What to See in Istanbul: The Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern

Since arriving in Turkey, I’ve been attempting to learn “survival Turkish,” including helpful phrases for navigation.

The Turkish alphabet has 29 letters, including seven of latin origin (Ç, Ğ, I, İ, Ö, Ş, and Ü.)

For example, the district of Küçükçekmece is pronounced Kew-chook-check-meje, and the district Çamlıca is pronounced Cham-lee-jaw. The “ç” has a ch sound and the “c” has a j sound. Quite confusing.

This experiemce reminds me of a video I watched about Texans trying to pronounce Wisconsin city names.

Now I understand their struggle. Hah. 😀

I’m sure it’ll be easy soon enough. 🙂

Anyway, aside from studying a bit of the language, on Monday, I headed to Sultanhamet, in order to see some of the top historic sights. Byzantine_Constantinople-en

Sights in Sultanahmet

Basilica Cistern

DSC_1217The Basilica Cistern is an ancient water reservoir, which originally provided water to Istanbul, once Constantinople. Admission to this “sunken palace” will cost around $7.DSC_1206It is comprised of over 336 columns, most being recycled from old ruins.DSC_1211This water reservoir replaced the Stoa Basilica in the 4th century, hence its name, and is located in what was one of the Great Squares of Constantinople.DSC_1217The cistern has the capacity to hold 100,000 tons of water; however, at present there are only a few feet and a couple of fish. DSC_1213Mysteriously, two Medusa heads were discovered in the water reservoir, one placed upside-down and the other horizontal.DSC_1230Their origin is unknown, but many speculate it hopes to offset the gaze of a Gorgon, an angry Greek God.DSC_1225This column, entitled Hen’s Eye, represents slanted branches and tears, which pays tribute to the 7,000 slaves involved in its construction.DSC_1233From there, my next historical pit stop was one of the stunning mosques, the most famous being Sultanahmet Mosque or Blue Mosque.

Historic Mosques

Blue Mosque

With one main dome, eight secondary domes, along with six striking minarets, it is known as the last great mosque of the classical period.IMG_7651Built during the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, it combines both Christian and Islamic elements. DSC_1388Before entering the mosque, I referenced the billboard regarding proper dress attire. DSC_1371They also require removal of shoes.IMG_7658Fortunately at the entrance, they provide visitors with wraps for their head and waist.IMG_7670The head wrap was like a sterile hospitable bed sheet. I’ll definitely bring something more colorful next time. 😉
Anyway, the mosque was intricately designed with beautiful blue tiles.IMG_7666The most impressive element being the mihrab, an inscriptive panel made of carved marble.20915402605_c41352a13e_oAbsolutely stunning!20915402645_465eb79566_o

New Mosque

DSC_1293The term “New Mosque” may appear as false advertising, since this mosque was actually constructed in the 17th century, during the Ottoman Empire.IMG_7636IMG_7629Shoe booties to protect the carpet.IMG_7632IMG_7634From there, I navigated the back streets browsing for knick knacks, traveling with the masses.DSC_1349I felt slightly overwhelmed with all these people, trying to guard my purse and pricey camera with lens cap.
I had to chuckle when I looked back at my Mom’s words of advice as I began using my new DSLR camera.
“Megan, the first thing you want to do is take off the lens cap…”
She paused as I lingered for her words of wisdom.
“…and shove it in your bra.” 😛
Well, thanks Mom! That seemed to free up my hands a bit as I navigated the chaotic market.
One less thing to keep track of.
Fatih district near Sultanahmet. DSC_1253DSC_1263While browsing, I stumbled upon a fantastic café to get a recommendation for a bite to eat.
CoffetopiaDSC_1280
The Australian owner was very friendly, gave me a tourist map, and suggested I walk around the spice market.

Middle Eastern Spices

The Spice Bazaar

DSC_1296The spice market dates back to the 17th century and was traditionally the last stop on the caravans route along the silk road.keren-su-camel-caravan-at-sunrise-silk-road-chinaPopular Middle Eastern spices found at the bazaar include cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, turmeric and caraway.
I picked up some cinnamon and curry, which were both vacuumed sealed.
DSC_1303Great idea for gifts later on. 😉

Additionally, the market had numerous Middle Eastern teas, which all smelled delicious! 😀

My favorites being the white tea, love tea and pomegranate tea.DSC_1310DSC_1306Dainty tea sets. 🙂DSC_1312DSC_1313Other specialties include walnut-stuffed dates, apricots and figs.DSC_1305Baklava and other sticky sweets.DSC_1247DSC_1297It looks like restaurants deliver from these bazaar shops as well. On a lunch tray no less. Such service!DSC_1356Although the sweets were tempting, I’m more of a savory person, so I began to hunt down a small shop I had read about on TripAdvisor.

Mısır çarşısı Üsküdarlı Ünal TurşularıDSC_1328Turşu means pickled, and this shop pickles everything from beets and okra, to beans and garlic cloves. *drool*DSC_1329I was able to pick out a cup of pickled veggies for only $1.DSC_1333Unfortunately, coming from Mexico, I bravely loaded up on the pickled jalapeños despite his fair warning.
The heat was so strong, I broke out in the hiccups right in the middle of the spice market. Lesson learned! 😛

On top of the spicy pickles, I was able to sample another famous Middle Eastern dish, more for those with adventurous taste buds. 😉This dish, known as Kokoreç, is a combination of sheep intestines, fat, and other organ meats, that are seasoned with lemon, olive oil, and garlic, then skewered and grilled until tender. The meat is then chopped, topped with oregano, red chili pepper, and finally served on a crusty roll.

The texture wasn’t terrible, but it did find the meat heavily seasoned. Maybe I’ll give it a second shot at another locale.
IMG_7699
Anyway, I capped off the day at a local café in Florya, enjoying a hot cup of tea.

The couple next to me was drinking tea with a pet chicken on their lap. :/IMG_7675Only in Turkey! Hah. 😛

The rest of the week, I’ve been adjusting to life at my new school on the Asian side of Istanbul.

From Florya, we have literally been crossing continents each day to get to work. So cool! 😀IMG_20150826_102020Now today we’ll be moving into our new apartment on the Asian side, close to work. Wish us luck! 😀

Until the next post. Happy weekend everyone!

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