Despatches from Istanbul 6: Chora Church


There seems to be an assumption in Istanbul that visitors to its tourist attractions outside of its central Sultanahmet district will all be arriving in coaches.  Hence, the biggest roads in the city have tourist signposts but the smaller roads and streets – the ones less likely to be coach-friendly but more likely to be pedestrian-friendly – don’t.  And hence, when a friend and I set off for Chora Church in the Edirnekapi district in western Istanbul, first by public transport and then on foot, we had a job finding the place.


The public transport we used was the ferry-boat that sails up and down the Golden Horn.  It was a pleasant cruise and offered plenty to see along the shorelines – cluttered quaysides, sheds, now-smokeless brick chimneys and mantis-like cranes, plus moored white cruise-boats, grey naval ships, orange-red tugboats and even a sleek dark submarine with the Turkish flag licking about in the breeze at its prow (tethered next to what I took to be a waterside museum).  Unfortunately, the ports-of-call along the Golden Horn were not announced on the ferry’s public address system and each stop was very brief, with the result that we missed getting off at the spot we intended to.  So we had to sail further up the Horn and then back again, which added the most of an hour onto our journey-time.



From there, we made our way up a city hillside – and signs for Chora Church were non-existent.  We at least had a chance to see something of an ordinary Istanbul neighbourhood.  Houses were squashed against one another up the steep incline, their windows enclosed by patterned grills or bars and their pastel colours slightly faded.  The narrower back-streets were cobbled and populated by dozy-looking cats.  Trucks struggled to climb the gradient and negotiate the twisty corners.  At one point, kids came streaming out through an arched gateway that led into a school ground, their school uniforms in the maximum-possible state of dishevelment before they stopped looking like uniforms – school-ties so loosened that their knots dangled level with the wearers’ diaphragms and shirt-tails flapping around the wearers’ backsides.  The school-wall was lined with coils of barbed wire.  To keep intruders out, I wondered, or to keep inmates in?


Without intending to, we got to see the remnants of the mighty city walls built by Theodosius II in the fifth century.  These brought Chora Church within the city’s defences for the first time, as it’d stood outside an earlier set of walls erected by Constantine the Great.  Also, unexpectedly – as we were going up the side of a busy dual carriageway at the time – we passed a traditional-looking cemetery and snapped a few pictures of its gravestones through the railings.



Eventually, after asking half-a-dozen locals for directions, we got to our destination.  Chora Church is one of the oldest surviving examples of a Byzantine church – much of what stands today dates back to the eleventh century, although the original church had been there since half a millennium earlier.  Its history is not dissimilar to that of Aya Sofya in Sultanahmet.  Originally adorned with beautiful Christian mosaics and frescoes, it was turned into a mosque following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans.  At which point, due to Islam’s ban on representative imagery, the mosaics and frescoes vanished behind layers of plasterwork.  In the twentieth century, however, restorers set to work uncovering the Christian artwork and the building went from being a mosque to becoming, in 1958, a museum.


Boasting six domes and three internal sections – an entrance hall, a main body and a side chapel – the church is a squat, compact building made of grey and brown stone.  Its interior is a testimony both to the talents of the original artists who created the mosaics and frescoes on the walls, ceilings and inner dome-surfaces and to the diligence of those restorers who liberated them from underneath the Ottoman plaster.  Once inside, you get to view a huge assortment of Biblical characters and scenes: Jesus, Adam and Eve, Moses, David, Solomon, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, Joseph, Herod, Saints Peter and Paul, various angels, various miracles, the Nativity, the Journey of the Magi, the Passover, the Resurrection and the Second Coming.  Here are a few examples of what’s on display there.





At the time we arrived at Chora Church, a few coaches had just unloaded their human cargoes, so the interior was uncomfortably crowded with tour groups.  I had the misfortune to several times cross paths with a plump, charmless Italian boy of about 10 years old called Luigi – I knew his name was Luigi because I heard his mother berating him: “Luigi!  Luigi!  Luigi!” she scolded, though with no apparent effect.  Rather than stand and admire the gorgeous mosaics and frescoes around him, Luigi spent his time shoving his luckless little sister into the legs of passing tourists.  I know it’s unlikely, but if you ever happen to be reading this blog, Luigi – be aware that you’re a horrible little arsehole.


Near to Chora Church is an eatery called the Asitane Restaurant, which specialises in a type of cuisine I hadn’t sampled before – Ottoman cuisine.  Feeling experimental, I ordered a dish of ‘de-boned lambs’ trotters served with vinegar on rye bread’.  It was like eating extremely limp squid that had a weird, vaguely lamb-ish aftertaste.  I was proud of myself for trying it, but I doubt if I’ll ever try it again.


Despatches from Istanbul 5: Topkapi Palace, the Imperial Harem and the Archaeological Museum


Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the main home for the Ottoman sultans and their courts during the 400 years between the mid-fifteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, seems to have had a vibe to it resembling that of the castle in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels.  According to the palace’s Wikipedia entry, its inhabitants “rarely had to venture out since the palace functioned almost as an autonomous entity, a city within a city… the palace had its own water supply through underground cisterns and the great kitchens provided for nourishment on a daily basis…  Dormitories, gardens, libraries, schools, even mosques were at the service of the court.  Attached to the palace were diverse imperial societies of artists and craftsmen…  A strict, codified, ceremonial daily life ensured imperial seclusion from the rest of the world.”  (


If that description – well, apart from the mention of the mosques – doesn’t describe the situation of the Groan dynasty in the Gormenghast books, simultaneously rulers, prisoners and slaves (to centuries of ritual), I don’t know what does.


Unlike the massive castle in Gormeghast, however, Topkapi Palace has nothing imposingly gothic about it.  Huge though it is – in its heyday, it was capable of accommodating 4000 people – little of it rises higher than two storeys.  Rather than towering upwards, it sprawls outwards, as a complex of low buildings, courtyards, terraces, passageways, galleries, gardens and fountains.




It is, inevitably, mobbed by tourists and my explorations of the main part of the palace were confined mostly to looking at the (admittedly beautiful) exteriors, rather than venturing into the crowded interiors.  I did brave the Imperial Treasuries, which involved being shunted along in a dense line of people, around the walls of several rooms and past a great many glass exhibit boxes, and trying to study the priceless artefacts within the boxes in the space of a few seconds – for a few seconds was all I got, before the human conveyor belt I was part of nudged me on to the next box.  Wow, I thought, there’s the Topkapi Dagger – but five seconds later the weight of bodies behind me had propelled me beyond sight of it.  And wow, I thought, there’s the Spoonmaker’s Diamond – cue another tantalising but unsatisfying five seconds of scrutiny before I was shifted further on.  It was so frustrating that in comparison it made the shuffle-around in the Crown Jewels section of the Tower of London seem good.


Oh well.  At least, from the terrace outside, you got a great view of the Golden Horn.



The Imperial Harem on the palace grounds, for which you have to buy a separate ticket, offers a slightly less stressful tourist experience.  Historically, this area was strictly off limits to anyone who wasn’t a sultan, or a prince, or one of the sultan’s favoured consorts, or a concubine, or a eunuch – the eunuchs had the job of guarding the place – or the queen mother.  (That last detail seems a little bizarre, admittedly.  If you were a sultan and had a harem at your disposal, the last person you would have granted access to it would be your own mother-in-law.)  Anyway, the tiles, stained glass, lattice-work and architecture generally in this part of the palace are superb.



I spent a good part of a day wandering about the palace, but you can probably spend a large chunk of another day in the archaeological museum that is also on its grounds – again, you need to buy a separate ticket for it.  The most striking thing here is the collection of sarcophagi – not sarcophagi of the man-shaped Egyptian variety, but grand, imposing, sculpted ones – which were gathered from Crete, Durazzo, Ephesus, Sidon, Thessalonica, Tripoli and Tyre under the Ottoman Empire.  The surfaces of these are lavishly adorned with griffins, sphinxes, lions, peacocks and at least one weird eagle-headed man.  In the case of the marble Alexander Sarcophagus, its sides are decorated with graphic battle and hunting scenes – including one detail where a lion tears flesh from a horse’s breast with horror-movie savagery.  (This sarcophagus is so named because Alexander the Great is supposed to feature in one of the scenes, although it actually belonged to the Sidonian king Abdalonymos.)  However, the greatest sarcophagus in the museum is surely the Sidamara Sarcophagus from the late third century.  As big as a caravan, its sides are an epic marble tapestry of horses, horsemen, lions, maidens, youths and sagacious-looking old men and it looks more like a small temple than a burial container.



Elsewhere in the museum’s sarcophagi department is an extensive collection of marble and limestone grave stelae.  Wandering among them, you feel you’re exploring a huge indoor cemetery.


Incidentally, in another exhibition room, you’ll find something that was once inside a sarcophagus.  The remains of Sidonian King Tabnit from about 500 BC represent about the most hideous-looking mummy I’ve ever seen.  Resembling a grotesque hybrid of skeleton and petrified tree trunk, the mummy’s chest is now burst open with the ribs on either side grasping upwards like talons, while his revealed innards are so withered they look like a heap of decayed leaves.



Finally, on the museum’s second floor, I felt strangely happy to encounter a statue of the Emperor Hadrian.  As my family live just a little way above the great wall he built across Northumbria and Cumbria in northern England (in order, no doubt, to protect Scottish civilisation from incursions by English barbarians) and as I’m also familiar with the Antonine Baths whose construction he started at Carthage in Tunisia, seeing him there was like bumping into an old acquaintance.



Despatches from Istanbul 4: Aya Sofya


As religious buildings go, Aya Sofya in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district has seen a few career-changes in its time.  Built in the sixth century as the Orthodox Cathedral of Constantinople, it was regarded as the crowning achievement of Byzantine architecture – its influence is even detectable in the design of its near neighbour in Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque.  After Constantinople fell into the hands of crusaders in 1204, it was turned into a Roman Catholic cathedral, but it reverted to its original creed when the Byzantines wrested the city back in 1261.  Two centuries later, Constantinople fell again, this time to Sultan Mehmed, and the building was converted into a mosque.  Aya Sofya remained thus until 1935, when the father and first president of the modern Republic of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, had it secularised and made into a museum.  Accordingly, the only religious activities now permitted on its premises take place in a small prayer room allocated for its Muslim and Christian staff.




Entering the building, you are overwhelmed by both the interior’s space and its light.  The huge area of floor – with rigs of small white lamps hovering just a couple of metres above it, like flattened chandeliers – gives you the feeling that you’ve wandered into a giant ballroom and the strains of the Blue Danube almost start to sound in your ears.  Meanwhile, the light is such that the great dome overhead nearly seems to float free of the rest of the structure, an illusion helped by the ring of windows around the dome’s base.



There is also a horseshoe-shaped gallery reached, not by going up a staircase, but by ascending a series of flagstoned, ramp-like passageways that twist around 180 degrees at either end.  After scaling four or five of those, you may begin to feel your age – I know I did.  The gallery not only gives you the best vantage point for taking in Aya Sofya’s grand interior, but it features on its walls some remarkable Christian mosaics from the Byzantine past.  (Now uncovered and restored, these mosaics had been plastered over when the building became a mosque, due to Islam’s prohibition on representative imagery.  However, it should be noted that Aya Sofya’s mosaics suffered at the hands of Christians as well as Muslims – the crusaders who arrived in 1204 removed many of them and shipped them back to Venice, which had sponsored the sack of Constantinople at the time.)




Also worth looking out for in Aya Sofya are a pair of huge, gorgeous round urns brought from Pergamon, which were carved from two great slabs of marble.  And, in the surrounding grounds, you can see some interesting pieces of bric-a-brac like these:




Despatches from Istanbul 3: the Blue Mosque


The one problem with the Blue Mosque in Istanbul was that there were too many tourists.  The interior felt particularly crowded, as visitors were coralled into one side-area where adolescent school-parties swarmed around and fleets of small Eastern European-looking old ladies barrelled past the other bodies with no thought given to decorum or good manners, like out-of-control dodgem cars.  But I’m talking as somebody who visited as a tourist, and nobody dislikes tourists as much as another tourist does.


Constructed between 1609 and 1616 (meaning that the 400th anniversary of its completion will come four years from now), the Blue Mosque was controversial in its day because of the six minarets that stand guard around its main dome.  Six minarets were deemed to be two too many – up until then, the accepted maximum had been four per mosque.



Inside, you’ll find a rhapsody in blue that rivals anything composed by George Gershwin.  The dreamy, blue-tinged look of its interior comes from the colour of the 20,000 ceramic tiles covering its walls.  The dreamy atmosphere is enhanced by the acoustics, which reduce the excited jabber of the visiting crowds to a distant, watery murmur.


Light is provided by countless teat-shaped white lamps, borne on patterned metal frames that hover about a dozen feet above the floor.  These lamp-frames hang at the ends of cables that descend from the ceiling, their black lines seeming to cut the domed canopies and curved terraces into many vertical slices.  I’m afraid my limited photographic abilities didn’t capture much of the mosque’s internal grandeur – but perhaps these pictures convey a little of its lighting effects.




Despatches from Istanbul 2: five (tourist-related) low points


After the recent entry describing ten highlights of my visit to Istanbul, I thought I would add some balance by mentioning too a few low points of that visit.  However, Istanbul-lovers shouldn’t worry.  None of these low points concern the city itself.  Neither do they concern the city’s inhabitants.  Rather, they’re all to do with the tourists whom I met there.


School parties.  The day I entered the Blue Mosque, I was unfortunate enough to find myself in the middle of a throng of pubescent and very noisy schoolkids – Dutch ones I think.  (Accordingly, when we all sat down in an entry chamber to remove our shoes, I was engulfed in a toxic cloud of pubescent, trainer-induced foot odour.)  Meanwhile, there were dozens of parties of school-uniformed teenagers making their way around the archaeological museum at Topkapi Palace.  The girls yakked incessantly, the boys arsed about, and all of them rattled through the exhibition rooms, past the exhibits, like strings of characters in a speeded-up Benny Hill sketch.


It makes me wonder what the point is of sending schoolchildren, especially teenagers, to see anything that’s deemed to be of cultural interest.  If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that they won’t be interested in it.  And that’s because only one thing exists that youngsters that age are interested in, which is themselves.  But nonetheless, their schools still send them to these places in droves, and their sheer numbers and their endless adolescent jabber are guaranteed to drive all other visitors to distraction.


And that’s the end of my cranky-old-man diatribe for today.


The cruise ship at Istanbul Modern.  The café-bar at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is fiendishly expensive – 14 Turkish lira for a glass of lemonade! – but diners can console themselves with the wonderful view that the café’s balcony grants them over the adjacent quayside and a good stretch of the Bosporus.  Unfortunately, when I walked in there with a friend, a gigantic cruise ship chose that moment to manoeuvre alongside the quay and berth.  If someone had suddenly and magically erected a 100-metre-high wall on the quay, the view couldn’t have been blocked any more effectively.


My friend told me that all the cruise passengers looked like Americans – the sort of Americans who, back in America, drive huge sports utility vehicles that hog the roads.  So I suppose it was appropriate that they sneaked in there and hogged the Bosporus with their big bloody ship.


Antipodean overload.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Australians.  I have to – a whole wing of my family consists of born-and-bred Sydney-ites.  And most of the Australians I saw in Istanbul, who were presumably visiting because of the Gallipoli connection, seemed reasonably decent and well-behaved.


I’ll make an exception, though, for a group of Aussies whom I observed one evening boozing on the terrace of the Sultan Bar, around the corner from the hotel I was staying in.  They were apparently engaged in a drinking game where, as everyone got more intoxicated, the penalties for losing a round became ever more outrageous.  One participant had to go into the middle of the road outside and perform a belly dance.  Two more people had to borrow umbrellas from a pair of bemused passers-by and do a Singing in the Rain dance routine, again in the middle of the road.  A whole squad of them had to do multiple press-ups – you guessed it, in the middle of the road.  As the evening progressed, the close encounters they were having with the passing traffic grew closer and worryingly closer.


However, what really got to me after an evening or two was the music pouring out of the loudspeakers at the Sultan Bar and out of those at the Cheers Bar on the opposite side of the street.  To keep their Australian patrons happy, one bar would play Down Under by Men at Work, while the other would play Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil – for, it seemed, hours at a time.


So come on, Australia, buck up!  Write some new songs, please, so that we can get some musical variety at the pubs and hostels around the world catering for your backpackers!


General tourist dorks.  There were some silly and annoying people lurking around Istanbul’s tourist attractions.  The worst ones were probably a pair of guys in front of the Blue Mosque who were wearing baseball caps and red sweat-tops with – oh no – Tunisia emblazoned across them.  One guy was standing up on a bench, affecting frankly stupid-looking taekwondo poses with the gorgeous and venerable mosque in the background, while his mate took photographs of him.  Neither of them made good, street-credibility-enhancing ambassadors for the new democratic Tunisia.


The flight back to Tunis with Turkish Airlines.  I praised the Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, but I’m afraid I was less enthusiastic about the return trip.  This was mainly because the plane was crowded with Tunisian shopaholics making their way home and they seemed to have brought the entire contents of the Grand Bazaar on board as hand luggage.


Despatches from Istanbul 1: ten high points


When somebody informs me that they want to talk about their holiday, and show their holiday photos, my instinctive reaction is to run away and hide in a broom cupboard.  However, I’m now going to talk about a recent holiday I had in Istanbul and show some holiday snaps that I took.  Yes, that’s right, I’m a hypocrite.  Get over it.


When I sort out my impressions, and pictures, of Istanbul’s more famous attractions – the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace and the Chora Church – I’ll post them up as separate entries.  But in the meantime, here’s a Holiday Top Ten of things I experienced in Istanbul apart from those big tourist draws.


The flight to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines.  The reputation of Turkey’s national airline is on the up these days and, from the evidence of my flight to Istanbul, its growing reputation is deserved.  It was more comfortable and better staffed than any British Airways plane I’ve been on in a while, and it was miles better than what I’ve lately had to endure on Tunisair or Air France.  (In particular, the Turkish Airlines food put to shame the culinary fare I had last time on Air France, which consisted of a cup of coffee and one bland and medium-sized bun.)  One criticism, though – I know Turkish Airlines sponsor Manchester United, but I wish they didn’t ram that fact down your throat by showing supposedly-hilarious promotional clips of the team on the back-of-the-seat video screens.  The sight of Wayne Rooney wearing a Turkish Airlines pilot’s cap does not inspire confidence that you’ll reach your destination in comfort or, indeed, intact.


The view from the hotel’s rooftop terrace at breakfast-time.  I spent my breakfasts looking at a panorama of roof-scapes.  Roofs with other hotel-terraces penned in by wrought-iron railings and crowded by parasols, roofs with rows of multicoloured teardrop-shaped lamps hanging from cables and awnings, roofs with pots containing heathery plants and bonsai-sized trees, roofs with satellite dishes and gas-tanks and tall twisting chimney-pipes, roofs with exuberant growths of wisteria that trailed purple blooms down the walls…  Beyond that, on one side, I could see the pale, shimmering blueness of the Sea of Marmara.  Crowning the skyline on the other side was the Blue Mosque and half-a-dozen attendant minarets.  Birds swooped everywhere, greedy for morsels that’d been dropped by the breakfasters – gulls, coppery-coloured pigeons and evil-looking scavengers that resembled grey-and-black ravens.  Here’s what the view looked like to the west:



The Basilica Cistern.  And here is the first of two James Bond references I’ll make in this entry.  The Basilica Cistern was a location in an early 007 movie, 1963’s From Russia with Love.  A water filtration system at one time for the now-vanished Great Palace of Constantinople, and later on for Topkapi Palace (which of course still stands), this subterranean chamber covers an area of nearly 10,000 square metres and has 336 nine-metre-high marble pillars supporting its roof.  It’s capable of holding 100,000 tons of water, although today only a few feet of water cover its floor.  (The water is not, alas, populated by Bond-ian piranhas but by a few small decorative fish.)  Raised walkways allow visitors to move above the water and between the pillars.  Right at the back of the cistern are two columns whose bases have been sculpted into the faces of gorgons from Greek mythology – it’d be pleasing to say these were surrounded by tourists who’d turned to stone, but no, they were just surrounded by tourists who were still flesh-and-blood and were snapping endless photos.  My own camera, being a bit unsophisticated, didn’t take good pictures in the dark Basilica Cistern, so here’s a link to the place’s Wikipedia entry instead:


The vendors.  I always think you can judge how interesting a city is by studying the variety of pedlars and vendors hawking things in its streets.  Istanbul scored highly.  Food vendors flogged corn-on-the-cob and bagfuls of roast chestnuts around the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, while on a nearby street I saw a bloke pushing a long flat barrow loaded with pomegranates with a big iron juicer fixed at one end.  Several pedlars were selling Spirograph kits from pavement stalls.  (If you don’t know what a Spirograph is, you’d better check this:  These were immensely popular in the 1970s, though my juvenile attempts to use one usually resulted in tangled scribbles that resembled a bunch of daddy-long-legs having an orgy.)  The fronts of the pedlars’ stalls were decorated with Spirograph patterns that they’d drawn themselves – which, unlike my efforts, featured beautifully coloured and geometrically perfect configurations of hypotrochoids, epitrochoids and the like.  However, the prize for Best Street-Hawker of Istanbul must go to the indefatigable brush-and-bucket man.  Here’s a picture of him at work:



The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts.  Although this museum is at the side of the tourist-infested Hippodrome, it was less crowded than the attractions close by and so offered some welcome calm on an often-hectic sightseeing circuit.  Among its attractions are the bronze doors of the Great Mosque in Cizre (patterned by craftsmen who seem to have used a giant Spirograph kit of their own), prayer rugs from 17th century Anatolia, lacquered Korans, a 19th century Ottoman writing set and a very elaborate ceramic barometer.  My favourite exhibit, however, was this Koran box from the tomb of Sultan Selim II in the late 16th century:



The ferries.  Istanbul sits on the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn inlet, so its fleet of ferryboats offer a convenient – as well as scenic – means of getting around.  Just make sure you know when your stop is coming up.  A travelling companion and I were on a ferry one morning, waiting for our destination to be announced over the P.A. system – only the boat didn’t have a P.A. system.  When we finally went down from the passenger desk, we saw our intended getting-off point receding along the shore behind us.  Incidentally, the wooden buildings that serve as terminal buildings are very sweet.  Here’s a picture of one terminal waiting room that puts me in mind of an old British railway station:



Istanbul Modern.  When you find yourself wearying of medieval mosques, palaces, churches and tombs, it’s worth making a trip to the Karakoy district and visiting the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art.  Among its more striking exhibits are Olafur Eliasson’s Red Emotional Globe (2010), which is a big multi-faceted mirrorball-cum-Death-Star thing throwing out illuminated diamond shapes; Jennifer Steinkamp’s Eyecatching (2003), which consists of computer-animated, writhing, Medusa-like green trees and manages to be cool and creepy at the same time; and Tomas Saraceno’s Air-Port City (2007), which is made of nets and airbags and is suspended by cables in the middle of a room like a gigantic, bubbly sub-atomic particle.  (There was something creepy about it too – I had a feeling that if its cables began to snap, they’d go slicing across the room like razor-wire.)  I also saw one or two artistic statements about the psychological and cultural schisms caused by the division of Cyprus – I’m told that modern Turkish artists like to make a lot of those.


Haydar’s Rock Bar.  I never consider a holiday complete until I’ve managed to sniff out at least one of the local heavy metal bars, and in Istanbul’s case I was fortunate enough to discover Haydar’s Rock Bar at Balo Sk 31, off Istiklal in Taksim.  The place is crammed into a passageway beneath a giant twisting ventilation pipe, wide at one end (where most of the tables are), narrow in the middle and slightly less narrow at the other end (where the bar-counter is).  The air contains a permanent fug of cigarette smoke and a huge, black, lethal-looking speaker squats on one wall blasting out music.  The evening I was there, the place reverberated to Metallica, Pearl Jam, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and ZZ Top, which in my mind was enough to establish Haydar’s Rock Bar as Turkish heavy metal (and punk) heaven.  All right, some dork did play stuff by Chris Rea and Bon Jovi too, but I’m sure even the world’s greatest music bar suffers the occasional lapse in standards.


The Grand Bazaar.  I would normally rather gouge out one of my own eyes than go and spend a morning in a shopping mall, but Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is something else.  It’s actually an old covered market that, over the centuries, has gradually morphed into a kind of modern shopping complex, but without losing any of its traditional charm.  Exploring its 61 passages can be daunting at ground level – as they’re crowded with shoppers hunting for jewellery, antiques, metal-work, carpets, leather goods, clothes, furniture and souvenirs – but you only have to look upwards at the tiled, wooden and brick-domed ceilings to be reminded of the place’s antiquity.  And now the second James Bond reference of this entry.  I was told that my first day in Istanbul coincided with the last day of filming for a sequence set in the Grand Bazaar, which will appear in the new 007 movie, Skyfall.  So even Daniel Craig does his shopping there.



The evening view from the bridge over the Golden Horn.  At dusk – around eight o’clock – this looked especially lovely.  Lit-up mosque-domes and minarets adorned the skyline, shrouded in smoky grey-blue light.