Big City Tales

The Intrigue and Mystique of Istanbul | March 19, 2018

Being a transcontinental city spanning the continents of Europe and Asia, the city of Istanbul, Turkey is truly a place where there is no shortage of intrigue and mystique.

Yes, East meets West in Istanbul and traditional customs blend seamlessly with modern activities across the city.

Prepare to revel in glorious displays of food stuffs, household goods and personal wares at ancient markets; then be awed by magnificent examples of artistic and architectural brilliance in centuries-old churches and mosques.

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The Grand Bazaar

In operation since the 1400s, the Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets that includes over 4,000 shops and stretches over 60 streets.

Located within the walled city in the Fatih district, the Grand Bazaar is a marvelous sprawl of alluring scents and dazzling sights that will leave mouths watering and eyes bulging with stand after stand of local delights.

Bartering with merchants for bargains is expected, as well as partaking of copious amounts of tea. Losing track of time is also a given in order to explore the hans tucked away in narrow side lanes where artisans can be found toiling away at their crafts.

Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque

As if the sensory overload of the Grand Bazaar wasn’t enough, Istanbul’s art and architecture blows the mind in masterpiece structures such as the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Hagia Sophia

Built in the 6th century by Justinian the Great, Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565, the Hagia Sophia was originally constructed as a Christian church (later Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic) and was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years.

While under Ottoman rule, the church was converted to a mosque, which it would remain as from 1453 until 1931. Christian symbols were covered over with plaster or outright destroyed in favor of Islamic elements such as mihrab niches, a minbar pulpit, and four minaret towers.

Since 1935, the building has served as a museum and is widely known for its massive dome and other quintessential Byzantine architectural elements such as elaborate abstract designs and mosaics on the walls, floors, pillars and curved vaults.

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Blue Mosque

Located next to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque (known formally as Sultan Ahmed Mosque) was built in the early 1600s as a Muslim mosque. The ‘Blue Mosque’ nickname is derived from the hand-painted blue tiles that decorate the mosque’s interior, as well as the light that bathes the mosque’s exterior domes and minarets in shades of blue at night.

The mosque is a blend of Byzantine and Islamic elements that were commonly used in the Classical period of Ottoman architecture.

The exterior features five main domes, eight secondary domes and six minarets situated around a large courtyard with a small central fountain.

The interior is lined with 20,000 ceramic tiles designed in the popular Iznik style that was prevalent at the time. There are also 200 stained glass windows that provide natural light. The marble mihrab is noteworthy for its fine carvings and sculptural elements, and the surrounding numerous windows and ceramic-covered walls. A unique aspect of the mosque’s interior is that it was designed to ensure that no matter how crowded and no matter where worshipers stand, the imam can always be seen and heard.

 

 

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