Between the 5 new WHS in north-eastern Bulgaria and the next one in Bursa (Asiatic Turkey), I had planned a full day to spend in Istanbul
. I had been in this city once before: that was already in 1992 during my aptly named All Turkey Tour
. So I gave myself a leisurely program this time, including only a few sights not too far from my hotel. I skipped the biggest crowd magnets such as the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace and I also entered places selectively.
My first stop was the Sirkeci train station. This used to be the final destination of the Orient Express, the train that travelled from London to Istanbul in some form between 1883 and 1977. The old station has been preserved as a monument, next to it lies a new station that is in full use. The abandoned station is now ‘owned’ by stray dogs and cats. I found one cat even entrenched on the dashboard of an old locomotive and another one sleeping on a table in the railway museum. Nevertheless, the building is well maintained and the stained-glass windows in the waiting areas are still beautiful.
Walking towards the most historic part of the city of Istanbul, you encounter a historic building every 100 meters or so. Each of these are explained by a handy column with information in 3 languages. One example is Paşakapısı, the gate of the Pasha. This beautiful entrance from 1799 led to the palace of the Ottoman Grand Vizier, who welcomed his foreign visitors there.
A little further on I found myself at what was the Hippodrome in Roman times. Now this is a large square, with the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque located on either side - making it the most touristic place in the city. For the sake of security, Turkish authorities have positioned an army tank there and the square is also screened off with fences. The former racecourse is known for its three narrow, high pillars or obelisks: one made by the Romans, one taken from Egypt and one bronze monument (the Serpentine Column) that has been here since Roman times.
Afterwards I walked to the northwest for about 20 minutes, to yet another monumental mosque: the 16th century Süleymaniye mosque. This is perhaps the most beautiful among the hundreds of Istanbul mosques. You can sit down in the large garden, with both good views over the city and at the building itself. Here I did enter, the access is free. They were busy with preparations for the prayer that was to start in 45 minutes: 2 men were vacuuming the whole carpet. Unfortunately, as a visitor you have to stay at the edge of the main area and not everything is well visible because of the many wires that keep a huge chandelier in the air.
After a simple but tasty lunch at the Bazaar, my first goal of the afternoon was the Rustem Pasha mosque. This work of Sinan
is decorated with beautiful glazed tiles. It is wedged in by the Bazaar and I had a hard time finding the entrance. However, it turned out that it is closed for restoration. When you look at it from a distance, you can understand why.
Rustem Pasha mosque seen from Galata Bridge
I finally ended up near the Galata bridge, which spans the Golden Horn and forms the connection between the European and Asian part of Istanbul. At the other end of the bridge lies the characteristic Galata tower, built in the 14th century by the Republic of Genoa. The bridge is also easy for pedestrians to cross. I walked all the way to the other side, in the meantime passing dozens of fishermen. In Galata I ended my sightseeing day at a luxurious coffee shop for a cappuccino with pastries.
Thanks Els, I made the easy day trip today from Istanbul to Bursa. Glad I did so, but found the food (halva and Iskender kabob) better than the sites.
Hi Michael, I loved Bursa and I think it deserves at least a full day (I stayed for 2 nights). It's a very atmospheric place and the sights are spread out as well. All depends of course whether you are a fast traveler (I am not so much). Review will be published this Saturday!
Hi Els, coincidentally I flew this morning to Istanbul from Sochi, after spending a few days in Abkhazia, and likewise wandered over to Sirkeci station, where I’m now having a coffee in the exquisite station restaurant and using their WiFi. I only have one more full day, and I haven’t been able to get too excited about the possibility of a long day trip to Bursa. I have several more hours to research and decide. Do you think it’s worth six hours of travel? I could also “save” Bursa for a longer trip to Turkey, when I wouldn’t need to backtrack. Thanks