We arrived in Istanbul in the early morning with a mist on the Bosphorus, and a sunny day in store. Istanbul is an enormous city, growing from the around 1.5 million when Martin first visited in the late 1960s to around 14 million. With the two bridges connecting the Asian and European sides of the town it is bustling and busy with ferries criss-crossing the Bosphorus. A very modern efficient tram system is very simple to use and well-worth using if you staying anytime and want to explore on foot.
Discovering Old Istanbul
We had a day and a night on the ship before we disembarked finally so we took advantage of the tours and started with the tour of Old Istanbul.
This began with a tour of the Blue Mosque, with its intricate blue tiles covering every conceivable wall and roof space,. Six magnificent minarets and stained glass windows pointing to the huge dome increased its majesty. It was crowded even early in the day and as it is a functioning mosque it was necessary to take off one’s shoes and for the women to cover their heads (with a scarf not a hat).
The Underground Cistern
We next visited the Underground Cistern which dates back to the 6th century and was built by the Emperor Justinian in 532 to ensure that the town had it’s own water supply that could not be ransacked by invaders. It is in amazing condition as it was ignored by the Ottoman empire who wont use water unless it is flowing. It is now a tourist destination!If you do little else in Istanbul, visit the Cistern, it is worth going down all the steps, queueing and standing under dripping water.
The Hagia Sophia
Our last stop of the day was the Hagia Sophia. Originally built as a Christian church under Constantine the Great, it was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian. Justinian certainly left his mark on Istanbul, he was determined that this building would surpass all others in splendour and it is certainly awesome. Taken over by the Turks and turned into a mosque as it remained, being rebuilt and renovated until 1935 when Mustafa Ataturk had the foresight to turn it into a museum. Impressive in its grandeur and incredible feats of civil engineering.