Istanbul, once Constantinople, a cosmopolitan city that is a Turkish Delight. I came here as a birthday present to myself, a long-awaited trip I’ve dreamt of for years. With a history of empirical rule that spans across two millenias, there lies an anciently modern feel in what is known today as Istanbul.
In Istanbul East meets West, North and South on the continental divide of Asia and Europe.
What once was the empire of the world falls, to create a new empire keeping the architecture and traditions alive with historical significance.
Before traveling I had several dreams of being in the Hagia Sophia what was heard in my dream was:
So I booked a ticket to Istanbul. After booking it, I heard in international news of a young American woman murdered, many condolences to her family.
Needless to say, I received caring backlash for my choice. I’m a risk-taker and took the chance. More importantly, my living dream was instated in this mecca of culture and city.
I chose to travel by myself in a country where I knew no one to experience the uncomfortably brilliant sensation that can only come from letting go of what I think the world should be and boldly appreciating it for the beauty that it is.
The people in Istanbul have been incredibly warm, generous, nice and accommodating to my American self. While I don’t speak Turkish, I understood the customs and language enough to get by with ease.
Renaissance Bosphorus, what a gem. Like a genie in the bottle, my every wish was granted. From the staff, to the spa, to the restaurant, to the concierge.
The service was personalized in a way that I felt cared for. I was given tea when sick from the lovely lady who ran nightly guest services. I was suggested where to go and what to do by the navigator. I was questioned every time I came in how my experience was, what my favorite parts were, if I liked everything so far.
I was brought coffee and breakfast dishes in bed. What a delight.
After 24 hours of traveling, delays and no sleep I awoke my first day at 2 pm, wondering why I had slept so long.
My energy felt heavy with travel, imbued in my state, all I could think was: relaxation and purification.
My first stop was the spa downstairs where I indulged in a traditional turkish bath, known as a Hammam.
In this bath I laid on a marble slab in a soothing room lit up by pale blue. As I lay there, covered by a thin sheet, I was wondering what I was in store for. Then my bather gathered hot water from elaborate sinks into a large brass bucket. Dousing me head to toe thus soothing me to my core.
I stepped back in time as this ritualistic bath warmed and cleansed me. A treatment that was purification of mind, body and spirit. An honoring of myself making it to Turkey and my birthday too.
Images come to me of ancient people and smells, who were part of cultures centuries before, penetrating modern existence. Breakdowns and restructuring, changing and shifting with the times. In Istanbul there is a conglomerate of cultural reference to bygone ages. The roots of this city have a formidable, yet inviting energy.
Hagia Sophia & Blue Mosque:
I went to Tutahnemet square where the tourist relics I wished to visit were.
Entering the square the sight of Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque was overwhelmingly vast. Coming to mind were the mammoth amounts of energy taken to build such impressive structures. There lies a strength in reverence to piety, as such I praise the minds that came up with such beautiful mastery. The ability and time it took to carve such finely laid intricacy is astonishing.
The circling of what came before is still within the now, what is now will come to pass as the past, into a new wave of future = exaltation of now.
Aya Sophia’s structure architecturally has the golden ratio or Fibonacci sequence. The name translates literally to divine knowledge. I believe all creative processes we are gifted with, from the arts to science, religion to music come through a ratio as such.
Looking at the inlaid inscriptions, still there after thousands of years I realize there is a mystery of Hagia Sophia. The inscriptions tell a story of some of the different faces and names divinity has taken throughout history. First built as a church in 532, it was rebuilt twice and changed into a Mosque in 1453 with the new Ottoman rule. A cultural treasure to beautiful architecture standing the times.
I visited the impressive Blue Mosque. It was my first time entering a Mosque. In honor I covered my head with my hood and walked inside, taking my shoes off, revering the architectural masterpiece that it is; a larger, quieter, beautifully subdued way, with current religious practices taking place.
Mimar Sinan designed the Blue Mosqe known as Sultanhmet Mosque and many other architecturally astounding Mosques around Istanbul. He also redesigned Hagia Sophia in the mid 1500’s.
The underground roots of Istanbul, this cistern was built in the Byzantine empire as their ancient waterways. The passages are symmetrically perfect columns of differently carved structures, where old waters from the Belgrade forest circulated through.
With a past of mythological presence at the end of the passages there are two separate gigantic heads of Medusa; one upside down and one on its side. Ancient to the times of Constantinople, they were brought from ruins as relics. These heads are thought to be omens keeping away bad spirits
As I walk through I feel almost breathless, chills run through. There is a beauty that is uncaptured and untouched down under. As though the times are unchanged and when walking through it can be felt in a compelling way.
I meandered around the square, stopping before each relic to sit and have a Turkish coffee and dish. Rich flavors of the mediterranean represent Turkish fare; cheeses and spices with creamy overlays. Light foods like tomatoes and cucumbers, carrots with fish dishes. Ah, and the Turkish coffee, yum, like a rich, sweet espresso with grounds left in.
The obelisks I knew about before knowing about. Brought here as ancient relics to the Byzantine empire, they’re about, give or take, 3,000 years old, looking over the plaza with Egyptian hieroglyphs lighting up each side, impressive and daunting with the clouds rolling in.
In Taksim square I went to a local Hookah bar, where I experienced a more traditional Turkish feel of living with people playing backgammon and traditional card games and smoking apple flavored “Nargile” while watching football. Drinking black tea and passing the Hookah, the place was eveloped in a sweet-smelling smoke.
During Islamic prayer time, the game is silenced, at which point throughout the city chanting of prayers is heard through the speakers, known as the Azaan or rise to prayer. Exotic to my foreign ears.
It’s in my opinion that this 500 year old indoor bazaar was the inception of the modern mall. The vendors sell everything from shoes, to lanterns, to silks to turkish delights, stones, jewelry, sunglasses to many things.
Overwhelming, one brightly covered tunnel leads to another. Turning right to turn left to find myself facing what seemed like a never-ending maze of retailers selling colorful, bright products.
Bebek, a section of the city on the Golden Horn where cafes gorgeously dot the streets, with lounge music and what I would say an Istanbul feeling along the Marmara sea. I was held in rapture by the panoramic beauty encapsulating this city, with sailboats and homes sparkling the sea, everything lazily caught up in soft winds rolling over the hills surrounding the golden horn.
Walking through century old tunnels and streets bustling with intense activity. The spices of the city enticed me with their energy as I felt pulled into store after store creating a buzz in my olfactory glands. Stimulating, the spice bazaar has aromatic, rich scents. Everywhere I walked it seemed a new scent embraced me with its essence.
Sampling the different spices like mint and saffron, cardamom pods and curry. I was left with a spicy sweetness on my lips, test tasting figs and apricots, dates and turkish delights. Selling, buying, bartering, trading, walking through the old streets aromas of roasting chestnuts, coffee and spices wafts through the air.
I stopped to have traditional lamb shish kabob and rice. Sitting at the table with a Turkish family table I don’t know, I enjoyed the simplicity being the oddly even one out.
Appreciating the patterns of history and culture around me, this trip is an affirmation of my intentionality and the finely laid intricacy in the patterns of life.
I left on a nostalgic note, yet also in such gratitude for my home and life in Chicago.