Tag Archives: Istanbul tour guide

Kariye Muzesi

Kariye Museum originally formed the center of a Byzantine monastery complex. Only the church section, which was dedicated to Jesus Christ the Savior, has survived. After the arrival of the Turks in Istanbul, this building, like the Hagia Sophia, was converted into a mosque. In 1948 it was made a museum leaving no Islamic element in the building except the 19C minaret outside in the corner.
“Kariye” is the Turkish adaptation of an ancient Greek word “Chora” which refers to countryside. Considering the perimeter of the walls of Constantine (4C AD) the building was located out of the city. If this theory is correct Chora Monastery should have been from the 4C. But unfortunately according to sources, the existence of Chora Monastery before the 8C is not certain.

Chora went through many restorations the last most significant instigated by Theodorus Metochitus, prime minister and first lord of the treasury, in the beginning of the 14C. The three most important features of the church, mosaics, frescoes and the funerary chapel (Paracclesion) are from that period. Theodorus Metochitus built the Paracclesion for himself and he was buried in the entrance of the church; his grave bears a marble stone. The art of painting in frescoes and mosaics were the indications of a new Byzantine art movement which was parallel to Italian Renaissance started by Giotto (1266-1337).

The building consists of the nave, the inner narthex, outer narthex and the paracclesion. The domes of the inner narthex and the paracclesion are lower than the main dome and are only seen from the rear of the church. The drum is supported on four huge pilasters in the corners and four great arches spring from these. The transition is supplied by pendentives. The drum has 16 flutes, each pierced by a window. Entrance to the nave is through both inner and outer narthexes. The niches in the paracclesion were built to keep sarcophagi, as this section was the funerary chapel.

In the mosaics, the lives of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are depicted. Background elements and architectural motifs are highlighted to give depth. The scenes are realistic as if they were taken from daily life with figures correctly proportioned. Jesus has a humanitarian look upon his face.

Mosaics can be divided into 7 cycles: the nave panels; the six large dedicatory panels in the inner and outer narthexes; the ancestry of Jesus in the two domes of the inner narthex; life of the Virgin Mary in the first three bays of the inner narthex; the infancy of Jesus in the lunettes of the outer narthex; the ministry of Jesus on the vaults of the outer narthex and the fourth bay in the inner narthex; and finally the portraits of the saints on the arches and pilasters of the inner narthex.

Mosaics of major importance are as follows:

Nave; (1) Koimesis, the Dormition of the Virgin. Before ascending to Heaven, her last sleep. Jesus is holding an infant, symbol of Mary’s soul; (2) Jesus Christ; (3) The Virgin Mary.

Inner Narthex; (4) The Enthroned Christ with the Donor, Theodorus Metochitus offering a model of his church; (5) St. Peter; (6) St. Paul; (7) Deesis, Christ and the Virgin Mary (without St. John the Baptist) with two donors below; (8) Genealogy of Christ; (9) Religious and noble ancestors of Christ.

The mosaics in the first three bays of the inner narthex give an account of the Virgin’s birth and life. Some of them are as follows: (10) Rejection of Joachim’s offerings; (11) Annunciation of St. Anne, the angel of the Lord announcing to Anne that her prayer for a child has been heard; (12) Meeting of Joachim and Anne; (13) Birth of the Blessed the Virgin; (14) First seven steps of the Virgin; (15) The Virgin caressed by her parents; (16) The Virgin blessed by the priests; (17) Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple; (18) The Virgin receiving bread from an Angel; (19) The Virgin receiving the skein of purple wool, as the priests decided to have the attendant maidens weave a veil for the Temple; (20) Zacharias praying, when it was the time to marry for the Virgin, High Priest Zacharias called all the widowers together and placed their rods on the altar, praying for a sign showing to whom she should be given; (21) The Virgin entrusted to Joseph; (22) Joseph taking the Virgin to his house; (23) Annunciation to the Virgin at the well; (24) Joseph leaving the Virgin, Joseph had to leave for six months on business and when he returned the Virgin was pregnant and he became angry.

Here it continues not chronologically: (42-44) Miracles.

Outer Narthex; (25) Joseph’s dream and Journey to Bethlehem; (26) Enrollment for taxation; (27) Nativity, birth of Christ; (28) Journey of the Magi; (29) Inquiry of Herod; (30) Flight into Egypt; (31-32) Massacres ordered by Herod; (33) Mothers mourning for their children; (34) Flight of Elizabeth, mother of St. John the Baptist; (35) Joseph dreaming, Return of the holy family from Egypt to Nazareth; (36) Christ taken to Jerusalem for the Passover; (37) St. John the Baptist bearing witness to Christ; (38) Miracle; (39-41) Miracles.

(45) Jesus Christ; (46) The Virgin and Angels praying.

Paracclesion; The pictures here are frescoes. This chapel was designed to be a burial place. Among the major frescoes in the paracclesion are as follows: (47) Anastasis, the Resurrection. Christ, who had just broken down the gates of Hell, is standing in the middle and trying to pull Adam and the Virgin Mary out of their tombs. Behind Adam stand St. John the Baptist, David and Solomon. Others are righteous kings; (48) The Second coming of Christ, the last judgment. Jesus is enthroned and on both sides the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist (this trio is also called the Deesis); (49) The Virgin and Child; (50) Heavenly Court of Angels; (51-52) Moses.

Bosphorus Cruise


The Bosphorus is a narrow, navigable strait between Europe and Asia connecting the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus) to the Marmara Sea (Propontis).
It is about 31 km / 20 mi long and varies between 1 and 2.5 km / 0.5 and 1.5 mi wide. The narrowest point is 700 m / 2,300 ft between the fortresses of Rumeli and Anadolu. Swift currents make navigation difficult. The average depth is 50 m / 164 ft. In the Bosphorus there are two currents; one on the surface from the Black Sea towards the Marmara Sea and one below the surface in the opposite direction. The Black Sea is 24 cm / 9.5 in higher than the Marmara and this causes the current on the surface. The other current is because of the changes of salt rates in the two seas.

Along both shores are many attractions including ancient ruins, picturesque villages and forested areas. Near the southern end is the Golden Horn, the harbor of Istanbul, one of the most commodious natural harbors in the world. In ancient and medieval times almost all commerce between the Mediterranean and Black seas was routed through the strait. It is still an important artery of international trade. An average number of 38,000 ships pass through the Bosphorus annually.

The name Bosphorus means “ford of the calf” in ancient Greek and is derived from the myth of the maiden Io.


In mythology, Io is seduced by Zeus and changed into a milk-white heifer to protect her from the jealousy of Hera. When Hera asked Zeus for the heifer, Zeus complied and Hera employed the hundred-eyed Argus to guard Io. After Argus was slain by Hermes at the behest of Zeus, Hera tormented Io with a gadfly, driving her from land to land crossing the strait between Asia and Europe and giving its name, Bosphorus.

Galata Kulesi (Tower)

The tower was built by the Genoese colony as part of their town defense fortifications in the 14C. In Genoese sources it was named as Christea Turris (Tower of Christ).

It was altered considerably, particularly by upper parts being added under the Ottomans during the course of the centuries. It was used at different times as a prison and a fire-watch tower. In 1967, the tower was restored and an elevator was added. The present height of the tower is 63 m / 206 ft. Today two top floors serve as a restaurant with folkloric shows. During the daytime it is open to visitors for panoramic views of the region.

Flying Turk

Mankind has always longed to fly like a bird and the first human to try it successfully was an Ottoman Turk.

In the 17C, during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Murat IV, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi, a scholar whose first name means “a thousand sciences”, managed to fly by wearing rush-work wings, from the top of the Galata Tower to Uskudar, an Asian settlement opposite and across the Bosphorus. An excited crowd including the sultan watched him achieve this feat.

Sultan Murat admired Hezarfen but he was also afraid that his unusual ability would win him excessive power. The sultan gave him a purse of gold and declared: “This man is one to be feared. He can do anything he wishes. The presence of such men is not auspicious.” Hezarfen was then exiled to Algeria where he died broken hearted far away from home.

Kiz Kulesi (Maiden’s Tower)

One of the most distinctive landmarks in Istanbul. The Kiz Kulesi was originally a 12C Byzantine fortress built on a natural rock. The present structure dates from the 18C and is used as an inspection station by the Navy. There are plans to restore it to become a cafe and restaurant.

Ciragan Sarayi (Ciragan Palace)

This palace was built by Abdulaziz I between 1863 and 1867. This was a period in which all Ottoman sultans used to build their own palaces rather than using those of previous sultans. Unfortunately because of a fire in 1910 this beautiful palace was just a ruin until very recently when it became one of the most exclusive hotels in Istanbul.
Ciragan Sarayi (Ciragan Palace), 1867, Istanbul

Ortakoy Camisi (Ortakoy Mosque)

This mosque is also known as Buyuk Mecidiye Camisi and was built by Abdulmecit in 1853. The architect is Nikogos Balyan.

Beylerbeyi Sarayi (Beylerbeyi Palace)

The Architect Sarkis Balyan constructed the Beylerbeyi Palace between 1861 and 1865 for Abdulaziz. The exterior decoration was adopted from European Neo-Classicism but the interior was completed in the traditional Ottoman style.
This palace was used both as a summer lodge and as a residence for visiting royalty.

Bogaz Koprusu (Bosphorus Bridge)

In 1973, on the 50th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, a suspension bridge similar to the British River Severn Bridge was opened at Istanbul linking the Asian and European shores of the strait.
It is 64 m / 210 ft high with 6 lanes. The total length is1,560 m / 5,117 ft and the distance between two legs is only 1,074 m / 3,523 ft. The construction took 3 years and the cost was 22 million US Dollars.

During its first years pedestrians could walk across the bridge and the elevators inside the legs were open to the public. However, after many suicides it is no longer open to pedestrians.

Kucuksu Kasri (Kucuksu Summer Palace)

A summer palace built by Sultan Abdulmecit in 1856 upon the ruins of an earlier building. The style is Western and the architect is Nikogos Balyan.

Anadolu Hisari (Anatolian Fortress)

This fortress was constructed on the Asian shore by Bayezit I in the late 14C, one century before Turks conquered Constantinople. Rumeli Hisari (Rumeli Fortress)
Sultan Mehmet II made preparations for the siege of Constantinople. He decided to build a fortress on the Bosphorus opposite the Anadolu Hisari in order to cut off the city from its sources of grain on the shores of the Black Sea. The construction was completed in 1452 in less than four months and it served its purposes well. After the conquest, it lost its military importance.

Fatih Sultan Mehmet Koprusu (Sultan Mehmet Bridge)

Due to the heavy traffic in Istanbul, another bridge at the narrowest point on the Bosphorus was constructed between the years 1985 and 1988.
This bridge is also 64 m / 210 ft high, but it has 8 lanes. The total length is 1,510 m / 4,953 ft and the distance between the two legs is only 1,090 m / 3,575 ft. The construction was completed by a Japanese company and the cost was 125 million US Dollars.