Peaceful Boats and Crazy Bazaars
30 September 2023
Emperor Constantine’s most lasting accomplishment was the establishment of Constantinople. This act shifted Roman power eastward making the city a center of Greek culture and Christianity. On 11 May 330, Constantinople was named to honor Constantine.
Constantine, and his successors, knew they were creating something special. But did these founders realize just how magnificent a city Constantinople would become? Sixteen centuries later, Istanbul remains one of the most historic, beautiful and interesting cities in the world.
Settled as early as the 660 BCE, Constantine recognized when it came to real estate, the three most important considerations were “location, location, location.”
He developed Constantinople into a thriving, significant port thanks to its prime spot on the Bosphorus Strait connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the waters of the Mediterranean. Located between East and West, Asia and Europe, Constantine could not have found a better location.
The Topkapi Palace acted as the residence of Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. Open for visitors are the Treasury, Sacred Relics, Chamber of the Mantle of the Prophet, library, and multiple Harem rooms and Sultan’s rooms. The sultan was able to enjoy fantastic views from the gardens overlooking the busy Bosphorus.
While I have visited Topkapi before, it was not with an archeologist. The explanations and historical connections make a huge difference in the understanding of a time and place. Our introduction to the Sultan’s palace is accompanied by waves of rolling thunder and a bit of rain.
Boat the Bosporus
The weather is perfect. The sun is shining and waters are calm. The Bosphorus is busy and traffic is a mix of commercial ships, ferries, cruise boats, and recreational vessels.
A multitude of countries use this major waterway. The Strait’s strategic importance as a commercial and military waterway cannot be underestimated. The Bosphorus is the only way for Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia and Ukraine to reach the Mediterranean with their oil and grain.
Presently, Turkey receives no tolls from ships passing through their city. However, Turkey does levy fees on freight tonnage. Mega-ships must pre-book their passage. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military has broad powers over the Strait. Probably one of the reasons everyone wants to “play nice” with President Erdoğan.
In 2011, Turkey proposed building a 31-mile canal west of the Bosphorus. They claimed it would reduce the risk of an oil tanker or other mega cargo ship blocking this critical passage. As yet, nothing has been done. The proposal appears to be strongly opposed by the citizens.
Many small ships will cruise around the waters of the Bosporus. We board one near the village of Ortakoy, just a few miles northeast of Galata Bridge. Our leisurely cruise sails along the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. This stretch of sea coast is lined with old Ottoman mansions, castle walls and forts, mosques and gardens. It is a wonderful way to end a busy day in Istanbul.
Markets – Heaven or Hell?
It seems one can hardly go to Turkey and not visit the markets. There are several in every village, city, and megalopolis. Istanbul’s are no exception. Find the good photo opps but little else. The degree of “hard sell” depends upon the country and culture. In Turkey, the close you get to the Grand Bazaar, the harder it gets.
I have walked numerous “Grand Bazaars” and most, in my opinion, are unpleasant. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is no different. While travel brochures describe it as vibrant and bustling, I experience it as loud, chaotic and hard-sell. It is anathema for lookie-loos. One cannot pause to appreciate crafts or wares without traders descending like ducks on bugs. I abhor bargaining and loathe trying to politely convince traders that I don’t want it, have no need for it, have no intention of carrying it home. Colorful textiles, big rugs, shimmering jewelry, sparkling lights – want none of it. “An unforgettable sensory experience” indeed. Give me a key chain and I am done shopping.
Much more to my liking is Istanbul’s Spice Market, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar. It is a sensory paradise. Creating a symphony of scents are romatic spices, dried fruits, nuts, and teas. Vibrant colors and intricate displays adorn the stalls, offering visual pleasure and photo opportunities. Bustling with locals shopping for their kitchen, it’s a lively hub where ancient traditions meet modern indulgence.
The Reputation of Cats
Istanbul has perhaps the nicest cats in the world. They must apprentice at Charm School before taking to the streets. Cats are everywhere and all look well-groomed, are polite, talkative and proud of their city. Found around all the restaurants, there are strict rules of begging. If one should dare jump on a table, immediately the cat would be disbarred from public access. They are remarkably multilingual and appreciative of their guests’ attentions.
Not only the cats but the people of Istanbul are the most helpful and genuinely kind people I have had the experience of visiting. Unasked, people displayed a thoughtfulness I have not experienced on the road. Yes, it still seems most gentlemen in the street own a carpet shop, but at least they are gentlemen. Istanbul is indeed a great place to be.
Super moon and Departure
It is full Moon, made even more special as it is also a Supermoon because the Moon is at the nearest point in its orbit of Earth during the full Moon. As it peaks out from clouds and shines across the Bosporus, it creates a magical scene in a mystical city. Istanbul is as quiet as it will ever get; a call to prayer is somewhere over the city.
Great way to close my Turkey trot across Asia Minor.