I must fess up. I didn’t arrive at Istanbul expecting to like the place. A large city. Crowded. A culture difficult to understand. Nope, I wasn’t going to like it. I love being wrong.
The city sits at the mouth of the Bosporus which is the strait that connects the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea. The Bosporus also divides Europe from Asia. Istanbul stretches across both continents. In the picture of the Bosporus, Europe is on the left and Asia on the right.
Istanbul conjures up lots of exotic images of sultans, harems, Lawrence-of-Arabia type images. While some of that exists in the historical aspects of the city, the modern day Istanbul is a bustling place with much to see and do. We had arranged for a private tour with fourteen others from our ship and met our guide, Aykut Ayik from Istanbul Custom Tours (IstanbulLocalGuides.com), early in the morning near the terminal. He was there right on time and our group crossed the street to a waiting mini bus and began what was to be a spectacular day.
|The Bosporus-Europe on left, Asia right|
The streets of Istanbul are notoriously busy and congested but with Ike’s (Aykut’s nickname) commentary we hardly noticed. The slow moving bus also allowed for lots of looks at shops, restaurants, and hotels as we passed by. Ike began with some of the history of Istanbul. The name was originally Constantinople when Constantine I, the Roman emperor, made it the new eastern capitol of the Roman Empire on May 11, 330. Constantinople remained the principal name through the Byzantine era and was the most common name used for it in the West until the early 20th century.
The name Istanbul can be traced back to the 10th century however and is from a Greek phrase that translate to “in the city” or “to the city.” The city has also been nicknamed “The City on Seven Hills” because the oldest part of the city was built on seven hills on the historic peninsula and each hill bears a historic mosque. At prayer times throughout the day, (if I recall correctly there are 5) loud speakers from the minarets echo throughout the streets a muslim chant that is a reminder for all to take time to pray.
On March 28, 1930, the Turkish authorities officially requested foreigners to adopt Istanbul as the sole name in their own languages.
With a lot more history involving battles and struggles for power, Ike filled our time until we arrived at our first stop, the Topakai Palace. We had seen the expansive palace from our ship as we arrived in the evening the night before. Now we were about to enter into the world of the sultans of Turkey and learn just what a harem was all about. We were surprised.