Sultanahmet – old city is part of Istanbul formerly known as Constantinople. It’s an area bounded by water on three sides to the north, east, south and by the old city walls to the west. It’s close proximity to all of the most famous historic sights in Istanbul makes it the perfect place to visit while traveling in Turkey. I traveled to Turkey with the main goal of undergoing a hair transplant, but I also wanted to visit some places after the procedure. And Sultanahmet was on my top list next to Cappadocia. I stayed for 3 days in Sisli – Istanbul for the transplant, then went to Cappadocia and by the time I got back to Istanbul, it was already too late. With limited time on my hands, I decided to look no further than Sultanahmet and I spent over half-day wandering around Sultanahmet.
Little Hagia Sophia
Built by Byzantine emperor Justinian I and his wife to serve as a Church and later converted to a mosque in the Huseyin Aga era, little Hagia Sophia was the first place that I’ve come across in Sultanahmet. I’ve seen some videos on youtube and read a couple of blogs on how to navigate the old city without a guide, but I had a hard time locating the famous historic sites. Though I’ve lost so much time wandering around, I actually enjoyed the adventure of self-exploration.
Sea Sides of Sultanahmet
Somehow after visiting Little Hagia Sophia, I took a wrong turn and ended up on the seasides of Sultanahmet. This side of the old city is by far the most peaceful, the sound of water waves, birds and wind in the trees was therapeutic; it has a calm & relaxing effect. I took a walk along the waterfronts, the view was amazing & it was kind of quiet, everybody was enjoying the moment – Children playing on the playgrounds, couples sitting by the boulder stones along the seashores, fishermen trying their luck, older men having an intimate chat, young guys working out in the park, Cats of Sultanahmet roaming around to get a fish from the fishermen; it was an incredible scene.
Sultanahmet Sea Side View
I like landscapes with water, they make me feel free! And this side of Sultanahmet is gifted with nature, the trees and the birds are wonderful to watch at, the sound of water waves hitting the boulders, winds passing through the trees and twitter of birds was music to my ears. The old walls and gates of Constantinople can also be seen from the seasides.
Friendships of Sultanahmet Seaside
One thing I have noticed in Turkey is that people are addicted to sunflower seeds and cigarettes. Around the waterfronts of Sultanahmet, I’ve seen people sharing sunflower seeds with friends, which now I came to understand that it’s the number one dried snack in the country. The seashores are where they came with their friends to chat or enjoy the view while sharing a cigarette or sunflower seeds.
Names written on sea shore boulder stones by visitors
As I was walking on the seashore, I’ve noticed names written with white ink on several of the black boulder rocks. It’s the perfect way to leave your mark on the place, to let future tourists that you have been once there. Though I couldn’t find any white inc, I was able to get a white stone and I wrote my name too.
Fishing in Sultanahmet
It’s the perfect activity for this peaceful place. For me, it was my first encounter with people who are engaged in fishing activities as a hobby and I found it to be a relaxing & peaceful activity, without even trying it out.
Cats of Sultanahmet
The main purpose of my trip to Turkey was a hair transplant and my clinic was located in sisli, Istanbul. Starting from my first walk in sisli, I’ve noticed too many friendly Cats roaming around the city & treated nicely by the locals and It didn’t take me long to figure out that Cats are kings in Turkey. The same is true for Sultanahmet, especially around the seasides of the city, it might be their love for fish.
Gulhane Park was by far the most beautiful place I’ve visited in Sultanahmet, the park is adjacent to Topkapi Palace or you could say it’s on the grounds of the palace and It’s one of the largest & oldest parks in Istanbul. From my internet research, I found out that it was once only accessible to the royal court. What I loved the most about the park was the Trees, I’ve never seen such elegant trees in my entire life. I spent half an hour staring up into the trees and the feeling was something else, I felt the presence of a peaceful spirit! The park made me appreciate raw nature.
Like any other place in Sultanahmet, there were Cats in the park. Lucky I am, one very friendly cat came to my seat and she took all of my loneliness away. If you are in Sultanahmet, you should take some time to visit Gulhane park.
Hagia Sophia & other mosques in Sultanahmet
The old city or Sultanhamet is a UNESCO registered world heritage site and you can visit all of the city’s most famous historical buildings in a very short period of time, they are located within walking distance with each other. I had plans to visit Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern(This was one of the locations for Tom Hanks movie, “Inferno”), but only managed to see the outsides of these buildings. I found the entrance fee for the museums too expensive, it was my last day in Turkey and I was short on Cash.
Obelisk of Theodosius
Ancient Egyptian obelisk with hieroglyphics writing was the last thing that I expected in Turkey. While walking around Sultanahmet I stumbled upon more than 2 millennia old obelisk, which was originally carved for Egyptian King called Thutmose III, who ruled Egypt from 1479 BC to 1425 BC. The most amazing thing about the obelisk is that it doesn’t look like a stone that stood more than 2000 years of natures weathering action. I have seen similar structures in Sultanahmet whose stones are significantly weathered and with respect to these structures the condition of Theodosius or Sultanahmet Meydani can be considered as newly carved stone.
Grand Bazar Sultanahmet
Sultanahmet trip will not be complete without visiting the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, Grand Bazaar or Kapali Carsi in Turkish. The market dates back to the 15th century, to the era of Sultan Ahmet II and it’s considered as a symbol for the Turkish Ottoman past. For me, visiting the market was a top priority since I was looking for something to take back home to Ethiopia. After asking around for direction, I finally made it to the Bazaar and the crowd was something I didn’t anticipate.
I read on Wikipedia that the market attracts between, 250,000 to 400,000 visitors a day, but the crowd that I have encountered was something else. You can find high quality, artistic & unique products, but at the same time, there are also shops that sell cheap products. One thing you will need to understand about Turkish storekeepers is that they love to bargain, most of the time when they tell you a price you can assume it three times what they actually wanted to sell it for. And there is no such thing as fixed price item in the Bazaar, you have to bargain to get to the right price. Apart from the bargaining part, Grand Bazaar was a great experience!
Sultanahmet to Sisli Journey using Metro
The thing about Sultanahmet is that there are too many historic sites and places to visit and trying to cover them all within a day especially without a tour guide will have its consequences. By the time that I felt, I had seen enough of Sultanahmet it was already dark and I had no idea how to get to Sisli on a budget. I knew to take a metro will save me money and time, but I don’t how to navigate Sultanahmet to get to the right metro station. I spent more than half an hour asking around for directions, thanks to the helping & friendly nature of Turkish people, I made to Sisli before my favorite place for food & entertainment (Chevahir mall) closed for the day.
My one-day visit to Sultanahmet was memorable and I am glad that I did explore the place by myself. Which I wouldn’t have done in Cappadocia, I guess there are places where you need to go along with a tour and places where you will need to bring out the adventurer in you. Sultanahmet was a perfect adventure that I needed to feel FREE from my everyday life – hence be happy in the process. I hope you can get some useful information from this blog post and wish you adventurous trip to Sultanahmet, Istanbul.