The flag of Turkey

The flag of Turkey in Kaş, Antalya

In a couple of days I’ll be in Istanbul again. In this post I’d like to talk a little bit about something you’ll see many times during your turkish stay: the flag of the Republic of Turkey.

It is a red flag with a white crescent moon and a star in its centre. The flag is called Ay Yıldız (literally, moon star) or Alsancak (red banner) in Turkish, and a lot of shops, apartment balcony, and every boat are draped in the red and white of the Turkish flag. The current design of the Turkish flag is directly derived from the late Ottoman flag, which had acquired its final form in 1844. It is known that the Ottomans used red flags of triangular shape at least since 1383, which came to be rectangular over the course of history. Ottomans used several different designs, most of them featuring one or more crescents, for different purposes, such as the flag with green background signifying the caliphate. During the late imperial period, the distinctive use of the color red for secular and green for religious institutions became an established practice. In 1844, the eight-pointed star was replaced with a five-pointed star and the flag reached the form of the present Turkish flag; Red was the colour of Umar I, the Caliph who ruled from AD 634 to 644 and was known as a great consolidator of the Islamic Empire. In the 14th century red became the colour of the Ottoman Empire. The crescent and star is the symbol of Turks. The origin of the flag is the subject of various legends in the country, some contradicting the historical knowledge about the Ottoman Flag.

Turkish flag

Turkish flag in Simena, Antalya


The Spoonmaker Diamond in Topkapi Palace

The Spoonmaker's Diamond in the Topkapi Palace

The story I’d like to tell you now is the story of the Spoonmaker’s Diamond (Turkish: Kaşıkçı Elması), the pride of the Topkapi Palace Museum. Although the Imperial Treasury is full of ancient daggers, pendants, book covers, chests, rings, and various other ancient artifacts artfully decorated with beautiful stones, the Spoonmaker’s Diamond rests its most valuable single exhibit. It is an 86 carat (17 g) pear-shaped diamond, surrounded by a double row of smaller forty-nine diamonds, giving it the appearance of a full moon lighting a bright and shining sky full of stars.

According to one of the origin myths of the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, a poor fisherman was wandering penniless and empty-handed around Istanbul,  when he found a shiny stone among the litter. Unsure of what the stone was, but recognizing it as beautiful, he carried it about in his pocket for a few days, and then stopped by the jewelers’ market, showing it to the jeweler, who recognizes it as an extremely valuable diamond, but feigning disinterest gave it a cursory glance-over, and stated that it was just a hunk of glass. So he’d had give the fisherman three spoons for his trouble, out of sympathy. The fisherman agreed, and walked away from the deal feeling better off.

According to a slightly different version of the story, the person finding the diamond was Rashid, an impoverished man who found the diamond in 1699 while scouring the Istanbul garbage dumps. He haggled with a spoonmaker and managed to get three wooden spoons in exchange for the shiny rock. The spoonmaker, recognizing the gem as valuable but not realizing that it was worth a fortune, sells it to a jeweler for ten silver coins. After changing a number of hands, the diamond was confiscated by Grand Vizier Ahmed Pasha and soon passed into the hands of Sultan Mehmed IV.

According to researchers and historians, was a French officer named Pigot who purchased the diamond in 1774 from Maharajah of Madras and brought it back home with him to France. But during his trip some thieves robbed him, and the diamond ended up in numerous auctions, where it was first bought by Casanova and then by Napoleon’s mother, who had to put it up for sale in order to save her son when Napoleon went into exile. Who bought the diamond from her was a man who worked for Tepedeleni Ali Pasha, who later, during the reign of Mahmud II, was killed under charges of rebellion and treason. His treasury, including the Pigot Diamond, was confiscated by the state.
It is still unsure if the Spoonmaker’s Diamond was cast with the forty nine brilliant cut diamonds by Mahmud II’s men or by Tepedeleni Ali Pasha’s men, but what is true is that they increase its dazzling appearance as well as its market value.

So, whatever happened, now I’m sure you have another good reason to visit Istanbul and the wonderful Topkapi Palace!
You’ll find yourself completely dazzled, and recalling its incredible story, you’ll be able to fantasize about the characters and the misadventures of the marvellous diamond in front of you. 😉

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Istanbul, which seduces on even a brief stay, is now beginning to emerge as a “capital of tastes“. Its culinary richness is probably due to the role the city played in the time of the Eastern Roman Empire first, when it was the giant cellar and spice depot for Western Rome, and in the Ottoman period then, when it became the meeting-point of all the culinary cultures of Mesopotamia. With these special features, Istanbul today has begun to take its place among world tourism destinations. Visitors to Istanbul can enjoy not only an extremely rich culinary culture with roots going back thousand of years, but at the same time contemporary flavors. Whether you prefer the traditional flavors or are an adventurer seeking new departures in eating and drinking, you can experience a full-scale of tastes in the markets of Istanbul. The rich variety of fruits and vegetables will literally dazzle your eyes, and a wide range of fish, caught in the Black Sea, the Marmara or the Mediterranean Sea, are available at the city’s wholesale fish markets. The Egyptian or Spice Bazaar is my favourite one, a must-see for every tourist who come to Istanbul. You won’t believe your eyes when you see the array of spices, lokoum and dried fruits and nuts at this market, a “temple of taste” and incredible scents, say nothing of the thousands colours! Every tourist comes back home with a picture of the colorful spices and fruits neatly arranged in this typical turkish market. So, enjoy Istanbul’s markets and its tastes, colours and scents!

Today I’d like to suggest you a quick look at the city of Istanbul with this brief video. I’s a good travel guide through some of the most beautiful attractions in Istanbul, providing you with a dive into the history of Haghia Sophia, built as a Byzantine cathedral and then converted in a Mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453;
a visit into the majestic Sultanhamet Mosque, one of the Istanbul’s finest structures also known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior;
and a walk in the Hippodrome area, the center of the social life during the Byzantine period: built following the model of the Circus Maximus in Rome, the Hippodrome had a capacity to accommodate more than 100,000 spectators, so the most important sporting events were held right here!

It’s just a first taste of Istanbul, and there are lots of other fabulous places to see, so enjoy the video and see you at the next post! 🙂

Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul

Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul

Nowadays we’re getting used to short and low budget holidays and the “3 days formula” is becoming the most used to visit a city or take a weekend off. So I decided to start a mini guide collecting useful tips on what to see, where to stay or eat in your 3 days in Istanbul. Let’s start with the “what to see”, the top destinations you can’t miss:

In Sultanahmet:
Topkapi Palace – it takes you at least half a day, but it’s amazing! Although many people see the Topkapi as a too commercial and touristic attraction, I think that with the right mood it may let you understand the real culture and way of life of the Ottoman Istanbul.
Sultanhamet Mosque and Haghia Sophia – the first one, the Blue Mosque, is my favourite. I’m used to stay at a hotel just in front of it, where I can stay on the terrace and admire that great dome and the minarets. Haghia Sophia has a great story too so it’s another place you can’t miss.
Yerebatan Sarnici – I’ve already explained why I love so much this cistern (I was there 3 times), however the beautiful atmosphere you can breath in the red light between the 336 marble columns is unforgettable.
The Gran Bazaar – an incredible mixture of colors, scents, languages, tastes will leave you breathless, and after the first minutes you will love the way they have to call you here and there and to haggle offering you an apple tea!
Sokollu Mehmet Pasa Mosque – I recently discovered this Mosque, and in spite of my love for the Sultanhamet Mosque, I must say that this one is less crowded, fit to understand the real muslim customs, and it has magnificent Iznik tiles. Here I could see the real Adhan, the islamic call to prayer recited by a muezzin (in Istanbul and in other big cities the Adhan is principally tape-recorded)

Out of Sultanahmet:
– walking on the Galata Bridge up till the Galata Tower, proceeding along Istiklal Cad. having a look at the fish market (Balik Pazar) and the flower market (Cicek Pasaji).

Hope you enjoy your 3 days in Istanbul! 😉


Fight the Climate Change and protect our Earth!

Travel in Istanbul is proud to join the Blog Action Day ,the annual event held every October 15 that invites the world’s bloggers in publishing blogs, podcasts, and videocasts on an issue of global importance: last year it was poverty, and the topic for this year it’s climate change.

The reason is a need to reintroduce the discussion about climate change and actions to mitigate its effects. Blog Action Day hopes that blogging will pressure the government to act with a sense of urgency on the problem of climate change, and we must be unite in order to fight the indifference to this global issue. We’ve just this earth, and we must preserve and defend it.
Don’t you think? 😉

The Yerebatan sarnıcı in Istanbul

The Yerebatan sarnıcı in Istanbul

This is what I found going down in the The Yerebatan sarnıcı (or Basilica Cistern) in Istanbul, just in front of the Hagia Sophia. I’m sorry for the quality of this image, it’s the best I could with that darkness…I love photography but I’m not a professionist! Anyway, I think it gives you the impression of what is the Yerebatan sarnıcı in Istanbul: it’s the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of  Istanbul, built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. After paying the ticket, you’ll discover an underground chamber of 143 by 65 m (470 ft x 210 ft), capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres (2,800,000 cu ft) of water. The most incredible things is the forest of 336 marble columns each 9 metres (30 ft) high, arranged in 12 rows and with Ionic and Corinthian capitals. A fabulous red light spreads in the chamber giving the impression of being shrouded in mystery… In the northwest corner of the cistern crowds of tourists cram together to take picture of the bases of two columns reuse blocks carved with the visage of Medusa. It’s a great sight, and I recommended the Yerebatan sarnıcı to each friend of mine going to Istanbul, each time with the same result: they are astonished at the majesty of Istanbul!

Yerebatan sarnıcı
Yerebatan Caddesi 13,
Sultanhamet, Istanbul