Istanbul — Intersection

Noisy packs of seagulls following fishing boats. Sweet aroma of roasted chestnuts and corn spreading from vendors shacks. Spectacular sunsets over the sea and massive mosques of Sultanahmet. Fishermen grouping at fences of Galata Bridge and hoping for a good catch. Cargo ships traveling through Bosphorus. Delicious foods like Durum, Kebab, Iskender, Simit breads. And of course Turkish coffee and tea. City Districts: Eminönü by the mouth of Golden Horn. Taksim, the continental district. Sultanahmet, old town with largest mosques, bazaars and a lot more. Kadıköy and Üsküdar in Asian side. Turkish hospitality and all the surprises city has to offer. All familiar and bringing back nice memories from my previous trip few years ago.

1900th century tram still operating in Tünel-Taksim route.

Istanbul is intersection like no other. Land routes, sea routes have crossed here through millenniums. Black Sea through Mediterranean, to Red Sea and Indies, Atlantic and Americas. Europe to Silk Road and China. Middle East to Balkans. City has had many names, Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul being most commonly known.

Back in 2012 when arriving for first time, I was quite thrilled which shows from old travel journal

November 2012 — Well here am, after all the years dreaming about it, ever since watching -60’s James Bond movie, From Russia with Love 🙂

Lars Brownworth’s 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast has influenced my image of Istanbul. Visited ancient defence walls. Size of fortifications can still be grasped today, although roads, buildings, and 600 years make the scene whole different than it once was. City was in ideal location to defend. Its surrounded by sea from 3 directions, where walls could be built smaller and defended easier. Only direction towards land was protected by constellation of fortifications.

Byzantine walls were largest in world, a statement of the might empire once had. Populations could stay secure inside, at times when some of fiercest invaders of written history were menacing outside: list. By 1453 new weapons made it finally possible for break through. Topkapi is place where Ottomans made it after almost 2 months of siege. Panorama Museum at Topkapi is worth the visit. Learning that Sultan Mehmed II Conqueror had several times doubts about feasibility of siege, and even thoughts of cancelling it, was new information.

After siege, Byzantine Empire and large part of Eastern Christianity was gradually choked and converted to Islam by new rulers. The legend is that last Byzantine emperor is not dead and would once return back to liberate city, riding through the Golden Gate in walls. Ottomans walled it close, end of the problem.

Been having nice time photographing, seeing CouchSurfers, and studying fascinating Ottoman history. Its rise and fall is similar to Mughals I learned last winter in India. Ottomans, Safavid Persia and Mughals being commonly known as gunpowder empires of their time. Fear of Ottomans was one of motivators for Europeans to head risky exploration of seas. Less than 50 years had passed after fall of Constantinople, when Columbus was already in America (thinking he was in India). Similarly, all mentioned empires began fall back with innovation, when European powers started collect the benefits of age of exploration, renaissance of Greek and Roman sciences. After Ottomans had become the “sick man of Europe”, revival of Christian Constantinople was long lasting dream of Russian Empire, for third Rome to liberate the second one.

During First World War when Ottomans had reached their lowest point. Many Western nationals were dreaming about conversion of Hagia Sophia, an ancient church of Byzantine that had been converted to mosque since 1453, back as church. This link tells more about the plans and phases. A Turkish newspaper reported about status of affairs regarding the Hagia Sophia in 2016: link.

Visited old buildings with a CouchSurfing friend. Some had been used as French bank and Italian consulate were now in various stages of merciful decay.

July 2015 — Skies are in beautiful deep blue hues. Seagulls are squawking from up there, as if to remind people to look up and admire. It’s Ramadan, with large dinner feasts after sunset. People gather on streets outside and restaurants prepare areas filled with tables and benches for customers come to enjoy, after full day of fasting. City streets are quiet and even the Grand Bazaar is closed. As am heading to Iran after Turkey, I feel like am in front of something new and vast.

Downtown streets during Ramadan.

Hagia Sophia is under big restoration, half of the museum was occupied by metal construction. A bit of a bummer. By looking the scale of it, restoration is likely the go on for years. Pera Museum was nice visit, on exhibition is famous painting of Tortoises Trainer, a known Ottoman-era painting (link).

Haydarpasa station.

Time is stopped. Past buzzle and nervous activity can still be sensed while walking in corridors and large waiting hall, built already in Ottoman times. Haydarpasa station was gateway to Asia Minor and Persia. Building is in good condition but new Marmaray railway tunnel connecting city’s European and Asian sides was opened 2013 and made Haydarpasa redundant. Only few photography minded tourists are wandering around and taking photos of abandoned building. Couple old kiosk vendors are still selling tea, tobacco and sweets like in old times, no doubt remember with regret the gone good days.

Coming out from building, sun and salty air of Marmara Sea are greeting. Glancing right, Hagia Sofia and Topkapi palace can be seen in horizon. And Bosporus straight, leading all the way to Black Sea.

Summer 2015. Summer of selfie sticks!

Downtown views.

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