It’s said that many visitors to Istanbul never really make it out of Sultanahmet. While it may sound like a shame, but it’s hardly a surprise. This neat little area is at the tip of the historic peninsula where the city sprang to life. It’s also the area where majority of the must-see attractions can be found: Topkapı Palace, Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia), the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, the Aya Sofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, the Yerebatan (Basilica) Cistern, the Hippodrome, and many more.
As ambitious as we tried to be, we didn’t have enough time to finish them all during our 3D/3N stay in Istanbul. Here are the sights that we managed to squeeze in during our trip:
The Blue Mosque was completed in 1616 by Sultan Ahmet I, and is famous for being the first mosque in Turkey to have six minarets. Facing Hagia Sophia, from which it borrows certain stylistic elements, the Blue Mosque combines the two great influences of Byzantine and Ottoman religious architecture.
The mosque was built on Sultan Ahmet’s orders by the architect Sedefkâr Mehmet Ağa, and dramatically changed the city’s skyline. The exterior is built of beautiful grey stone and consists of a series of semi-domes leading up to the huge central dome and six minarets. The reason why the mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque is because of the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior.
The mosque is such a popular tourist sight that admission is controlled so as to preserve its scared atmosphere. We didn’t get to go through to the main door as worshipers were making their way into the mosque for prayers (there is an approximate 10 minute wait to enter the mosque during prayer time).
Please be advised of the dress-code when making a visit to the Blue Mosque: Visitors are asked to wear relatively conservative clothes (no bare shoulders, shorts, or short skirts). Women will be given a scarf to cover their hair if they haven’t brought their own. Shoes will also need to be removed at the entrance.
Tokapi Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 but it’s the subject of more colourful stories than most of the world’s museums put together. It was the home of Selim the Sot, who drowned in the bath after drinking too much champagne, Ibrahim the Crazy, who lost his reason after being locked up for four years in the infamous palace kafes; and many more.
The first and most famous of the Ottoman Sultans’ residences and administrative centers in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace was built in 1465 during the reign of Sultan Mehmet II and was in use for approximately 400 years of the 624 years of Ottoman rule. Topkapı’s heyday ended in 1852, when Sultan Abdülmecid moved to the newly-built Dolmabahçe Palace; Topkapı itself was converted into a museum in the 1920s, and contains various Islamic relics which have made it a place of pilgrimage for the devout. We saw some pretty cool relics including the staff of Moses.
The weather was pretty dreary then so I didn’t bother with taking too many photos, plus most of the areas restricted photography so we pretty much just explored the vicinity.
As the saying goes ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ so don’t miss checking out the Imperial Treasury which features an incredible collection of precious objects made from or decorated with gold, silver, rubies, emeralds, jade, pearls and diamonds. I couldn’t resist gawking at the Kasikci (Spoonmaker’s) Diamond, a tear-drop shaped 86-carat rock surrounded by dozens of smaller stones. The reason why it’s called the Spoonmaker’s Diamond because it was originally found at a rubbish dump and purchased from a street-peddler for three spoons.
I say we probably needed to set aside at least half a day to see all of Topkapı instead of skimming through most of the attractions. There’s a separate admission fee for the Harem, which we skipped for we didn’t have enough time. But I hear it’s well worth it, being one of the most fascinating parts of the palace for the Harem was a place where the Sultan could engage at debauchery at will.
Part 2 of our adventures in Sultanahmet to be followed. Stay tuned.