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28 Feb 2020

Where Europe meets Asia – Istanbul

Where Europe meets Asia – Istanbul

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If I hadn’t already give a true love to some city where I was born and grew up, I would say that I fell in love with Istanbul. How Come? I love the fact that walking through the streets of this city all of a sudden, completely unexpected there are buildings with a longer history than several countries in Europe. Once it can be a compact construction even before the birth of Christ, other times it can be a small church that was built during the reign of the Byzantine Empire, or aqueduct arches, and finally the majestic mosque or Sultan’s palace itself. I bestowed a large sympathy on residents who turned out to be extremely helpful and very hospitalable. And the food! Of various sorts kebap of beef, lamb, in pita bread, or in the eggplant, the freshly squeezed juice from oranges and pomegranates, to the delicious desserts in the form of all kinds of baklava.

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The strategic position of the city, extending over two continents, for centuries attracted armies of various empires. First, they were the Greeks, where a group of northern Athenians, led by their leader Byzas, from which his name has adopted the Byzantine Empire in the seventh century BC, conquered the city. Byzantium was then taken over by the Persians, Venetians, Romans, where the Emperor Constantine in 330 AD named Buzantium the new capital of the Roman Empire, which later, in his honor came to be known as Constantinople. Finally, in 1453 the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.

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In Istanbul, we spent 3 days and despite the fact that every day was filled with attractions and historical sites, there was still many places left to be discovered. Since there’s more places to visit then there’s a minarets in whole city, and it’s really a lot.

Mosques

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Istanbul’s landscape is dominated by mosques, mainly by the so-called Imperial – the biggest ones, arousing the greatest admiration thanks to the abundance of the most beautiful architectural details and ornament of Ottoman architecture. Each of them also has a complex of buildings surrounding. Such complex usually consisted of the seminar, hamam, hospital, kitchen, library and tombs.

Due to the place where I live now, I have seen several mosques, including the largest one in Abu Dhabi. But for those of Istanbul, except that they are large and richly decorated, speaks story that works on my imagination as almost nothing else. Most of the mosques lying on the Bosphorus was built in the XV-XVIII century on after some important victories, new ruler on throne, and other events.

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The most famous of them and supposedly the most photogenic is Blue Mosque. Built to outshine lying vis a vis Aya Sophia. It has up to 7 minarets, which is more than that one in Mecca!

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Perhaps on the biggest, but certainly the most impressive is the Suleymaniye Mosque in built in the mid Perhaps the greatest, but most visitor’s doing the most impressive is the Suleymaniye Mosque in the mid XVI century. Lying on one of the seven hills on which is located Istanbul. From the top extends supposedly beautiful view of the Asian part. Supposedly, because that day was raining all day, so we didn’t see too much…

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However, the mosque I enjoyed the most was the Rustem Pasha Mosque. Small mosque tucked away in the narrow streets full of marchents, beyond the tourist trail. Inside whole interior decorated with colorful ceramics. Nice break away from the crowds of tourists and streams of rain.

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Byzantium heritage

Agree, mosques impress with their vastness and beauty, but the number 1 attraction of Istanbul, undoubtedly, is the Aya Sophia. Most eminent building of the first millennium in the known world at that time. This temple, for centuries the center of Orthodox Church, was built in 537 AD during the reign of the greatest Byzantine Emperor – Justinian. In 1453, after the capture of the city by the Turks, Sultan Mehmet ordered to convert the temple into a mosque, adding minarets, removing crosses etc. It happened to many churches at that time. What to do, the right of the winner. It’s easy today to recognize such transformations. All the mosques of red bricks that you see in the city were once the churches, because the red brick in the days of the Empire was the most popular building material.

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In 1923, during the presidency of Ataturk – the father of the nation and the new state – Turkey, Aya Sophia became a museum. And it turned out to be a brilliant idea. Today, Turkey is the sixth most visited country in the world and in Turkey itself most visitors are recorded in Aya Sophia – the greatest treasure of this country.

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When I stepped inside I was amazed! There’s simply beautiful. Huge space, great vaults, dozen meters high marble columns, frescoes and mosaics of more than 1500 years! Ah!

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But something had to supply in water sumptuous palaces and houses. This function was served underground water basin – Basilica Cistern. Built in year 532 also during the reign of Justinian.

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After the capture of the city by the Turks it was completely forgotten. In year 1545 one scholar from the Netherlands studied Byzantine monuments of the city. Residents told him that they could fill a bucket of drinking water by immersing them in the holes in the floor. Scientist followed suit until he discovered a huge underground space supported by 336 columns submerged in pure water full of fish. The discovery, however, didn’t touch the rulers. This amazing place mainly served as a dump. Finally in 1985 this “underground palace” was cleared and came to be treated with respected that is deserved. Today, it’s one of the main attractions of the city.

Bazaars

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We also went to the Grand Bazaar of 500 years old and to a bit younger one – Spice Bazaar. However, from their traditional character hasn’t left much. In both you can get basically the same things, hundreds of souvenirs, gadgets, and other trinkets for tourists.

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Mass of tourists

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The ultimate point of all tourists is also the Sultan’s Topkapi Palace. Obviously we went there as well. Huge complex, in which from XV to mid XIX century Ottoman rulers lived. There also happened royal life. Ambitious courtesans, beautiful concubines, fighting fractions, conspiracies, betrayals, murders.

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For me, as a Pole, quite exotic architecture, various architectural shapes, decorations, gardens. But is it worth a visit? Probably yes, but don’t expect peaceful admiring of every corner of the palace. In addition to the centuries-old walls you’re also surrounded by thousands of tourists. You want to go to the treasury – 20 minutes of waiting in line. Want to see the Sultan bedroom – another 20 min, harem? 30 min. And all the chambers are mostly deprived of furniture anyway.

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Tourists are an integral part of Istanbul as well as other popular cities. I visited Istanbul in the first half of April, before the start of the season, which starts April 15th. Dread to think what happens in the summer months.

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Even though Istanbul really amazed me. I also liked crossing continents on foot :) Once from the European to Asian part and other way around. Paradoxically, Asian part occurred to be more European then the part of Istanbul lying in Europe. You really could feel like somewhere in Europe, in Italy for instance. The narrow streets with classical architecture. This is the part which in XIX century was strongly influenced be the European culture.  They adopted for instance trams, machinery, fashion. While part lying on the other cost of Bosphorus tried to preserve the old order. Thus, today, there still can be found bazaars, dirty narrow streets full of merchants and mass of mosques. It is also in the Asian part where usually are held anti-government protests and riots.

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At the end let me share with you the taste sensations. And these were indescribable! But you must know that I generally like to eat. And I’m not too picky either. Dessert is usually after the main dish, but this is the first thing that comes on my mind… or actually on my tongue! Baklava! With pistachios, walnuts or dozens of other variations. And all in syrups! They don’t stint sugar there. Also we tried Kunefe – fried sweet goat cheese. Heaven in mouth.

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And furthermore kebaps made from minced beef or lamb, inter alia, wrapped in pita bread or in the eggplant.

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I’ve always wanted to visit Istanbul, the gateway to Asia, the last station of Orient Express, where the Silk Road ended, the place of death of the national poet of Poland Adam Mickiewicz. It seemed to me in some way magical. And despite the crowds of tourists, 7 degrees Celsius, rain and gusty wind because of which my ass freeze, Istanbul is really magic.

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Especially in such company :)

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