Istanbul, the most populous city in Turkey and its de-facto economic, cultural and historical centre. Historically, its location was of great strategic importance. It nests directly on the silk road and is the only sea route between the black sea and the Mediterranean. Today, it is the only country that is both in continental Europe and Asia.
Obviously, 48 hours does not do justice to Istanbul’s extremely unique and historically rich culture. But nonetheless, for those short on time, this will do.
We start the days from Sultanahmet. It’s important to look for accommodation there as it is close to many of the historical and cultural sites. For us, we stayed at Esans hotel, it was value for money and adequate for our short stay in Istanbul.
The first stop is Hagia Sofia, or Ayasofya in Turkish. Built in 537, almost 1,500 years ago, it served as a Greek orthodox church, then repurposed as a Roman catholic cathedral in 1204, before being converted into a mosque in 1453. Now, it stands as a museum.
Amazingly, it was constructed in a short time of 4 years between 532 and 537. A very impressive feat if you consider its size and that it was done completely by hand.
Unfortunately, the interior was covered in scaffolding when we arrived. Well, the building is about 1,500 years old. I can’t blame them.
Hand-painted ceilings aplenty.
Apparently, because it was constructed in such a short time, many parts of the Hagia Sofia are not symmetrical. I was having such a hard time taking the cliché long hallway shots but none of them were working out very well. That’s when I realized that its really not me. The building itself is not symmetrical.
The Blue mosque is still a functioning mosque today. As compared to the Hagia Sofia, its relatively younger as it was completed in 1616.
If you’re squeamish, do remember to dress conservatively when you visit it and bring a scarf to cover your head. If you forget, don’t worry. Long skirts and headscarves are provided.
The famous Hippodrome in the times of byzantine, has been reimagined as the Sultanahmet square.
It sits in between the two historical sites you have previously visited. As you grab some lunch or some Turkish ice cream from the vendors here, remember that much of the hippodrome still has not been excavated and lies beneath your feet.
Originally used as a water storage system, the Bascilia cistern is an amazing work of architecture. It lies underneath the Hagia Sofia and Sultanahmet square. While the terrible lighting (I mean mysterious mood lighting) makes for unappealing photographs, but the cistern itself is amazingly beautiful.
Have a stroll and feel like you’ve been transported to ancient times.
What’s really interesting though is that the columns have been repurposed from old buildings.
Two bases of columns, strangely, are reused blocks carved as Medusa’s head. Nobody turned into stone but it was nevertheless interesting to find such a strange base for a column.
Don’t forget to spot the special column carved with images of tears and slanted branches. It serves as a memorial for the large number of slaves who died constructing the cistern.
Last but not least, visit the Topkapi palace, one of the major residences of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years (out of their 624-year reign).
Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures of the Topkapi palace as it was swarmed with tourists. Important Muslim relics such as Muhammed’s cloak and sword are stored on the palace grounds. Because of this, photos are not allowed inside the rooms.
Hehe, that didn’t deter me from sneaking this shot. Honestly, this photo is not that stunning but I have an impossible reverse psychology complex.
If you’ve been a curious soul, Day 1’s activities should be adequate to make your sufficiently tired (or exhausted). Have dinner around Sultanahmet, maybe find a restaurant with a roof terrace and enjoy the view of the sea.
The grand bazaar is one of the largest and oldest bazaars in the world. Built between 1455 and 1460, its more than 500 years old. It’s also one of the most visited tourist attractions in the 2014, with 91 million visitors.
We walked to the Grand Bazaar from Sultanahmet but there’s also the option of taking a tram.
I especially liked the pottery they had on display!
There’s something for everyone!
Turkish Apple thing might be something you want to stock up on. Those things are sinfully addictive.
Ext up, take a little stroll to another bazaar, the spice market.
The spice market, or the spice bazaar is one of the largest bazaars in the city, its nearly as famous as the grand bazaar.
Other than spices, the bazaar sold some interesting things like plants…
To be perfectly honest, these shops were not inside the bazaar per se, but outside the whole complex. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience to have a walk-around.
What was really disturbing to me though was the sale of live leeches (!!!) along the sides of the shops. Apparently, many believe that leeches can clean your blood and solve a myriad of health problems. No thank you.
Yeni Cami Caddesi
Conveniently located next to the Spice bazaar is Yeni Cami Caddesi, loosely translated as the new Mosque.
Located next to the sea, it presents a stunning landscape when viewed from the other side. If time permits, take a stroll inside.
Fun fact, the nine-storey Galata tower was he tallest building in Istanbul when it was constructed in 1348. Now it stands proudly just to the north of the Golden Horn.
Snap some photos of the amazing view on the other side while making your way to the tower. We walked, but there is also an option of taking the tram.
Atop the Galata Tower you can find stunning views, snap them up!
Stroll around the Karakoy quarter if you’re not too tired and maybe even have dinner there before heading back to your hotel in Sultanahmet.
So here’s 48 hours in Istanbul. Have you been there? Let me know if I missed anything from the comments below!