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Istanbul - Day 4 - A lesson in Byzantine Constantinople

TURKEY | Friday, 13 July 2012 | Views [1121]

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Just as Istanbul is built on two different continents, it's history is dominated by the two great empires of Byzantine and Ottoman. Having spent the last two days exploring Ottoman themed tours, today I'll take in some Byzantine history. Actually, it's more like 4th to 14th century Constantinople which overlaps with Ottomans.

Divan Yolu is the main thoroughfare in Sultanahment. In ancient times, the road was known as "The Road to Rome". Laid out by Constantine the Great (not personally). It led from the centre of Constantinople to the city walls and joined the imperial road to Rome. Starting at the Hippodrome in Sultanahment Square, I head westward. It's quite hard going to begin with as it's mid morning when the walk starts and it's a ridiculously hot day of 38c. The first stop along the way is tombs of several sultans:

There's an oddly placed, but welcome cafe in the cemetery. I'd heard a lot of recommendations about a drink called Ayran, but the cafe was the first time I'd actually seen it on a menu. Expecting something grand, I got this:

And the waiter didn't even bother open it for me. Shocking! Actually the drink wasn't impressive. It's basically salted yogurt, tasted exactly like a salted lassi from any Indian restaurant.

Leaving the cemetery, another 5 minute walk on Divan Yolu is Çemberlitaş or "stone with hoops". Erected in 330AD by Constantine the Great to mark the founding of Constantinople as the new capital. Originally the centre piece of a Roman forum, it's now just a tall, very sad looking column in dire need of restoration:

The column is just about the only thing left of the forum, so it's a short walk to Beyazit Square, just in front of the University of Istanbul. Well, what's left of the square. There's some kind of book fair and the entire square is covered in tents. Book fair is also misleading as the only book I could see being sold were copies of the Quran. 

The grand old institution of Istanbul University. The original school was founded in 425 by Emperor Theodosius II, before the Ottoman's converted into a religious school after their conquest. The modern school started life in the mid 20th century and members of the public are allowed inside the faculty buildings for 10 minutes:

Thne the Grand Bazaar, it's an odd looking place. It's called the Grand Bazaar for a good reason though. The largest covered indoor market in the world, covering 54 km2 and hard to confirm claim of 4000 shops. Not laid out in some flat piece of land. More like lot of small shops built on streets in a hilly area which someone cleverly decided to have covered. In times gone past, no doubt this would have served the local people. Now, it's nothing more than a collection of shops aimed at tourists. I did accidentally wander out of an exit of the western side of the Grand Bazaar, leading to street markets. Hardly any tourists here and clearly aimed at the locals. Little stalls selling cheap cloths, lots of which were genuine fake brands. It was certainly cheaper to eat and more fun here, bargaining with the shopkeepers for a plain white T than inside the Grand Bazaar. Oddly, even the Grand Bazaar has a kind of holiness to it. Some shops are closed, sections of the market are sealed off for Asr, the afternoon prayer.

To end the day, I then took a tram to Spice Bazaar at the southern end of the Galata Bridge. Around the place, spices, dried fruits, nuts, seeds and many varieties of Turkish Delight and various edibles are also sold. It kinda of felt like a mute trip. It occurred to me that I'd absolutely no intention of buying anything and lugging it around my travels!

Some jewellery and other high-end shops have begun to move in, so take the opportunity now to see the place for some authentic Turkish culture before it tuns into another steel glad shopping mall.

Tags: bazaar, byzantine, constantine, grand, istanbul university, istandbul, sightseeing, turkey, walking tour


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