After five days in Canakkale it was now time to start making tracks north towards Istanbul. I was a bit nervous about actually going into Istanbul, with it being a big city and was concerned about how many people would be there having managed to avoid crowds pretty much so far and the dreaded corona virus. We decided to play it by ear when we got there. Istanbul was about 130 miles away.
We left on an overcast day and as we approached the new “1915 Canakkale” bridge that is being built across the Dardanelles it was thundering and lightening. The length of the bridge’s main span will be 2023 metres and the significance of this, is that is when the centennial of the Republic of Turkey will be marked. The towers are 318 meters high and will be the longest suspension bridge in the world.
We arrived in the Sea of Marmara 10 hours later and moored up alongside in an abandoned marina on the Island of Avsa. We ended up staying here for four nights sitting out the winds. There was nothing around where we were so we took the bikes and rode to the town of Avsa which was about 2km away. It was a tourist town for the Turkish. Talking to a waiter apparently 50,000 people would descend onto the island the first week of July, so glad we were there the week before!
We had three more long sails until we arrived in Istanbul. We eventually stayed for 11 nights here, one because there is lots to see in Istanbul and two there was more wind and they were now in the opposite direction to the way we were going. The Northerly winds were in, these being the predominate winds for this time of year.
The marina was in Fenerbahçe, home to one of Istanbul’s top football teams, we passed the stadium on quite a few occasions, on the Asian side. Most of the sights were on the other side of the Dardanelles, the European side. We took a taxi which was about 10mins to the ferry port which set us back the princely sum of £3. The ferries run backwards and forwards and it is hectic. They moor the ferries like they are parking a car in a car park, no waiting for one boat to finish mooring they just slot in alongside.
We were probably two of the last westerners to visit the Hagia Sophia as a museum. On 10th July a Turkish court struck down the 1934 cabinet decree that made it a museum and restored its status to that of a mosque with the first prayers to be held on Friday 24th July 2020. It was built as a Christian church in the 6th century but became a mosque in 1453 after the Turkish conquest. In 1934, President Ataturk, changed its status from a mosque and in 1935 it became a museum.
Tombs of the Sultans
Unfortunately for us, the Mosque was having work done and so there wasn’t much for us to see as most of it was covered in scaffolding. It was built between 1609 and 1616 and is still a functioning mosque. It is known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles surrounding the interior walls.
The cistern is located nearby to the Hagia Sophia. There are hundreds of ancient cisterns underneath the streets of Istanbul. The Basilica Cistern is the largest. It was built in 532 during the reign of Emperor Justinian I to meet the needs of the Great Palace. The Cistern is 143 metres long and 65 metres wide. It is supported by 336 columns, each 9 metres high and spaced at four meter intervals arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns.
The Süleymaniye Mosque
The mosque is located on the Third Hill of Istanbul. The mosque was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in the mid 1550’s. It is the second largest mosque in Istanbul.
We decided that we should go for a drink, and take in the view across the Golden Horn of Istanbul. “There is a very expensive beer with my name on it” said Ian. No there wasn’t. Only fruit drinks here. Wasn’t always easy to find places that actually sold alcohol. On the way back down the hill on another day we passed a bar, which had football scarves hanging everywhere and here we did get a beer, although, you could touch the trams as they went by if you stuck your hand out.
The Palace was home to the Ottoman Sultans for nearly four centuries. It housed between 1000 and 4000 people. The Harem was the living quarters of the Sultan’s family, it supported as many as 300 concubines (mistresses). The Sultan, under Islamic law, was allowed four wives but clearly no restriction of concubines. The Queen Mother, was the central power in the Harem, she was the chief consort whose son had ascended to the throne. She also had influence over the Sultan.
In the Domed Chamber (also known as the Council Hall) council members met to discuss state affairs. The Grand Vizier led state meetings and sometimes the Sultan would listen through a grilled window from a small room above.
The Ceremonial Throne
We thought we’d take a boat trip down the Bospherus, as we hadn’t spent enough time on boats! However, we ended up taking more trips that we originally anticipated going backwards and forwards as we hadn’t appreciated we had to change at Eminuou. So 90 minutes later we eventually headed up the Bospherus. Ian was checking the current as it rips along here so we knew which parts of the channel to sail up when we left to go up to the Black Sea.
We really liked Istanbul and it is definitely somewhere we’d recommend a visit.