All the Other Cool Sights We Saw in Istanbul

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Altogether, we spent seven days in Istanbul. We feel like we saw so many things and places, and still did not get it all covered! This blog post contains photos from a lot of the sights we saw that typically do not top the tourist list of the “must see” places. They’re more of the places you’d want to see if you have a few extra days, or if you wanted to spend some time outside of the super-busy tourist area of Sultanahmet.

Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, Kucuk Ayasofya Camii:

The Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, originally built in the sixth century by Justinian as the sumptuous Eastern Orthodox Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, was converted to a mosque during the Ottoman period, and most likely used as the model for the Hagia Sophia. When we arrived at this mosque, we decided to wander around the exterior first, before we entered, and by the time we entered, the call to prayer had sounded, so it wasn’t appropriate to go in. We sat outside, however, and had the opportunity to watch and hear the imam pray — so cool!

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Ishak Pasha Mosque

This mosque was most likely built in 1485, and was named after Ishak Pasha, one of the Grand Viziers of the 15th century, who was originally a Greek. We didn’t end up going in to this mosque either, but it was interesting to see a regular mosque, that doesn’t have a major “claim to fame”.

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The Walls of Constantinople:

We ended up walking by here by accident. We wanted to go to the Chora Church Museum, but arrived there just as it closed, so instead we walked around, and decided to take a different metro back to our hotel than we came on. We ended up wandering past this wall, chunks of which were still standing, and other chunks of which were either missing or littered along the roadway. It turns out that this wall was originally built to surround the city of Constantinople by Constantine the Great. The walls were apparently virtually impregnable by medieval raiders, and it wasn’t until 1453, after a six-week siege by the Ottomans that the city was taken over. The walls were left more or less intact until the 19th century, when the city just became too big, and broke through the walls to enable expansion. Since the 1980′s the Turkish government has been in a campaign of repairs and restoration, so people can have an idea of how it all used to look.

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It was so interesting to walk alongside this wall that held so many stories of the Turkish people… Even thought we understand so little about Turkish people or culture, being so close to the wall helped us feel more connected.

This is the Gate of Charisius, in Turkish, Edirnekapi (or Adrianople Gate). It was the second most important gate into the city, the one where Constantine XI, the last emperor, established his command, and through which Mehmet II triumphantly entered the conquered city in 1453, making the Byzantine city of Constantinople officially part of the Ottoman Empire.

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The Grand Bazaar, Kapalıçarşı:

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Construction on it was started in 1455, and completed after 1730. It contains 60 streets, 3000 shops, and according to Wikipedia, has between 250,000 to 400,000 visitors daily (many of which are tourists!). Needless to say, we did not stay very long!

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Süleymaniye Mosque:

This mosque is the largest, and one of the best-known mosques in Istanbul, but not touted as a major tourist attraction as much as the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque (unless maybe you’re Muslim), so we were interested to take a look. Of course there were other tourists there too, but on the whole it was a lot more peaceful than some of the religious sites in Sultanahmet. Impressively, this mosque apparently took only eight years to build, from 1550-1558!

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Spice Bazaar, Mısır Çarşısı:

The Spice Bazaar, the second largest bazaar after the Grand Bazaar, was built with revenue from the Egyptians, which is why, in Turkish, Mısır Çarşısı means “Egyptian Market”. (It also means “corn”, so that has caused some confusion). Originally, this market was the center of the spice trade in Istanbul, but increasingly other types of shops are taking the place of spice shops at the market. Still, we found it to have a little more “local” flavour (no pun intended), and were quite happy we took the time to visit. Plus, Earl remembers it for a wonderfully delicious chocolate-flavored Turkish delight.

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Chora Church (or Mosque, or Museum), Kariye Kilisesi, Kariye Camii, or Kariye Müzesi

The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is considered one of the best surviving examples of a Byzantine church. It was converted into a mosque in the 16th century by the Ottomans, and became a museum in 1948. It is now most well known for its beautiful frescoes and mosaics.

Earl and I tried a second time to go there (the first time we arrived just as the museum was closed for the evening). We had bought the 72 hour museum card (which included entry to most of the major sights in Istanbul, and several of the minor ones. We calculated it to be a decent value, as long as you visited more than 4 different sights, and like the idea of skipping the line-ups). We had heard from a few people that the Chora Church was both beautiful with all its mosaics and frescoes, and not too big, since some of us (Earl) had a pretty limited capacity for museums. Here are just a few of our photos — prepare yourself, because this is a place you’ll want to visit after you see the photos!

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Çinili Hamam (website)

The last thing we wanted to do before we left Istanbul was have a Turkish bath experience, but we were not too keen on the “tourist” pricing we saw all over the major tourist areas, and especially in Sultanahmet. We asked around, and finally heard that the Çinili Hamam, built in 1640 as part of a mosque complex on the Asian side of Istanbul, was much more reasonably priced. The only thing was that it was more conservative than some of the other baths in Istanbul, and it required men and women to be in separate sections of the bath. We were okay with that, so we ventured over to the Asian side, paid our entry (which was something like €15 each for a full-treatment, compared to a minimum €30 at any of the other hamams we saw in Istanbul), and enjoyed! For obvious reasons I have no photos to share with you of the inside of the hamam (we were almost totally naked for most of the time), we do have a photo of the exterior at the women’s entrance.

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Going to a Turkish bath might be out of a few people’s comfort zones, but we highly recommend the whole experience! It is a great way to get in touch with Turkish culture, and also totally relax! We wished we had the time to spend the whole day there, like some of the Turks do.

Visiting the hamam was a great way to wrap up our time in Istanbul. We felt like we did a pretty good job of experiencing both the really-tourist and the less-tourist sides of Istanbul, and really enjoyed our time there. Although we had to hurry to catch our bus to Bulgaria following our time at the hamam, we were sad to leave Istanbul so soon, since there were so many places we still had not seen, and so many flavours we still had not tasted.

What were some of your favorite “off the beaten path” places in Istanbul? What would you like to see? Leave them in our Comments section below!

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