24 Hours in Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, an Islamic city without the radical factor is an attractive option in this day and age. The peaceful Topkapi Palace is first cab off the rank. In its outdoors, all four courtyards of it, the silence is only broken by the soft tweets of the avian residents. This air of serenity is accompanied by a rich royal history: Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1494 – 1566) insisted everyone walked around in silence to avoid compromising his tranquillity. However, his son Selim (1524 – 1574), known as The Sot (drunkard), lacked his father’s regal composure and eventually drowned on a bathhouse floor after and indulgent tryst with champagne. Another sultan, Ibrahim the mad (1615 – 1648) ordered his counsel to find him the most obese woman possible and nicknamed his new sex pet ‘Piece of Sugar’. Then, upon hearing gossip that his concubines had been sullied by another man, he had 280 of his haren drowned in the Bosporus Sea. Speaking of impressive stories, the palace also houses a hair from the beard of the prophet Mohammed and an atrophied hand of St John the Baptist.
This is on the list of must see for everyone wanting to visit Istanbul, and this is a visit to the Sutan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque, where the high ceiling is lined with 20,000 blue tiles that gave the mosque its popular name and create one of Istanbul’s finest sights, is completed. Then the Aya Sofia – once the greatest church in Christendom until the Muslim conquest of 1453 when it was converted to a mosque. Inside, the Muslims covered every existing gilded mosaic with their own art but the original, magnificent depictions of Christianity are gradually being restored.
Old and New
Take a boat ride down the Bosphorous Strait between Europe and Asia. The saline-infused air is rejuvenating as I study the shores of a city that has seen many rises and falls.
Imposing, centuries-old fortresses guard silently on verdant hills while, sprawled among Ottoman architecture, chick outdoor cafes have their genteel hub-hub disturbed only by the wailing of the call to prayer.
If there’s enough of you, hire a private boat for as little as 30TL each at the wharf. The standard tourist cruise boats blast out garish disco music, ruining the peace.
Try the Zinhan Kebab house. It was originally a women’s prison but the fare is as far from jail grub as you can get. The food is high quality but not budget-blowing, a good way to experience Turkish cuisine – try the chicken shish.
High above Zinhan city, is a great spot for night-time pics – imagine illuminated mosques, glowing to let the big man in the sky know he’s never forgotten, complemented by the glimmering emanations from the city’s light as Istanbul comes to life for the night ahead.