historical areas of istanbul: unesco world heritage site

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With a population of 14 million, the traffic in Istanbul was brutal. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and it took us almost 3 hours to get from the airport to our hotel. Amazingly though, the mood of the drivers were calm and cooperative. There were no horns blaring or road rage – everyone navigated the tight streets and occasionally the one-lane two-way streets with ease. We reversed several times down narrow roads to let oncoming traffic pass before we could proceed. It was all very civilised.

We were staying only a minute walk away from Taksim Square, which was heavily patrolled by riot police most evenings (following the protests back in June). Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Ave) is the main pedestrian street that people funnel down from Taksim Square. It is filled with shops and restaurants and dessert places…. YUM… teeming with people of an evening. It definitely is worth a visit even just to people watch!

One of our “things” when travelling is to visit UNESCO World Heritage sites when and where we can. Its kind of our unofficial bucket list. So a visit to the historical area of Istanbul was on the cards. We didn’t get to see everything considered to be part of the historical areas but we did see several very incredible things.

Istanbul, although is the largest city in Turkey, is not the capital. It is a city that is steeped in history. It once was the capital of Eastern Roman Empire (it was known then as Byzantium) and then subsequently the Ottoman Empire (to which it was then known as Constantinople). Ankara became the capital of Turkey, post World War I.

Topkapi Palace:

It is from the grounds of this palace that we saw Istanbul straddling Europe and Asia. Simply being in Turkey meant that we were going to be visiting two continents 🙂

Europe on the left and Asia on the right
Europe on the left and Asia on the right

The main entrance fee (approximately 25 Turkish Lira) to the palace allows you to visit the exhibits of the museum which are divided into the different buildings throughout. There are sections for the treasury, Sacred Relics, portraits, armoury and clocks. The collection of armoury and clocks were exceptionally fascinating. To visit the Harem was an additional fee which we didn’t care to visit.

One thing we can say we have seen is one of the largest diamonds in the world. The 86-carat pear-shaped Spoonmaker’s Diamond. The tale of its discovery was that a fisherman found the diamond amongst some rubbish and was traded 3 spoons for it. Somehow, that doesn’t seem like a fair trade!

Hagia Sophia:

This is definitely an ancient wonder of the world although, maybe not one of the 7, it still is an amazing piece of architecture. Also known as St Sophia or Aya Sophia, it was built in 6th Century. It started as a Greek Orthodox church before later becoming an imperial mosque and now a museum. There are still representation of both religions throughout the building.

The dome is probably what is most impressive for something that was built so long ago. Words and photos cannot do this place justice, a case of you just got to see it to feel it and be wow-ed.

Entrance Fee: Yes – approximately 25 Turkish Lira

The HUGE dome being support by the other domes - an architectural feat for that era
The HUGE dome being support by the other domes – an architectural feat for that era

Blue Mosque:

Known to the locals as Sultanahmet Mosque, it was built in the mid 1500s. It is referred to as the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles in its interior and around the dome.

Looking around and up once inside is simply magnificent. We could only look around in complete awe at the large pillars, arches and dome.

In the main dome, there is a triangular frame housing 3 ostrich eggs which is said to repel spiders. We thought this to be a very handy natural solution to the spiders in summer back home however didn’t think we would manage to track any down to bring back.

Look carefully for the three ostrich eggs
Look carefully for the three ostrich eggs

There is no fee to enter however dress appropriately. We know this sounds REALLY obvious but if not dressed appropriately, there are blue garments and shawls that they hand out at the entrance which is to be worn before you can proceed. This advice is directed at both men and women as anyone in shorts will be given the blue garment (worn like a sarong). Women need to ensure their head/hair is covered. Shoes will also need to be removed and plastic bags are provided to carry shoes through the mosque.


The Hippodrome was probably the least compelling of the ancient sites we saw in Istanbul and possibly in Turkey. There was not much to see except a couple of obelisks (without trying to downplay it) but probably because it had been a long day for us, we were also getting weary. Good ole jet-lag rearing its ugly head!

Where else could this be?
Where else could this be?

So our first day in Turkey was jam-packed and a few additional highlights that were not UNESCO related would have been that we ate our first kebab (in a shop called Pudding House that Bill Clinton also ate in) and visited the Spice Market where we got to try the real-deal Turkish Delight. Sadly the Grand Bazaar was closed on Sundays and we would not get an opportunity to visit it.

Our first ever Turkish kebab
Our first ever Turkish kebab

Due to our limited time in Turkey, we were moving on the following day, so we will one day have to go back to explore Istanbul some more!


our top 10 for turkey captured in photos

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So we’ve been back from our trip for 6 days now and we have been back at work for the past week. Our body clocks are probably just about adjusted now despite having daylight savings to contend with too.

Now that we’ve kind of regained consciousness from the holiday coma, we are beginning to relive our Turkish adventure with our family and friends. Looking at photos also helps us with reminiscing about our trip. People always want to know what we thought of a place and would we go back again. They ask whether we had a good time or what was our favourite. In the past, wherever we’ve been we’ve generally got positive things to say and this time is really no different.

We’ve been rattling off the following phrases quite easily: “Turkey was brilliant”, “Loved Turkey! We had an amazing time.” “We saw so many things and learnt so much in Turkey that we hadn’t expected. And that’s probably because we didn’t really know what to expect”.

About Dubai on the other hand, well “Dubai isn’t our cuppa tea.” But more about that in another post as this is a Turkey post 🙂

Now to kick start our holiday debrief for Turkey we have a photo essay of our favourite & top 10 pictures/moments/experiences. These are in no particular order. Hope you enjoy the photos to start with and sit tight as there will be more stories and experiences in our subsequent posts.

1) Turkish Delights

Turkish Delights - the taste and texture is simply divine
The taste and texture – simply divine

2) Gallipoli

Visiting ANZAC Cover and reading this sign was very moving
Visiting ANZAC Cove and reading this sign was very moving

3) Pergamum

The amphitheatre at Pergamum was a real treat
Trying not to take a tumble down the stairs of the amphitheatre

4) Ephesus

The Ephesus library
The Ephesus library

5) Virgin Mary’s House

Visiting the Virgin Mary's House was a very peaceful and spiritual experience
What an extremely peaceful and spiritual experience

6) A sunset in Kusadasi

So spectacular watching the horizon gulp up the sun

7) Amphitheatre in Aphrodisias

Amphitheatre at Aphrodisias - insanely long
Long and well preserved

8) Pamukkale

Being able to wade through the water in Pamukkale was definitely an adventure
Being able to wade through the water of a UNESCO Heritage site 🙂

9) Hagia Sophia

Inside Hagia Sophia - shame for the reconstruction scaffolding around the insider but still a magnificent ancient sturdy structure
Inside Hagia Sophia – shame for the reconstruction scaffolding around the inside but still a magnificent ancient sturdy structure

10) Kayakoy

Careful not to get lost in Kayakoy, the ancient deserted Greek town
Careful not to get lost in the ancient deserted Greek town