But that’s ancient history

The sense of history in Istanbul is overwhelming. Istanbul’s nearly 9 million people connect two continents, both physically and culturally, but even its size and unique geography are trumped by its almost overwhelming sense of history. Empires here were built then conquered; churches were turned into mosques; palaces and walls were erected and improved over the course of centuries.

The Small Faces – Long Agos and Worlds Apart

Inside the Hagia Sophia

Inside the Hagia Sophia

While visiting Topkapi Palace and looking out over its view of the Golden Horn, my friend William commented on the scale of population growth, jokingly saying that everyone was probably somehow distantly related to the Sultan. The lens of history sometimes amplifies certain facts, and it was strange to think that the city was the size of my hometown of Solon, Ohio, when Emperor Constantine made it the center of the Roman Empire, or that the Ottomans were attacking a booming metropolis that was maybe half the size of Cleveland.

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

But even with this varied history, it seemed clear to me that Istanbul was most loyal to its Ottoman heritage. Minarets from the city’s countless mosques poked through the skyline, and five times a day the call to prayer cut through the air in layers from every direction. My balcony at the hostel happened to be directly next to a minaret, and the muezzin’s singing floated above the din of people laughing, shopping, drinking and yelling below.

Call to prayer (adhan)

Incidentally, my balcony also afforded me incredible views of Istanbul’s incomparable skyline, particularly at night:

Sultanahmet in the distance; minaret of the mosque next door in the foreground

Sultanahmet in the distance; minaret of the mosque next door in the foreground


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