Words: Juber Ahmed
Istanbul: the only city in the world that spans two continents.
This cosmopolitan city allows you to experience a taste of history, mixed with the opulent flavours of the contemporary. With something to see at the turn of every corner, the city will leave you lost for words. From magnificent mosques, to cruises along the Bosphorus and tempting cuisine that will leave you satisfied, the memories you make here will last a lifetime.
Begin your quest by visiting the cities most popular Mosque – the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. Built between the years 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I, it is also known as the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles that adorn the walls of the interior of the Mosque. Once inside, you can admire the splendid Ottoman architecture, which includes stained glass windows and decorative tiling. Take your time and experience the peace and tranquillity, whilst watching worshippers pray and chant verses from the Qur’an and Islamic poetry.
Upon exiting the Blue Mosque, you will find Hagia Sophia facing you with all its might and glory. Standing majestically with dominating minarets and red walls, the building can be traced back almost 1,500 years. Functioning as a Church (and Cathedral) from its inception, it was transformed into a Mosque in 1453. In 1934, however, it was converted into a museum and remains so to this day. Its complete history reveals itself once you are inside, as there is a transfusion of religious symbols and relics. Being inside the museum will allow you to picture what it was like as a Mosque as well as a church, as remnants from both the church and Mosque remain standing. Despite this long-enduring marvel having survived many earthquakes in the past, it’s size, architecture and historical atmosphere makes it a remarkable place to visit.
Further on from the Hagia Sophia, head towards the Topkapi Palace Museum. Built in the 15th century atop a small peninsula hill, visitors get breath-taking views of the Golden Horn, Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus.
Acting as the political centre of the Ottoman Empire, it soon became the largest palace in the world. However, in 1924, the Palace was converted into a Museum. Visitors can see beautiful courtyards, exhibition halls, ruins and columns, as well as and many other relics. Visit the Palace kitchen where you’ll find Chinese and Japanese porcelain. Visit the Sacred Trust section in which you will be taken through an exhibition to see historical religious relics belonging to the Prophets; these include the staff of Moses, the cooking bowl of Prophet Abraham, the mantle of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH – as well as strands of his hair, as well as much more. The most fascinating thing about the sacred trust section is that it adequately culminates in a room dedicated to 24-hour Qur’anic recitation. All of this is in an effort to provide the utmost respect to the holy relics, and to preserve their sanctity.
For some retail therapy, head over to the Grand Bazaar – a place which will tempt every bargain hunter. The Grand Bazaar was opened in 1461. An intersection for history and cultures, it almost acts as a global crossroads. Being one of the largest covered markets in the world, it has over 3,000 shops and 64 covered market streets. The Grand Bazaar also contains a mosque, restaurants, banks, post offices and hammams. A historical and cultural attraction, which hosts over half-a-million visitors a day, the Grand Bazaar, unlike other places, contributes towards the overall experience of being in Istanbul. Not only does it serve as a commercial experience, but also provides a leisurely activity.
With over 3,000 Mosques, historical landmarks, relics from various civilisations and a cuisine that is sure to satisfy, Istanbul is a never-ending adventure. What’s great, is that it is also an inexpensive city and has one of the best metro systems in the world, making it safe and easy to get around.