The Classic Istanbul Tour

The day started with breakfast in the Hotel Nina.


I liked the big bowls of jam with whole fruit floating in a gooey sugar syrup. Apricot, sour cherry, strawberry and black berry. I suspect that for then Turks it wasn't jam so much as sauce-like addition to some other dish though just what I can't imagine.

The breakfast room has this wonderful view of the Blue Mosque with five and a half minarets silhouetted against the Bosphorus where it opens out into the Sea of Marmara. The typical Turkish breakfast spread looks like a salad bar. Very healthy! There was also a selection of typical Western fare and I was able to order fried eggs.

The breakfast buffet

The breakfast buffet

The full day “Classic Istanbul Tour”

The walking tour group was small, nine people including four other Aussies. There was a couple, originally Pakistanis, who live in Hobart and two English women who live in Wollumboola south of Sydney. Then there were the Americans that give American travellers a bad name. The woman never stopped verbalising her flow of conscience, her husband seemed a little strange, slightly absent, but perhaps it was just that he couldn’t get a chance to speak. Then there was her mother who scowled out from under a funny hat and wouldn’t obey instructions particularly when visiting the mosque.

A mini bus took us to the Topkapi Palace. Unlike European palaces which are large buildings with hundreds of rooms, this palace is comprised of numerous individual pavilions set in beautiful gardens overlooking the Bosphorus. At this time of year the gardens are a riot of colour with tulips, daffodils and pansies set out in large beds around extensive lawns dotted with large mature trees. A highly perfumed flower scented the air where ever we went. The trees have just started to develop a green fuzz of new growth.

The guide wanted us to visit the museums to see the treasures including the worlds largest diamond. That was of no interest to me so I wandered around outside photographing the architecture and enjoying the views of the Bosphorus.

Then we made our way through a gate in the ancient city wall to the Haghia Sophia the meaning of which is Divine Wisdom. Originally constructed by the Romans as a cathedral in 537, it was converted to a mosque in 1453. That’s when the minarets were added. In 1935 it became a museum. An architectural wonder to rival the greatest European cathedrals it remained the world’s largest cathedral for almost 1,000 years. Its central dome was the second second largest, only the Pantheon in Rome being a little larger. Amazingly the Hagia Sophia was constructed in just five years.

We then wandered through gardens to the site of the Roman Hippodrome where there are three columns. The bronze serpent column was taken from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and relocated here to raise the image of the new Roman capital which was founded in 324 AD. It comprises three intertwined snakes the heads of which originally supported a golden bowl. The Christian Crusaders pillaged the bowl. At a later time the snake heads were destroyed.

Next there is the Egyptian Obelisk of Thutmose III. It was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor but the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great thought it would make a nice feature in the hippodrome so he had it relocated. With an age of about 3,500 years it doesn’t look a day over 300 and is a testament to the skills of the ancient Egyptians. Not to deny the Romans credit for doing an excellent job in relocating it without dropping and breaking it. An interesting point is that the base of these monuments is about 4 metres below the existing ground level. I asked the guide where all at the additional dirt came from. She said that underneath there is another whole city, in fact several. It is for that reason that Istanbul has trams rather than an extensive subway system. Any excavation will reveal ruins and the monuments of ancient cities and the archaeologist have a field day much, I imagine, to the frustration of developers.

Compared with the Egyptian obelisk, the third column looks a bit unkempt. Again the Crusaders are to blame for its condition. The structure, built in the 10th Century, is known as the Walled Obelisk and was beautifully clad in gilded bronze. You can still see the holes where the bronze plates were secured. The bronze was probably recast into statues and other paraphernalia now located in Christian churches.

Finally, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque which we know as the Blue Mosque not because it is blue, but because of the blue ceramic tiles that adorn the interior. Constructed in 1616 and reinforcing the guides comment about matters subterranean, the mosque rest on the foundations of a palace that formerly occupied the site. The vast roof dome is supported on four massive marble columns each eight metres in diameter. The finesse of the details and the remarkable state of preservation are impressive.

We made our way back to our individual hotels via the Grand Bazar. By the time I had returned to the hotel my phone told me I had walked 11 km.