The Topkapi Palace is the biggest and one of the most popular sites to visit in Istanbul. It was built in between 1466 and 1478 by the sultan Mehmet II on top of a hill in a small peninsula, dominating the Golden Horn to the north, the Sea of Marmara to the south, and the Bosphorus strait to the north east, with great views of the Asian side as well. The palace was the political center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, until they built Dolmabahce Palace by the waterside. The palace was opened to the public as a museum in 1924 by the order of Ataturk. The Istanbul Archaeology Museum consists of three museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Tiled Pavilion Museum or Museum of Islamic Art. The three museums house over one million objects that represent almost all the eras and civilisations in world history. As part of the core collection, on the second floor, they have spectacular collection of Greco-Roman sculpture from the 6th century BCE to the 2nd century CE. Since almost all the important eras of sculpture in this time period were on display, I have compiled a history of Greek and Roman Sculpture.
Every photographer loves the golden hour, that special time between dusk and dark. Sunsets can be spectacular, unusual and surreal. Since I just got back from Page Arizona to photograph the natural beauty of the area, including of course Horseshoe Bend at sunset, I have decided to collect a few of my favorite sunsets from around the world. Not all sunsets depend on color to make them spectacular, although Horseshoe Bend might be the exception. Often it is the subtle interplay of light and dark, the delicate colors rather than flashy vibrance and it is always about that soft light that fills our senses as the embers of the day play out.
Istanbul is much like Paris when it comes to restaurants, there are really good cafés on nearly every block. However, there are always a few restaurants that are special, often because of location or amazing food. Rarely, there is a restaurant that has both, like Sunset Grill and Bar in Istanbul boasting stunning views of asian Istanbul, the Bosphorus and sunsets in the heart of city, on the hills of affluent Ulus. This restaurant was suggested by my friend David and I am so pleased I took his recommendation. I was staying in the Sultanahmet or old city and with traffic it took only about 30 minutes to get there, well worth the effort. Istanbul’s first restaurant to add a sushi bar (in 2000), Sunset Grill & Bar isn't just any upscale restaurant in the city. The restaurant grows its own herbs in the garden, produces wines in its vineyard in Bozcaada and has Turkey’s most precious wine collection in its possession. They are open Monday-Saturday from noon to 3:00pm for lunch and daily from 7:00pm to midnight for dinner.
On the walk back from the Balıkçı Sabahattin restaurant, behind the Sultan Ahmed/Sultanahmet Square, Sultanahmet Meydanı, Blue and Sophia Mosque, I decided to take night walk pictures of the neighborhood. Every location changes at night, the landmarks change, the imperfections are hidden by the darkness. I have decided to make night walk photos a regular part of the blog, to help you, the reader, have a more complete vision of the locations I cover. No names, no extra verbiage, just a stroll though the neighborhood.
While we were in Istanbul, a friend who lives there invited us out to eat at his favorite seafood restaurant. Balıkçı Sabahattin is housed in a wonderfully restored Ottoman mansion constructed in 1927, nestled behind Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque on a quiet side street in the Sultanahmet. It started off more than 40 years ago as a small fish shack and has since developed a reputation as one of Istanbul’s top seafood restaurants, popular among both Turks and foreigners. It is still a family-run business, handed down from the original owner Fisherman Sabahattin. The space is decorated with colorful kilims and plants, giving the impression of dining in a cheerful family dining room. A delicious range of cold and warm starters, salads, and fish are available, to be rounded off with light deserts and drinks. The menu leans more towards seafood than fish – octopus, mussels, prawns, and calamari are served alongside a select range of fish, which are priced by weight.
We decided to visit the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı), one of two open to the public out of hundreds of cisterns in Istanbul. Most large, important Byzantine buildings provided for storage of water beneath them. The entrance to the Basilica Cistern of Istanbul is across the street from the Haghia Sophia, opposite the yellow building of the Tourist Police in Sultanahmet. This immense underground water container was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I in 532 to meet the water needs of the Great Palace. The name of this subterranean structure derives from a large public square on the First Hill of Constantinople, the Stoa Basilica, beneath which it was originally constructed. Before being converted to a cistern, a great Basilica stood in its place, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries during the Early Roman Age as a commercial, legal, and artistic center. The basilica was reconstructed by Illus after a fire in 476. After cleaning and restoring the Basilica Cistern, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality opened it to the public in 1987. After descending into the underground water facility via a flight of stairs, you can take a stroll on the concrete walkways, enjoying the subdued lighting, the mysterious and beautiful forest of columns in the semi-darkness and the cool temperatures.
There is no place that reflects the mystery and charm of Istanbul more than the Kybele Hotel. It is a jewel box filled with treasures. Created piece by piece by its owners, its rooms are filled with genuine antiques and artwork collected over many years. From the handmade carpets covering its floors, to the hundreds of unique lamps hanging from its ceilings, the atmosphere will warm and enchant you. The reason this hotel is presented here has to do with location and value. If you visit Istanbul as a tourist, you want a location in the old city or Sultanahmet, where most of the sights are located. While there are more expensive and opulent options are are available (like the Hagia Sophia Hotel), the Kybele hotel is affordable, fun and in an excellent location. This is not to say that it is a perfect match for everyone. The rooms are small by American standards and there is no room service. Nonetheless, for the money, there is no better choice than the Kylebe Hotel.
After lunch at Pandeli, we went down the stairs to see and smell the Spice Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar (Turkish: Mısır Çarşısı, meaning Egyptian Bazaar) in Istanbul, Turkey is one of the largest bazaars in the city. Located in the Eminönü quarter of the Fatih district, it is the second largest covered shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar. There are several documents suggesting the name of the bazaar was first “New Bazaar”. The building was endowed to the foundation of the New Mosque, and got its name “Egyptian Bazaar” because it was built with the revenues from the Ottoman eyalet of Egypt in 1660. The building itself is part of the külliye (complex) of the New Mosque. The revenues obtained from the rented shops inside the bazaar building were used for the upkeep of the mosque.
To eat at Pandeli is like taking a step back in time. Pandeli first opened his restaurant in Eminonu in 1901. Pandeli Restaurant has roots that go back to 1901 when it was established by Pandeli ÇobanoğLu, a Greek who had emigrated to Turkey. The resturant is listed in 20 Best Food Cities by “Food and Wine” with their selective Turkish cuisine, shimmering Iznik tiles of the 17th century and scenery of Golden horn, Egyptian Bazaar and Galata Bridge. The restaurant is located on the upper level of the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and has been visited by governors and men of letters, politicians, journalists and artists but mostly gourmets. The full scale restaurant of the same name is now located on the second floor of the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. Ottoman stone and turquoise tiles adorn the walls and floor as they did hundreds of years ago when it was a Turkish bathhouse; the views of the Golden Horn from the windows and the calls to prayer from the mosques nearby; and the sights and smells of the Spice Bazaar outside make the atmosphere here almost magical. Almost 70 different dishes grace the menu, including chicken, fish, and meat. Lunch at Pandeli's is a must for anyone traveling to Istanbul.
For coffee one morning, we decided to stop at the Yeşil Ev. It is a rebuilt mansion of an Ottoman grandee, set on the edge of a small park that separates the Hagia Sophia from the Blue Mosque, right behind the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Bath. During the Ottoman period that lasted until the middle of the 19th century, the Sultanahmet district gradually became covered with the mansions of the various dignitaries. One of these mansions, Yesil Ev, was built by an Ottoman Grandee; Reji Naziri Sukru Bey, the Minister of the Ottoman Tobacco Monopoly in late 19th Century. The mansion was used by the family until 1970, then left behind into a state of neglect and dilapidation. The original wooden house was in terminal dereliction when it was acquired and lovingly restored by the Touring and Automobile Club of Turkey under the leadership of Mr Celik Gulersoy. The late-Ottoman interior was reproduced in grand style, with tasseled velvet curtains, brass bedsteads, chandeliers and gilded period chairs. A genuine Turkish bath was built into the sumptuous Pasha's Room (no. 31).