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  • Writer's picturePeter Antonucci

Istanbul, Turkey | Day 1

Sunday | October 12, 2014

First, A few words about the history of Turkey. The Turks came from China, through Mongolia, in 1071.  (In fact, the Mongolians, led by their emperor, Genghis Kahn, conquered Turkey several times.)  Turkey, formerly known as Constantinople, was part of the Byzantine Empire until 1492. It is the only city in the world that straddles two continents – Europe and Asia.  

The population of Istanbul is estimated to be 18 million people. Curiously, there are 24,000 taxis in the city – three times more than all of London.  And although Istanbul is 97% Muslim, only 47% of those Muslims are religious.

Our first stop was the Mosque and Tomb of Suleymaniye which can accommodate 5,000 worshippers.


By the way, a mosque is more than simply a house of worship. It is, in effect, a little city that encompasses shops, tombs, restaurants, a hospital, a bath, hospices, houses, and everything necessary to protect the people.  This particular mosque was designed by architect Sinan

and built between the dates of 1550–1557.

Next, we went to the Hagia Sofia Mosque.   There is an interesting story that addresses why the mosque took so long to build. Apparently, some of the friends of the Sultan told him that Sinan was sitting in the middle of the mosque smoking a hookah pipe and that’s why the mosque was not finished. When the Sultan went to the mosque, he did see Sinan sitting in the middle of the floor with a hookah pipe. The Sultan immediately directed that Sinan be decapitated. But Sinan explained to the sultan that he was only making sounds with the hookah pipe, which contained nothing other than water, and trying to determine the reverberation of the sounds in various parts of the mosque, which was true.  Then, Sinan directed the use of terra-cotta pots under the floor and under the roof to create the perfect pitch in the mosque. The sultan was thrilled and not only had Sinan finish that project, but commissioned him to do many others.  

Interestingly, Sinan also employed ostrich eggs to keep the scorpions away from the mosque, and mixed smoke residue with water to make black paint.


We next walked around in what used to be the Hippodrome, but virtually nothing of it remains today.  Instead, we viewed a few obelisks and ancient structures while our guide killed time before we could enter the Blue Mosque.


The Blue Mosque is one of the most important sites in all of Turkey. It truly is a marvelous edifice.


Fortunately, we were only able to spend 15 minutes there before it closed for prayer. I say fortunately because otherwise, our guide would’ve managed to string it out for two hours and that would’ve been painful.

Our final stop of the day was the Basilica Cistern, an enormous underground reservoir, 140 meters in length and 70 m wide. To access it, one descends a 55 step stairway and is met with the breathtaking sight of 336 columns each 9 m tall. The columns comprise 12 rows with 28 columns in each row standing precisely 4.80 m from each other.  98 of the columns are Corinthian, while the rest are Doric.


Exhausted, I was summoned to bed.


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