Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is one of the highlights of an Eastern Mediterranean cruise with many cruise lines using the city as an embarkation or disembarkation point. Steeped in history, this city could take years to explore, but cruise passengers can still discover some exciting sides of this mystical place regardless of the limited time they may have.

A good starting point would be The Hagia Sophia, more than fourteen hundred years old and a breathless vision when seeing it for the time! Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum, it is universally acknowledged as one of the great buildings of the world. The scale of the building exceeded any domed building attempted before, and tested the abilities of the architects of the time. Hagia Sophia is renowned for the luxuriousness and opulence of its decoration which includes rare and costly marble, acres of gold mosaic and rich liturgical furnishings.

A short stroll from the Hagia Sophia through the Sultanahmet Square is the Blue Mosque. More than 20,000 handmade Iznik ceramic tiles in more than 50 tulip designs decorate the interior walls, and give the mosque its popular name. The extravagance of the building initially caused hostility, mainly because its six minarets (four were the norm) were considered sacrilegious.

Topkapi is the largest and oldest palace in the world to survive to our day. In 1924 it was turned into a museum. Situated on the site of the first settlement in Istanbul, it commands an impressive view of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The palace showcases artifacts from the historical dynasties who have ruled over Istanbul including a range of beautiful ceremonial robes, weapons and military memorabilia, fine porcelain, over-the-top gorgeous jewels, and a host of other items that will make visitors draw in their breath at the splendor.

If any place encapsulates the spirit of Istanbul then it has to be the Grand Bazaar with all its mysterious sights and smells. The sheer scale of the Bazaar, 66 streets and 4000 shops, means treasures are there for the finding. Be prepared for a degree of pestering by stall owners, and be ready to bargain for whatever catches your eye, because haggling over price is customary!

Everything about Istanbul is exotic, from the aromatic bazaars, to the call of the muezzins drifting from ancient minarets.  An Eastern Mediterranean cruise with a stop in Istanbul gives passengers a glimpse into this wondrous culture!