Ancient Sites and New Editions

İyi Cumalar! (Happy Friday!) Guys,

First off, I was really impressed by the wide range of responses from last weeks post. It was interested to hear about your own holiday preferences/memories/traditions, and what you thought of Kurbabyn Bayramı. I was also very astounded by some of your takes on the policies of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Even though many of them ranged in opinion, you all managed to hit on topics that are still being discussed even today in Turkey. Aferin (well done!)

For this week, I have put together a few photos/videos from my so-far adventures around Istanbul, seeing a few tourist destinations and historical sites and thought I’d share them with you. Also can take a look at how the city has changed over the recent history to become a modern metropolis.

I put together a map so that you can see some of the places that will be discussed here and have an idea where things are located here.

Istanbul has been around as a city since the times of ancient Greece, when it was known as Byzantium. However, the city grew to prominence when the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great moved the capital from Rome to here, renaming it Constantinople after himself, with the hope of creating a new Christian center of the Empire.

Over the next few centuries, enormous cathedrals and other public works were built that survives to this day.

Hagia Sophia

 Hagia Sophia 

Built in the 500’s AD by command of Emperor Justinian, the Haga Sophia is probably one of the most iconic sights in Istanbul. It has served as a Greek orthodox basilica, later a  catholic cathedral, and when Istanbul was captured by the Ottomans, it became the Imperial mosque of the city. When the Republic was founded in the 1920’s, it was reopened as a museum for all to see.HS interior

The first thing you notice about the Hagia Sophia is IT’S HUGE! Even though most of the structure has stayed intact since it was first a christian church, you can see how each group left it’s signiture through art inside.

HS mosiac2_hagia_sophia_deesis_mosaic_2The ceilings and walls are covered in ancient mosiacs, tile plaster paintings of various christian icons.

However, in many Islamic traditions, there is less emphasis on paintings, statues, and personable reflections of religious figures. Instead, there is a larger presence of geometric figures, architecture, and calligraphy.hagia_sophia_al_noor_Mosque hagia sophia calligr

Valens Aquaduct and the Cistern

This ancient roman aqueduct was built around the same time to transport water from the mountainous forests outside of Istanbul to the imperial palace, it was stored in the Istanbul cistern (an ancient water filtration and storage facility). Now it is apart of Istanbul traffic!valens

The Cistern

The Cistern is known as Yerebatan Sarayı (The sunken palace) because of it’s huge size and ornate architecture.

Topkapı Pakace


One of the grandest buildings still standing is probably Topkapı. This was the main palace of the Ottoman sultans over the centuries. The palace sits overlooking the Bosporus, at the mouth of Istanbul. It is an elaborate collection of buildings, gardens, libraries, steam baths (hamam), and mosques..and almost a  city itself. In addition to the imperial family living here, the palace was also home to many of the royal scribes, the aides of the sultan, their servants, and the women slaves of the sultan.

Topkapi-Palace-Museum topkapi bath Topkapi-Palace-8015

So now that we’ve seen some of the historical sights around Istanbul, it would be equally important to look at how they stand next to the newer additions.

Ever since becoming a democratic republic a little over 90 years ago, Istanbul has slowly moved towards modernization. But it is within the last 20 years that this has really picked up speed and becoming noticeable. In 2002, the ruling government party came to power, promising to open up and liberalize Turkey’s economy. This has brought lots of foreign investors and wealth into the economy. It’s clearly evident from looking at certain parts of the city!

The "new" downtown located in the neighborhood of Şişli (pronounced shish-lee)
The “new” downtown located in the neighborhood of Şişli (pronounced shish-lee)
Hagia Sophie on the left, the Blue Mosque on the right, the new financial district behind them
Hagia Sophia on the right, the Blue Mosque on the left, the new financial district behind them

It’s an interesting sight to see something so familiar like fast food that you take for granted, standing along side someone selling food from horse-drawn carts.

You can find anything to eat.... anything
You can find anything to eat…. anything
And anything can be delivered to your door
And anything can be delivered to your door
Original "food cart"
Original “food cart”

But even though Istanbul has become a global city and a magnet for many business, it’s impossible to ignore that this is not the case for everyone living here. In certain areas, poor city planning and a rapid influx of people from rural areas have created widespread poverty. Many apartment buildings have not been renovated in years, public services like electricity, water, and gas are known to periodically be interrupted. Istanbul is also home to a large migrant and refugee population currently. Many of these are Syrians who escaped the conflict currently taking place in their country, but there are many ethnic and religious minorities that often are living in dire conditions in the city. So wealth for some does not always reach everyone.

Shanty neighborhood in Istanbul
Shanty neighborhood in Istanbul

Large cities like this are prone to have issues like this. Having so many people (almost 16 mıllıon!), constantly growing, and meanwhile catching up on current issues is not a easy thing. If any of you are thinking about becoming civil engineers, this where this skill is in most need! But I’m curious to get your thoughts of Istanbul: What was some of the sights you enjoyed seeing/reading about?

Next week: We’ll be talking about food and customs!

Also, instead of a photo of the week, I’ll give you guys a video. This is a view from my apartment building look at the new Levent district during the call to prayer. While in many cities in the US and other countries, we may have church bells to mark the hour. In most islamic countries, there are Ezan –call to prayer. This happens 5 times each day from each mosque, as a kind of gentle (but loud!) reminder for people to pray in accordance with islamic tradition. You can hear several different chants in this video, and they are almost like waves, rolling over each other. Enjoy!


58 thoughts on “Ancient Sites and New Editions”

  1. I mostly enjoyed reading about Hagia Sophia because of the color and vastness of the room that many groups had taken over over the years.

  2. I enjoyed reading about the Topkapi Palace. I think the picture is a beautiful view and a beautiful building. It is also interesting how it was the main Ottomon palace.

  3. I relly liked listenng t the all to prayer video and I thought the Haga Sophia pictures were amazing! I cant wait for your next post on the food and costoms of Isanbul! I was wndering ifyou cou post some recipes? Thanks!

  4. i think that the greeks and the ottomans built great buildings, and i would love to go there someday. i really like large open buildings, especially along the river or waterway. Hagia Sophia means, Holy Wisdom

    1. Nathaniel
      You are absolutely right! In greek, the church was built to honor the “wisdom” of religion (those good ol greeks appreciate their knowledge and philosophy).

  5. I think that Istanbul’s history is just as (if not more) amazing and important as its current events. The Tokapi Palace is huge and still standing despite being centuries old! Istanbul continues to amaze me.

  6. Hello, I thought that the most interesting place to look at and think about was the sunken palace, because in the picture, it seems like only a very skilled architect could have thought of making a building so grand!

    1. Breanna,
      I agree, the Cistern was pretty amazing.. have you ever heard of the Blarney stone in Ireland? You are supposed to kiss it for good luck..well there is something similar in the sunken palace. In one of the stone pillars, there is a hole that you stick a thumb into and if it comes out wet (eww btw), you are supposed to have a blessing of some kind. I could not find it myself blessings for me I guess!

  7. My favorite place to look at was the Hagia Sophia because it is massive and most of it is covered in carvings or paintings. Its amazing how much work must have gone into it!

  8. I thought that the Hagia Sophia was really interesting. It’s especially interesting how many different cultures left some sort of mark on the Hagia Sophia. It’s also interesting how Muslims left geometric art, and Christians left more religious art. The sunken palace was also interesting. I find it hard to believe how the sunken palace is now being used as part of traffic.

  9. The Topkapi Palace was interesting because it actually (as you already said) is its very own city. It seems like it has everything needed to make it a nice and comfortable place to live. Just to clarify, there is CURRENTLY an imperial family living there? Does that mean that Istanbul still has some slaves working for the royal family?
    Thanks! I can’t wait to learn about the food!

    1. Joy
      Glad you enjoyed the post! There is not an imperial family living there anymore, the last sultan lived there just before Ataturk made the Republic, so now all the palaces have been converted into museums. Bring your appetite for next week!

  10. I really liked the pictures and description of the Valens Aquaduct and the Cistern as played such an important role in every day life. I think that it would be a really worthwhile place to visit.

  11. I liked how they left the aqueduct in the middle of the road. I also liked watching the Prayer video. Is the big chunk of forested land across from your hotel a cemetery or what? I LOVE Turkish food and I can’t wait to hear about it.

    1. Max
      Good eye! Across from my apartment complex is an enormous cemetery. When I first looked at it on Google maps, it showed a large green space, so I thought “wow cool, there’s a huge park there..!” whaamwhamwhaaam…

  12. Wow! The Hagia Sophia was really cool! It’s really interesting to see the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque sandwiching an industrial area, which sort of blends two time periods. I really like the blend of different influences on the Hagia Sophia. All of it was really beautiful, though.

    1. Atle
      I don’t think I myself have seen one building/location go through so much change over time and still have the chance to see it all in one view, it really was amazing! Glad to hear that you liked it also!

  13. I thought the video of the call to prayer was impressive. (plus it was funny to watch my brother come running thinking it was a cool video then slink off in disappointment.) It was one of those amazing moments where you just sit there starring at the computer screen. Why can’t we have that in the U.S? I don’t know what Turkish food is like, so I am exited to learn about it.

    1. Hannah,
      Honestly, hearing the call to prayer becomes such a common place in life after a while, I know already that I will miss it when I come back to Portland.
      Also, I have a younger brother also, they are only entertained for a short period sometimes 😉

  14. I liked the 5th and 6th pictures. I couldn’t tell if they were part of the Hagia Sophia, but I liked them because I love the combination of black and gold and I like the geometric designs. I cant wait to see theTurkish food. And next time make sure to post a cat photo! 🙂

  15. I like the Cistern because . . . Well, for lots of reasons. It reminds me of home. No, not our overrated USA. I’m talking about my other, real home. But I’m not going to get into that. It just seemed so serene. A peaceful place. And the luminescence of the lanterns was – Wow. I wish I could see that in person.

    1. Linh
      If it weren’t for the throngs of tourists there, it would indeed be a serene place. There’s a couple of corners in the Cistern where you can hear individual drops of water falling to the floor… if you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend it!

  16. I thought it was interesting that in the video, there was a large forested cemetery, an area of red-roofed houses to the left, and skyscrapers and other commercial buildings in the distance. It seemed like each area was clearly defined. I like the Hagia Sophia because I thought it was interesting that in some Islamic traditions, there was more stress on geometric shapes and architecture, rather than the numerous religious works of art.

    1. Caroline,
      I thought the video was a good way to contrast the different worlds of the city, glad that you enjoyed it! I will try and find some more examples of art and architecture to display here! Thanks for the comment

  17. The Hagia Sophia is so beautiful! And it holds so much history I hope I can get the chance to visit it someday, the mosaics and calligraphy are amazing I wonder how long it took to build it and then over the years decorating it,because I read that it took around 50-200 years to build cathedrals in medieval times. I find the athan beautiful because I have listened to it many times and I always find it very calming. Also the Topkapi Pakase looks HUGE like a whole city. Although Istanbul is a beautiful and flourishing city in many aspects there has to be a solution to the problem with the Syrian refuges and the poorer areas maybe build more permanent homes for the refuges. Cant wait until next weeks post! thanks.
    (include pictures of cats:p)

    1. I enjoyed reading about the Hagia Sophia.I like huge structures and cathedrals, and we are learning about them in class, along with how the church influenced Medieval Europe. How did Christianity spread to Istanbul. How does church impact modern life in Istanbul?

      1. Lux, shortly after the time christianity took off, Asia Minor (Turkey) was still an important crossroads to the ancient world. Trade, ideas, and peoples were always coming through here, and religion was no exception!

  18. I liked reading about the Valens Aqueduct because it showed that there was technological advancement in ancient times, even though it seems like there wasn’t really that much advancement and there is a lot more now like with smartphones and things like that.

    1. Domninic,
      It’s an interesting topic that you bring up. When we hear about things like “Globalization”, we think of a very new and modern concept. But in actuality, it’s the ability to exchange goods, ideas, and people’s interconnectivity in general. So this was even happening in the times of Romans (think of all the architecture that spread around Europe, the Middle East, and Asia) or during colonization of the new worlds (europe bringing it’s ideals and peoples to the americas/asia). The big difference is thanks to technology, this is happening on a much quicker and larger scale now. Good observation

  19. I really liked reading about the Hagia Sophia and the Valens Aqueduct. It’s interesting how the contrast of old monuments and newer structures really impacts Istanbul. I liked the prayer video, too; is Christianity still in Istanbul or is it mostly Islamic?

    1. Evan,
      Turkey itself is about 98% muslim…BUT.. there are many different types of islam that is practiced here. As for other religions, during the Ottoman Empire, there was actually large amounts of Jews and Christians here. They were allowed to live here and be citizens by paying a small tax to the government, because the Empire understood that they brought a lot of trade and business = good news for them. Since the republic was established 90 years ago, there has been a steady decline in Christians and Jews, but there is still a presence here.

  20. Why are all your posts reminding me of “pearls before swine” comics? This time it’s one of the characters blowing a smoke shape of Hagia Sophia. I liked that photo of the McDonalds delivery motorcycle, too. Also: no cat photos this week? 😦

  21. I thought the Valens aqueduct was really cool because it was really advanced for the time and it was decorated really beautifully. I also liked leaning about the city and how the ancient architecture is part of the city’s structure and they have decided to keep it a part of the culture.

  22. I thought that the food cart was cool, probably because eating is one of my favorite hobbies. Did you ever see the cats again

  23. I thought the fact that some of these buildings have lasted along time. I know these building have been id several wars. It is also amazing that the Hagia Sophia was built in Justinian times. I also like that some of the buildings in Istanbul are used in movies.

  24. I love the architecture in Turkey, it’s amazing! I agree with Susan about the aqueduct that it does seem really advanced for its time but I think it’s really cool that they thought to make it and did manage to make it. It’s so cool to be able to see all of these things happening around the world that I never even thought much about and all of these things we take for granted now were hard to come by back then.

  25. I enjoyed reading about the Topkapi Palace because the towers are really beautiful and there is lots of history inside the buildings.

  26. I thought the Hagia Sophia was really cool because it was influenced by so many different cultures and it is SO beautiful especially the ancient mosaics and its SOOOOOO HUGE!!!!!!

  27. I really liked reading about the Hagia Sophia. Grand buildings are really interesting to me. Did you take that photograph? It’s a really good one. I find it really interesting how the new and the old architecture both impact the feeling Istanbul.

  28. Some of the sights I enjoyed reading and seeing were the Hagia Sophia and the Valens Aqueduct. My first impression upon seeing the picture of the interior of the Hagia Sophia was that it was so big! The tourists wandering around on the ground provided a good comparison of the size of the Hagia Sophia. I found the Valens Aqueduct interesting because it is rather like the old architecture mixing in with the new.

  29. I really liked reading about all of the different architecture and I clicked on the link and the sound hurt my ears like literally hurt but it was interesting and cool

  30. for a while i thought of becoming a civil engineer, so i found the last comment pretty interesting. i’m with Maura, i want to know if you ever saw the cats again.

  31. It’s really cool to see, even in pictures, how old and beautiful those buildings are. Next time can you write a little more about the Cistern? It was interesting to hear that they call it the Sunken Palace.

  32. i think its funny that there are so many old and new things right next to each other in Istanbul, like the food carts and the fast food place. what is the food like there?

  33. I really thought that all of it was cool. I think that it would be very interesting to live in a city with so much cool architecture. I just cant decide which one is my favorite.

  34. OK, those pictures of Hagia Sophia look absolutely amazing. When I was in Istanbul, I had the bad luck to be there on the only day that it was closed. My luck. But it is also amazing to see a mix of business and rural life, the contrast is huge. I will definitely look more into the landmarks there, they look AMAZING!

  35. I thought the Topkapi Palace and The Valens aqueduct were very cool because I thought the decorations were much more interesting. Hagia Sophia reminded me of a basilica that I saw in Slovenia. The place that I went had a lot of jewels in the mosaics and also a lot of gold leaf. Also I can’t wait for more cat photos, I have two cats at home!

  36. Awesome! I can’t wait to hear about food. My favorite thing that you talked about was the Hagia Sophia. It’s great to see that there are a lot of ancient structures that haven’t been destroyed.

  37. I found the Topkapı very interesting, I can tell already Turkey is very well known for very architecture. Also I like how the Topkapı is sort of a city itself consisting of homes, gardens and libraries. Why did they decide to make this Palace was it ordered to be made by someone deserving of it? What store is behind it?

  38. I love the pictures of Hagia Sophia, when I was in Istanbul it was closed for our only day there, but we could still see the amazing site from far away. I hope I get to visit it again, it would be worth the chance to get to see the huge monument. Just my luck that it happens to be closed when I went, which was on a Monday and the tour guide says every other Monday it is closed, one out of fourteen days we had to be there

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