On the 17th August 2008 I took Turkish Airlines flight TK 1794 departing Arlanda Airport at 2.10 p.m. and arrived at Ataturk International Airport, Istambul at 6.35 p.m. There was no connecting flight to New Delhi that day so the Turkish Airlines arranged for my accommodation. Accordingly, I was transported to Hotel Grand Yarvuz, supposed to be a four star hotel, located near shores of Marmara Sea. After putting my luggage I went out to see areas around Sultan Ahmet.  Adjacent to the Blue Mosque a sufi musical programme was being performed. It was late night when I returned to the hotel.

Due to its geographical location, Istanbul has always been a settlement area from pre-historical times to present days. The city bears the characteristics of being capital city of two great empires like Byzantium and Ottoman. During 17th and 18th century the Ottoman Empire encompassed large areas of Europe and Asia. The Crimean war was fought during 1853 to 1856 to rescue Turkey, called ‘Sick man of Europe’. At the turn of 20th century nationalistic aspirations of people of several regions led to their independence. After World War One Turkey became a republic in 1923. The capital was shifted to Ankara.

On 18th August 2008 after breakfast I telephoned Turkish Airlines office in New Delhi. They agreed to my request to extend myreturn travel from 18th to 20th August as I was travelling in full fare business class. I checked out of the hotel after paying US dollar 10 for telephone call to Turkish Airlines, New Delhi.

I checked-in in another nearby hotel Sun Light at Euro forty per night. That arrangement was on my own. I checked up various options of sightseeing of Istanbul. She Tours are famous daily city tours operators. I chose tour no.3 comprising of Byzantian and Ottoman Relics. As the tour started at 9 am morning and I booked my seat for the tour few minutes late I was rushed to the tour group by car. That included visits to St. Sophia (Hagia Sophia), Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet) Hippodrome, Grand Covered Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Suleymaniye Mosque. It also visioned during the tours Aquaduct of Valens, Obelisk of the Theodosius, Serpentine Column, German Fountain of Wilhem II, Galata Bridge and Golden Horn. As it was a Monday, St. Sophia (Museum) was closed from inside. The visit was replaced with underground cistern.

I visited the place of MEHMED – The Conqueror -Fatih Sultan Mehmed (1432 – 1481).  He was born in Edirne, the then capital city of the Ottoman Empire state. His father was Sultan Murad II (1404 – 51). At the age of 21, he conquered Constantinople, bringing an end to the medieval Byzantine Empire. He also claimed the title of Caesar of Rome (Kayser-i- Rum) in addition to his other titles, Ottoman Sultan and Caliph, after the conquest of Constantinople. Mehmed II’s reign is also well-known for the religious tolerance with which he treated his subjects, especially among the conquered Christians, which was very unusual for Europe in the Middle Ages.

I visited the Hagia Sophia Museum. Hagia Sophia is one of the most impressive and important buildings ever constructed. It served as a church for ca. 1000 years, a mosque for ca. 500 years and finally a museum since 1935.

I visited the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. Also known as the Blue Mosque, because of its interior blue ottoman tile works. This imperial mosque built 1609 – 1616, is an example of classical Turkish architectures magnificent interior decoration of blue Iznik tiles. It is the only mosque that was originally built with six minarets.

I visited Hippodrome (Sultanahmet). The ancient Hippodrome, now better known as Sultanahmet Square, was built by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus in 203 AD. The Hippodrome served as a meeting place for politicians, for chariot races, wrestling, boxing and other athletic activities that took place. Constantine greatly enlarged the city and one of his major undertakings was the renovation of the Hippodrome. It is estimated that the Hippodrome for Constantine was about 450 metres long and 130 metres wide. Its stands were capable of holding 100,000 spectators.

I visited the famous Topkapi Palace which has been the residence of the Ottoman Sultans and centre of state administration for 400 years of their 624 year empire. The palace was constructed between 1460 and 1478 by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. It was constructed in Ottoman style architecture. It has museum of large collections of historical items and artefacts. There portraits of Sultans and paintings. There is good collection of arms and weapons of the Empire.  There is rich collection of glassware, porcelain, silverware, copper and gold plated items. It has unique collection of holy relics of Prophet Mohammad and exhibits associated with Islamic history. There is Holy Mantle of Prophet Mohammad, the hair from the beard of the Prophet, swords of his companions including that of Hazrat Ali, praying mat of daughter of Prophet, Fatma. There is regular parade organized showing celebration of conquest soldier in their costumes wore during Empire.

I visited the Serpentine Column (BurmaliSutun). The column originally stood at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece. It was erected in 479 BC as a commemoration of the Greek victory over the Persians. The column was formed by three intertwined snakes. It was brought to Constantinople in the 4th century AD by Constantine I, for the decoration of the Hippodrome. The Serpentine column was originally 8 meters high but today measures only 5.30 meters.

Time was short and there were many tourist attractions to visit so I decided to see belly dance performance at Sultana theatre. Besides the show it included a mini drama about the story as to how queen mother used to select beautiful girls for her son Sultan. It depicted the Ottoman Palace life, customs and traditions in the harem. The entire programme was beautiful. There were Arabian and Iranian families who also joined at the dance floor. The father of two teenage girls happily and with pride watched and took photographs of his dancing daughters. In short frocks they played competition over music. They did not do belly dancing. It appears that in many parts of Arab and Western world belly dancing is very popular as it brings physical fitness to women.

On 19th August 2008 I visited Blue Mosque in the morning. For wazu, abulation, marble sitting pillars have been set up so that in trousers also there is no difficulty. But it does spoil trousers due to splash of water. I offered two rikatnamaz of visit to the mosque. Previous day it could not be done.

It was Tuesday so I decided to visit Hagia Sophia Museum. I paid for the ticket. It is a museum depicting both Islamic and Christians symbols.

I also visited Suleymaniye mosque. It is a grand mosque built by Sultan Suleyman and constructed by architect Mimar Sinan. It is more symmetrical, rationalized and light-filled.

Then I went to Eminunu, from there I took cruise of Bosphorous between Istanbul of Europe and Asia. The cruise journey in day was beautiful as the ship sailed through strait of Istanbul between beautiful sights of Asian and European shores of Istanbul. The cruise went up to Black Sea in north. As most of the important historical and tourist attractions and offices are located in the European side it claims to be European capital of culture. It is irony that all compromises adopted by Turkey have failed in its entry into European Union.

I roamed around shopping area in the evening. I did some inexpensiveshopping in Grand Bazaar where I purchased souvenir items like hanging magic eyes, Turkish painted bulb hangers, gift items, etc. The covered bazaar has surface area of 47,600 sq. feet, 61 streets and almost 3,600 shops selling all types of handicrafts, textiles and other products.

On 20th August 2008 I again visited Grand Bazar. I checked out of hotel and reached Ataturk International Airport. After boarding the aircraft TK 1070 it was announced that there was snag found in the aircraft. We all got down from the plane. Instead of schedule departure time of 6.45 pm it departed at 8.45 pm after more than 3 hours delay. On the flight I met Professor Qidwai of department of English, Aligarh Muslim University returning from UK.

I reached Delhi airport at about 6 am of 21st August.

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