Istanbul, Turkey is the former Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. It is in a unique position that touches both Europe and Asia. This water city has seen thousands of years of history from before the crusades, to the World Wars, to today, and is home to Christianity and Islam.
When I arrived, everyone was incredibly nice, and went out of their way to tell me they were a secular nation, and they liked Americans. I absolutely loved Istanbul, had a blast, and would love to return. Here are the most epic things I did:
1. Hagia Sophia I studied art history in college, so I geeked out here. This place is incredible. This church was constructed in 537 AD on orders from Emperor Justinian, and was the seat of Constantinople’s Eastern Orthodox Church. It lasted through the crusades, then was converted to a mosque in last centuries, and now is a museum. It is extremely well-preserved, and you can see the art and architecture from history and all religions to tell a fascinating tale. I could have spent all day here. ????
2. The Blue Mosque- The Blue Mosque was built in the early 1600’s by a Sultan who wanted something every bit grandiose as the Hagia Sophia that it stands beside. These two grande dames of architecture now dominate the Istanbul skyline. Inside is still beautifully detailed and a sight to behold for anyone regardless of your religious leanings.
3. The Grand Bazaar OMG. Just wow. This place is amazing, like really-truly-wander-around-for-days-open-mouthed-amazing. I could wander for weeks here and be so happy. It has everything you could possibly think of: ceremonial daggers, hookah machines, spices, silks, copper, porcelain, all kinds of food, and my favorite – the rugs. The rugs were beyond amazing. From a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars, they have it all. I brought home two. And a suitcase full of souvenirs – yes, everyone got lots of presents when I returned. My father still has the engraved ceremonial dagger I bought him on his desk.
4. The Roman Aqueduct (Underground)- They were built in the 4th century AD, and maintained by the Byzantines, and later by the Ottoman Empire. The quality of the building is staggering considering everything was done with basically hand tools. The technology was basically non-existent. If you saw Inferno (latest in the Da Vinci code series) there was a scene in the Aqueduct. Sometimes they even have concerts there.
5. Topkapi Palace This was the palace of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire built in 1459. No one lives there anymore, but you can still tour the grounds and drink in the opulence. Don’t miss the illuminated manuscripts, the harem, and the 86 carat “Spoonmakers Diamond.”
Honorable Mention: Cruise the Bosphorus River and view the city from the water.