Istanbul goes by many names: the city where east meets west, the jewel of Byzantine and Ottoman empires or the only city in the world that sits on two continents but no matter how you call her, we as travelers are bewitched by her many charms. Istanbul always will have a irreplaceable place in me no matter how many times I visit her. Like a mysterious lady, she doesn’t reveal herself easily; one moment I felt that I have seen what she has to offers, the next moment she takes my breath away again.
If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.
Alphonse de Lamartine
Even after many months back from the trip, my memories felt surreal and my heart allured for I know that I have yet to see the real Istanbul and get to know her.
There are many places to see in Istanbul and I will share my experience over the next few posts. For each post, I will write about the places to see in an area because it is easier to collect the thoughts this way. At the heart of the old city, there stands Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Basilica Cistern: all within a short walking distance.
The feeling of admiration I felt when I first walked into the hall of Hagia Sophia is indescribable, hard to imagine how a faithful worshipper might feel when the first light of the day hit the floor and illuminate the region icons and symbols. In its long history, Hagia Sophia has been a church, later converted as a mosque and now turned in a museum, you can see Islamic and Christian symbols side bye side. Belonging to neither of these religions, I failed to understand the significance in their meaning except my new-found respect that these symbols coexist peacefully. With a structure this old, you can always see that the conditions deteriorate over time, accelerated by the outside elements such as air pollution and the vast numbers of visitors Hagia Sophie hosts everyday. One can only hope that we preserve our history on our march to the future.
Basilica Cistern, the largest subterranean chamber in Istanbul, initially designed to filter rainwater and to served as the source of water in ancient time but now the water all but emptied out, apart from the occasion droplets from the ceiling as the startling reminder of its purpose. It was no other than the Basilica Cistern that drew me to Istanbul in the first place; so I am biased toward my sentiments rather than what other visitors said about this place being not worth paying the entrance fee or the waiting time but yes, you can finish walking around the cistern in about 5-10 minutes.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque
The blue mosque of Istanbul, which got its name from the blue tiles adorning its walls, is a sight to behold. It remains as a place for worshipping with the entire floor is covered with massive carpets and the inner area of the hall is exclusive for that purpose. The walls and ceilings are beautifully decorated with millions of ceramic tiles bearing the signature blue among many numerous colors. Whilst the main hall is beautiful, the courtyard is my favourite part of the mosque because it is a peaceful peace where I can rest and read a book, or just take in the beautiful sights in front me and be happy.