Visiting Istanbul two times and just passing by the Hagia Sophia? I can imagine, some people would consider it to be a crime – especially if you are an architect to be like I am. Still, I have intwntionally passed by it several times (even during its opening hours!).
Studying architecture, you come across Hagia Sophia right in the first semester. It is definitely one of the most important builgings ever built and there have been numerous publications written about how precious and valuable it is. As I have read
at least few of them, I am well aware of its importance and by skipping the visit, I did not want to belittle it at all. I have simply enjoyed other sights.
It has become a habit of mine, every time I visit a new town/city, I always get to its highest point to get an overview – a general impression of it. This often require walking uphill, e.g. Barcelona, Paris, or Bregenz. Sometimes the natural topography is too flat, e.g. Hamburg or Berlin, so then I at least climb few stairs or take a lift. This viewing from above helps me to create a map in my head of how the city is composed – of course, you can always just read a map but combining it with acctuall experience makes it more personal. So then, when I do my (sight)seeing, I pinpoint those to this mental plan. I often get ‘lost’ on my tours but I never get lost in the meaning I don’t know where I am. As an architect to be, I have been trained to read and understand maps and frankly, I do well. So, when I get lost it means that I go somewhere unintentionally or without any special purpose 🙂 Just wandering through streets, observing the everyday life can be more exciting than a visit of an overcrowded ancient monument. And that was the reason why I have skipped Hagia Sophia. I have seen so many perfect pictures of it that going in would be disappoiting.
It has been my experience that tourists develop a certain arrogance when walking in groups. They do not care if they get into your picture or whether they invade your personal space – as long as they get to see what those numerous guides have been talking about. So going to see that extraordinary space I have seen in mumerous perfectly staged pictures and studied about would destroy all my appreciation for it. Some things are better in our imagination.
So instead of viewing Hagia Sophia with tousand other peole, I have made my own list of sights which I went to see in Istanbul.
If you are looking for a great overview of european side of Istanbul, you can always go to Galata tower. However, I would also recommend climbing up to Constantine fortification wall! I have barely met any tourists there – it might be because of the steep climb up (would not recommend for small children), but the view was so worthed as you could see the Golden Horn in its full length. Plus, I have found some nice cafes and restaurants right next to the wall remains and the delicious smell of turkish food on the street was almost surreal.
I am easilly impressed by ancient monuments or their ruins (afterall, I study architecture). However, I have been even more fascinated by rhose which are still in use. There are several byzantine cisterns in Istanbul which are worthed your time. [… to be continued.]
The food in Istanbul is really delicious. If you are looking for a lovely evening, get a ferry to asian side. No matter where you get (Uskudar or Kadikoy), it is so easy to find a nice market with fresh vegetable, cheese and other delicious stuff. I would say the nightlife in streets is not as wild as on european side but more sattle and cultural – perfect for an evening strall (even if you travel solo as I did!)