What a truly amazing and diverse city. It's a modern city with a very unique historical background. This city was once the second capital of the Roman Empire and referred to back then as Constantinople. I am certain this city has changed names many times.
The city is divided in the middle by a passage of the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea. The site on one side is on the European continent and crossing the bridge is the western side of Asia. What makes this city even more interesting is its strategic location given the neighboring countries that share the border with Turkey which are Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Greece and Syria. The northern section of the country lies the Black Sea and across this coast line is the Ukraine and the Soviet Republic. The Soviet navy accesses the Mediterranean Sea via Istanbul.
To complicate the already highly strained political climate and major military relationships of the region is that several of these countries run their oil pipelines to the Turkish port to transfer crude oil unto ship tankers going to all parts of the world. Within a days travel is Israel and Egypt. These countries, and the others in the region, have individually and collectively been part of an unstable political world.
Ever since land trade started thousands of years ago between these two great continents merchants have been passing through this historic city. Consequently cultures of east and west truly met and mixed here. To one side you see a mosque. To the other direction there is a synagogue and nearby an orthodox Catholic Church.
Part of our tour was to visit and enter a mosque. We also visited a museum which was once the palace of the sultans and their many concubines. The sultan's treasure museum highlighted the large trading of gems and gold in this region.
We, of course, enter the historic world famous Gran Bazaar of Istanbul. It's likely the oldest covered mall in the world. It was built in the 1400s and has 3,000 stores. It is calculated that 3 to 4 hundred thousand people visit the Bazaar each day!
In the Grand Bazaar one shop sells trinkets and the one next to it sells ten-thousand dollar furs from the Soviet region. It's surprising how many stores sell high end gold jewelry and diamonds from Africa. There were emeralds and other valuable gems from northern Asia. One tiny store can showcase 200+ diamond items just in their showcase window alone. Some of the gems are the size of golfballs. You can exchange in the bazaar money from every part of the world. Being that Turkey is not part of the European Community and thus it does not have to report its money exchanges transactions. Turkey is historically known for its carpet market. As much as I tried I could not find a cheap "flying carpet" nor "magic lamp". Here carpets are in fact works of art and can cost many thousands of dollars. Silk carpets are beautiful and can cost their weight in gold.
Istanbul is one of those few locations in the world where practically everything and anything that is available internationally can be traded and can be negotiated here. It's a worldwide open business center in its greatest sense.
I liked visiting Istanbul. It's a thriving modern city that offers a glimpse of the past. You can eat some of the most expensive caviar in the world and on the same day eat camel steaks. Their food comes from distant lands in the East and the West. Goat cheese, olives and dried dates are normal staples. They have a very sweet tooth. You see many specialized and well-sorted pastry stores throughout the city.
In a small area of the city one can stand next to a Jewish synagogue and hear the Muslim chants over loudspeakers from the mosques. You can see thousands of men spread out in a small area taking off this shoes and kneeling on their small rugs in order to pray. They do this 5 times a day. You visited the museum of St. Sophia's (also referred to as Hagia Sofia). It was once a Greek Orthodox basilica, a Roman Catholic cathedral and then a mosque and now a museum. Each of these religions is represented in this one beautiful building. There are statues, ceramics, banners, and art works under this one formidable Byzantine structure.
I think I agree with the statement I saw on a billboard that said, "all cultures in one place".
I look forward to returning to Istanbul and learning more about its culture and economics.
We boarded the cruise ship and set off more familiar territories. We are off to Naples, Italy.