From Europe to Asia: a photo story into mystical Istanbul

I’ve been dreaming of Istanbul for several years now. And as life has it, I had visited Turkey before: Efes, Troy and Kusadasi, in a whirlwind trip with my father alone, when I was a mere thirteen year old teenager. For some reason, though, we never stopped in Istanbul. And so, over the years, I built a cult like desire to visit the thrilling city.

Sultanahmet Blue Mosque Istanbul

To say that there is no other place like Istanbul is a cliché; but there really isn’t. Laid out on two continents – Europe and Asia – Istanbul is not only the former capital of four powerful empires (Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman), but also a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis.

Turkish flag

It is certainly not hard to comprehend why the once historical imposing Constantinople has become one of the most vibrant alluring cities of the present day. The Muslim conservative world peacefully coexists with the developing modern world, in what comprises of a dual universe. And what has most enraptured me in the City on the Seven Hills were the hypnotizing prayer chantings. Each chanting from a nearby mosque was a delightful awakening: you are indeed in Istanbul!

Man sitting outside Sultanahmet Blue Mosque

As soon as I landed on Turkish land and found my way (it’s quite easy and safe to get into the city center by train and subway, ignoring all those pesky airport vendors) to Mina Hotel, I went directly to their rooftop terrace and breathed a sigh of joy and relief; it was exactly what I had in mind: a cup of Turkish coffee overlooking the city, Bosphorus and the Sultanahmet Blue Mosque.

Overlooking Sultanahmet Blue Mosque from above

As soon as I recharged with a generous lunch, I stepped into town. Conveniently settled in the Sultanahmet neighborhood – the city center where most sights are to be found – I made my way towards the former Byzantine Orthodox church, turned into Mosque, Hagia Sophia.

Outside Hagia Sophia MosqueHagia Sophia Mosque Istanbul

Given it was a Thursday, I did not wait in line at all (beware of weekends, it might be a longer wait to get it). I was not positively impressed by its outside exterior; I was blown away though by the hallucinating interior: splendid chandeliers, sumptuous arches and intimidating painted walls.

Entrance Sultanahmet Blue Mosque IstanbulIslamic washing ritual Wudu

Directly across Hagia Sophia was the Sultanahmet Blue Mosque, a larger more traditional mosque. It was the first time I had to take my shoes off to enter a sacred sanctuary and extensively cover up. Although not as strict as other Muslim dwellings, a sense of respect required to follow these instructions. It was also the first time I witnessed the Islamic washing ritual (Wudu) men must undergo before entering the mosque for prayer.

Children Sultanahmet Blue Mosque IstanbulInside Sultanahmet Blue Mosque Sultanahmet Blue Mosque ceiling

The painted ceilings of blue ceramics were not only beautiful and discreetly elegant, but a testament of where the mosque derives its name.

Sultanahmet Blue Mosque Black & WhiteMuslim women inside Sultanahmet Blue mosque

While resting up in the beautiful courtyard of the Blue Mosque, I witnessed a traditional Turkish Muslim wedding. I was so delighted, I quickly took some pictures.  The bride was beautiful, but I could hardly believe she had so many layers in the sweltering heat of the summer. Afterwards, although already tired, I chose to keep going, following the Sultan’s steps at Topkapi Palace. It was my favorite sight to visit.

Galata Tower Neighborhood IstanbulGalata house

On a different trip, after crossing the Blue Horn on the other side towards Galata Tower (it’s a must see to go on top of the tower, for sweeping views of the city), coming back on the Galata Bridge, the Eminonu (New Mosque) comes into horizon. Another breathtaking structure, what struck with me most was the energy and buzz surrounding the sanctuary: tourists, swords of pigeons and vendors selling all sorts of Turkish snacks.

Eminonu Mosque IstanbulTurkish woman selling seeds

This particular old lady stuck in my head for a while … a hard working woman, selling seeds all day long, under the scorching sun. She reminded me of the Romanian peasants working the fields: similar attire, similar look that goes right through you. I love capturing images of people, as they are worth more than a thousand words.

Eminonu mosque

Have you ever been to Istanbul? If so, what did you like best?

To plan a trip to the cosmopolitan Turkish city, check out my Istanbul custom guide on Gogobot.

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