Turkey is a land of peace, progress and prosperity
— and unimaginable sights !

Istanbul, Turkey Street Map
Turkey conjures up in the mind of so many people and nations a country that is both peaceful and progressive. My attention is focused on Istanbul, located in northwestern Turkey, lying along the Marmara Region. The Bosporus which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, divides the city into a “European side, comprising the historic and economic centers, and an Asian Anatolian side; Istanbul is the only bi-continental city in the world. (Click map for your own personal Istanbul city/street map.)

The confluence of the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus make up the Golden Horn which is the heart of present day Istanbul; its location has deterred attacking forces for thousands of years and still remains a prominent feature of the city’s landscape.

Visitors to Istanbul are immediately impressed with the cleanliness of the city, the warmth and friendship of the people, and empirical evidence of how a nation should live, guaranteeing freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and the right to pursue their own path, achieving  goals that are relevant to them and are not imposed by any source.

The city has been conquered, fought over and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Istanbul’s history dates back to the first settlement possibly in the 13th Century BC, although founded by Byzas, the Megarian in the 7th Century, BC, from which the city was named Byzantium.

A small colony of Greeks inhabited the area until 3rd Century BC and over the next 1,000 years it became a thriving trading and commercial center.

Istanbul is the cross roads
of empires and religions.

During the 4th Century, Istanbul was selected by the Roman Empire to be the new capital, instead of Rome, by Emperor Constantine. It was a strategic choice, built on seven surrounding hills, echoing that of Rome; the city would have control of the Istanbul Strait with easy access to the harbor of the Golden Horn.

The city was re-organized within six years, its ramparts widened and the construction of many temples, official buildings, palaces, hamams, and hippodromes.

The Byzantium Empire and Istanbul’s latter history is full of palace and church intrigues, and was overrun by the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries, the Bulgars in the 9th and 10th and the Crusaders who conquered in 1204.

The Knights Templar destroyed and raided it for many more years, including churches, monasteries and monuments which led to a decline in the population. The city passed its reign to Byzantium again in 1261 and was conquered by the Turks in 1453 after a 53 day siege.

It then became the capital city of the Ottoman Empire which granted religious freedom and social rights to Greeks, Armenians, and Jews. Mehmet, the conqueror, began to rebuild it, with a new palace and Mosque.

The once great empire was in shambles after World War I leading to the emergence of a prominent commander, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who waged a four year long war of Independence, eventually establishing the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

Today there are over 100,000 Mosques throughout Turkey; the grandest of them all is the Blue Mosque, a 17th Century Ottoman Mosque famous with its six minarets and magnificent interior with blue tiles.

The famous and historic Blue Mosque.

Topkapi Palace, the home of sultans.

Another great attraction is the Topkapi Palace, the residence of Ottoman Sultans, which housing the richness of 700 years. It also houses some of the most important Muslim documents, including a copy of the Hazrat Othman Quran as well as the crown jewels.  Thousands of people visit the Palace on a daily basis.

St. Sophia, (Hagia Sophia) the great Byzantine Basilica built in the 6th century, provides grandeur beyond one’s highest expectations.  Islamic writings and Christian drawings and engravings of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are untouched from time.  The Basilica is now a Museum and is fitting testimony of the tolerance and understanding which these two great religions offer.

The underground cistern, the water source of the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, is still working today.

The Spice Market, the famous and exotic food market, and the Grand Bazaar represent one of the greatest shopping opportunities of all times and throngs of people wade through the thousands of shops and vendors.  Bargaining is a way of life and no one expects to pay for the asking price of anything, including carpets, jewelry, clothing, perfumes, etc.

Visitors are often taken to Ephesus and the House of Virgin Mary. Ephesus is famous throughout history for its temple of Artemis, one of the “7 Wonders” of the ancient world.  Ephesus is considered to be the showpiece among all the antique cities of the world.

Visitors are taken first to the house of the Virgin Mary who was accompanied to Ephesus by St. John. She spent her last years living near a grove of olive trees close by to Ephesus. A visit is considered to be a pilgrimage by the Vatican. Ephesus is considered to be one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.

A replica of the Trojan Horse.

The City of Troy continues to be one of the main attractions for visitors to Turkey and the site is a constant reminder of the use of the Trojan Horse to achieve victory to regain the hand of the famous Helen of Troy.

The warmth and friendliness of the Turkish people is only matched by their modesty and simplicity, which, taken collectively, is more than enough reason to visit Turkey.

All over the country there is construction of new high rises, road expansion, and other developments. Agricultural production is at a high level throughout the country, with farms producing vegetables and fruits and grains.

One of the most shocking surprises is that the hotels and restaurants do not offer water at meals and it costs US$3 for a small bottle. Forget about coffee. It costs US$6 for a small cup.

Gate 1 which arranged the tour for about 30 people made pre-arrangements for stops every three hours or so, but the stops, mainly petrol stations with a food shop, charge as much as three times the rate at other food shops.  In addition, you are expected to pay the equivalent of 50 US cents to use the bathroom.

Traveling some 500 miles a day on a nine hour trip on the bus was not easy but the country is so big that it is the only way to make the various sites. The tour guide, Saleh Gok, was very knowledgeable and the driver and assistant were very professional. The optional tour offered by Gate 1 was too costly and many of those on the trip opted to go by themselves.

— Feature and photos by Edwin Ali, Jetsetters Magazine Middle East and Caribbean Editor.


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