We have all been there. When you bring your friends and family to Istanbul from the United States the first thing you will do is take them to the “Historic Peninsula”. This is where most of the top ten Istanbul landmarks are: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Yerebatan Cistern, Topkapi Palace, Egyptian and Constantine Obelisks and of course the Grand Bazaar. I had carefully planned the Weil family's 9 day Turkiye visit in detail and had allocated one day to the historic peninsula. The visit did not go as expected. It seems like since the Syrian war Istanbul’s population has increased a million and the historic peninsula had its share along with tourists and refugees.
Our first visit was to the Blue Mosque which has been under renovation for at least three years. We went through temporary alleys covered with walls with thousands of people shoulder to shoulder. It almost seemed like a Mecca type of atmosphere. When we took our shoes off and went inside of the mosque it was a big disappointment. Almost everything including the dome and the mosaics were covered because of renovation and there was very little to see.
Cistern of Theodosius aka Şerefiye Sarnıcı
Our second stop was planned to see the Hagia Sophia followed by the Yerebatan Cistern, but the lines were so long, as if ten airplanes had just arrived and people were lined up at the New York customs.
We decided to skip those two landmarks and keep walking up the street. The children had ice cream from the tricky ice cream vendor and went to see another cistern which is not as big or famous as the Yerbatan. The Theodosius cistern aka Şerefiye Sarnici in the Çemberlitaş area has been renovated and opened to the public a few years ago. You pay a fee to get in but there were no lines. Going down on very steep and narrow stairs in the dark it seemed like we were visiting a halloween haunted house. Even the the date was correct, it was October the 31th. The kids who had missed halloween really enjoyed the show . Down there they had a marvelous light and laser show reflected on the tens of columns in the aqueduct.
Nur-u Osmaniye Mosque
In front of Constantine Column aka Hooped Column aka Çemberlitas
In the Nur-u Osmaniye Mosque
Our next stop was supposed to be to go to the Grand Bazaar, but we lucked out again. The Bazaar was closed that day because of the Turkish Republic day holidays. That gave us the opportunity to visit the Nur-u Osmaniye Mosque at the gate of the Grand Bazaar. After that we walked down the streets of Mahmutpaşa, with thousands of shops of every kind and a million people. I told my crew : keep going down, right or left does not matter, as long as you go down at one point you will reach the sea where the ferry boats called Vapur will take us to the Asian side of Istanbul to our home.
Here is a final tip for the historic peninsula traveler : If you can not get into Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, take the tram up the street or just walk. Your first stop is Çemberlitas aka Constantine Column. You have the Theodosius Cistern there right down the street with no lines to get in. The second stop on the tramway is Beyazit. Get off and keep walking for a few minutes and you will see the Suleymaniye Mosque. Remember the Turkish TV series “The Magnificent Century''. It is Sultan Suleyman’s Mosque built by the master architect Sinan. In size and grandeur it is no less than the Blue Mosque but the advantage is there are no lines to get in. After visiting the mosque you can eat in one of the “white beans and rice pilaf “stores, all lined up down the street, a traditional Turkish dish. One of the gates of the Grand bazaar is in the Beyazit area. You can continue your day going through the bazaar and shopping.