Carpets, Markets, and Hamams in Istanbul

Between the enticing aromas of kebabs being cooked, the enormous mass of people filling the streets, colorful lanterns and flags strung up everywhere, the sweet smells of shisha pipes filling the air, the gravity-defying piles of spices, more tea and coffee being shoved your way than is humanly possible to consume, and the ever-present calls of the pushy carpet touts, you’ll instantly know that you’ve arrived in Istanbul.  One of Europe’s 3 largest cities (along with London and Moscow), it lies along the Bosphorus Strait — which divides Europe and Asia — making Istanbul the world’s only metropolis to span 2 different continents.

From a historical perspective, the city is a veritable treasure trove of significant sites, fortresses, and religious buildings — having formerly been the capital city of the Roman Empire (for a period), the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire (for a time), the all-powerful Ottoman Empire, and now the most populous city in Turkey.  It now serves as one of the first links between the Eastern and Western worlds.  Architecturally, the skyline is dominated by the many domes and minarets sprouting out of the numerous mosques, but it is also not without a few Greek and Roman ruins sprinkled throughout.  There is also an amazing blend of influences from the Ottoman, Persian, Greek, and Arabic worlds, resulting in the Turkish culture we now know today.  And this isn’t even mentioning the food! (which, incidentally, will have to wait for a future post).  Even taking into account all of these different elements, I was still surprised to find out was a commercially developed (and frankly Westernized) city it was — though my surprise may be more due to gap between my expectations and the reality that truly exists than anything else.  Regardless, here are a few more images to complete the picture in your mind:

Mosques and Minarets towering over the city

The busy Istiklal Caddesi — the major shopping street in the Beyoglu neighborhood of the city

The Galeta Kelusi lit up at night

Monument in the center of Taksim Square

The interior courtyard of the Topkapi Palace

Istanbul is a colorful city by day, but the intensity of that color is only hightened by night

Fishermen working their trade off the Galata Koprusu Bridge

Interior of the famous Harem in the Topkapi Palace

The view over the Bophorous from one of my favorite spots in the city: a quaint tea parlor at the edge of one of the city’s parks, and incidentally, where I spent a great deal of my time in Istanbul

Two of the cities most recongizable landmarks lie only a few hundred yards away from each other in the Sultanahment neighborhood in the old section of Istanbul: that of the Blue Mosque and the former Orthodox basilica and former mosque that is now the Aya Sofya Museum.  Walking through the area can be a bit treachorous for those polite folks out there, as the pushy touts are out in force, but the views of these two monuments down the park-like lane that connects them makes it a worthwhile adventure.

Exterior of the Aya Sofya

The sun setting beyond the Blue Mosque

The interiour domes of the Blue Mosque

To truly experience the flavor of Istanbul, however, one must dive head-first into the many markets sprinkled throughout the city.  From the Egyptian Bazaar and the Spice Market to the many Fish Markets and the endless, tangled maze of the Grand Bazaar (where you WILL get lost), there is almost certainly someone selling something you’re looking for — whether or not you even know you’re looking for it.  The sights, sounds, and smells in these respective markets makes for a sensuous experience, and is one you’re not likely to forget:

Silks, Scarves, Sarongs, and Pashminas (though personally, I couldn’t tell the difference between any of these if my life depended on it)

Spices for sale

Every variety of olive imaginable

Teas and more spices

One of many fish markets

Besides simply strolling through the markets and hanging out at the mosques and monuments, there are quite a few other experiences to be had while staying in the city.  I’ve got a boat tour of the Bosphorus Strait coming up in a few days (I’ll update this post with more pictures once I’ve gone) for one.  Additionally, I also went to see the Mevlevi Sema ceremony performed by the famous Whirling Dervishes — which was both a beautiful and spiritual exhibition to behold, but unfortunately, photography was not allowed.

In an attempt to work some of the stress from travel out of my body, I also visited another Hamam, or Turkish bath.  Whereas the facilities were more upscale and delicate as compared to those I experienced while in Morroco, the massage was anything but.  After enjoying a the sauna for a few minutes and being doused in scalding hot water, the masseuse (who happened to be a very large, muscular individual) asked me “English” or “Turkish.”  At first I thought he was refering to what language I spoke, so I replied honestly, “English.”  He gave me a dissappointed look, so I jokingly said Turkish and a huge smile grew on his face.  He pointed to another massesue across the room putting another customer in what could only be described as a wrestling move intended to make the recipient lose consciousness, nodded his head approvingly, and showed me a devious smile.  It was in that exact instant that I realized the fate for which I had just doomed myself.  There was nothing “gentle” about the “massage” that followed, but let’s just say the only sounds to be heard were the cracking of virtually every bone in my body intermingled amidst the moans of pain that I tried my best to muffle.  Alas, I did sleep quite well that night.

After my time in Istanbul, I’m headed off to the interior of Turkey — specifically to the region of Cappadochia.  Though the name translates as “The Land of the Beautiful Horses,” it is the surreal landscape and fairy chimneys here that draw the crowds.  I’ll be back in a few days with my findings (and a post dedicated to the food in Turkey, too).  Until then, Serefe from Istanbul!

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

2 Responses to “Carpets, Markets, and Hamams in Istanbul”

  1. Great post. I like your photos and the funny story about the masseuse, informative and entertaining writing style too.

  2. The colors in the market are to die for! Great post 🙂

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