Today could only be an improvement on yesterday and all its irritations. We had a wonderful day discovering Istanbul as the ship remained in the port until that evening.

The city of Istanbul has been known by several different names. The most notable, besides the modern Turkish name, are ByzantiumConstantinople, and Stamboul. Different names are associated with different phases of its history, different languages, and different portions of itof the city itself. It was interesting to see that Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city in which one is expected to dress conservatively but scarves for women are not essential.

Turkey is the only country in the world which spans 2 continents, Asia and Europe, with 80% in Asia and the other 20% in Europe. Its largest city, Istanbul, also spans both continents in about the same ratio. The continents, thus the country and city, are divided by the Bosporus Strait, also known as the Bosphorus Strait. It is the sea channel that divides Istanbul and connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara which flows into the Aegean Sea. It is an extremely busy body of water with ferries going back and forth and large sea going ships sailing between the 3 seas. It was quite fascinating to watch.

A ferry & other ships on the Bosporous

We had booked an excursion to cross the southernmost suspension bridge, visit the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Spice Bazaar. We had expected to go to the Grand Bazaar but, as it was Sunday, this was closed so this was changed to a visit to the Spice Bazaar.

We began our excursion with a ride across the suspension bridge which as the first to be built across the Bosporus Strait in 1973. It is just over 1.5kms long and is known as either the Bosporous Bridge or 15 July Martyrs’ Bridge, so named following a failed coup on that date in 2016. We were told that pedestrians were initially permitted to use the bridge, but this was stopped due to the number of people who committed suicide by jumping from the bridge. In a 10-year period, of the 65 people who jumped from the bridge, 2 survived. We stopped at a view site to be able to look back at the bridge.  At night the bridge is lit up and looks beautiful. Thereafter, we drove back into the city, into the old town, to visit the Hippodrome.

The Bosporus Bridge

The Hippodrome, now found in Sultanahmet Square, was developed in 203AD by Emperor Septimius Severus of Constantinople, the previous name of Istanbul. It was a circus where horse races, chariot races and various other activities. The stands around it could seat up to 100 000 people. There was a direct underground passage from the Palace through which only the Emperor could enter. Within the Hippodrome were 2 obelisks, one known as the Walled obelisk and the other the Egyptian obelisk. In addition, there was the Serpent Column and the German Fountain.

The Walled Obelisk

Also known as the Masonry Obelisk was a Roman monument dedicated to Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) and is found at the southern end of the Hippodrome. Standing 32m high, its exact date of creation is not known but it was repaired in the 10th century AD by Emperor Constantine VII. It was covered in bronze but in 1204 the Fourth Crusaders stripped off the bronze to pay their soldiers.

The Walled obelisk

The Egyptian Obelisk

This is also known as the Obelisk of Theodosius or Dikilitaş in Turkish. It was one of two obelisks in Egypt which were transported to Alexandria by the Roman Emperor, Constantius II. He had the other obelisk taken to Rome while this one remained in Alexandria until 390AD when it was transferred to Constantinople. It was and still is covered in hieroglyphics which has stood the test of time. It was so clear and clean.

The Egyptian Obelisk

The Serpent Column

This is a bronze column which originally was topped by 3 serpent heads. It had been made in Greece to celebrate their defeat of the Persians in 478BC and was set up at the Shrine of Apollo in Delphi. In 324AD Constantine the Great set it up in the Hippodrome. At some time, the 3 heads disappeared, having been broken off by an unknown person. Only 1 head was found is currently in the Istanbul Museum. Today the column is kept within a fenced enclosure.

The Serpent Column

The German Fountain

The German Fountain, together with its magnificent dome was a gift from German Emperor, Wilhelm II to Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1901 with a lavish commemoration ceremony. More than a gift it sealed the close relationship between the two empires lasting up until WW I. This fountain has quenched the thirst of Istanbul residents throughout the last century, and also stands as a symbol of many important historical events from the 20th Century.

The German Fountain

From the fountain, we walked down the road to take a look at the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. This excursion did not include tickets to enter either of these buildings which was a disappointment, but it was not possible to include everything in a day. Both are magnificent buildings with interesting histories.

Hagia Sophia

This was built as a Christian Church in the 6th Century by Justinian I, Byzantine Emperor, on the site of a former church built in 325 and damaged by fire and then again by the Nika Revolution. Constantine extended to its famous beauty in 537. Over the centuries it has been changed from a Church to a Mosque, a Museum and a Mosque once more, which It is currently.

Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque

This is one of the most magnificent structures, built in the 17th Century by the Ottoman Empire, across from the Hagia Sophia. It has 6 minarets instead of usual 4 and many domes and semi domes and is painted blue inside which is what gives it its name. The correct name of the mosque is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, after Sultan Ahmed I who ordered its construction.

The Blue Mosque

After walking around the Blue Mosque, we exited through a side gate back into the Hippodrome and walked back to the bus.

Side gate to the Blue Mosque

Spice bazaar

From the Hippodrome we were driven to the Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) near the Galata Bridge. This Bridge (Galata Köprüsü) is a 490-metre-long drawbridge found in the Golden Horn estuary, which unites the old Istanbul with its more modern area. The bazaar was established in 1663, is L-shaped with 6 entrances of which we saw 3. There are dozens of spice shops as well as nuts, sweets, perfumes, jewellery, clothing, luggage and furnishings. We visited one shop where we were told all about the different types of spices, how Turkish Delight is made and learnt that there are many spice flavoured teas. Next door is a plant nursery.

Entrance to Spice Bazaar
Inside the Spice Bazaar with its beautiful ceiling
Plant Nursery

We returned from there to the ship for a late lunch and rest. It had been a wonderful excursion, well organised and of great interest.