Istanbul, At the Very First Day
I was exhausted, sweating and near to death due to anxiety of missing the flight, when I finally arrived at Ndjili International Airport. It was raining, causing some floods in many areas of Kinshasa and gave me the most horrible traffic jam ever. I was stuck on the road for almost four hours. Lucky me, my flight was delayed for almost two hours. I presumed that it has something to do with that terrific traffic jam when there are a lot of passengers (perhapss all) were stuck on the road. Even, after having a little argument with check in staff, she questioned my visa to Turkey which I told her five times that I could get Visa on Arrival in Istanbul, I still couldn’t believe that at the end of the day, I had the boarding pass in my hand. I left Kinshasa and flew to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, known as the best airlines in Europe. It took 7 hours journey before our aircraft landed smoothly at Attaturk International Airport at 07.45 am.
I went out from arrival gate, tried to find somebody from my hotel to bring me there. Since it was my first visit in Istanbul, to avoid another headache (I had enough on my trip from Kinshasa to Ndjili Airport), I requested my hotel to arrange transportation for me. That’s him. A young good looking man, standing over there with a big paper with my name on it. Beside me, there were two other passengers that would join me to the city.
Istanbul was always on my bucket list. I always dreamt to visit the city which is popular with its rich culture and history. Its strategic location connecting east and west made it as the only city located in two continents, Europe and Asia all at once. I read a lot about Istanbul through some books, the Historian, for example, and one subject namely “Religious Architecture’ when I was in university. Not once, my professor talked about Istanbul, mentioned some wonderful building decorating the city, particularly Hagia Sophia that became a holy house for two biggest religions in the world. Then, I kept my dream on, worked for it, and finally made it.
During my stay in Istanbul, I chose to stay in Sultanahmet neighborhood, an old town of Istanbul situated in European side. The area has small streets covered with cobblestone with old buildings on left and the right side. Most of tourist attraction such as Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazar and many more located in this area. I was staying at Modern Sultan Hotel requiring only five minutes walking to Hagia Sophia.
After doing my check in at the hotel, I got rest for two hours (the staff let me entering my room earlier). I went to Blue Mosque or also called as Sultanahmet Mosque for my first visit afterwards. As one of the most famous attractions in Istanbul, It was hard to find Blue Mosque without abundant tourist coming from all over the world. There was no entrance fee. Visitors could visit the mosque the whole day, except when pray is conducted inside the mosque. Shoes are not allowed, however, there are some plastic bags available at entrance gate and I could bring my shoes with me while mesmerizing the mosque.
Blue mosque was built in 1609 to 1616 during the rule of Sultan Ahmet I and considered as the last mosque of the classical period. No blue color dominated the mosque, if you see it from outside. Nontheless, once you enter the mosque you’ll be amazed with blue color decorated the walls. The mosaic, the walls, the windows and calligraphy taken from Quran are using blue color. The mosque incorporates some Byzantine elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic Architecture.
Entering blue mosque, if you are a woman, you have to cover yourself. Scarf and long skirts are provided in the entrance. Short pants are also not allowed for men. I amazed the beauty of the mosque for one hour until Mehmet, a Turkish friend, came to meet me.
After visiting Blue Mosque, Mehmet took me around the city and passed many historical sites along the way, including the famous Hagia Sophia that’s only separated by big plaza with Blue Mosque. I postponed my visit to Hagia Sophia, since it will consume more time to wander inside. We walked straight, and found Hippodrome of Constantinople which became sporting and social center of Byzantine life over 1000 years. Across the plaza, there is German Fountain, a gazebo styled fountain that was constructed to commemorate the second anniversary of German Emperor Wilhelm II’s visit to Istanbul in 1898.
We kept walking, and again, I discovered another column with iron wire winding on it. Lately, I found that it’s known as Column of Constantine. Mehmet told me that the column is also known as the Burnt Stone or Burnt Pillar, a Roman monumental column constructed on the order of Constantine the Great in 330 AD.
Not far from Burnt Stone, regally standing Nurosmaniye Mosque, another Ottoman mosque constructed using Baroque architectural style, under the rule of Sultan Mahmut I in 1748. The mosque was completed by his brother Sultan Osman III in 1755, where the mosque was named after him. Compared to Blue Mosque which is full of visitors, Nurosmaniye Mosque tended to calmer and quiter. When we were there, there were only some local visitors praying inside.
We walked again and again, until we reached Istanbul University but did not manage to get inside. Our purpose was to visit the famous Suleymaniye Mosque, which is also located in the neighborhood. It’s not only known as one of the best sights in Istanbul but also known as the largest Mosque in Istanbul.
The Suleymaniye Mosque was built on the order of Sultan Suleyman (Suleyman the magnificent) and designed by the most famous Turkish architect in history, Mimar Sinan. It’s blended Byzantine and Islamic architectural elements. It combines minarets and large domed in the middle. At the time it was built, the dome was the highest in the Ottoman Empire. The tombs of Sultan Suleyman, his wife Hurrem Sultan and architect Mimar Sinan laid there. The mosque is opened from 09 am to 6pm, but closed during prayer times.
Walking in Sultanahmet was like traveling with the time machine. I felt like thrown to hundred years back while passing Ottoman wooden houses, old mosques, bazars and many more. It was exciting and exhausted day. Big thanks to Mehmet for taking me around. At the end of the day, we went to Suleymaniye bazar where I could enjoy the local cuisine and most of customers are locals too. Mehmet treat me a late lunch and I tried Kuru Fasulye, a stewed bean dish for the very first time.