Mohennys Do Turkiye – Istanbul: An imperial capital of ages

Unless you know your geography, or are really good at capital cities, you might not know that Istanbul is in fact NOT the capital city of Turkey. The capital is Ankara, yet Istanbul is by far the most well-known city of the country, and possibly even the region. 

Istanbul, previously also known by other names such as Constantinople (after Emperor Constantine) has been the capital of 3 great empires, namely the Roman empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman empire. It has great significance geographically, politically and economically, and hence control of it was always highly sought after. With large parts of it now declared a UNESCO world heritage site, the city still exhibits much of its historical legacy, not only in its museums, but also in artefacts that can be seen just by walking the city. A UNESCO world heritage site is a area that is protected under international UN laws because of its historical significance and benefit to the world.  

Map showing parts of Istanbul declared UNESCO world heritage sites

As I mentioned in my previous post, it is a city stretched across 2 continents, Europe and Asia (the section on the right of the map). The continents are separated by the Bosphorous Strait, with the Black Sea in the north and the Sea of Marmara in the South. The continents are joined by the Bosphorous Bridge. It also contains a very long natural harbour referred to as the Golden Horn, which borders the Old City in the north-east. 

The yellow bordered area in the picture above shows there confines of the old city, and the bordered area is where the city wall was. In addition to this, the city wall also bordered the area on the sea sides, and parts of the original wall can still be seen today. 

Part of the old city wall seen on our short run along the seaside promenade

The most popular area of the old city is Sultanahmet, situated in the Fatih district. This is the area with the red border in the map further above. Sultanahmet Square contains the Sultan Ahmed Camii (The Blue Mosque), The Hagia Sophia (which was a church under the Byzantines, then converted to a mosque under the Ottomans, and is now a museum), the Hippodrome, the Topkapi Palace and the Basilica Cistern

Sultanahmet Square

The Hippodrome used to be a circus (which is a circular track, not clowns and things), and was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire. Horse and chariot racing were very popular during those times and that took place there. In 324 AD, Emperor Constantine the Great moved the seat of government from Rome to Byzantium, and tried to rename it to Roma Nova (New Rome), but this failed to impress and the city became known as Constantinople, the City of Constantine. To raise the image of the new capital, Constantine and his successors, especially Theodosius The Great, brought artefacts from all over the empire to adorn it. Of the ancient decorations on the Hippodrome only the Walled Obelisk, the Serpent Column, the Obelisk of Theodosius, and the German Fountain remain. 

The Obelisk of Theodosius is carved from pink granite, and was erected in the centre of the racing track by Emperor Theodosius in 390 AD. But it was originally carved and erected in Luxor in 1490 BC. So this obelisk is over 3500 years old! It is the oldest monument in the city. 

The Serpent Column was cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian wars of 5th century BC. The 31 Greek cities who defeated the Persians in the 5th century BC melted the bronze items they had captured to create this monument. Constantine ordered the column to be moved from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi to the Hippodrome in 324 AD. The top section had a golden bowl supported by 3 serpent heads. The serpent heads and top third of the column were destroyed in 1700. Only this section, the base, remains today. The section is referred to as the Serpentine Column. This item is therefore over 2500 years old.

The Walled Obelisk is situated near the Serpentine Column. It’s exact date of construction is unknown, but the erection date has been attributed to Constantine VII, who repaired it in 10th century AD. At the time it was decorated with guilded bronze plaques that celebrated the victories of Constantine’s grandfather, but the plaques were taken and melted down by the 4th Crusaders in 1204.  

As can be seen from its more modern design and construction, the German Fountain is a new addition to the Hippodrome. It is dedicated to the second visit of the German Emperor in 1898, and was gifted to the Ottomans to commemorate the visit. It serves a as a functional water fountain even until today, but is mostly known for its monumental value. The design is more of an Ottoman fountain rather than that of a public fountain.

The Grand Bazaar is also in Sultanahmet, not very far from Sultanahmet Square. The Grand Bazaar is the largest covered market in Turkey. Construction of the marketplace started in 1455, shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Sultan Mehmet II, and officially opened in 1461. It was established as a marketplace and became the biggest trading centre of the time. It covers an area of 37,700 sq metres, has 61 streets, 5 mosques, 18 gates and 7 fountains. Today it has over 4000 shops. 

The bazaar is somewhat of a raucous and can be daunting if your bargaining and negotiation skills are not on point. There is an art to shopping here, and NOTHING should be bought at the first price that they offer. There are so many traders selling the same things that you should slash the original price by a good percentage, else you will simply be paying too much. If the negotiation doesn’t work, all you have to do is go to another trader that will sell you the same thing at a different price, and that is often in the same street or even right next to each other. It is for this reason that traders seldom let you leave the shop without offering a lower price.

If you are not happy with an item’s price, just say no and start to walk out. They will call you back and start dropping by 10% or more a pop. Be prepared to drink tea with them and answer personal questions about your family, where you’re from, etc, and spend a bit of time in the store. Often they will even close the door. But don’t let it melt you. That is a tactic they use to warm you up to them. And whatever you do, DO NOT ever show that you have fallen in love with an item, no matter how much you like it. It immediately gives the trader the upper hand. Put your best GAME FACE ON. I am all for paying a fair price for an item and having a win-win situation for both buyer and seller, and here this does require bargaining. 

Items you can find in the bazaar are turkish delight, clothing, jackets, turkish delight, leather goods, shoes, tea, turkish delight, gifts, jewellery, gold, turkish delight. In fact anything you can possibly think of. Did I mention Turkish Delight?! 

Turkish Delight for Africa! (or Europe… or Asia)
Pressed pomegranate juice stands are never far away

Uhm… yeah we shopped a little bit…not just the girls btw.

The bazaar even has overflow stalls into the surrounding streets

Between the bazaar and Sultanahmet Square, at Çemberlitaś tram station, the Çemberlitaś Column can be found. This is often referred to as the Burnt Pillar, or the Column of Constantine. The column was erected under the orders of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, to mark the city as the new capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD. Earthquakes and a fire in 1779 destroyed the neighbourhood surrounding the column, hence the burnt appearance of the column, and earning it the Burnt Pillar title. 

Burnt Pillar / Çemberlitaś Column – erected under Constantine the Great

Ok that’s enough of a history lesson for this post.
Will be back soon with more interesting stuff from the trip.

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