MY Constantinople

(in pictures)

A city full of colors, tastes, smells, and culture.


Istanbul is a major city in Turkey that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. Its Old City reflects the cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled here. In the Sultanahmet district, the open-air, Roman-era Hippodrome was, for centuries, the site of chariot races, and Egyptian obelisks also remain. The iconic Byzantine Hagia Sophia features a soaring 6th-century dome and rare Christian mosaics.

Istanbul facts 

The Turkish Coffee

Turkish coffee is a method of coffee preparation that originated in the Middle east and the Balkans, including Turkey, Greece, and Iran.

It’s made by combining finely ground coffee beans with water and bringing the liquid to a frothy foaming stage, just below boiling. Turkish coffee can be served unsweetened, prepared with moderate amounts of sugar or very sweet.  The sugar is added in the boiling water and never after being served into cups.


Turkish coffee is traditionally brewed in a pot called a cezve. After it reaches the desired stage, the brew — including the coffee grinds — is distributed into cups. For the best results each coffee should be prepared individually (just to feel one cup).


The coffee grind powder sinks to the bottom of the cup and the remaining liquid is consumed. Leaving the coffee unfiltered results in a much higher caffeine concentration compared to other preparation methods.


A common addition to Turkish coffee is cardamom (a spice) and it is best served with a loukum (turkish delight).

The Fauna of the city

Stray dogs and cats.


Istanbul has been portrayed as a “cat haven” by the world’s media for years. Beautiful photos, tourism board videos, and award-winning documentaries show us a peaceful, happy, and healthy coexistence between street cats and the animal-loving local community of the over 15 millions city.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Veterinary Services Directorate says the estimated number of stray animals – cats and dogs – is around 250,000.

The actual number is, however, much, MUCH higher.

Unfortunately, there is a considerable gap between idyllic Instagram images and the real life of stray animals of Istanbul, whose daily existence is full of suffering.


The same situation exists for dogs.

The window dogs ...

Its Huge dome is considered an unsurpassed architectural miracle. It kept the record of being the largest dome in the world until the Duomo was built in Florence in the 15th century.

HAGIA SOPHIA


Hagia Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία, 

Ayasofya), also called Church of the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom, is an essential Byzantine structure in Istanbul and one of the world’s most significant monuments.


The building reflects the religious changes that have played out in the region over the centuries, with the minarets and inscriptions of Islam and the lavish mosaics of Christianity. It was built as a Christian church in the 6th century CE (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. In subsequent centuries it became a mosque, a museum, and a mosque again.

The ceremony in which the whirling takes place is known as a sema. As they whirl, dervishes hold their right arm up to receive blessings from heaven. One can appreciate the dreamy state that results from the methodical, repetitive, coordinated movements. Those who have seen the ceremony performed to describe the experience as quite intimate. Some recall how austere and earnest the dervishes appeared, with their movements seemingly effortless and perfect.

Whirling Dervish


Dervish is a Persian word that broadly refers to followers of a Sufi Muslim religious order known as the Mevlevi Brotherhood. Dervishes participate in wild dancing rituals that are notable for their whirling movements. These began in the early 1200s but are still practiced by the Sufi today.


This brotherhood was founded by the mystic poet Rumi, who is also responsible for the whirling dancing ritual. He was walking within earshot of a goldsmith and began dancing in a whirling pattern to the sound of the hammer. He became dizzy, went into a trance, and believed that he felt god.


Since then, dervishes have participated in elaborate whirling that results in a mesmerizing trance-like effect and is thought to achieve a release of the soul from earthly ties. Visitors to Istanbul can purchase a ticket and watch the whirling take place live or watch them free of charge in some cafes, like the "Meşale Restaurant & Cafe" located atArasta Bazaar.

 When the tea is served, a cube of beet sugar is placed on the saucer beside the tea. The sugar is typically placed inside the mouth between the teeth, and as the tea is consumed, it washes over the sugar, adding sweetness.


The tea in Turkey is not drank in cups but, like in the rest of middle east in glasses. Turkish tea glasses (Ince Belli) are small, dainty, and typically made with thin glass. These glass teacups are tulip-shaped and often have elaborate gold rims. The transparency of the glass teacup allows drinkers to fully appreciate the color of the tea.

The Narghile


In Turkey, when tea is shared among people, the narghile (water pipe) is often in the center, and it too is shared and enjoyed by tea drinkers. Most of us know the narghile as a “hookah.” Hookahs are synonymous with middle eastern culture and are almost always present in social settings. A vessel with water is heated, and tobacco or charcoal is inhaled through one of the numerous hose extensions.

Turkish Tea


Turkish tea is a black tea beverage deeply rooted in the culture of Turkey. The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) is grown in the Rize province of Turkey. What sets this black tea apart from traditional black tea enjoyed worldwide is how it’s prepared, served, and enjoyed.


Tea in Turkey is called “Çay,” pronounced like “chai.” When you are in Turkey, tea is offered almost everywhere you go. It’s impossible to walk down a street, visit a shop, go to someone’s home, or visit a park without someone offering tea.


The tea culture of Turkey has an unspoken way that is more or less expected from the one who drinks the tea. The most important thing to remember when having tea is never to refuse tea when offered because if you do, it’s highly insulting.

Turkish tea should be sipped, not guzzled, and should never have condiments such as milk.

Look for the old, traditional cafes that the locals frequent.

These are the perfect places to enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee or tea and an apple-taste narghile.

Gözleme

Gözleme is a traditional savory Turkish homemade flatbread with different fillings. Its dough is made with only flour, salt, and water. Gozleme doesn’t have sugar and dry yeast in it.


Gözleme was first founded in the Anatolia region centuries ago. You can consider the Anatolia region at the heart of Turkish cuisine. When you visit Anatolian villages, local women sit beside wooden tables where they prepare the Gözleme dough. After Gözleme dough preparation, they place them onto gas-powered, thin-plated unique grills, called ‘sac‘, to cook at.


Today, you can find it in cafes and restaurants in metropolitan cities, where it is served as a delicious appetizer that can be enjoyed at any time of the day.


You can make this delicious flatbread with various fillings. The most common fillings are spinach, minced meat, mozzarella cheese, potatoes, white cheese, or pastırma.

Şekerpare

One of Turkey's most popular sweets after baklava, these semolina cookies are baked until golden brown, then doused in a thick, lemon-infused syrup, which makes them exceptionally moist and tender. Şekerpare (lit. piece of sugar) is a classic dessert made in every Turkish household, sold in every bakery and pastry shop, and appearing on nearly every restaurant menu.


This sugary treat is also traditionally prepared for various family celebrations and religious festivities like Şeker Bayramı, marking the end of Ramadan. Şekerpare cookies are most often enjoyed with Turkish coffee, but they're also essential to any traditional afternoon tea time spread.

Balat is probably the most photogenic district of Istanbul. Balat, with its old narrow streets, and striking bay windowed houses, once, has been home to the Jew population of the city. It has a cosmopolitan nature that connects various religions and cultures with synagogues, mosques, and churches. Travelers wishing to experience Istanbul’s old tissue and witness its history step by step before it is lost to modernization should see Balat.

Balat has become very popular with locals and tourists, but it still is much more relaxed and tranquil than the rest of Istanbul, which is absolute chaos.  The orthodox Christian visitors have one more advantage because a visit to The Ecumenical Patriarchate and Saint George's Church can be combined with a visit to Balat.  

The Patriarchate is located in what is known as Fener ("Phanari" in Greek) neighborhood.  Fener was the center of the once sizeable Greek community of the city.  The Greek community has been eliminated, but some important landmarks remain.  One of these is the "Red School," or the "Fener Rum Erkek Lisesi," as it is known officially (Fener Greek school for boys).  The Red Church (Meryem Rum Kirmizi Kilise in Turkish) is just around the Red School.

On the top of the hill stands Fethiye Camii, the Pammakaristos Byzantine Church. The Pammakaristos Church, also known as the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos ("All-Blessed Mother of God"), is one of the most famous Byzantine churches in Istanbul, and was the last pre-Ottoman building to house the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Converted in 1591 into the Fethiye Mosque (Fethiye Camii, "mosque of the conquest"), it is today partly a museum housed in a side chapel or parekklesion. One of the most important examples of Constantinople's Palaiologan architecture, the church contains the largest quantity of Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul after the Hagia Sophia and Chora Church.

Balat -A neighborhood of color

The streets of Balat are beautiful on their own. Even if you are not seeking something, the street's ambiance will enchant you. When we think of Balat, one of the first things that should come to mind is Merdivenli Yokuşu (the incline with steps). It serves as the neighborhood's emblem and is the location of the most famous Balat photographs. The homes on the Merdivenli Yokuşu have been reconstructed following the originals and are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. They look a bit fake to me and out of place if you think the rest of the building is very worn out.

You should visit the Balat antique stores to shop for presents or save something to remember your day in Balat.  Remember to bargain, do not be a silly tourist. And also, keep in mind that most antiques are not “antique” at all… just modern artifacts made in China.

For me, what brings here locals and tourists is the myriad of cafes and restaurants. Most of them are modern establishments made to look old and traditional but attractive and cozy. The food is good, and the coffee is excellent.

The Ottoman HAN


What is a han? A Turkish Ottoman building that combined an urban hotel, stable, storage depot, and wholesale selling point is more a descriptor than a definition. Before the Ottomans had hans, the Seljuk Turks built many, and before the Seljuks, the Persians. But it should be pointed out that the Seljuks were much more interested in erecting caravanserai (caravan palaces), which served the many commercial caravans going between cities than hans. They were located approximately one day’s journey between each, or 30-40 kilometers. This reflected the much larger economy under Ottoman control and the growth of trade in the Mediterranean.


The han usually rose two stories and sometimes three, the upper floors reached by staircases from the courtyard. The ground floor was used to house animals such as camels, horses, and mules that would have carried merchandise. It also had a large kitchen. The first floor would contain small rooms where a merchant would store his goods and sleep. These rooms would have fireplaces for winter weather.

The origins of the han have been traced back to the ribat, soldierly outposts along the coast of North Africa, stationed there sometime after the rise of Islam in the seventh century.


There are many hans survived in Istanbul and are well worth visiting. Most are integrated into the bazaars (markets) and house little commercial shops or offices.

The pomegranate

The beloved pomegranate has always been one, if not the most highly revered fruit in Turkey. Not only is it a symbol of luck and good fortune, but it is also one of the most nutritious and delicious fruits. One of the glories of the arrival of fall is preparing the popular pomegranate molasses for the winter pantry, drinking its ruby-red juice, and feasting on its gem-like seeds.

The significance of pomegranates in the Mediterranean countries, where they have been cultivated since ancient times, is multifold. In Turkey, the pomegranate, or “nar” referred to in Turkish, is considered a symbol of prosperity and abundance. Nearly every household will have some pomegranate sculpture decoration, and it is a steadfast tradition to smash a pomegranate on the floor on New Year’s Eve or at weddings in the hopes it will bring good fortune. In Islam, the pomegranate tree is believed to have been a part of the Garden of Eden, and the fruit is mentioned three times in the Quran. In Christianity, pomegranates represent resurrection, and its symbolism is evident in devotional statues and paintings. In Judaism, pomegranates are consumed on the religious holiday of Rosh Hashana for their symbolism of fruitfulness, and it is believed that the fruit has 613 seeds, representing the commandments of the Torah.

The fruit is available from the end of summer into spring, and in every corner of Turkey, you see vendors freshly squeeze pomegranates and sell the tasty juice. 


In towns throughout Turkey, the widespread preparation of “nar pekmezi,” aka pomegranate molasses, is another widespread use of the pomegranate. It is usually a community affair as local women come together to prepare this special sauce in giant cauldrons. However, pomegranate molasses can also easily be prepared in the comfort of your home.

Pomegranate molasses is an essential ingredient in Turkish cuisine and is used to dress nearly every salad and as a sweet and savory sauce to complement spicy dishes such as çiğ köfte

Lokum


An old Turkish aphorism tells one to “eat sweetly and speak sweetly”. Sweets and confectionery have always been an important part of Turkish cuisine. The origin of Lokum -Turkish Delight- dates back to the time of the Ottoman Empire.

A whimsical tale tells of the creation of Turkish delight: In an attempt to appease his many wives, a famous Sultan ordered his confectioner to create a unique sweet. Eager to please his Sultan, the confectioner blended a concoction of sugar syrup, various flavourings, nuts and dried fruits then bound them together with mastic (gum Arabic, 'μαστίχα' in Greek), a priceless flavoring from the Greek island of Chios (Χίος). After several attempts, a most delectable sweet emerged from the royal kitchens. The Sultan was so delighted with these delicious little gems that he proclaimed the sweet maker the court’s chief confectioner! And this is the story of how Turkish delight was created. Hereafter, a plate of Turkish delight was served at daily feasts in the Ottoman court.

Before the 18th century, honey and grape molasses were the only sweetening ingredients available to Ottoman confectioners. With the introduction of sugar in the late 18th century, Ottoman Empire transitioned to a new era of sweet making. Sugar brought with it the beginning of endless creative possibilities to Ottoman confectioners and sweet makers. It was during this time that Turkish delight, one of the oldest known confections in the world, was created in the great kitchens of the Ottoman court.

Burek


Turkish Borekis thinly rolled pastry, often the paper-sheet thin variety known as phyllo (yufka in Turkish), which is wrapped around various savory fillings or arranged in layers.


The myriad types of börek are unmatched delicacies when cooked to perfection in the Turkish cuisine. Boreks can be fried, baked, cooked on a griddle or boiled. Preferred fillings are cheese, minced meat, spinach and potatoes.


There are different names and types of Turkish börek. In the form of rolls filled with cheese or minced meat mixtures and fried, böreks are known as "Sigara (cigarette) boregi". Other varieties are; Su boregi, Boshnak boregi, Kol boregi, Talash boregi, Pachanga boregi, Gul boregi, Cig borek, Kürt (Kurdish) boregi, Tepsi boregi, and so on.


Traditionally it was said that no girl should marry until she had mastered theartof börek making. Böreks should be light and crisp, without a trace of excess oil. It's one of the most traditional pastry dishes in Turkey that can be eaten any time of the day from breakfast to dinner, either as a main dish, appetizer, or snack.

Cheese borek

Turkish delight was unveiled to the west in the 19th century. During his travels to Istanbul, an unknown British traveller became very fond of the Turkish delicacies, purchased cases of “rahat lokoum” and he shipped them to Britain under the name Turkish delight.

It is believed that Picasso enjoyed Turkish delightdaily to improve his concentration while Napoleon and Winston Churchill relished pistachio filled Turkish delights.

Today, Turkish Delight remains the sweet of choice in many Turkish homes. Enjoyed worldwide, the subtle flavours of Turkish delight are known to compliment coffee and sweeten the breath at the end of a meal.

Meat burek

A city photobook

Here are some of the latest pictures I took during my 2022 visit in the city.

Architectural details