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Istanbul, Turkey

Flew to Istanbul first for overnight stay with one-day tour plus dinner and folk/belly dance shows

Rad and Josephine Arner & Sara and Mack Harris began the trip at DFW Airport.

Arrived in Istanbul, Turkey

Ali, our Istanbul tour guide (left) and Rachel Rose, our ASL interpreter (right)

Our hotel

View from our hotel room  . .  about 40 mosques in the city of Istanbul alone

Downtown Istanbul with Turkish flag

Turkish Dinner with folk and belly dance show at GAR Restaurant

Knife-throwing show

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia, greek for Holy Wisdom, is one of the most amazing mosques in Istanbul. Before visiting this holy temple, you should know the Hagia Sophia facts and history to ensure a more enlightened visit:

1. The Hagia Sophia history is shaded with ownerships by many religions. Beginning in 360 to 1453 it served as the cathedral of Constantinople (also known as Istanbul). For a brief period, it began the Roman Catholic cathedral of the area.

2. The Hagia Sophia is known for its large dome. This dome is said to have “changed the face of architecture during the Byzantine empire.”

3. The Hagia Sophia has been important in other Byzantine structures. For example, the Blue Mosque Istanbul, or the Sultan Ahmed Mosuqe, incorporates the aspects of architecture from the Ottoman Empire, just as the Hagia Sophia does.

4. While visiting the Hagia Sophia, staying at any of the Istanbul Turkey hotels is a great location to enjoy the wonders of the mosque. Some are centered close enough to walk to the buildings and gardens of the mosque.

5. One of the best Hagia Sophia facts involves the handcrafted mosaics that line the entire temple. The detail and precision of the mosaics will give visitors an artistic experience like none other. Many of the mosaics have survived the re-design of the mosque since 1453.

6. To experience the Hagia Sophia from the water, try one of the Istanbul shore excursions. These guided tours will take visitors around different landmarks of Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia.

7. One of the hidden artifacts of the mosque is the minarets. One was designed by a famous Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan. Part of the Hagia Sophia facts that visitors should know as the past the towering sandstone sculpture.

8. One of the most known Hagia Sophia facts involves the windows that surround the mighty dome. Forty windows cover the outside of the dome that is shaped like a shell and the inside of an umbrella.

9. The structure of the massive Hagia Sophia dome begins as a triangle and spirals up to form a rectangular shape. This shape shifting is a classic Byzantine design.

10. The Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the entire world for more than a thousand years.

On right, different layers of building stones over time

A full thumb rotation (180 degrees) will bring good luck.

The Hagia Sophia is behind the group

The Sultanahmet Mosque

Another mosque called the Sultanahmet Mosque is just a walking distance from The Hagia Sophia.  See the picture below.  The cascading domes and six slender minarets of the Sultanahmet Mosque (better known as the "Blue Mosque") dominate the skyline of Istanbul. In the 17th century, Sultan Ahmet I wished to build an Islamic place of worship that would be even better than the Hagia Sophia, and the mosque named for him is the result. The two great architectural achievements now stand next to each other in Istanbul's main square, and it is up to visitors to decide which is more impressive.


The Blue Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I when he was only 19 years old. It was built near the Hagia Sophia, over the site of the ancient hippodrome and Byzantine imperial palace (whose mosaics can be seen in the nearby Mosaic Museum). Construction work began in 1609 and took seven years.

The mosque was designed by architect Mehmet Aga, whose unfortunate predecessor was found wanting and executed. Sultan Ahmet was so anxious for his magnificent creation to be completed that he often assisted in the work. Sadly, he died just a year after the completion of his masterpiece, at the age of 27. He is buried outside the mosque with his wife and three sons.

The original mosque complex included a madrasa, a hospital, a han, a primary school, a market, an imaret and the tomb of the founder. Most of these buildings were torn down in the 19th century.

What to See

One of the most notable features of the Blue Mosque is visible from far away: its six minarets. This is very unique, as most mosques have four, two, or just one minaret. According to one account, the Sultan directed his architect to make gold (altin) minarets, which was misunderstood as six (alti) minarets.

Whatever the origins of the unique feature, the six minarets caused quite a scandal, as the Haram Mosque in Mecca (the holiest in the world) also had six minarets. In the end, the sultan solved the problem by sending his architect to Mecca to add a seventh minaret.

The other striking feature of the exterior is the beautifully-arranged cascade of domes that seem to spill down from the great central dome. The arcades running beneath each dome add further visual rhythm. None of the exterior is blue - the name "Blue Mosque" comes from the blue tiles inside.

The main west entrance is beautifully decorated and very much worth a look. However, to preserve the mosque's sanctity, non-worshippers are required to use the north entrance, off the Hippodrome. Hanging from this gate are symbolic chains that encourage everyone, even the sultan who entered on horseback, to bow his or her head upon entering.

Inside, the high ceiling is lined with the 20,000 blue tiles that give the mosque its popular name. Fine examples of 16th-century Iznik design, the oldest tiles feature flowers, trees and abstract patterns. The overall effect is one of the most beautiful sights in Istanbul. The Iznik tiles can be seen in the galleries and and on the north wall above the main entrance. The remaining tiles, which have a less delicate design, were made in Kütahya.

The interior is lit with 260 windows, which were once filled with 17th-century stained glass. Sadly, this has been lost and replaced with inferior replicas.

Two mosques in-betwen

The Sultanahmet Mosque Square

Islam 101 (The meaning of Islam, What Muslims believe and The Five Pillars of Islam) from our tour guide

No shoes inside the mosque

The Obelisk of Theodosius

The Serpent Column

Street shopping

Stopped by one Turkish carpet manufactuer

Ancient water system in the basement of  the carpet manufacturer

Had lunch there

The 'evil eye' novelties

So-called flat bread

Toilet paper is out.

A long walk to the Topkapı Palace passing many street vendors

The Topkapi Palace

The Topkapı Palace is a palace in Istanbul, Turkey, which was the official and primary residence in the city of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign.

The palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments and is a major tourist attraction today, containing the most holy relics of the Muslim world such as the Prophet Muhammed's cloak and sword.  Topkapı Palace is among those monuments belonging to the "Historic Areas of Istanbul", which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and is described in Criterion iv as "the best example[s] of ensembles of palaces [...] of the Ottoman period."

Initial construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople. The palace is a complex made up of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At the height of its existence as a royal residence, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, formerly covering a larger area with a long shoreline. The complex has been expanded over the centuries, with many renovations such as after the 1509 earthquake and 1665 fire. It held mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint.  The name directly translates as "Cannon gate Palace", from the palace being named after a nearby gate, which has since been destroyed.

Topkapı Palace gradually lost its importance at the end of the 17th century, as the Sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosporus. In 1856, Sultan Abdül Mecid I decided to move the court to the newly built Dolmabahçe Palace, the first European-style palace in the city. Some functions, such as the imperial treasury, the library, mosque and mint, were retained though.

After the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1921, Topkapı Palace was transformed by government decree on April 3, 1924 into a museum of the imperial era. The Topkapı Palace Museum is under the administration of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important are accessible to the public today. The complex is guarded by officials of the ministry as well as armed guards of the Turkish military. The palace is full of examples of Ottoman architecture and also contains large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armor, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts and murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasure and jewelry.

The world's largest diamond is housed in this building.

The pear-shaped 86-carat Kaşikçi Diamond is among the largest in the world. Its origin is not certainly known. Legend attributes its name (the Spoonmaker's -or Spoonse9ler's Diamond) to its sale by a pauper who was unaware of its value to a merchant in return for a few wooden spoons.

However, the consensus of the experts is that the Kaşikçi Diamond is in fact the "Pigot" Diamond named after an officer of the French army who is known to have bought a diamond of similar dimensions and shape in India in 1774. The Pigot Diamond could be traced, after numerous owners, to Napoleon Bonaparte's mother and then to an Ottoman governor.

Since the Kaşikçi Diamond was transferred to the Ottoman treasury among the treasure of governor Tepedeienli Ali Paşa, who was executed in the 1840's after conviction for rebellion against the state, it is highly probable that the Kaşikçi and Pigot diamonds are the same.

The beautiful, specially cut Kaşikçi Diamond is surrounded by 49 smaller pieces of diamond embedded in gold in two rows.

The World Famous Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı)

The Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) in Istanbul is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 5,000 shops, and attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is well known for its jewellery, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices and antique shops. Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, with special areas for leather, gold jewellery and the like. The bazaar has been an important trading centre since 1461 and its labyrinthine vaults feature two bedestens (domed buildings), the first of which was constructed between 1455 and 1461 by the order of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The bazaar was vastly enlarged in the 16th century, during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and in 1894 underwent a major restoration following an earthquake.

The complex houses two mosques, four fountains, two hamams, and several cafés and restaurants. In the centre is the high domed hall of the Cevahir Bedesten, where the most valuable items and antiques were to be found in the past, and still are today, including furniture, copperware, amber prayer beads, inlaid weapons, icons, mother-of-pearl mirrors, water pipes, watches and clocks, candlesticks, old coins, and silver and gold jewellery set with coral and turquoise. A leisurely afternoon spent exploring the bazaar, sitting in one of the cafés and watching the crowds pass by, and bargaining for purchases is one of the best ways to recapture the romantic atmosphere of old Istanbul.


The Grand Bazaar has four main gates situated at the ends of its two major streets which intersect near the southwestern corner of the bazaar.

Map of the Grand Bazaar

This is a fountain in the Grand Bazaar.   People stop for water and wash their face.