Ever mysterious, ever amazing: Unveiling the secrets of Istanbul

  • Geetika Jain, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 15, 2015 11:14 IST
A view of Istanbul from House Café, Ortakoy. From Roman architecture to Ottoman-style painted ceilings, to beautiful summer homes of Sultans and noblemen of a by-gone era, Istanbul never fails to surprise visitors. (HT Photo/ Shruti Dargan)

I came across the names Constantinople and Byzantium in literature, history and poetry while growing up, but I couldn’t find these places on the map till I read the captivating story of modern-day Istanbul, which lies at the juncture of the East and West, and is the meeting point of three continents — Europe, Asia and Africa. Today, both traditional and modern ways thrive in Istanbul, which is ever-popular with visitors, and holds many secrets. Here are just a few-

The Rooftop of the Grand Bazaar


Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. (HT Photo/ Shruti Dargan)

The Kapali carsi, the Grand Bazaar, thrived for centuries as an open-air market and a key juncture of an important trade route before it was covered around the 1550s, and today, there are over 3,500 shops laden with everything the heart desires.

However, it is the view of the city from the rooftop of this market that takes the cake. Glance at the Roman brickwork and Ottoman-style painted ceilings before you follow in our footsteps to make a truly spectacular discovery. We walked over to Buyuk Valid Han, and climbed a dark, crumbling stairwell next to Sapka Pozze, a hat shop in Kalitenin Tek Adresi to an old, disused caravanserai.

A long, arched passage led to another set of stairs and a tattered rooftop. In the golden light of the low sun, we found our way around the many cupolas overgrown with wild weeds and reclined on them, taking in the magnificent, sweeping views of Istanbul. The waters of the Bosphorus, the Galata Bridge and its hilly neighbourhoods lay just beneath us, and the multiple domes of Sultanahmet’s mosques just behind.

Stay in a Yali on the Bosphorus


The Topkapi Palace. (HT Photo/ Shruti Dargan)

Even more captivating than the impressive historic edifices on the edges of the Bosphorus are the small houses called Yalis. On a leisurely boat ride on the placid waters, we swanned past the summer homes of the Sultans and noblemen of a bygone era. A poetic name for these homes is lebideriya, or ‘lips to the water’, as the houses literally kiss the waters of the strait. Some of these houses have been converted into restaurants and hotels, and they can be experienced from the inside.

Rosebuds, Lokum and Pistacios


A stall in the spice market. (HT Photo/ Shruti Dargan)
Istanbul’s Spice Market in Eminonu and small neighbourhood food shops all over are just the places to discover the world’s most delicious pistachios and lokum (Turkish Delight) in dozens of flavours, and stretchy mastic ice-cream called dondorma. Pick up red rosebuds that can enhance a glass of water, and ingredients such as pomegranate seed powder, wisteria and elder flower extract.


The author can be reached at - geetikaglobetrot@ googlemail.com

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