Imperial Istanbul

Turkish Delights

Sandip Hor enjoys the treasures and pleasures in Constantinople

Straddling Asia and Europe – and enjoying the air from the Mediterranean as well as the Black Sea that sweeps across the land – historic Istanbul on the turquoise Bosporus was founded by the Greeks in the 5th century BC as Byzantium.

It was renamed Constantinople 800 years later by the Romans and became Istanbul in the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire’s sultans conquered the land.

Istanbul grew to eminence as the imperial capital of two commanding empires – namely Byzantine and Ottoman – where both Christianity and Islam thrived. Today, it’s the largest metropolis in modern Turkey, as well as a melting pot of culture, creeds and cosmopolitanism.

Turkey is synonymous with towels, baths, breads, kebabs and delights, which is a candy made of starch and sugar. In addition, the city has much more to offer its visitors.

HAGIA SOPHIA This 6th century church – which was converted to a mosque in 1453, then to a museum in 1934 and reverted to a mosque last year – is considered the city’s top attraction. It’s famous not only for its sheer size but more for its artistic interior that glimmers with superb Byzantine mosaics in gold, dark-green and blue. And it displays the world’s largest examples of Arabic calligraphy.

BLUE MOSQUE A landmark of the city is its Blue Mosque, which was built in 1650. Strangely, the exterior of this great Islamic marvel with six minarets and eight domes doesn’t display even a pinch of blue. The name comes from its 20,000 or so handmade ceramic blue tiles that decorate the inside.

ROYAL ABODES Since Istanbul was an imperial capital for centuries, there are many royal residences to be found in town. The two most visited are the Topkapi Palace (a complex with many buildings) and the Dolmabahçe Palace (it is famous for its grand white facade and ostentatious interiors).

GRAND BAZAAR This lively marketplace is home to over 4,000 shops that sell an array of merchandise, which includes spices, souvenirs, homeware, towels and trendy handbags, as well as carpets, shawls and shoes.

TURKISH BATHS The best Turkish bath is the Cağaloğlu Hamam, which was built in1741. Dignitaries and celebrities ranging from King Edward VIII and Florence Nightingale, to Sir Sean Connery and John Travolta, have enjoyed the Turkish Baths. The hourlong exercise includes a steam bath and body massage; and finally, a splurge with bucketloads of water, soap and shampoo, to bring a clean and happy end to the ritual!

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