To Jordan via Turkey
7 February 2019
In advance of her first term abroad in Jordan and on route to Amman, Ruth from SELCS visits the city where East meets West.
Ever since last year when my friend showed me his holiday pictures of Istanbul, I’ve had this meeting point of East and West high up on my list of must-visits. So with a final destination of Amman, the city’s blue guide tucked in my backpack and a friend/fellow Arabist in tow, I arrived in Istanbul to begin my year abroad.
With centuries of architecture and monuments to take in, it’s hard to know where to start in such a city. We focused our efforts around the Sultanahmet area where we had found a cheap but rather lovely hostel within walking distance of pretty much everywhere we wanted to visit. The exquisite mosaics and incredible domed ceilings of Topkapi Palace (1459) are fitting of being the former imperial residence of the Ottoman sultans. Just around the corner is the Blue Mosque and then slightly further north lies Süleymaniye Mosque (my personal favourite due to its stunning grounds, the tranquil interior and the fascinating conversation we were able to have with one of the volunteers there, comparing his Islam and my Christianity).
If Istanbul is a fusion of East and West then Hagia Sofya is surely the best representation of this fact. This extraordinary building served as the cathedral of Byzantine Constantinople for more than 1000 years until Mehmet II, upon his conquest of the city, rode directly to this great religious building of the Ottoman Empire and declared it a Mosque. Today, no longer functioning as a place of worship but rather as a museum, Islamic calligraphy hangs from the vast ceiling which is covered by Christian imagery.
The Bosphorus river, as historic as it is iconic, not only divides the city into old town and new town but is also marks the border between Asia to the East and Europe to the West. The Golden Horn further splits this side of the city into two distinct districts connected by the Galeta Bridge. Fishermen line its rail, ready to cook whatever they’ve just reeled in on camp stoves and sell it to the many commuters and tourists with whom they share this bridge. From here, you can look out towards Asia and the Bosphorus, right up to the Suleymaniye Mosque or towards the Galeta Tower which offers panoramic views of the city and beyond. A personal highlight for me was the Sunset Bosphorus Cruise we managed to get for €5 each. With health and safety a non-existent concern, we raced some 40 other tourists on to the boat to get decent seats and set off. From our vantage point we watched the sky change from blue to golden to pink, all the while the city’s many minarets silhouetted against the changing canvas. Finally the colour subsided and we were left with the city’s lights as the perfect backdrop for our final evening in the city.
I cannot recommend enough making the most of your journey to wherever you’ve chosen to spend your year abroad. Grab a map, maybe a travel buddy and add a few stops. By breaking up the trip my flights were actually cheaper and I arrived in Jordan already infected with the travel bug and ready to make the most of my time abroad.