While awaiting my university applications, I have embarked on a pilgrimage to get the worries of my future career off my mind – a journey through Turkey and Greece in the footsteps of St Paul the Apostle. I am a Roman Catholic, and although Turkey is the place where Christians were first named, only 0.02% of the population in Turkey are Catholics – approximately 100,000. Muslim is the main religion, but the women are not fully clad from head to toe in robes, and are free to wear jeans and shirts. Turkey is also a secular country, and you can see churches, mosques and synagogues side by side in the city. The beautiful towering minarets of the mosques puncture the city skyline, of which the most famous is the Blue Mosque, which I will talk about later. It’s a country rich in history, culture and religion, and Istanbul is the only city in the world which is on two different continents – Asia and Europe.
For now, let’s talk about the major attractions in the city. Firstly, the Blue Mosque, which is famous for the blue tiles adorning the interior of this building. Completed in the year 1616, it took 7 years to build. I was sadly unable to go in as I arrived on a Friday, and prayers were being held so entry was prohibited, but I did manage to capture a shot of the exterior which is, I am sure, just as equally stunning as the interior.
Directly opposite it across a park filled with beautiful multi-coloured tulips (Istanbul’s national flower is the tulip) and a majestic fountain is it’s red counterpart, the Hagia Sophia, which means ‘Divine Wisdom”. This building was once used as an Eastern Orthodox Church, a Catholic church, a mosque, but is currently being used as a museum. This structure is a Byzantine architectural marvel – constructed in the 6th century, it can withstand earthquakes of up to the 9th magnitude on the Richter scale, and not a crack would appear. It was the world’s largest church in its time for 1000 years. The interior is filled with beautiful mosaics mainly of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary, and are made out of colored ceramic and gold flakes.
You can take a few hours to explore the Spice Bazaar. It has 400 different stalls, selling carpets, bracelets, pottery, soup and Turkish Delight. Hawkers call out to you to sample their products, but you won’t be able to bargain for the food – those prices are fixed. The aroma of spices and herbs are overwhelming, and the vinrant colours and spirit of the market is certainly a sight to behold – although you should cling on tightly to your bags as this place is notorious for pickpockets.
Of course, if you have time please go to the Grand Bazaar, which is the largest bazaar in the world. I only had a day in Istanbul so I had no time.
Next on the list is Topkapi Palace, which overlooks the Bosphorus, the river which runs between Asia and Europe. It’s a beautiful compound with avenues of sycamore trees and fields of tulips, and a treasury filled with swords and crystal bowls encrusted with rubies, emeralds the size of your thumb, and diamonds. One of the objects on display are candlestick holders made out of solid gold, each weighing 48kg. The other is the third largest diamond in the world – 86 carat. It is enormous – I can’t stress it enough – ENORMOUS. This is definitely a place worth visiting, and 2 hours is the estimated time needed to explore it thoroughly.
Istanbul has many sites to visit, but these are just a few. Take a cruise along the Bosphorus River to experience sailing between two continents – the best time to go is at sunset!
I’ll continue to update on the rest of Turkey – and til then, adios!