It's hard to imagine that we could have found a better place for our first Turkish bath than the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı. This historic hamam in Tophane is one of Istanbul's most beautiful, reopened in 2012 after years of restoration. We were invited to visit on a Sunday afternoon.
I'm beginning to think that we could have dedicated 91 days to just Istanbul's Beyoğlu district. In fact, a blog devoted entirely to the city's main shopping street isn't inconceivable. İstiklal Caddesi For 91 Days. The number of bars, restaurants, shops, theaters and galleries along "Independence Street" is overwhelming. We spent an entire day exploring just its historic arcades. What follows are short descriptions of our favorites, with links to their exact locations.
At just six kilometers in length, the Walls of Theodosius can be traversed in a few hours, but there are so many sights along the way that we needed two days. Exploring the southern half of the fortifications had been a lot of fun, and our day spent on the northern half would prove to be just as rewarding.
Stretching for six kilometers from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn, the Land Walls of Theodosius II protected Constantinople from invaders for over a thousand years... until the arrival of the Ottomans and their giant cannons in 1453. The walls have survived largely intact to the present day, and walking along them is an exciting way to see a different side of Istanbul.
We had been suffering through some rough weather for weeks, but spring finally arrived toward the end of April. The bad weather had us a bit of an emotional rollercoaster -- overcast days are not normally our thing, but somehow the clouds struck a melancholic note appropriate to Istanbul.
Built in 1857 as a lodge for Sultan Abdülmecid I, the elaborate facade of the Küçüksu Pavilion looks out over the Bosphorus Strait from the Asian side of Istanbul. Though its days as a summer retreat for Ottoman rulers may be a thing of the past, the pavilion has been meticulously preserved and now serves as a museum.
Despite the tumult of centuries, the ravages of war, fire and earthquake, and the construction of a megalopolis around, along and even through it, the Aqueduct of Valens is standing tall. Built by the Roman Emperor Valens in 378 AD, the aqueduct is among Istanbul's most amazing ancient relics.
Within the immediate vicinity of the Aqueduct of Valens are two worthwhile mosques: the ancient Kalenderhane and the enormous ?ehzade Mosque, built on the order of Süleyman the Magnificent in 1548.
Despite being in the center of the city, the neighborhood of Laleli just doesn't feel like the rest of Istanbul. Maybe it's the curious absence of döner joints. It could be the shops with names like "XXL ??????? ??????" and "???????? ???????", or the giant blonde women shouldering past with icy attitudes more befitting the tundra than Turkey. When you're in Laleli, there's no mistaking that you've arrived in Istanbul's Russia Town.
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.