Turkey has always been a fascinating country to the Gaya Travellers, ever since we saw our parents’ photos of the magnificent Blue Mosque and the cruise they took on Bosphorus Sea. Turkey indeed has fantastic natural landscapes, beautiful ancient architecture, fabulous food, fascinating history and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk!
Our vacation lasted for nine days, of which we spent a lot of time on the bus, travelling from one city to the next. We did not mind the travelling bit, as each stop came along with a wonderful feast for our ever willing tummies!
We went to Turkey in April, while the colourful tulips were in full bloom in the town centres, and red poppies grew wild in nature. Our guide, Ms. Berna enlightened us that tulips are originally from Turkey, and not Holland like we thought. Those in Holland were from Turkey, given as a gesture of goodwill in the days of yore.
Many may not know this, but back in 1983, the city of Johor Bahru was named the sister city of Istanbul. This is a cooperative agreement between the two cities to promote cultural and promotional ties.
Being the largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is the leading industrial, commercial and cultural centre of the country, with a population of approximately 13 million. Istanbul is home to many famous landmarks and monuments from its illustrious and rich history. From grand palaces to mosques, churches and fortresses built in different eras by different rulers, they stand today to form a unique identity in this enigmatic city.
Unfortunately, our time in Istanbul was very limited, thus the Gaya Travellers definitely look forward to returning back to Turkey to explore the other parts of this fascinating country!
SULTAN AHMED MOSQUE (THE BLUE MOSQUE)
This mosque is one of the most famous mosques in the world. It received its moniker as the Blue Mosque named from the beautiful blue handmade tiles adorning the interior walls. The mosque is identifiable from afar, due to its six minarets – four of which have three balconies. The other two minarets have two balconies. The six minarets are inspired from Masjidil Haram, the grand mosque in Mecca.
This mosque was completed in 1616, commissioned by a 19-year old ruler, Sultan Ahmet I in 1609. It was said that the mosque was built by the same stonemasons who helped built the Taj Mahal.
HAGIA SOPHIA (AYASOFYA)
Hagia Sofya has the most interesting history. It was used as a church for 916 years and as a mosque for 481 years. In 1932, by the order of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it was converted into a museum and has been as such until now.
During the conversion from church into mosque, many Islamic architectural elements were added on, the most prominent ones being the calligraphy plaques bearing the names of Allah and His Messenger Muhammad, including the four caliphs Abu Bakar, Umar, Othman, Ali, and Muhammad’s grandsons Hassan and Hussein, placed strategically on the walls.
There are also many intricate mosaics depicting Jesus Christ and other Christian icons, which were left intact, even though the building had been converted into a mosque – only the faces have been painted over. During our visit, Hagia Sophia were in the midst of restoration and looked like the painted over faces were carefully being restored.
THE BOSPHORUS CRUISE
One of the great pleasures of visiting Istanbul is to take the cruise up The Bosphorus Strait. It offers an excellent vantage point from which to view the city’s famous landmarks.The Bosphorus is a narrow, navigable strait between Europe and Asia connecting the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea. Yes, you get to experience cruising between two continents at one go! Gaya Travellers have always loved going on short cruises like this since it is hassle free yet very relaxing.
A key landmark in Istanbul, the Topkapi Palace is one of the many cultural heritage sites found throughout the city. It was the centre of the Ottoman Empire that ruled Turkey from the 15th century up to the early 20th century. Commissioned by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, the palace is made up of many smaller buildings, surrounded by four larger courts and magnificent wooded gardens. It is now open to public, allowing visitors to catch the glimpses of the Ottoman splendour during its height by admiring the impeccably maintained galleries featuring royal costumes, treasures, medieval arts and crafts, among others.
No city in Turkey has more mosques and tombs than Bursa. During the reign of the Ottomans, ruler Orhan Ghazi made Bursa the capital of Ottoman Principality. There are many other attractions in Bursa, apart from its history; you can also ski as well as water ski in this area! Bursa is also famous for its candied chestnuts, linens and silks.
ULU CAMNI GRAND MOSQUE
This grand mosque of Bursa was commissioned by Sultan Yildirim Bayezid in the late 14th century. It is renowned as the largest Ottoman mosque built before the conquest of Istanbul. Besides its impressive architectural features, the quality of the wood carving and calligraphy-based decorations added a nice finishing touch to the mosque.
PAMUKALLE (COTTON CASTLE)
Pamukkale is a natural hot spring, which is located in the Inner Aegean region. It is almost 350 kilometres from Istanbul, but we assure you, it is well worth the long journey! The spectacular white travertine (meaning limestone deposited by hot springs) terraces have been one of Turkey’s most popular sights. The terraces form when water from the hot springs loses carbon dioxide as it flows down the slopes, leaving deposits of limestone. The layers of white calcium carbonate, built up in steps on the plateau, made is appear like we are standing amidst white clouds that look like cotton, hence the name pamukkale, which is translated as cotton castle.