Yerebatan Sarnici: the Basilica Cistern
Briliant place this...hugely atmospheric and really rather weird (because it was patently never intended to be looked at). Unfortunately, its presentation is a bit cheesy and visitor-focused...but that does not detract from the sheer archaeological and architectural interest.
This was the first of Sultanahmet's ancient cisterns to be fully excavated and it is a truly magnificent piece of architecture.
It is simply enormous, probably dating from the 4th century AD and perhaps enlarged in the 6th century).
It was properly rediscovered in the 1500s. The people who lived above it had sunk wells into it, and were even fishing in it! But the cistern wasn't fully cleared and made safe until 1987.
The water is full of fish , including some truly massive ones. The most interesting architectural bits and pieces are spotlit......and when I visited there was a continual dripping of water from the arched ceiling (which was a bit odd, and slightly disturbing).
There are 336 columns, many of which are recycled from other Roman sites. Make sure you see the two superb Medusa heads, one of which is used sideways, the other upside-down. I wonder if that was deliberate?
This place is well worth a visit, and well worth its entrance fee. it's a unique place and...if possible..one which is best visited with as few others as you can manage. Perhaps go early in the morning, so you are here at opening time?
You'll find the Basilica cistern very near Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome and Topkapi. The entrance is on Imran Oktem Caddesi.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Ferries only called at Sedefada in the summer. It had a big concrete slab of a beach from which you could swim . I think I only went here once. Our photos make us look like mafiosa, I think. It must be the dark glasses.
Sedefada is mostly private property. Its owner Şehsuvar Menemencioğlu, purchased the island in 1956.
This island's Greek name was Terebinthos which apparently means turpentine. This name came from a type of tree that used to grow here. As with other Princes Islands, Sedefada was a favourite place to send someone into exile in Byzantine times. In 857 Patriarch Ignatios was sent into exile here and remained here for ten years.Related to:
The Princes Islands - Kinaliada
We used to love taking a ferry out to the Princes Islands. There are five of them that you can reach by public ferry. The ferry calls first at Kinaliada, then Burgazada, then Heybeliada, then Büyükada. In summer ferries also call at the island of Sedefada which has a concrete slab beach.
Kınalıada means Henna Island. It is called this due to its reddish soil. The soil here is very rich in iron and copper.
In the days of the Byzantine Empire nobles who had fallen out of favour were often exiled here. The most notable exile was Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes. He spent his exile in the Monastery of the Transfiguration.
We enjoyed walking across Kinaliada to the little beach and bar on the far side of the island. We even came here and sat outside drinking beer in the snow once.Related to:
Büyükada means Big Island. It is the largest of the Princes Islands and the one that tourists are most likely to visit. Büyükada has some beautiful old wooden houses, hotels, restaurants and shops. Restaurants here often rip tourists off so be careful. There is an old wooden clock tower in the centre of town. Many rich residents of Istanbul have summer houses here.
You can go round the island by phaeton, but we always walked. It is a pleasant walk past old wooden houses with beautiful gardens and, although it is hot, there is some shade from the many pine trees. You will pass picnic sites and barbecue sites on your walk.
We normally headed for the hilltop monastery and church of St George. An old Greek priest still performed services here. Next to the monastery there was a wonderful outdoor restaurant which we frequently ate in. Once we were there with a guest on St George's Day. A large crowd was there celebrating. They had ordered food and drink and they were dancing. Suddenly someone danced with someone else's woman and a huge fight broke out. When the poor waiter arrived with their food, there was not an intact piece of furniture left to put the food on. In fact the only intact furniture was our table at which we were sitting open-mouthed. Meanwhile everyone who had been fighting had made up with each other and they all strode away with their arms around each other leaving chaos behind them.
To get to the monastery involved climbing the island's highest hill. Phaetons cannot get up it. Some people went up by donkey. We always walked. The trees on the way up had white ribbons or tissue or bits of plastic bag tied on them for making wishes.
Leon Trotsky lived on Büyükada for four years from 1929 to 1933 after he was deported from the Soviet Union in February 1929.Related to:
- Historical Travel
As well as being able to get to the Black Sea on the European side of the Bosphorus at Kilyos, you can also get to the Black Sea on the Asian side of the Bosphorus at Şile. Şile is pronounced Shile.
You get to Şile by taking a bus from Üsküdar. On the way, as well as passing parts of the Asian side of the Bosphorus, you also pass lots of barbeque sites where it is common to see people roasting a whole lamb on a spit. Lamb is the meat of choice in Turkey, whereas in Hong Kong, where I live now, it is almost the least popular meat. Here in Hong Kong it is overpriced, not of great quality and invariably imported. I practically lived on it in Turkey and it was delicious; here I almost never eat it.
Şile has a beautiful silver sand beach. It is a great place to come in the summer to cool down, but be careful like Kilyos it has dangerous rip tides. Şile has lots of restaurants and you have to be careful, some of them are very happy to rip off tourists. We were very lucky. Once we were strolling down the main street in Şile when a waiter rushed at us from one of the restaurants. Nothing unusual there, Turkey can be very hassly, but it turned out this waiter knew us. He had worked in a restaurant we frequented all the time in Kadiköy and he knew we were not tourists. This restaurant became our regular haunt in Şile and we were always undercharged. Regular customers are often undercharged to make them come back and to encourage them to be generous with their tip and probably also just from a sense of Turkish hospitality.
There has been a fishing village in Şile since 700 BC and a lighthouse since Ottoman timesRelated to:
- Family Travel
The Pera Palace Hotel
The Pera Palace Hotel is a historic hotel located in Beyoğlu. Beyoğlu used to be known as Pera. Its main street, Istaklal Caddesi, used to be known as the Rue de Pera.
The Pera Palace was built in 1892. It was designed by Alexander Vallaury, a French-Turkish architect, who also designed Istanbul's Archaeology Museum. Originally passengers who had travelled to Istanbul on the Orient Express used to stay in the Pera Palace. It is the oldest European style hotel in Turkey. It was, and indeed still is, a luxury hotel. When it opened, it was the first hotel in Turkey to have electricity and hot running water. It had the first electric elevator in Istanbul. The hotel's first owners were the Armenian Esayan family.
Famous people who have stayed in the Pera Palace include Agatha Christie, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Ernest Hemingway, Sarah Bernhardt, King Edward VIII, Greta Garbo, Graham Greene, Mata Hari, Pierre Loti, Josephine Baker, Tito, Jacqueline Kennedy, King Carol of Romania, Shah Riza Pehlevi of Persia, Alfred Hitchcock and Yehudi Menuhin.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey, stayed in the Pera Palace in 1917. He stayed in Room 101. This is now the Atatürk Museum Room. It is painted sunset pink - Atatürk's favourite colour. It is filled with his possessions.
In 1928 Agatha Christie stayed in the Pera Palace in Room 411. She had travelled to Istanbul on the Orient Express. An experience that no doubt inspired her famous novel, 'Murder on the Orient Express'. Agatha Christie was travelling with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan. They were on their way to Baghdad to visit excavations.
The Pera Palace features in literature. In Ernest Hemingway's short story 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro', the main character, Harry, stays at the Pera Palace during World War I. In Graham Greene's 1969 novel, Travels With My Aunt, Henry Pulling and his Aunt Augusta Bertram, stay at the Pera Palace when they visit Istanbul.
When I last saw the Pera Palace, it could be described as in a state of faded grandeur, but the hotel was closed in 2006 and underwent a major renovation until 2010. It now belongs to the Jumeriah Hotel Group and is once again luxurious. One of its restaurants is called Agatha in honour of Agatha Christie. It is famous for its luxurious afternoon teas.
The area around the Pera Palace is home to many consulates including the British Consulate which we sometimes had to go to.
I don't think I took any photos of the hotel, though I do remember visiting the Atatürk Room. I am putting a photo of the Golden Horn with this tip as the Pera Palace has great views over the Golden Horn. However, my photo is really taken from the Galata Tower and the view from the hotel would be further up the Golden Horn than in my picture.Related to:
- Luxury Travel
- Historical Travel
The Whirling Dervishes
The Galata Mevlevihanesi, is off the beaten track despite the fact it is right in the heart of Istanbul.
It is located in Beyoğlu not far from the Tunel. Actually, come to think of it, the Tunel itself is well worth visiting.
The Tunel is one of the shortest underground rides in the world. It only has two stations: one in Karaköy at the bottom of Galata Hill, and one in Beyoğlu at the top of the hill near the Galata Tower. The Tunel line is 573 metres long and was opened on January the 17th, 1875. It is the second-oldest underground line in the world. Only the London Underground, which dates from 1863, is older. The Tunel was created by French engineer, Eugène-Henri Gavand, during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz. A ride on this line lasts about one and a half minutes!
Anyway near the top station of the Tunel there is an old building with a small sign revealing that it is the Galata Mevlevihanesi, a Mevlevi Whirling Dervish hall and museum.
We loved this museum because it was amazingly peaceful inside. Outside you are not far from the end of traffic congested Istiklal Caddesi with its blaring horns and exhaust fumes. Through the entrance of the museum, you are in a peaceful garden with beautiful ornate tombstones and roses. The museum has information about the Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes and a hall where they still conduct their whirling ceremony. If you want to see them whirl, check their schedule and buy a ticket for the ceremony in the museum shop.
I personally only saw a Whirling Dervish Ceremony once and that was in the Atatürk Cultural Centre.
The Whirling Dervishes were founded by Mevlani. Legend states that he was walking through his local marketplace one day, when he heard the rhythmic hammering of the goldbeaters. Their hammering sounded to him like the words: "There is no God but Allah". Mevlani was so filled with joy at this sound that he spontaneously stretched out his arms and started spinning in a circle - the Whirling Dervish was born.
Whirling Dervishes wear a white gown to symbolize death, a black cloak to symbolize the grave and a tall brown hat to symbolize the gravestone. At one point in the ceremony they throw off their black cloaks and spin on their left foot with their right palm facing upwards towards Heaven and their left hand pointing downwards towards the Earth. The whole ceremony symbolizes man achieving a deep sense of happiness through submitting himself to the will of God.
The Galata Mevlevihanesi was founded in 1491 by a nobleman from the palace of Sultan Beyazit II. The first leader of the Mevlevihanesi was Muhammed Semaî Sultan Divanî. He was a descendant of Mevlâna, the founder of the Whirling Dervish Sect. The original Mevlevihanesi was burnt down in 1765 and rebuilt in 1796.
In the peaceful, rose filled garden there were several Ottoman style tombstones. One is the grave of
Galip Dede, the leader of the Galata Mevlevihanesi in the seventeenth century. One is the grave of Kumbaracıbaşı Ahmet Paşa, the Islamic name of Claude Alexandre, Comte de Bonneval, a French nobleman who converted to Islam and entered the service of the Ottoman sultan. Another tomb is that of İbrahim Müteferrika a Hungarian from Transylvania who converted to Islam and established the first Arabic moveable-type printing press in the Ottoman Empire in the 1720s.
I know I have photos of those tombstones somewhere, but they do not seem to be here in Hong Kong. For this tip I will add a photo of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony. I did not take this photo; I bought it probably in the shop of this museum. I cannot write the name of the real photographer as I do not know who it was. My own photos of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony were taken with a camera with no zoom and they are very poor quality.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
- Museum Visits
Heybeliada is the second biggest of the Princes islands. Its name means Saddlebag Island due to its shape. Half of it is under the control of the Turkish navy and not open to the public. We had a Turkish friend who was a former naval officer who took us on a tour of that bit once.
The large Naval Cadet School near the pier has two interesting pieces of architecture on its grounds: Kamariotissa, the only remaining Byzantine church on the island and the grave of Edward Barton, the second English Ambassador to be sent to Constantinople by Queen Elizabeth I.
Heybeliada Town has some lovely old wooden houses. At the top of Heybeliada's hill is an 11th-century Greek Orthodox monastery. There are pleasant walks through the islands pine forests.
Heybeliada is a beautiful island, but we did not come here a lot as all the naval parts were closed to the general public.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Burgazada was our favourite island and we used to come here a lot. We would bring a picnic with us, climb up the island's hill and in summer swim in the sea off an area of rocks here. The Greek Orthodox Church of St John towers above Burgazada town.
Short story writer Sait Faik Abasıyanık lived here from 1939 to1954 and used the island as a setting for some of his stories. Nowadays his former residence is a museum.
Sadly in 2003 Burgazada was very badly damaged in a terrible forest fire. Hopefully most of its vegetation will have grown back.Related to:
Yedikule means seven towers. It is a large fortress on the European side of Istanbul.
Yedikule is located in an area also called Yedikule. The fortress was built in 1458 by Mehmet the Conqueror. Building it involved adding three new towers to a section of the Walls of Constantinople. This section of the walls included Altınkapi, the Golden Gate. With the construction of the fortress, the Golden Gate was no longer a gate and became a treasury, then an archive, and then a state prison. Among its most famous prisoners was the young Sultan Osman II. He was executed there by the Janissaries in 1622.
A small mosque and a fountain used to stand in the middle of Yedikule's inner courtyard. Yedikule became a museum in 1895.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Kilyos is a little village on the Black Sea. You can get here by taking a bus from Sariyer on the European side of the Bosphorus. On our last year in Istanbul we both had Fridays off and we very frequently spent our Fridays in Kilyos having a swim.
There is a beach next to the village, but we used to walk to a slightly further beach which we invariably had to ourselves. When I told my students, that we went swimming in Kilyos every week, they thought I was crazy and told me it was famous for deadly rip tides. I did not listen to them and we swam every week without any problems.
Then one week we were swimming at our usual spot. We swam out quite a long way and began to swim back towards our clothes. We started to notice that rather than swimming straight back we were being carried off to one side by the water. Neither of us could swim against the pull of the water, but what we did manage to do with considerable effort, was to get far enough in towards the shore to be able to stand up and walk back. We were both exhausted when we got out. We were very lucky not to have drowned. The water that day was so different from all our other experiences of it. We did swim there again, but a lot more cautiously, not going too far and paying attention to how the water was behaving.
Kilyos is beautiful, but if you swim there be very careful. If you do get caught up in a rip tide, swim parallel to the shore to escape the current, then swim toward the shore. We did that, mainly because my husband stayed calm and shouted to me what to do; without him I would probably just have panicked and drowned.Related to:
Located near one of the entrances of Grand bazaar, the Nuruosmaniye Mosque is considered one of the best examples of mosques in Ottoman Baroque style. It was built by order of Sultan Mahmut I, and it has also one particularity - the absence of an ablution fountain, as usual.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Sokollu Mehmet Pasha mosque
We were with a turkish friend, wishing to show us the mosque where he used to make his prayers. It was close to this mosque, so, we just had a glimpse and passed by.
Back home I read that this is one of the most beautiful mosques of Istanbul, with great tiles and stoned glasses. Another reason to dream with a third visit to Istanbul...Related to:
- Historical Travel
In a pause to breath, we were left in a park with awesome views.
We weren't told where we were, and only comparing pictures I was able to have an idea. It seems the area called Bebek, close to Rumeli Hissari castle.Related to:
Beylerbeyi Palace is the most elegant Ottoman Palace on the Asian Shore of the Bosphorus. The palace is open everyday except Mon and Thu from 9 am to 12.30 p.m, 1.30 pm to 6.00pm.
The palace and the neighbourhood was named for a beylerbey, a title which means "lord of the lords", this was Mehmet Pasha, Governer of Rumelia(Turkish territory in European Side). The first sultan who resided here was Mahmud II. It was constructed in 1861-65 by Sarkis Balyan, a famous Armenian architect. It was mainly used as a summer residence, first famous visitor was French Impress Eugenie in 1869, later visitors were Franz Joseph of Austria, King Edward of England. The palace is now used as a museum.
The palace is divided into two sections as the other Ottoman Palaces, selamlik and harem. Selamlik was the section which was open to men and where the meetings, receptions took place. The building is a 3- storey one, the first one was for service departments, the upper two was for state rroms and imperial apartments, a total of 26 elegantly designed chambers, 6 grand halls. It is very elegant in general, with Hereke Carpets, Czech Bohemian Crystal Chandeliers, French Clocks, Chinese, Japanese and French Vases, furniture from Damascus and France, paintings from Russian Aivazovsky.
Unlike the other palaces, there is no heating system in this palace, because it was only used for summer-time purposes. There is a marble pool with a fountain which operates as a natural air conditioning. Another point about the palace is its very European atmosphere. The gardens and the design of the rooms show this. The kitchens of the palace are located in the adjacent building, because the smell of the food disturbed the sultan and there was the risk of fire.
Right by the Bosphorus Bridge and the waterfront, the palace is lovely and worth visiting. The tours are conducted in Turkish and English and one should join the tour group which will be leaded by the Palace Guide.
Dont miss this palace ...Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
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