The Abundance City is the only city in the world that stretches on two continents and was the capital of three powerful empires. It has a long history that started in the 7th century BC. Byzas who was a ruler of Megara is supposed to have established the ancient town. According to one legend, the inhabitants of a Greek polis went to ask the Oracle of Delphi where to found their new colony and he advised them to do it the “Country of the blind”. They travelled a lot. Being already tired they arrived at that splendid place surrounded by the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea. It was a pretty comfortable place in terms of defence because it was attackable only overland. They chose it and understood what the Oracle had had in mind – one should be blind if they don’t see and appreciate its location.
I S T A N B U L
The city was officially founded by Constantine the Great in 326 and it was named after him. “Constantine’s City” was a bastion of Christian religion for a long time until it was conquered by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror in 1453 and became the capital of the largest Islamic empire. Today’s Istanbul is among the biggest cities in the world and it is 190 long and 50 wide while its population is between 12 and 15 million inhabitants. Well, on such a large territory, for sure there’s plenty to see starting from the opulent Ottoman saray (palaces), mosques, cisterns, towers and çarşı (bazaars and markets). So, let’s get started. Let me walk you through some of the most emblematic sites of the Abundance City.
Like any city Istanbul has its Old Town that is situated in Sultanahmet and Sarayburnu. This is the “historical peninsula” of Istanbul housing most of the historic sites. Only two steps away is the unique ancient Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Sunken Cistern “Yerebatan”) which is a basilica cistern, an underground tank. It was always full of fresh water as a precaution for citizens during long sieges for more than 14 centuries. Yerebatan Sarayı (Sunken Palace), as it’s also called, has 1336 marble columns, 9 metres high each.
Another splendid palace is Topkapı Sarayı – the residence of the sultans of the enormous Ottoman Empire for more than 400 years. It was built by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror. When he invaded the town his first task was to get a palace built. The first saray was erected at the place of today’s Süleymaniye Mosque and Istanbul University but the sultan decided it wasn’t that representative and ordered a new bigger one. Thus the 700 000-m2 palace was born. It was resided by more than 4000 people. Today it possesses a great number of yards, gardens, pavilions, fountains, “the doors of pleasure and desire” (i.e. the harem of sultans’ concubines and favourites) and a mosque, all of them surrounded by a thick wall and breathtaking views to the Golden Horn.
But that marvelous palace became old-fashioned and that’s why in 1839 the 31st sultan, Abdülmecid I, ordered a new residence. This time the new saray was influenced by western style, luxury and comfort. Dolmabahçe Palace, was erected in Kabataş district (between Beşiktaş and Karaköy), in a bay on the Bosphorus and was the new administrative centre of the sultans and later of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (and his place of death). Today the palace has “only” 285 rooms and 43 halls. It houses 280 vases, 156 clocks (one of them still shows the exact hour of Atatürk’s death), 58 candlesticks of crystal and porcelain. And this is the place where the biggest chandelier (a gift from the British Queen Victoria) in the world is conserved and kept.
Well, what is a city without a market, especially when we have in mind Istanbul that is on a crossroad? Is it possible? 🙂 Exactly … No! … There are plenty of them but two of them are quite notable. Kapalıçarşı has an area of 30 hectares and is one of the biggest (or maybe the biggest) covered bazaars in the world. It was built by Sultan Mehmed II in 1450. It was devastated by fires several times. Nowadays it resembles a true labyrinth of 65 streets in which there are 5000 shops, cafés and restaurants where more than 15 000 people work. There’re specialized streets only for textile and clothes, gold and jewelry, souvenirs and plates, nuts and Turkish delight, etc. All of the shops are placed along these street-corridors with beautifully painted ceilings and arches, near marble fountains.
Mısır Çarşısı (or better known as the Egyptian or Spice Bazaar) is the other “market” attraction of Istanbul. It’s more specialized in East fragrances. It’s the place where one might find all exotic spices and dried fruits. But there are also various types of cheese, tea, jams and nuts on display. Jewelry is not missing as well. And of course, like anywhere in Turkey visitors are welcomed by cunning and good-hearted trade-folks with a cup of tea and in all possible languages. A humble piece of advice from me – don’t let down and offend these guys and bargain with them as this is a tradition in the country.
Going out of the Spice Bazaar, the Galata Bridge, provisionally dividing Istanbul into a new and old city, leads to the 70-metre Galata Kulesi. Originally it was built as Christea Turris (the Tower of Christ) by the Genoese in 1348. Later, in the Ottoman period it was an observation tower for spotting fires. Today the nine-storey tower offers the best bird’s eye views to Istanbul and its splendor.
Another impressive tower is Kiz Kulesi (the Maiden’s Tower) and is situated on an islet off Üsküdar. It is a medieval tower from the Byzantine period that has been used for different purposes – as a lighthouse, a defence tower, a tax collection area, a plague and quarantine hospital and even a radio station. The three legends associated with it are, surely, more fascinating than its usage. Sooo, here they are.
A fortune-teller told the sultan that his daughter was under a spell and he predicted she would be bitten by a snake and she would die when she grew up. Upon hearing this, the sultan had a tower built where his daughter was locked. Thus he thought he would protect her. Unfortunately, although she had been well isolated from the world, one day a snake jumped out from the bowl with fruits and bit the princess deadly.
Leandros’s Love Story
This legend is connected with one of the names of the tower, i.e. Leandros (the other name is Damalis). And …. Leandros was a young lad who fell in love desperately with a maiden whose name was Hero. Their love was impossible because Hero was a nun. The two lovers couldn’t live without one another and that’s they found a way to meet every night. The young lady showed Leandros the way to the tower by lighting a fire and Leandros swam to the tower where she lived. And they met night after night until one evening Hero’s guiding bonfire was put out by a storm. Leandros lost his way and was drowned. The currents of the Bosphorus pulled him under and he died in the cold waters. When Hero got to know what had happened to her beloved Leandros she couldn’t stand living without him even for a minute and followed him by committing suicide.
“The horse thief has passed through Üsküdar. It’s already too late.”
A Tekfur’s daughter was very beautiful and a lad called Battalgazi fell in love with her madly. (By the way, a tekfur is a Christian ruler of a town.) So, the father resisted to give his daughter to the young man and locked her in the tower. The young lad’s love for her was enormous, so he attacked the tower and kidnapped the girl. After that they mounted on his horse and disappeared in an unknown direction. This legend “bore” one widely used expression meaning that “nothing could be done and it’s too late”.
Did you like the short fairy-tales? 🙂 If they aren’t enough, there is one magical “blue” place where you can continue your journey in the land of dreams. Of course, I mean Sultan Ahmet Camii (The Sultan Ahmed Mosque) or better known as the Blue Mosque because of its blue interior. Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, its architect, started it in 1609. He used more than 20 000 tiles and projected 260 colourfully painted windows so that the Mosque could shine anytime during the day. It’s the only camii in the world possessing 6 minarets and that makes it really unique. And that was Sultan Ahmed’s main idea – to get another masterpiece built competing Hagia Sophia.
The Greek-Orthodox basilica was built under the rule of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the period 532 – 537. It served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral.It was a Roman Catholic Church under the Latin Empire for a short period of time (1204 – 1261). And the holy building became an imperial mosque when Constantinople was taken by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror on May 29, 1453. The Ottomans built minarets onto the Cathedral and used it as a mosque till 1935 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk declared it a museum where nowadays the two religions meet.
And finally, if you want to get out of the tourist chaos in the heart of Istanbul you might visit Turkuazoo – Istanbul Aquarium. It’s a nice place, indeed, and it’s worth a visit. My problem is that I had gone to the Aquarium in Barcelona before my going to the Abundance City. I expected more from Turkuazoo in terms of space and species and that’s why I was a little bit disappointed. But once again I am saying that it’s a good idea to kill some time sying Hi to a shark or a piranha or getting a photo taken with a true pirate. 😀