Istanbul sits on two continents - Asia and Europe – and is home to some of the world’s most amazing historical sites and wonders. With over 20 historical palaces that were constructed as early as the 15th Century, it is safe to say that the city is one big tourist attraction.
I thought I had seen most of the sites in Istanbul during my first visit last year, but last week, during a media trip organised by Turkish Airlines, I realised that I had not even exhausted half of the tourist sites that exist in this amazing city.
Memduh Ogur, our tour guide, said that in Istanbul, for anything to be considered an antique, it has to be over a hundred years old since there are items that date as far back as the 6th Century.
With another 10 journalists from Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and of course colleagues from Rwanda, we set off from our four star hotel (Wow Airport Hotel) at 9am.
My colleagues were mesmerised at how Turkey that is known to be a Muslim dominated country is so liberal that women walk the streets without veils and dress in stylish outfits.
We visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque first, a historic house of worship which is popularly known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles on its walls.
The Blue mosque was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. it’s a popular tourist attraction in Istanbul and at the same time, an active mosque. It’s usually closed to non-worshippers for half an hour or so during the five daily prayers.
Before stepping inside this Blue mosque, one has to take off their shoes and put them in plastic bags that are provided at the entrance. There is no entrance fee for anyone touring this historical mosque.
After touring the Blue Mosque, we headed to the famous Hagia Sophia Museum (Ayasofya in Turkish) which was formerly a church for 900 years but later became a mosque from 1453 to 1931. It was turned into a museum in 1935.
We saw the Mosaic Panel of the 13th Century of Christ in the middle, John the Baptist on the right and the Virgin Mary on the left.
The beauty with these sites is the fact that they are within the same area and so; one can experience their splendor in one day.
The Basilica Cistern holds large cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. It’s right across the street from the Haghia Sophia. The unique Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th Century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The entrance fee for the Basilica Cistern is 10 Turkish Lira which is equivalent to Rwf 2200.
Taking a stroll in the hundreds of marble columns is exciting but also a little scary because it’s like walking through a dark tunnel with a few sparks of light. It’s the two Medusa heads at the far left-hand corner of the cistern; one positioned upside down, the other tilted to the sides that are quite frightening.
We had lunch at the famous Sultanahmet Koftecisi that was established in 1920. We had cold starters and later we were served rice and meat kebabs with Ayran cold yogurt, a beverage mixed with salt.
Before a boat cruise on the Bosphorus strait, we had a chance to visit the popular Grand Bazaar. It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with over 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops. Not to forget the entrance, we had to take pictures of it. But out of fear of getting lost, we toured like 100 shops for an hour and hurried back to the entrance to find our tour guide.
If you love travelling and adventure, Istanbul is the place to be. There’s just so much you can learn from one city.