Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with a population of over 13 million. It is the cultural and economic center of Turkey. Istanbul is positioned on the Bosphorus Strait (a narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea) and extends on both the European and Asian sides so it is the only city in the world that is situated on two continents. The historic areas of the city (Constantinople of the Roman, Byzantine and most of Ottoman periods) were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.
Topkapi Palace is a large palace in Istanbul that used to be main residence for Ottoman sultans for 400 years. It is now a major tourist attraction and contains important holy artifacts of the Muslim world including the Prophet Muhammed’s personal belongings as well as the staff Moses used to part the Red Sea. Several courtyards, the Imperial Gate, Museum of Holy Relics, Armory, and of course the Harem are worth a look if you have the time. I underestimated the amount of time that I needed to spend here. Literally you could spend almost an entire day at the site if you are a real history fan.
The most visited mosque in the world, Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque (because of the blue and white tiles adorning the walls) was built in the 17th century. The cascading domes and six minarets of the mosque are very unique and add beauty to the skyline of Istanbul. The six minarets caused a bit of a problem when built because the Haram Mosque in Mecca (holiest in the world) also had six but was solved when an additional minaret was added in Mecca. I guess before that time most mosques did not have more than 4 minarets. The design of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque incorporates Byzantine elements (like those found on nearby Hagia Sophia) with traditional Islamic architecture.
99% of the Turkish population is Muslim and call to prayers occurs 5 times a day, changing with the rise and fall of the sun. When entering the mosque you must be dressed accordingly: long skirt or pants, no shoes, and shawls covering shoulders of women. I wore tights with a skirt, but ended up wrapping myself in an entire sheet because my skirt was slightly above my knees. Just something I would like to note for women is throughout the entire country it will be good to bring layers with you in a backpack each day because you will always want to respect the religion. A scarf is always good to have just in case you feel it is appropriate to cover your head.
Directly across from the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia, a former Orthodox basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum. It served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople from 360 until 1453, except for the time between 1204 and 1261 when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral. The building was a mosque from 1453 until 1931 when it became a museum.
Famous for its massive dome, Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest examples of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. Hagia Sophia is also important because it contains important relics from both Christian and Muslim religions. Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are great architectural achievements that now stand next to each other in Istanbul’s main square.
Turkey is surrounded by three bodies of water and I took a 1 hour flight to the Mediterranean side to visit The Turkish Riviera and the town of Antalya. This stretch of Turkey’s coastline is a popular tourist destination because of the combination of a favorable climate, warm sea, a thousand kilometers of coastline and archeological points of interest. Antalya contains an interesting historical center with important ancient ruins: the city walls, Hadrian’s gate (constructed in the 2nd century by Romans in honor of emperor Hadrian), and the clock tower.
40 km outside of the city center is a lift up to the top of Mount Tahtali, 8000 above sea level. The cable car takes you on a 12-minute ride that journeys from the sea to the mountains on the beautiful coastline of the Mediterranean coast. This trip is a wonderful opportunity to view the coastline from nearby mountains and totally enjoy the fabulous view of this vacation hotspot.
Amphitheater of Aspendos
The amphitheater of Aspendos is one of the best preserved Roman remains outside Italy. The theatre was built by the Greek architect Zenon in 155, during the rule of Marcus Aurelius. With a diameter of 315 feet, the theatre could seat about 7,000. A small part of the theatre was built so that it leaned against a hill and the remainder was built on vaulted arches. The high stage allowed the audience to feel isolated from the rest of the world. The theatre is known for its great acoustics. Walk to the top of the stairs and call down to friends below and see what you think. Perhaps you can take a few minutes to recite Shakespeare or show off your singing voice.