One Day in Istanbul

Extras, Middle East, Turkey — By on November 17, 2011 at 9:01 pm
By Gina Douglas
Special to Lost Girls 
view from Topkapi PalaceI watched the two women in front of me go in without a head covering. I paused and fingered the scarf I had draped over my head and shoulders self-consciously.

“Does my head not have to be covered?” I asked the guard at the entrance, wanting to be respectful, but also not wanting to look like a dumb tourist. He muttered something I couldn’t understand in response and made a gesture to usher me in. Eager people behind me were pressing in so I decided to keep the head scarf on and stepped through the doorway.

Once inside, I saw that no one in the visitor’s area had their head covered, so I pushed back the fabric from my head and looked around Istanbul’s magnificent Blue Mosque in awe.

If you’re short on time in Istanbul, Turkey, the Blue Mosque is a must-see. Istanbul is a city of contrasts; the East-meets-West mentality is very evident here, as is the tug of war between tradition and innovation. The contrasts make it a unique city to visit and one that you’ll be eager for more time in. However, if you have only a day, fit in the big sight-seeing landmarks such as the aforementioned Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Sarayi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque Exterior

The towering domes and six minarets of the Blue Mosque can be seen from many parts of the city. This alone is an architectural wonder, but venturing inside the mosque is even more interesting. Built in the 1600’s, the Blue Mosque is still in use by worshippers to this day and upon entering the mosque, you’ll see people praying in the main area and in the women and children sections around the perimeter. A divider is set up so visitors can’t venture too far into the mosque; however, it is enough room to still feel the grandeur of the room’s high ceilings and the ornate and intricate details woven throughout the entire mosque. Low chandeliers give off light and highlight the stained glass windows. One thing to remember when visiting the Blue Mosque is that there is a strict dress code so be sure your shoulders and knees are covered if you’re a woman. Bringing socks is also advised since you have to take off your shoes before entering.

Hagia Sophia

Another mosque not to be missed in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia. Unlike the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia is no longer in use. Built as a church in 532 A.D. and reconstructed into a mosque in the 15th century, the byzantine structure is loaded with history and is truly awe-inspiring to stand inside. The dome is massive and is dark except where bursts of gold are etched upon it, culminating in a wide wash of gold in the center of the room.

Topkapi Sarayi Palace

You’ll have to budget a couple hours to see Topkapi Sarayi Palace, but it is well worth it. The palace lets you experience both the history and landscape of Istanbul. The various buildings on the property house many ancient artifacts and the beautiful lawns lead you to great views of the cityscape, including a great view of the Europe/Asia divide (many Istanbul residents live on the Asia side of Istanbul, but commute to work every day to the Europe side of Istanbul).

Hagia Sophia Interior

Grand Bazaar

If you only have a limited amount of time in Istanbul, I recommend not spending tons of time here, but it is still something you must experience. The indoor marketplace boasts row after row after row of shops selling everything from designer watches to scarves to silverware. It is easy to get lost here, but if you’re short on time, this is not the place for aimless wandering. Keep your bearings and just visit a few rows of shops and try your bargaining skills before exiting the Grand Bazaar to go experience more of Istanbul’s city life – and food. From Kebap to Turkish coffee, Istanbul has some amazing culinary delights.

If there’s any way you can spend late evening in Istanbul, I highly recommend it. My favorite part of my time in Istanbul was walking through the city after dinner with a few newfound friends when suddenly the call to prayer started from the Blue Mosque and could be heard across the city. The idea that a large portion of the city was stopping what they were doing to drop and pray was mesmerizing and the melodic voice, loud through the night air, somehow managed to create a hushed atmosphere over the city.

Though Istanbul is a vibrant and multi-faceted city, it is possible to experience some of the sites and even the city’s culture in just a day. However, be prepared to want to schedule another trip to go back and experience more of Istanbul!


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