Istanbul – Turkey’s hidden Capital

It’s an open secret that I am taking a great fancy to Istanbul, the world’s only city being situated on two different continents. Since my first visit in 2007 many things have changed. For example now Hagia Sophia and Süleymaniye Mosque are shining in new splendour after having been restored for several years. The city’s biggest highlight is yet still the Bosporus and its mass of water appearing in a new colour every day anew. This time my stay also was long enough to have a look at the Little Hagia Sophia as well as at other mosques like the one in Eminönü or Kabatas.

I’ve rarely seen an evening scene like the one I’ve experienced on May 31st 2012 at the Golden Horn in Istanbul; even after knowing the city quite well and having been there a couple of times. A small thunderstorm released its rain over Süleymaniye mosque and dramatised the Istanbul evening sky breathtakingly well. By the way, here you can see my earlier photo and travel report featuring Istanbul.

Süleymaniye mosque

The scaffolds around Süleymaniye’s minarets got removed already last year, but the inner illumination wasn’t fully restored yet. Also some works on the render and paint were yet pending at that time. Since June 2012 the Süleymaniye mosque, Istanbul’s most important place of worship right after the big Blue Mosque, now shines in new splendor again.

The scenery of Süleymaniye appears most eye-catching after a small but intense summer storm blew down and the mosque’s domes start to mirror in countless small puddles. Though the big white coaches carrying myriads of tourists already start to stop at the gates of Süleymaniye as well, hence it won’t take much time until Süleymaniye will have to deal with the same tourist floods that already invade the big Blue Mosque.

Little Hagia Sophia

In Eminönü’s South-East and not far from its big sister you can find the so called Little Hagia Sophia when following the cul-de-sac leading downwards right after having passed Blue Mosque’s main gate. Like Hagia Sophia nowadays Little Aya Sofia mosque used to be a church as well; it was even built years before the big Hagia Sophia. The church got turned into a mosque by Hüseyin Aga in 1504. Only a few tourists find this hidden gem, but get instantly overwhelmed by its clearly structured interior and the wonderful play of light in its dome.

Hagia Sophia museum

The “big” Hagia Sophia is a museum for quite some time already; a museum, offering a unique fusion of Christian and Muslim elements to its visitors. I visit it every time I go to Istanbul and know it since my travel dating back to 2007 (here you can see the photos from 2007). Back in the days reconstruction works were still ongoing and there was always a huge ugly scaffold reaching up to the main dome creating a more or less dull light atmosphere. Luckily reconstruction works were finished in 2011 and now the museum is a magnet to people from all over the world. The queue can be pretty deterrent and up to some 60 meters long. However getting admitted is not a big deal as it’s often only a matter of 15 minutes only.

Eminönü mosque

The most south-eastern end of European Istanbul is formed by the Eminönü district. Eminönü is the oldest and most magic part of Istanbul, it is the southern end of Galata Bridge and where Vapur ferries are leaving towards Üsküdar or Kadiköy. You can have a fantastic Balik Ekmek (mackerel in bread with salad) whilst being surrounded by some 50 “Bosporus! Bosporus! Bosporus!” calls per minute when captains try to get passengers on board for a Bosporus cruise. At this place you can find the Eminönü mosque that gets also called new mosque or in Turkish Yeni mosque. It’s worth to have a look inside the pretty compact but contrasty and colourful decorated house of God.

Nusretiye mosque (Tophane)

Tophane is a neighbourhood situated situated between Karaköy and Kabatas. There, and being located right next to the line of tramway T1, you can find Nusretiye mosque, whose name is also Tophane mosque, due to its neighbourhood. Its ground plot is entirely quadratic, the mosque has no side wing. Most magnificent though is the peace you can witness over as only very few western faces “dare” to stick their noses into.

Bosporus

Enough about mosques for now ;-) Istanbul is home to approximately 13 million people plus the tourists spit out by cruise ships. At rush hour tramway T1 carries countless people from A to B with each passing minute and of course there’s quite some rush around the major sights. On busy days you can feel nothing but the human factor. The most decelerating potential has the Bosporus strait. It is taking the hurry from Istanbul’s bustle and there’s nothing more beautiful to enjoy a ride on the Vapur, Istanbul’s ferries, from Eminönü to Kadiköy or from there to Besiktas. There’s nothing more beautiful than taking a back seat, sipping on a black tea or Ayran and watching seaguls, boats and a magnificent skyline. To me that’s the Istanbul feeling number one.

Night Life

Doesn’t matter if during the week or on weekends, Istanbul’s night life knows no stop… Things become most communicative and culinary in particular at Nevizade, a small lane running parallel to famous Istiklal, the famous promenade for strolling. No matter how many stories a building has got, all of them are packed with chatting, laughing and eating people. There Raki flows freely and in torrents; over there Istanbul nights become very looooooong….! And it’s quite some culinary pleasure to have some fried mussels with garlic sauce as Raki side dish.