| Home | Middle East | Turkey |
| Main Menu |  

Where East meets West, Asia meets Europe and the Black Sea meets the Mediterranean, Istanbul was and is the world's crossroads in more ways than one. An enormous metropolis and open-air museum at the same time, there is such a wealth of history to be explored that I have been to no other place save Rome that can match it. Variously known as Byzantium and Constantinople throughout its turbulent history, the city now looks forward with renewed aspirations of the Olympics and the EU.

We spent a long weekend in Istanbul in summer 2012, which although hot was still a welcome respite from the heat of Dubai from which we were escaping. Staying in Sultanhamet at the excellent Crowne Plaza Old City meant we were within easy walking distance of the Grand Bazaar and the Hagia Sophia, with the trams taking us further afield. The combination of top quality food, beautiful views and a plethora of attractions made this one of the best short breaks I've ever done.

Hagia Sophia

Perhaps the most iconic of Istanbul's many great buildings is the Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Turkish. Originally a church built nearly one and a half thousand years ago, it was turned into a mosque when the Ottoman Turks arrived in the 15th century, but was then converted to its present day form as a museum in the 1930s.

Set right across from the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque, built around one thousand years later and strictly speaking known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The Blue Mosque is particularly notable for having six minarets, a bold departure from the normal maximum of four at the time. Both buildings sit in Sultanhamet, the old centre of Istanbul.

Blue Mosque

Inside the Hagia Sophia

Inside the Hagia Sophia, the huge wooden calligraphy discs remain from the building's time as a mosque.

Some of the Christian mosaics and artworks were plastered over, and are in the process of being uncovered and restored. This is the Deësis Mosaic, one of the most revered but unfortunately seriously damaged beyond what is currently visible.

Deesis Mosaic

Close-up of the Blue Mosque

A closer shot of the Blue Mosque, with its clear style which influenced many subsequent Ottoman mosques.

Underneath Sultanhamet is the massive Basilica Cistern, used for water storage and supply to the city until relatively recently. It was built in the sixth century apparently using a number of spare parts and columns from other buildings demolished throughout the land. The roof is supported by over three hundred columns, making it a veritable underground Temple of Karnak.

Basilica Cistern

Medusa head

Medusa's head appears twice in the Basilica Cistern, as the foundation block for a column but rotated either sideways or upside down so that the gorgon's power is relieved. Not something you'd otherwise want upsetting your water supply.

The Golden Horn is a smaller inlet from the Bosphorus which divides older Sultanhamet from newer Beyoglu, from which this picture was taken after dinner at Mikla, one of Istanbul's most famous restaurants. Istanbul loves rooftop bars and restaurants - later that same evening we went to 360 nearby.

Golden Horn

Shopping in Beyoglu

Istiklal Avenue is the main artery of Beyoglu, which we reached by taking the old funicular railway up the hill from the Golden Horn at Karakoy. It leads eventually up to Taksim Square.

Similarly busy but from a very different age is the Grand Bazaar, ancient and gigantic market in Sultanhamet. It is one of the world's largest covered markets and has been the setting of many films including the recent James Bond, Skyfall.

Grand Bazzar


Colourful lanterns for sale in the Grand Bazaar. There were plenty of opportunities for "lots of lanterns" shots, but this is the one I was most happy with.

Vaulted ceilings of the Grand Bazaar with the Turkish flag flying patriotically.

Grand Bazzar


Islamic calligraphy plates for sale in the Grand Bazaar.

That most quintessential of modern Turkish exports, the doner kebab continues its roaring trade at home in Istanbul as much as it is in Aberdeen. Although in Turkey they're called "kebaps".

Doner kebab

Last stop on the Orient Express

The legendary Orient Express still has its final stop from Paris marked in Istanbul, although the original service no longer runs. James Bond also found himself transported to Istanbul onboard in one of his earlier guises, in From Russia With Love.

Pedestrians on Galata Bridge, crossing the Golden Horn, with the restaurant boats and ferries behind, and the Istanbul skyline dominated by the Suleymaniye Mosque.

Galata Bridge

Galata Tower

Looking the other way across the Golden Horn from Sultanhamet to Beyoglu, Galata Tower is the most prominent feature on the skyline. In the middle, the grey block is where Mikla Restaurant is.

The Spice Market is right next to Galata Bridge, and although much smaller than the Grand Bazaar, has its own appeal and smells great.

Spice Market

Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight for sale in the Spice Market.

A cacophony of domes in detail on the New Mosque, next to the Spice Market. The only other place I have seen similar multitudes of domes on a mosque is in Abu Dhabi.

Cacophony of domes


The Bosphorus itself is the division between Europe and Asia, crossed by two enormous suspensions bridges seen here, a brand new rail tunnel and hundreds of ferries daily. We took a cruise up to the second bridge for some fresh air.

Maiden's Tower guards the mouth of the Bosphorous where it empties into the Sea of Marmara. A third incarnation of James Bond found himself here in The World is Not Enough. He must like Istanbul almost as much as I do.

Maiden's Tower

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace hosted the Ottoman sultans and their various wives and concubines for a good few hundred years. Nowadays it serves as a museum, this is the Gate of Salutation.

The kitchen chimneys are one of the more curious features of Topkapi Palace. We also spent some time exploring the passageways of the Harem.

Chimneys at Topkapi

The Blue Mosque at night

After dark the Blue Mosque is illuminated beyond fountains outside the Hagia Sophia, with all six of its minarets clearly visible.

Top of page

Copyright © Ross Wattie 2013