Istanbul Highlights #1

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The highlights of Istanbul for a first-time visitor are:

The Hagia Sophia is a 6th-century Christian basilica, converted to a mosque by the Ottomans, now a museum. If the word awesome still had meaning, I would use it to describe the Hagia Sophia, temple of Holy Wisdom. It set the standard for Byzantine architecture, though it was 1,000 years before another cathedral surpassed its size. From the outside, it’s a red-orange mountain that seems to anchor the city to the Bosphorus shore. It’s not particularly beautiful but the air of greatness can’t be missed. On the inside, it’s vast, immense, vast and vast and filled with the light of heaven. The massive, superlative dome practically floats above the wide-open enormity below. Interior surfaces are decorated with frescos, mosaics, calligraphy and marble. Continue reading

Foto Friday – Ya’lla Groups

Happy Friday one and all! Thanks for stopping by.

Here are some shots of Ya’lla group travelers enjoying some of our destinations.

at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Even if you agree on a price before hand, some camel guys will demand extra money to let you off the camel. This is one of many reasons why a guide is highly recommended.

Even if you agree on a price before hand, some camel guys will demand extra money to let you off the camel. This is one of many reasons why a guide is highly recommended.

outside the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora in Istanbul

outside the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora in Istanbul

in the Roman theater of Amman, Jordan

in the Roman theater of Amman, Jordan

at Bait Al Safah, a renovated house in the old village of Al Hamra, Oman

at Bait Al Safah, a renovated house in the old village of Al Hamra, Oman

Pergamum in Turkey

Temple of Trajan, Pergamum, Turkey

Temple of Trajan, Pergamum, Turkey

Pergamum is an ancient Greco-Roman city in western Turkey, about 15 miles from the Aegean coast, 60 miles from Izmir, the closest airport, 110 miles from Ephesus, and about 320 miles from Istanbul. The modern town on the site is Bergama.

Continue reading

The Underground Cities of Cappadocia

Derinkuyu underground city, Cappadocia, Turkey

Derinkuyu underground city, Cappadocia, Turkey

There are 40 some underground cities in the Nesehir and Kayseri provinces of Cappadocia in central Turkey. Some estimates put the number into the hundreds, while others count around 40. My guess is the discrepancy lies in how one defines “city.”
For our purposes, and those of the average tourist, 40 is more than enough. Most are not open to the public anyway, so we’ll focus on two that are: Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.

Extending down 200 feet with 8 levels, Derinkuyu is the deeper of the two cities but Kaymakli has more sprawl. They are connected to each other by tunnels, as are many of the other underground cities.

The cities possibly originated in Hittite times, around 1200 BCE, but were certainly, significantly expanded over the centuries, especially during Roman persecution of Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and again in the 7th century, with the Arab invasions. Really, this part of the world was a superhighway for invaders, and the inhabitants had reason to hide on a regular basis. They got very good at it.

The underground cities were set up to shelter as many as 20,000 for long-term living and include sleeping quarters, kitchens, storehouses, churches, stables and even a winery. Ventilation shafts doubled as wells. Passageways allowed single file movement only, so intruders could be easily picked off one at a time. Giant boulders served as rolling doors that could only be removed from the inside. The doors had small holes in the center, just the size and height to spear the unwelcome in the gut, or thereabouts. For quick and easy access, most above-ground homes had openings to the underground right inside or very near the houses.

For most visitors, it’s enough to see one of the two cities. Each takes about an hour to tour. There’s very little signage, so a guide is highly recommended. Passageways are narrow but allow people of average height to get through with minimal stooping. Lighting is good, but if you’re claustrophobic, you might want to stick to the plentiful and thoroughly satisfying above-ground attractions of Cappadocia.

To get to Cappadocia, there are daily flights from Istanbul to Kayseri, in the heart of the region. Ankara is about a 3-hour drive. Istanbul is about a 10-hour drive. The more comprehensive tours of the western half of Turkey will do a semi-circle from Ankara, through Cappadocia, down to the coast and on to Istanbul.

See my last post Cappadocia Above and Below for descriptions of other things to see in Cappadocia.

Click to see our tours that include underground visits in Cappadocia.