Armed with my Rick Steve’s Istanbul book, I focused my first full day in Istanbul at the historic core center of the city, Sultanhamet. I took the tram from the New District to the Old District. My hostel was located near the Tophane tram station. I believe a ticket costs 1.5 TL or about $1.
My first stop was the Blue Mosque, which was located near the Sultanhamet tram stop. As a courtesy to followers, all ladies had to wear scarves to cover their heads, and shoes had to be removed before entering the building. For Turkish mosque-goers, they had to wash the exposed parts of their bodies – feet, hands and face – before entering the holy site. There was no fee to enter this site.
The Mosque was built in seven years (1609-1616). It was named Blue Mosque because of the predominant color that dominates the interior. (Rick Steves)
After exploring the Mosque, I stepped out side of the complex and found myself facing the Hippodrome. It used to be a place where chariot races were held. Now, it’s dotted with vendors and photo frenzied tourists. There were also several structures in the area that can be skipped IMHO (e.g. Egyptian Obelisk, Column of Constantine, etc.). However, if you are religiously following Rick Steve’s recommended walking tour of the area, his book has brief descriptions of these “missable” structures. Pretty interesting.
After completing my tour of the Hippodrome, I crossed the street to the Turkish / Islamic Art Museum, which was rated 2 out of 3 stars by R. Steves. Entrance was 10TL, and the museum is open everyday except Mondays. Highlights include carpets, tiles, Ottoman art, etc. I’m certain
there’ll be plenty of opportunities to see these highlights elsewhere
in Turkey. Rick Steve’s book devoted a chapter for this museum, but if you are pressed for time in Istanbul & can only visit one museum in this district, don’t hesitate to skip this one out. I’d spend my time in the Istanbul Archeological Museum instead (tomorrow’s entry).
I had lunch at one of the “Kabob” stands by the mosque. After my 3-wk stay in Turkey, it’s not surprising that I would be kabobed out when I’m finished with the tour. The kabobs were ubiquitous.
In the afternoon, I went to the famous Hagia Sopia (ONE OF THE JAW-DROPPING SITES IN TURKEY!).
Steves describes this structure as one of the most important and impressive buildings on the planet, and the finest house of workship in the Christian & Muslim worlds. The accolades are definitely well-deserved! Built as a church back in A.D. 532, then converted into a mosque in 1453, and then converted into a museum in the 1930s. It’s an understatement to describe this place as historic.
It cost 20 TL to enter the museum & it’s open everyday except for Mondays. It’s located right across the Blue Mosque. Although the Mosque looks more impressive outside compared to this museum, don’t be deceived. This is a must see and should be on top of everyone’s “to do” list in Istanbul. The enormous structure was an architectural feat when it was built, and remains to be one up to this time. It will literally take your breath away. I stared for almost 20 minutes upon entering the building. It was gigantic! The guidebooks I had really helped me understand this superb piece of history.
After being blown away by Hagia Sophia, I crossed the street to check out the Underground Cistern. This underground basilica consists of avenues of waterways that acted as a reservoir for the residents of Constantinople back in the day. This is another, for a lack of a better term, jaw-dropping site in Istanbul. This day was intensely eventful & the reason why Istanbul is definitely a city to visit by anyone remotely interested with history & architecture. Truly impressive.