Midway up the European side of the Bosphorus, Ortaköy literally translates into “Middle Village”. Not the most enthralling of names, but this neighborhood does boast one of Istanbul’s most eclectic populations. Turk, Greek, Jew… hipster, playboy, fisherman. Everybody has a place in Ortaköy.
There were experiences I expected to have during our time in Istanbul: eating delicious döner and baklava, visiting mosques, and ferrying across the Bosphorus. But exploring the innards of a decommissioned WWII-era submarine? Nope, I wasn’t expecting that one.
Located in the neighborhood of Çarşamba, just up the road from the Yavuz Selim Camii, the Fethiye Museum preserves some of the best Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul. It’s small and difficult to reach, so most tourists skip right over it in favor of the similar and better-known Chora Museum.
The Hagia Sophia isn’t just the best-known tourist attraction in Istanbul, or one of Europe’s most cherished landmarks… it’s one of the greatest buildings in human history. This church, nearly 1500 years in age, was once the center of Byzantine faith, later reborn as the predominant mosque of the Ottoman Empire, and today has found a new purpose as one of the world’s most popular museums.
Were we excited to visit the Hagia Sophia? It’s just one of the most legendary buildings on the planet. The largest church in the world for a thousand years. The scene of some of history’s most decisive moments. A breathtaking architectural achievement on a scale unthinkable for its day. Yes, I suppose it’s fair to say that we were excited.
The lively neighborhood of Zeyrek, just north of the Aqueduct of Valens, was one of our favorite spots in Istanbul. It’s difficult to reach with public transportation, and lacks any well-known sights, so very few tourists bother to visit. Not that we mind; it just leaves more Zeyrek for us!
We spent a long day walking along the southern coast of the Golden Horn, from the Atatürk Bridge to the ancient Jewish quarter of Balat. This is an older, quieter side of Istanbul that not enough tourists see, although it has a number of interesting sights, including some beautiful churches.
Istanbul has no shortage of old churches and mosques, and it can often feel like too much of a good thing. As our time in the city progressed, we would increasingly find ourselves saying something like, “Honestly, I think we’ve visited enough mosques”. But what are we going to do? Simply ignore something as amazing as the Gül Camii?