If ever a city were in a need of a concise recounting of its history, it is Istanbul. Properly told, its story fills multiple volumes of heavy tomes. But we’re too busy for detail or nuance, and so have distilled the past of one of the world’s most historic cities into a ridiculous list of easily digestible highlights. Students of Mrs. Dent’s sixth-grade history class: you’re welcome! Academics and graduate students: you might want to look elsewhere.
Wow, that went fast. Our first month in Istanbul flew by way too quickly, leaving us a little nervous about our remaining time. We’ve prepared a gigantic list of things to do and see and, although we’ve accomplished a lot, the list doesn’t appear to be getting any smaller. Still, it’s been an amazing month, which has just left us eager for more. Here are our initial impressions about living in Istanbul.
After opening in 1914, the Silahtarağa Power Plant was Istanbul’s sole source of electric power for almost forty years. Today, the former plant has been converted into a cultural center called Sintralİstanbul. The original equipment has been refurbished and left in place, and now constitutes the exhibits of the unique Museum of Energy.
Set atop a hill in Gülhane Park, just meters from Topkapı Palace, the Archaeology Museum Complex boasts one of the world’s most stunning collections of ancient artifacts. At the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire stretched across major sections of Europe, Asia and Africa, so it should come as no surprise that countless treasures have found their way to Istanbul.
How much you enjoy the steep, jam-packed streets around the Rüstem Paşa Camii depends entirely on your point of view. Is it an exhilarating and chaotic shopping paradise, or an intolerable maze of pushy, obnoxious vendors? So visit only when you’re in a good mood and well-disposed to both noise and hassle. Because it’s not like Tahtakale is going to change for you. Tahtakale isn’t gonna change for anybody.
While in Istanbul, our taste buds were exposed to a lot of new sensations. But some of our favorite discoveries were familiar standards, common to every country, given a slight Turkish twist. Simits are Turkish bagels, a pide is a Turkish pizza, and künefe… well, that’s just Turkish heaven.
Built on a steep hill in the middle of a busy market area, the Rüstem Paşa mosque is yet another masterpiece from the ubiquitous master architect Mimar Sinan. If you weren’t carefully looking for the entrance, you would almost certainly miss it: just a narrow set of nondescript stairs leading up from the street. So ascending these steps and emerging into the mosque’s spacious courtyard is quite a surprise.
The neighborhood south of the Grand Bazaar, bordering the Sea of Marmara, goes by the entertaining name of Kumkapı. Although it doesn’t lay claim to any major sights or fabulous mosques, we enjoyed the quiet Sunday morning we spent here. And now, we can finally strike “Attend an Armenian Apostolic Mass” from our bucket lists. Another childhood dream accomplished!
Istanbul’s Museum of Modern Art occupies an old warehouse in Tophane, right on top of the Bosphorus Strait. Downstairs are rotating temporary exhibits, while the upper floor houses the permanent collection along with a stylish cafe that has great-looking food, and an even better looking view.