After a fantastic visit to Istanbul about 6 months ago, I wanted to return with my family, to get them to enjoy my favourite city as well. The chance came over the Easter holiday in April, when we took a week-long trip to the Bosphorus. While September was not a bad time for my last visit, April offered a different view — it was cooler and cloudier, but other benefits more than made up for it.
Our first stop was Topkapi Palace on a warm and sunny day.
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
We visited the Istanbul Archaeological Museums next to Topkapi Palace. If you’re a history buff, it is a must-see place (it is actually a complex of several museums, all fascinating). The ancient artifacts in the main building are just stunning. The intricacy of detail, the level of preservation, and the sheer sizes of many of the pieces from 600 – 200 BCE are just wondrous to behold. The centerpiece, which is the Alexander Sarcophagus is truly astonishing.
The Troy exhibit was particularly fascinating, as it displayed artifacts and the history of each of the nine layers of Troy, from 3,000 BCE to 500 CE. Another highlight was the Treaty of Kadesh, the oldest known peace treaty in the world (between Ramesses II of Egypt and Hattusili III of the Hittite Empire) from 1,258 BCE (after the Battle of Kadesh).
I could spend days and months studying all the pieces, but had to do with only a few hours.
Mosques and churches
We visited the usual suspects, the Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, etc. The Hagia Sophia was just as spectacular and impressive as before — it is almost impossible not to feel the weight of history inside the cavernous hall. Despite the destructive nature and mutual animosity of most organized religions towards each other, it is heartening to see this magnificent place that started out as a Christian church, then converted to a Muslim mosque, and now converted to a secular museum (with many of the Christian mosaics that were covered up during the mosque conversion being restored now).
A second visit to Sultanahmet didn’t change my impression from the first trip — gorgeous on the outside, so-so on the inside. Granted, the intricate designs on the thousands of tiles are impressive, but they don’t do much for me. The courtyard is way more interesting to me.
Suleymaniye Mosque was more interesting to me — felt like it had more intricate design and artwork to appreciate.
One interesting site just outside Suleymaniye is the tomb of Mimar Sinan, the chief Ottoman architect responsible for the classical Ottoman architecture seen in much of Istanbul and Turkey.
As part of our random explorations, we also visited some of the smaller sites around Old Town, like Little Hagia Sophia and Sokollu Mehmet Pasha mosques.
Galata Tower was definitely high on the list. Despite it being a cloudy day, the views were still pretty good. And perhaps because of the clouds, the crowds were quite light.
The highlight of the trip, however, were the tulips, especially at Gulhane Park. I did not know it before, but tulips were originally cultivated in Turkey, and every April, the city is awash in their bright colours.
A short trip up the Bosphorus to Rumeli Hisari and back was definitely worth it.
We hit most of the other usual suspects…