Istanbul, the only city in the world that spans two continents, Asia and Europe. A mystical oriental city and at the same time a modern one. A city where east and west seamlessly intertwine with each other. In this article I want to give you four examples of how west and east live next to each other in Istanbul. I’m sure there are more examples. So let me know in the comments if you want to add something.
# 1 Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Istanbul is the city where Christianity and Islam directly face each other in the sense that the Hagia Sophia is built next to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The two structures face each other across a central square. The Hagia Sophia was built as a Greek Orthodox church, situated in the former eastern Roman empire. At the time of its construction it was the largest cathedral in Christianity. In 1453 Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered this main church of the Orthodox Christianity to be converted into a mosque. But this wasn’t enough. In 1609 the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built as a Ottoman answer to the Hagia Sophia. This mosque is better known as the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque was meant to surpass the Hagia Sophia in every way. The mosque has six minarets and various domes and the interior is lined with more than 20.000 blue ceramic tiles with a colorful flower and fruit design. Luckily this battle is in the past and now we can enjoy both structures. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is still used as an active mosque, the Hagia Sophia is a museum.
#2 Topkapi: Palace and Museum
The visit to the Topkapi Palace instantly reminded me of the story of Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp. I watched this movie over and over in my childhood and now I relived this story in Topkapi. For centuries the Topkapi was the imperial residence of the sultans of the Ottoman empire. The palace is an extensive complex of 6.700 m2 and accomodates excessively decorated rooms, the numerous gardens and a wonderful view of the river Bosporus. It was a home to 4.000 people: the sultan and his family, but also the servants, the harem and 400 concubines (slaves). Nowadays the Topkapi is a museum to western standards. The exhibition consists of weaponry, gifts and clothing of the sultan. It gives a good image of how the sultans must have lived, especially the room of the harem speaks to your imagination.
#3 Galata bridge and Galata tower
The Galata bridge is literally the connection between east and west. One side of the bridge ends in the Asian district of Eminou and the other side in the European district of Galata. This last district contains an important sight of Istanbul: the Galata tower. This tower was originally built as a Christian tower, but most of his existance the tower was in Ottoman hands. With its height of 67 meter it was the highest structure in Istanbul, and so the perfect watch-tower. Today the Galata tower is a viewtower with a panoramic balcony and a restaurant on the ninth floor. Here you’ve got a view over the Topkapi, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and several minarets.
#4 Spice bazaars and souvenir shops
The center of Istanbul is characterized by the colorful underground bazaars. The bazaar shops are filled with oriental tea, spices and carpets, but also western jewellery and souvenirs. The crowd consists of a mix of Turkish moms and daughters and western tourists. The bazaars look like an underground corridor system where you can easily get lost. For example the old Big Bazaar has hundreds of shops hidden in a maze of more than 60 corridors. The competition is tough, so the shop owners do everything they can to lure you in. They suggest you come in for a cup of tea or to buy a ring for your loved one.
Have you ever been to Istanbul?