THE SQUARE LIVING THE HISTORY FROM BYZANTINE TO OTTOMANS AND FROM OTTOMANS TO TODAY
The historical artifacts particularly the Serpent Column, Egyptian Obelisk, the Bathhouse (Hamam) of Haseki Hürrem Sultan, the German Fountain; Sultan Ahmet Mosque (The Blue Mosque) so named for its interior blue tile decoration and the significant Byzantine structure Hagia Sophia on the sides enamor the tourists.
Ramadan entertainments, food and souvenir stands set up throughout Ramadan month, visual demonstrations accompanied by light shows in different languages in summer jazz up the Sultan Ahmet Square.
Stylish apart-hotels built in recent years and Ottoman and Turkish cuisine served in the restaurants under these hotels have made this region a gourmet center. Most of the shopkeepers and children selling postcards, books, small souvenirs, etc. are capable of making sales in a few languages including Arabic.
Sultan Ahmet Mosque giving the name to the square was built for Sultan Ahmet I. It is the first mosque having six minarets; the exquisite 22.000 tiles decorating the interior of the mosque were produced in Iznik where was the center of Ottoman tile production. A chain was put in the upper part of the court entrance so that people including Sultan (Padishah) coming to the mosque for praying had to lower their heads in order not to get hit. It is a symbolic gesture ensuring the humility of the sultan, the equality of everyone coming to the mosque and the presence of God being above the sultan. In addition, praying is allowed in the mosque; Muslim tourists and shopkeepers in the vicinity can pray at praying times.
Next to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque there is a tomb where Sultan Ahmet is buried with his wife Kösem and his sons Sultan Osman II and Sultan Murat IV. To see the finest graceful hand-carved
examples of Iznik tiles and wood workmanship, the tomb should absolutely be visited. Just behind, there are souvenir shops and The Great Palace Mosaic Museum where the finest mosaics of the palace are exhibited.
Byzantine cisterns in the shops such as Nakka and Minor carpet can be sightseen with the special permission of the shop owners. It is a great pleasure to spectate the square while drinking coffee and tea, and smoking water pipe. The Sultan Ahmet Square is also called as Hippodrome which means square for horses. The Hippodrome was built towards the end of the 2nd century; and it had an important place as the city’s meeting, entertainment, sport center in Roman and Byzantine times
until the 10th century. Besides the two or four-horse chariot races, there were performances of acrobats, dancers, musicians, and fights with wild animals. The most violent riot (Nika Riot) of Byzantine history also took place here; and the celebrations of the circumcision of princes including Mehmed (the son of Sultan Murad III), which lasted over fifty days, were done here in the Sultan Ahmet Square.
There is an octagonal, domed fountain at the entrance of the street called as the German Fountain. It was a present from the German Emperor Kaiser Willem II to Sultan Abdulhamid II during his visit. The ceiling of the dome is decorated with golden mosaics and Sultan Abdulhamid’s tughra and Kaiser Willhem II’s symbol can be seen.
The two oldest monuments the Egyptian Obelisk and the Serpent Column (Snake Column) attract everyone’s attention with their glorious view.
The Egyptian Obelisk also called as Theodosius Obelisk was one of two obelisks erected in commemoration of Pharaoh Thutmose III in Luxor in 1450 BC and made of rare pink granite.
An unknown Roma Emperor brought it to Istanbul (Constantinople); after left lying in the corner of the Hippodrome, it was erected during the reign of Theodosius I in 390. Hieroglyphics and reliefs decorated Roman base make the obelisk more interesting and magical. On the other hand, the Serpent Column was erected in 479 BC in front of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi in honor of Greek Cities defeating the Persians together. It was brought to Istanbul in 324 by Constantine.
One of the most prominent structures at the square is also the palace of the Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha who was appointed by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It is used as the Turkish and Islamic art Museum today; the carpet collection of the museum is acknowledged to be one of the bests of the world. In addition to the exquisite manuscripts of the Quran, Ottoman miniatures, specific items such as candlesticks decorated with valuable gems, bejeweled objects, funeral belts and pearl reading desks are on display here in the museum.
If you prefer siting at the café of the museum yard, you may have the opportunity of sighting all the historical artifacts including the mosque while sipping your delicious coffee and resting. Across from Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Hagia Sophia Museum is located with its glory.
The stately stance saluting the square attracts thousands of tourist like a magnet. Following the conquest of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, the church was converted to a mosque; and it has been used as a museum since 1934. Hagia Sophia is one of the most tourists attracting artifacts with the Topkapı Palace. Inside the museum, various names of Allah and the names of four Prophets are written on 8 leather covered wooden seals.
There is an impressive and mystic aura of the museum that Muslims, Christians and Jews visit this holy museum aweinspiring. The Sultan tombs, fountains, reservoirs are also major architectural standpoints. Moreover, there is a baptistery of Hagia Sophia constructed in Byzantine times; inside it houses the tombs. One empire used the structure for “birth” and the other used for “death”: who would have thought it could happen? Just in front of Hagia Sophia the Bath-house (Hamam) of Haseki Hürrem Sultan was constructed in 1556, which is one of the “must dos” of Istanbul. Women and men parts are separated and the entry fee is 100 euros.
Another place to sightsee is the Basilica Cistern which was built during the reign of Justinian I (527-565) to supply water in the vicinity. With its 336 columns arranged in 12 rows of 28 each, it is again a magnificent museum. There is a corner where you can have your photograph taken with authentic clothes; sit at the café in the cistern and enjoy the shadows of the columns under orangecolored lights reflecting on the water.
Do not skip the Million Stone above the Basilica Cistern, which is a mile-marker monument. It was a starting-place for measurement of distances of world cities for all the Antique Roman roads to Istanbul. The distances to various cities are also written on the signboards at present.
You have sightseen the square, and are hungry; it is hard to decide what to eat since there are many options: Besides the famous Sultan Ahmet meatballs, the most delicious Ottoman cuisine, döner (shawarma), fish, dürüm (roll), delicious desserts are only a few of what you can prefer. Just choose one at heart…
A last note: Hop-On, Hop-Off Sightseeing buses start their trip from the Sultan Ahmet Square and tour both Anatolian and European side of Istanbul. Istanbul is guided in English, Arabic, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian on the buses; Hope you a pleasant time in Istanbul…