The Hagia Sophia
There is a moment that one experiences inside the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, Turkey, where nothing else matters, only the realisation that you can be peaceful inside a magnificent monument despite being surrounded by hundreds of others who are also experiencing their own moments of spirituality/peace. Constructed as a church, later converted into a mosque to a museum and back to a mosque, the Hagia Sophia is a treasure trove for historic nuggets.
The magnificient Hagia Sophia
The building has seen several iterations including the addition of minarets, and the impression it leaves on any visitor is indescribable and long-lasting. It is this impression that deserves all the attention, even when your guide takes you around highlighting the essential and important aspects. It would be an understatement to say that any trip to Turkey would be incomplete without a visit to the Hagia Sophia.
Cruises docked at the Galata Port
There are, however, other nuggets that warrant equal attention if not more, to try to fully absorb the culture and history of the beautiful country, for one can only try. I was lucky to be in Istanbul when the Beyoglu Culture Route Festival was on, and attend a few events that helped with this understanding.
The Opera Hall at the Ataturk Cultural Center
The lively opening ceremony held at the new-restored Ataturk Cultural Center opened the doors for more – art exhibitions, fluid and thoughtful installations and the breath-taking presentation by the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet. The opera in question – Bizet’s Carmen –was performed live by Turkish artists in French, and was nothing short of spectacular, replete with live music, operatic singing and full drama.
The Galata Tower
If the nights were reserved for such musical experiences, the day took me to a host of new ones, besides spending time at the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, both of which are a must for the walking and more importantly, haggling experience!
The Galata Tower and a view from the window
The unmissable Galata Tower (that houses the Galata Kulesi Museum), located on the European side, was built as a watchtower, which today offers unparalleled views of the city, including the port, the bay, the bridges, the flowing Bosphorous sea and the city dotted with all its historic monuments. A short climb of six floors (there are elevators) takes one to the top two floors – one that offers a 360-degree clear view, and the other that has open balconies for you to stand and soak in the vibe, the sun, and the sounds, while having the wind blowing your hair. The tower, near the port is surrounded by eateries of all kinds, for one to enjoy a taste of local cuisine.
The nostalgia tram on Istiklal Street
Across from the tower is one of the most vibrant streets of the city, Isitklal Street, that is alive with chatter, colour, sights, smells and sounds.
Ride on a Vespa, anyone? Istiklal Street
Sweet meat shops selling their fresh ware, old time shopkeepers soliciting customers to come take a look at the trinkets and souvenirs on display, the nostalgic bright red tram ferrying enthusiastic passengers up and down the street, vendors transporting trays of steaming cups of Turkish tea to everyday drinkers, women haggling for a good bargain… you will find it all here!
Street musician and shoe shine person, Istiklal Street
Nestled away in a corner of this street is the Galata Mevlevi House, which is now a museum, that served as a lodge for the travelling Sufi dervishes of the Mawlawi order founded by Rumi.
A performance by the dervishes, courtesy Galata Mevlevi House
The lodge is a glimpse into the lives of the dervishes, their meditation and lifestyle apart from the pillars of living well. The day I visited, the modern-day counterparts were performing as part of the festival, and it was that unified chant that inspired me to look inwards rather than outward.
The Stanley Kubrik Exhibit at Atlas Cinema Museum
A lot more to explore, I was soon inside the Atlas Cinema Museum visiting the travelling Stanley Kubrick Exhibit that is on display there until March 2023. Curating experiences and items from renowned filmmaker Kubrick’s life, the exhibit takes you through each of Kubrick’s films apart from his life, his thoughts, working process and more. It is an insight into the filmmaker’s mind like never before, open to anyone who is interested!
The Pera Museum
A little away, at the Pera Museum, I came across what they term as the Mona Lisa of Turkey – artist and painter Osman Hamdi’s The Tortoise Trainer. Hamdi, a well-known Turkish artist was known for his self portraits, and this one was inspired by an Asian article he read about a tortoise trainer. It is one of his most popular works.
Artist Osman Hamdi's The Tortoise Trainer
I could not get over the ceramic wing, the tiny pieces every so cute, inspiring and unique! From tea and coffee cups to plates and ashtrays, they had it all.
Ceramic pieces of old times at the Pera Museum. Can you guess what the one on the right is?
You can get lost, literally perhaps, on the streets of Istanbul, and yet find yourself in your thoughts. The walks are introspective, enabling you to draw parallels with our own culture and civilisations, apart from comparing one of the most important travel aspects – food!
Food galore, all washed down with tea
While we are all used to having mezze platters, meal courses in Turkey are something else! Salad, cold mezze, hot starters, mains, and dessert! And of course can anything be complete without the golden liquid used down to wash everything – sweet Turkish tea? Go, find out for yourself, for this is one of the best times to go there!