Our group of 12 left the hotel a few minutes after 9:00am this morning. One couple got confused about what the correct local time was, and was off by an hour. It was fine - everyone was in good spirits.
Our first stop was the ancient Hippodrome of Istanbul, which now hosts two magnificent obelisks. The Hippodrome of Constantinople (Turkish: Sultanahmet Meydanı, was a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today it is a square named Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) in the Turkish city of Istanbul, with a few fragments of the original structure surviving.
We then headed to the "Blue Mosque" - one of the most wonderful Mosques in Islam. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Turkish: Sultan Ahmet Camii) is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Its Külliye contains a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is still popularly used as a mosque.
We then walked to the Topkapi Palace. The Topkapı Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465–1856) of their 624-year reign.As well as a royal residence, the palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. It is now a museum and as such a major tourist attraction. It also contains important holy relics of the Muslim world, including Muhammed's cloak and sword. and the Royal Jewels. The Topkapı Palace is among the monuments contained within the "Historic Areas of Istanbul", which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and is described under UNESCO's criterion iv as "the best example[s] of ensembles of palaces [...] of the Ottoman period." The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, and covered a large area with a long shoreline. It contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint. Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople. It was originally called the New Palace (Yeni Saray) to distinguish it from the previous residence. It received the name "Topkapı" (Cannon Gate) in the 19th century, after a (now lost) gate and shore pavilion. The complex was expanded over the centuries, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and the 1665 fire. After the 17th century, the Topkapı Palace gradually lost its importance as the sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosphorus. In 1856, Sultan Abdül Mecid I decided to move the court to the newly built Dolmabahçe Palace, the first European-style palace in the city. Some functions, such as the imperial treasury, the library, and the mint, were retained in the Topkapı Palace.
It was then time for lunch in a little cafeteria style restaurant that was air conditioned!!
After lunch we walked to the Hagia Sophia - absolutely one of the most spectacular buildings in the world. Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, "Holy Wisdom"; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya) is a former Christian patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi) in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935. The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, its patronal feast taking place on 25 December, the commemoration of the birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. Although sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia being the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom, its full name in Greek is Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, "Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God".
Our final stop was the Grand Bazaar, not far from our hotel. The Grand Bazaar (Turkish: Kapalıçarşı, meaning ‘Covered Bazaar’; also Büyük Çarşı, meaning ‘Grand Bazaar’) in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. In 2014, it is listed No.1 among world's most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors.
During the tour, we had the opportunity to view the Bosporus and the Mediterranean - a truly wonderful sight!
Although long due to the jet lag, it was a wonderful day - worth every minute. Tomorrow, we meet at 11:00am to head to the ship!