Istanbul redefines space and time. It is ancient and modern at the same time. Its history spans over centuries, its territory – over continents. Istanbul has an Asian and a European side and on both, it mixes cultures and religions the way an experienced cook mixes the ingredients. Here, you can see Egyptian hieroglyphs, Ancient Greek monuments and Arabic inscriptions within meters from one another. Roman Aqueducts and Ottoman mosques outline the landscape of the city, along with skyscrapers and glossy malls. This place has it all.
It is said that there are more than 3000 mosques in Istanbul – from the 15th-century Mahmut Pasha Mosque to the one that is currently being built in Taksim Square. There are all kinds of mosques – modest grayish houses of prayers and heavily embellished grandiose temples, modern places of worship and antique sanctuaries, noisy touristic attractions and serene hidden gems.
Speaking of tourist attractions, one of the most crowded places is the Topkapi Palace. When I was there, the queue in front of the ticket desk meandered through hundreds of meters. Hordes of people were entering and exiting the Palace and the Archaeological Museum located right next to it, but few of them could be seen in the adjacent Gulhane Parki. The park, also known as “The Rosehouse” is the oldest one in Istanbul and offers a sweet break from the bustling city in its peaceful alleys, outlined by tulips – the flowers of the Ottoman Empire. A breathtaking view of the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn complements the overall vibe of timelessness and tranquility.
Not far from Topkapi Palace is the Grand Bazaar. It is a huge explosion of colors, textures, and aromas. The numerous little shops overflow with goods and the owners will try to grab your attention without hesitating too much. “A lovely shawl for a lovely lady,” they will say, wrapping a finely embroidered texture around your arms. “Whitening soap with elephant milk or a bronzing one with charcoal and cocoa,” there is something for everyone. From “Gucci” handbags to paintings of Marie Antoinette as a cat, there is an abundance of items to satisfy everyone’s taste.
Everything in this city reminds me of a fairytale. The lamp of Aladdin can be bought for just 40 lire (around 12 leva) if you are good at haggling – exactly the same price as that of the entrance to the Maiden Tower. This tower is named after a princess, a mixture of the Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. Legend has it that a fabled King – or, perhaps, a Byzantine Emperor or an Ottoman Sultan – had a beautiful beloved daughter. One day, he got wind of a prophecy saying that his daughter would die from a snake bite before her 18th birthday. The King feared losing his daughter so much, that he locked her in a tower and forced her to live there in isolation. On her 18th birthday, the princess received a basket with fruits, but in the basket, there was a hidden snake. The snake bit the princess and she died, thus fulfilling the prophecy. If this does not sound like a story from 1001 nights, I don’t know what does. Farewell, Istanbul. Next time we will come to buy Aladdin’s flying carpet from the Grand Bazaar.
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