2012 - Turkey

This short visit forms part of our cruise on Discovery to the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea taking in 10 countries: Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine.  

We had taken a holiday near Bodrum with the family in 1989.

Our initial impression was how modern and smart were the first buildings that we saw.  We also noticed that there are also extensive wind turbines.

Wednesday 17th October: Troy

Our first stop in Turkey was to visit Troy with its 4,000 years of history.  It is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. The first excavations at the site were undertaken by the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1870.

The first thing one sees is a modern wooden horse (!), but after that things improve and generally we had the impression of a site that had been exposed in part and still had much more to discover.  Other visitors were relatively few, which helped.  There are 9 phases of development with significant parts from 2,500 BC (the same as some of Stonehenge).

Troy was built on a low hill but much of the height of the hill as it appeared in the 19th  century was in fact just layers of buried ruins.  Remarkably Schliemann had discovered it by following descriptions in Homer who wrote in 735BC but about the Trojan Wars of around 1210BC.  Now there are some low grassed hills with some of the remains excavated.

During our visit the temperature kept rising till it was in the mid 80s but fortunately there was plenty of shade at the site.

Many of the finds are now housed in the museum in Cannakale which we visited subsequently.  This included many huge sarcophagi.

Thursday 18th October:  Istanbul

We had been a little nervous about Istanbul for no apparent reason, but our few days there dispelled these doubts and we very much enjoyed the visit.  As usual with our first visit to somewhere that we felt might be rather alien to us, we took a tour, one of those offered by Discovery.

We had moored on the opposite side of the Golden Horn to the main part of the city but within a couple of hundred yards of the Bosphorus.  Our tour therefore  began by crossing the Golden Horn by the Galata Bridge.  This carries a fair bit of traffic but has a lower, pedestrian only section as well.  We noticed many people fishing from the upper level.

Our first stop was at the Blue Mosque which we reached shortly after nine.  Already there was a queue for entry, but it moved quite quickly.  Apparently it gets really crowded late in the day.

The proper name is the Sultan Ahmet Mosque and it was built in the period 1606-16.  Its name Blue Mosque comes from the blue tiles that adorn the interior.  It is also notable because it has 6 minarets rather than the usual 4.

We moved on to the Haghia Sophia (pronounced “Higher Sopheea”).  This was a originally a Byzantine church built in 360 (although the present building dates to 532-537).  It is certainly remarkable to go into a building of this age.  It is vast.  It was changed to a mosque in 1453 and since 1934 has been a museum, in the sense of being there for its history and appearance rather than for use as a place of worship.  It is not a particularly beautiful building on the outside, but the huge dome is very impressive.  Internally it is a huge open area and was the world’s largest church until the 16th century.  Some Christian decorations remain, including mosaics which are in the upper gallery.

By way of complete contrast our next visit was underground, to a huge water cistern Yerebatan Sarayı - "Sunken Palace". 

The name of this subterranean structure derives from a large public square on the First Hill of Constantinople, the Stoa Basilica, beneath which it was originally constructed. Before being converted to a cistern, a great Basilica stood in its place, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries during the Early Roman Age as a commercial, legal and artistic centre. The basilica was reconstructed by Ilius after a fire in 476.

Ancient texts indicated that the basilica contained gardens, surrounded by a colonnade and facing the Hagia Sophia.  According to ancient historians, Emperor Constantine built a structure that was later rebuilt and enlarged by Emperor Justinian after the Nika Riots of 532, which devastated the city.

Historical texts claim that 7,000 slaves were involved in the construction of the cistern.  The enlarged cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill, and continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest in 1453 and into modern times.  There are 336 columns supporting the roof and many of these are carved and originally formed part of earlier buildings.  It was a rather eerie experience!  We walked around examining some of the pillars after our guide had pointed out to us some of those that showed from their carvings that they had originally been used where they could be seen.

Our trip included a lunch and on the way to the restaurant we passed through the old Roman hippodrome which included an obelisk of Tuthmosis lll (1490BC) taken from Egypt by the Romans in about 390.  That must have been a quite incredible feat even though it was cut into three for the trip.  There is also a Serpentine column cast by the Greeks in the 5th century BC to celebrate their victory over the Turks in the Persian Wars.  It is just part of a structure that was erected at Delphi.

Our lunch was in a local restaurant with a lot of character but also a large number of tourist groups.  Nevertheless we enjoyed it.

We moved on to a Byzantine church named Chora with numerous wall mosaics. By the end we had probably seen enough buildings for one day.

On our subsequent visit on the following day we left the ship and walked over the Galata Bridge to the Spice Market.  A shop owner who had been brought up in Portsmouth and so knew Emsworth (!) managed to sell us some honey and seed coated pistachios and some apple tea – we must say that both were very tasty.

We walked on past the enormous Post Office and then took a wrong turn.  In consequence our walk to the Topkapi Palace was probably three times as long as it need have been.

The palace is suitably large and grand but also very busy.  Our visit to the Treasury involved queuing and we were possibly a little disappointed as we peered over the heads of some children into the glass cases of jewelled gifts, orders of merit and thrones.

The signage was very poor and we walked round and round trying to find the harem which had been recommended to us.  In fact it was in a building to one side that we had passed as we entered the palace.  However, we saw some wonderful vistas of the Golden Horn and of the Bosphorus.

We had found the city reasonably clean and certainly non-threatening.  Whilst we did not feel overwhelmed by western tourists, obviously there are plenty and therefore the traders did not pester for business.

The people seem to favour Europe but the city is apparently very much more western than the rest of Turkey.  A sprinkling of women were dressed in black which covers everything apart from the eyes – this looks really strange when the woman is wearing sunglasses!  However, the country is secular and the huge Blue Mosque apparently attracts only 100-200 people for prayers. 

21st October: Trabzon

Our final port in Turkey was Trabzon.  Here we had a rather eccentric but very enthusiastic lady guide.  Immediately we saw statues and commemorations of Ataturk. 

We stopped at Gulbahar Hatun Mosque.  This is an attractive and small mosque with some lovely decoration, largely using blue, but not in the usual tiles.

Our main stop was Ataturk’s Pavilion, a medium sized white house built in 1890 as a summerhouse and then given to Ataturk in 1931 although he stayed there only once!  It is set up as a museum and is largely as left on Ataturk’s death.

Resuming our coach journey we enjoyed some coastal views enroute to the Hagia Sophia - a restored 13th century Byzantine Church which is now a museum.  This had elaborate carvings on the front and many mosaics of Biblical scenes.  These are quite beautiful but it was sad to see them in a building that is unused, although it is sited by the sea and has lovely views over it.

Trabzon Archaeological Museum was our next stop. The ground/basement area had items from shipwrecks and was the archaeological part.  The upper floors were furnished in keeping with the house that forms the museum and dates from the 19th century. 

Prior to returning to the ship we were let loose to walk the streets of this modern and western looking city.  There were many locals visiting the clothes and music shops.

26th October: Istanbul

We visited Istanbul again for another day before flying back to England.  This time we again ventured out on our own and climbed up the Galata Tower.  This stone tower going back to 1348 was the highest tower in Istanbul for a long time.  There is a lift for part of the way and then some steps.  The platform outside gives beautiful views in all directions but is very narrow and crowded! 

We finished off the visit by walking over the Galata Bridge and taking a cruise of the Bosphorus.  This was interesting as showing us other parts of the city and also a bridge built in 1973 by the British which a friend from the Devizes U3A  walking group (Charles Slater) was involved in designing. 

All told Istanbul was a real highlight of our cruise.