October 24, 2014

Turkey Vacation Part 1: Istanbul

We recently returned from a vacation to Turkey, which was a very interesting and beautiful place to visit. The country is filled with fascinating history and ruins from significant times in history, the food was excellent, and we were fortunate to be there to enjoy some beautiful fall weather! While in Turkey, we traveled to Istanbul and the Cappadocia region in Central Anatolia. 
Istanbul is known as the crossroads between the east and the west. It is the largest city in Turkey with a population of close to 18 million people. The city was founded around 660 BC as Byzantium, until 330AD when it was established as Constantinople. Since then, the city served as the capital of four empires: The Roman Empire (330-395), Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), Latin Empire (1204-1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922). Istanbul played a major role in advancing Christianity during the Roman and Byzantine times, before the city was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453 and transformed to Islam. The Ottoman Empire served as the last caliphate, and in 1923, the Republic of Turkey was formed and ruled under Ataturk.
There was so much to see in Istanbul, and we did what we could during the 4 days we were there. It is a great walking city, and we walked all day long! We saw a lot of the major sites, and we also enjoyed going to the big squares and parks, drinking Turkish coffee, and letting the boys run around and chase birds, just because they could!
Street vendors sold corn, fruits, roasted chestnuts, and fresh juices which made for some nice snacks during the day.
One of the major sites we visited was the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque. The mosque began construction in 1606 and completed in 1616. It has 6 minarets, which is unique for a mosque. It has an enormous main dome inscribed with the names of the caliphs, that is 23m tall, 8 smaller domes, and 260 stained glass windows in total. The mosque is a mix of Christian  elements and Islamic architecture, and is considered the last great mosque of the classical period. 
The mosque is surrounded on 3 sides by courtyards, and the main courtyard had a large fountain.
Before entering the mosque, was a place for ablution, which a procedure that Muslims perform in preparation for formal prayer.
The mosque gets its name as the Blue Mosque because of the blue colored wall panels inside. 
The interior of the mosque has more than 20,000 ceramic tiles and beautiful blue paint. It is decorated with calligraphy verses from the Qur'an and carpets. We were visiting during a prayer time, and got to observe people praying. The mosque was packed with visitors, so we were only able to walk through and take pictures.
View of the minarets.
It was an interesting mosque to visit!
Another site is the Hagia Sophia, which is a former Greek Orthodox church built in 537 AD that was later turned into a mosque during in 1453 the Ottoman rule. Until the Blue Mosque was constructed in 1616, this was the main mosque of Istanbul, and it's architectural style was adopted for many of the mosques in Istanbul, to include the Blue Mosque. It was packed every time we tried to visit. The morning were planning to visit, it was closed so we only got to see it from the outside.
Another site we visited was the Basilica Cistern, which is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. The cistern was built in the 6th century, during the Byzantine reign of Justinian, and it is said that close to 7,000 people were involved in the construction. The cistern provided a water filtration system to parts of Istanbul and did so into the 1900's. It was quite impressive to visit!
Two of the bases in the corner of the cistern are carved Medusa's head, and it is believed that the columns were brought into the cistern after being removed from a building during the Roman period.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without visiting the Grand Bazaar, which is the largest covered market in Istanbul. The market was originally built in 1461, rebuilt again to it's current form in 1701. The market has 65 streets, a mosque, 7 fountains, a well, and 3,300 shops. It was full of people, sights, and scents, and was one of the highlights of our stay.
Apple and pomegranate tea is very popular in the country, and many places sold the tea leaves.
There were beautiful ceramic mosaic lights everywhere.
And like most places, Ben makes friends with shop owners ;).
Another day we visited the Rahmi M. Koc transportation museum, which was recommend to us by a friend. The museum was a converted from an old Ottoman anchor house from the early 1700's. They had old cars, trains, planes, and boats on display. It was a great museum to visit on this rainy day!
The museum was on the Asia side of the city, so we got to see Europe from Asia.
We found a nice backdrop to take lots of pictures and let the boys stomp around in the puddles.
High five for brothers!
And some cute ones of the boys by themselves;)
Us 4 :)
Service even with no shirts!
More pictures of the Blue Mosque
Another place we visited (kind of) was the Topkapi Palace, which is where the Ottoman sultans lived for close to 400 years during their 624 year reign. The palace has 4 main courtyards and many smaller buildings. During it's prime, the palace complex was the home to close to 4,000 people, and it has mosques, a hospital, and bakeries. The palace was constructed in 1459, expanded over the centuries, and renovated after an earthquake in 1509 and fire is 1665.
I say we kind of visited because we only stayed in the courtyard so the boys could play, and we could admire the beauty of the place.
And while dad and mom were admiring the beauty, all of a sudden we heard a lot of people laughing. Turns out Caleb had to use the bathroom and found the perfect spot. And like any good mom, I quickly grabbed my camera :).
All throughout Istanbul, people were fascinated with picking up Ben. It was kind of odd, but he really liked it. It gave us a neat opportunity to talk to a lot of people. Ironically, of probably the 30+ people that asked where we were from, only 1 person asked if we were American. Most people thought we were Russian, Italian, or Spanish. We are proud to be American, but in the times and circumstances of the region, I was ok with people initially thinking otherwise.
And we ate plenty of ice cream on this trip too.
After visiting the palace, we walked down to the Bosphorus River, which forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia, and connects the Sea of Maramar with the Black Sea.
We walked along the water and watched a nice sunset.
And made our way back into the city to get some pictures of the Blue Mosque at night.
We had a fantastic time in Istanbul and were so thankful for the opportunity to see this very historically important city! Next stop….Cappadocia…coming to the blog soon.