A few weeks ago, I did some more exploring in Beyoğlu and Sultanahmet, but I haven’t had a chance to blog about it until now. I really wanted to go to an avenue in Beyoğlu called French Street (Turkish Fransız Sokağı). It is a back-street behind the Galatasaray High School on Istiklal Cadessi which was redesigned in 2004. Because a number of French expats live in that area, the city decided to dedicate the street to French culture, and revamped the buildings with a distinctly Parisian architectural quality. It’s really more of a sloping hill than a street, because no cars are allowed on it. French Street is lined with little cafes, and the narrowness of the street really does have a certain Parisian feel to it.
Shortly after the project was completed, however, the French government passed a resolution condemning Turkey for its actions against the Armenians in 1915. This angered Turkey so much that they stopped calling the street French Street, and now it is simply known as Cezayir Street, which was its name prior to the redesign project.
Leaving Fransız Sokağı, I passed by the famous Galatasary High School:
As soon as I got back onto the main street, İstiklâl Caddesi, I was nearly run over by a large group of schoolchildren, who were marching up the street and singing some children’s song. Unfortunately my Turkish is not nearly good enough to know what they were singing:
Next, I wanted to return to Sultanahmet. On the way there, I walked passed the Dolmabahçe Palace, which was the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856-1922 (after the Topkapı Palace). Two guards constantly stand at the gates of the palace:
As intimidating as the guards appeared, it certainly didn’t stop me from taking a picture right in front of them:
Next I had to wait in line to get a token for the tram, which would take me from Kabataş to Sultanahmet. It was busy:
Finally arriving in Sultanahmet, I heard loud Ottoman-style music coming from the front of the Blue Mosque:
Next, I traveled to the Hippodrome of Constantinople. This is a large oval-shaped area that was a circus and social center of Constantinople. There were chariot races, markets, etc.. What remains today are three main landmarks, The Walled Obelisk, the Egyptian Obelisk, and the Serpentine Column.
The Walled Obelisk was built in the tenth century by Constantine Porphyrogenitus and was originally covered with bronze plaques, which no longer remain. Still, it’s quite impressive:
Here is a better shot from Wikipedia:
The base of the column is engraved with Roman figures and Latin inscriptions:
The equally-impressive Egyptian Obelisk was brought to Constantinople from Egypt in the fourth century by the Emperor Theodosius I. Before coming to Istanbul, the obelisk was in Luxor, Egypt since 1490 B.C.E.! That means that the obelisk is 3500 years old, and has been in Istanbul for around 1700 years!:
Interestingly, Paris also has an Egyptian Obelisk, which I happened to capture when I was there. This column was also originally located at Luxor, and was a gift from Mehmet Ali Pasha to Paris in 1833. This column is 200 years younger than its 3500 year old Istanbul counterpart:
Finally, the Serpent Column (originally known as the Tripod of Plataea), was brought to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The Emperor Constantine had the Serpent Column moved to Constantinople in (I think) the fourth century:
Next I visited the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. It was fascinating, but unfortunately all photography was prohibited. The courtyard of the museum is really nice though:
Better yet, from one of the museum’s balconies is a fantastic view of the Blue Mosque. And remember the Egyptian Obelisk? It made its way into the view as well:
As luck would have it, I had this incredible view during the afternoon call to prayer. I took a video of the call to prayer, and it is really incredible because you can hear several mosques echoing the ezan back and forth. Ignore my annoying cell phone ringing at the beginning of the video. Enjoy:
Next, I saw the German Fountain, which was a gift from German Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898:
Being in Istanbul is certainly eye-opening in terms of just how much interaction there was and is between Turkey, the Middle East, and Europe. Everywhere you look, there is some landmark from Europe or the Middle East. Just more evidence that Napoleon was correct when he said that “If the entire world was a single country, Istanbul would be its capital.”
Addendum about İstiklâl Caddesi:
Late at night, İstiklâl Caddesi becomes a swirling mix of music and people, too. Here is a video I took very late at night, in which you can hear several street musicians playing beautiful music: