365 Places: Sultanahmet
Day 67: Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
Today, my focus is on one of my favourite places in the world, Sultanahmet – the old city of Istanbul.
We have stayed a number of times in Sultanahmet when we have been in Turkey and it is a place I truly love. Although it is also a destination for many tourists and is often very busy, I am still entranced by the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern and the many, many other landmarks that make this a magical place.
One of the things I love most is when you are walking along, it is commonplace to see old Greek and Roman ruins, sitting peacefully in the park, alongside shops or just jutting out of the ground. These ruins are not anything of note in themselves, but speak more largely about the many layers of history that are contained on this site.
Take for instance the Aya Sofya (or Hagia Sofia), it was built as a church and then was a mosque and now is a museum. Wikitravel says:
Dating from the sixth century, it was originally a basilica constructed for the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. A masterwork of Roman engineering, the huge 30 m diameter dome covers what was for over 1000 years the largest enclosed space in the world. The church was looted by the fourth Crusaders in 1204, and became a mosque in the 15th century when The Ottomans conquered the city. It was converted into a museum in 1935.
When we visited the Aya Sofya, it was very interesting to see that many of the Christian wall frescos had been covered up with verses of the Koran during its time as a mosque. It says something very interesting both about the layers of history and the contrasts between these religions. To see glimpses of angels mixed with the holy words of the Koran is strangely comforting to me – that even though they are very different ways of worship; both seek to uplift the human spirit to think about what is beyond this world.
Another place we like to go walking is Gülhane Park (near Sultanahmet, and next door to Museum of Archaeology). In the past, this park was the royal hunting grounds and now is a public park. Depending on when you go there are lots of seasonal flowers, including huge patches of tulips in early April, and massive plane trees to shade your walk. The high walls on one side of the park separates it from Topkapı Palace.
One of the places that is a must see inside the park is the Istanbul Museum of The History of Science and Technology in Islam. The Museum has technological and scientific works by Islamic scholars and is run by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA), the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and Frankfurt Goethe University (Germany).
We have made some good friends in Sultanahmet as well, which has made this place even more special to us. Over time I plan to post more about Sultanahmet and Istanbul, as there is far too much to try to cover in just one post.