With the recent weather in the UK drawing us in with a false sense of sun in one week and snow the other, recently in Jules B H/O the topic on everybody’s mind is getting away for a post Easter break to somewhere exciting. Can’t decide between Europe or Asia? there’s no need to choose this week.
The cosmopolitan bi-continental city of Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and also the nation’s cultural, economic and financial centre. Serving as the capital of the Roman Empire in 330, it went on to later become the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Latin Empire and Ottoman Empire before the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. It’s a naturally attractive place to visit due to its north-west location on the Bosphorus Strait which divides the European and Asian parts of Istanbul by a passage of water, and the natural Golden Horn Harbour which first attracted the Greeks, Romans, Byzantium and Ottomans with its calm, sheltered port. The European district contains the historic and economic centres of the city, while the Anatolian side is known as the less crowded half of the city but still contains important palaces and mansions. Today, the city is famed for its cosmopolitan modern day residents combined with its wealth of historical architecture, galleries and museums.
Istanbul is literally teaming with Byzantine, Ottoman, Roman and even Greek architecture that reflect the mix of people and empires that have ruled in the past. The historic peninsula in European Istanbul is said to be built on seven hills, each topped with an imperial mosque and surrounded by the city walls.
Blue Mosque in the historic district was built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed l, and now contains his tomb as well as a hospice and educational centre. A must see when in Istanbul, it is known as blue mosque due to the blue tiles that adorn the interior walls alongside over 200 stained glass windows and chandeliers to provide light. Blue Mosque is one of the most intact historical mosques in the city, and still active for Muslims to take part in the five daily prayers.
The Hagia Sophia is another important architectural site for both Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. A former church and later mosque, buildings have stood on the same spot since 360 AD, where it now contains a museum.
The Grand Bazaar in the district of Fatih is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with over 61 streets and 3000 shops attracting between 250,000- 400,000 visitors every day. It’s a must see when in Istanbul as its winding complexity can easily entertain you for a whole day, and the huge mix of stalls sell just about everything you could possibly think of.
Every year in April, Istanbul plays host to the Tulip Festival (Istanbul Lale Festivali) which transforms the large grassy area of Emirgan Park and all throughout the city into a giant burst of colour and work of art. Although commonly associated with Holland, tulips actually grew originally wild on the Asian settes before being cultivated by the Ottoman Empire. Beginning in 2005 under the slogan ‘the most beautiful tulips grow in Istanbul’, the festival has become an important part of Turkish culture and long has the image of a tulip been considered a symbol of Istanbul for its residents.
April also welcomes the return of the annual Turkish Delight Festival which celebrates the opening of the first shop to sell Turkish delight in the city in 1776. Combined with a belly dancing festival, it’s a great time to visit as the event features gala evenings, workshops where everybody can get involved, and professional shows by international dancers. Culminating in the finale, the Oriental Dance Championship, belly dancing groups and individuals battle out for 4 minutes to determine the winner of a cash prize.
Istanbul enjoys a subtropical climate with an April average of 16.5°c, but remember to pack a mix of clothes just in case you get caught in the rain. It’s also best to dress respectfully, especially when visiting mosques as you may be turned away if you’re not appropriately dressed. In the evening, Istanbul’s bars, restaurants, theatres, galleries and nightclubs come to life in a cosmopolitan mix of music, colour and performance. It’s been tipped as the ‘world’s hippest city’ and provides a busy playground of activities suitable for everybody- so make sure you dress to impress Istanbul’s fashionable residents. For ladies, a killer dress should be your starting point, so look no further than Vivienne Westwood Anglomania for a flash of iconic British design, just combine with an Armani Jeans leather jacket and sandals to toughen up the look. For men, a classic, slim fit pair of Paul Smith Jeans chinos forms the base of any great evening look, simply combine with a Hugo Boss Orange shirt and Sperry boat shoes for a subtle slice of this season’s nautical trend.
Nearby Cappadocia, a historic region in Anatolia is famous for its moon like landscape, underground cities, cave churches and rock carved houses. This fascinating area is a must see when in neighbouring Istanbul, and one of the best ways to see Cappadocia is by taking a hot air balloon trip over the rocky landscape.