediterranean and divides Europe from Asia. Taking a ferry ride up the Bosphorus we saw the impressive Fortress of Europe (Rumeli Hisari) that was built by the Ottomans in 4 fours months during 1452 in preparation for the planned siege of Constantinople.
We didn’t get a feel for the Greek history of Turkey until we left Istanbul and headed for the coast and visited sites like Ephesus and even older Greek cities of Lycia while trekking for 7 days along the coastline visiting city ruins and seeing Lycian tombs scattered about the country-side but we did get a good feel of the Byzantine period while in Istanbul.
The period of Christianity in Istanbul is renowned for church walls and ceilings covered in mosaic’s depicting Christ and stories from the Bible. The most famous is the Aya Sofya, completed in 537 it reigned as the greatest church in Christendom during the Roman and Byzantine Empire until the Ottoman Conquest in 1453. After the conquest, churches across Istanbul where replastered as Islamic Mosques, so today it’s a fantastic experience to see the uncovering of plaster to reveal amazing Christian mosaics within a church converted to a Mosque. The Aya Sofya is impressive on the grand scale, but a little church we visited on the old city wall had the most amazing mosaics; Chora Church built in the late 11th century and has undergone many repairs, restructuring and conversion to a mosque. Today the mosque is a museum and the mosaics have been uncovered depicting the lives of Christ and Mary, the mosaics where simply stunning.
Another great thing about the Romans and Byzantines where their engineering ingenuity, and a great example of this is Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern. The cistern is an underground water reservoir built in 532 AD constructed using columns and plinths from ruined buildings, the sheer grandeur is quite extraordinary and especially that it can hold up to 80,000 cubic metres of water!
Our Ottoman experience of Istanbul included visiting the Islamic monument of the Blue Mosque built in 1603 to rival the grandeur of the Aya Sofia to which sits opposite.
While getting a taste for history, we also got a taste of Istanbul by eating amazing kebabs, a fish sandwich on the Bosphorus, real Turkish delight from the original creators family shop, the delicious apple tobacco from a water pipe, and sampling the most succulent dried figs and persimmon at the spice bazaar! We are yet to brave the carpet shops, but have been testing our bargaining skills… I even managed to buy some jewellery for 60% less than asking price at the Grand Bazaar!
I loved everything about Istanbul; from falling to sleep and waking to the call to prayer, the breathtaking skyline of minarets, stylish women in scarves and trench coats, men serving and drinking tea in small dainty glassware, city pets of well-cared for cats and dogs, cobbled streets, wooden Ottoman houses and of course blooming tulips!
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