From the time it was ruled by the Roman Empire, when the city was known as Constantinople, to being conquered by Ottoman Turks in the 1400s, Istanbul is steeped in history and culture. Jessica, OHNY’s program manager along with her best friend Colleen embarked on a 5,026-mile journey to Istanbul, Turkey for two weeks in April. The idea of traveling to Istanbul seemed exciting and intriguing – different cultures, amazing architecture and design and being able to travel to Europe and Asia just by crossing a bridge or taking a ferry. They met friendly, welcoming locals, visited magnificent mosques and majestic palaces and walked a lot!

Jessica & Colleen on a cruise on the Bosphorous River

Their home base during their stay was in the Sultanahmet District, named for Sultan Ahmet I, who constructed the Blue Mosque, and the area is considered the “historic, old Istanbul.” The Old City is filled with narrow, winding and cobbled streets with a plethora of architectural wonders. Some of the major attractions are located in Sultanahmet including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and Basilica Cistern.

Blue Mosque (completed 1617)

Blue Mosque

Named for its more than 20,000 handmade blue, ceramic tiles in the interior, the mosque was designed by Sedefkâr Mehmet Ağa. It features over 200 stained glass windows and six minarets from which the call to prayer is projected on a PA system five times daily beginning at sunrise and ending after sunset, and can be heard throughout the old section of the city.

Blue Mosque - interior

Hagia Sophia (completed in the year 537)

Hagia Sophia

A museum since 1935, it was originally the central church of Christendom and later converted as a mosque from 1453 until 1934. It is an example of Byzantine architecture and contains a grand dome, mosaics and marble pillars.

Topkapi Palace (built between 1459 to 1465)

Topkapi Palace entrance

Constructed under the reign of Sultan Mehmet II, the palace was used by sultans for over 400 years. Over the course of many centuries, each ruling sultan would add lavish architectural structures to create a series of buildings extending over four successive courtyards, each more elaborate than the last. The palace housed facilities including the state mint, arsenal and sultan’s court.

Basilica Cistern (completed in the 6th century)

Medusa head

Also known as the “sunken palace,” the cistern was created to bring fresh water to the city in case of a siege. As you enter into this underground waterway, the walkways are dimly lit and in the water you can see fish in a variety of sizes swimming throughout the entire site. There are 336 marble columns, and the main feature of the cistern is the two upturned Medusa heads. For James Bond fans, a portion of the film From Russia with Love was filmed in the cistern.

Additional highlights:

Seaside lunch with a view of the Black Sea

They explored other sites outside of the Istanbul city center such as a day trip drive along the coast of the Black Sea.

A visit wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Market).

Grand Bazaar

Spice Market

They ended their last full day in Istanbul sipping Turkish tea at Gülhane Park while enjoying spectacular views of the city with their tour guide for the day Erhan Topaloglu.

A view of the city from Gülhane Park

Colleen with Erhan - their tour guide for the day

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