For as long as I can remember I have longed to go to Istanbul - I have been lucky enough to travel to many parts of the world yet this amazing city - at the crossroads of Asia and Europe had eluded me. Twice I was scheduled to go and then sickness and later Covid interrupted my plans. So when I finally got there in October, it was literally a dream come true.
Istanbul represents a clashing of empires, cultures and religions going back centuries. As Byzantium, the ancient city colonised by the Greeks as far back as the 7th century BC it remained at the heart of the Byzantine Empire until its fall to the Ottomans in 1453 when it became known as Constantinople. Now this huge metropolis lying on the straits of the Bosphurous, straddling two continents is home to over 15 million people - and a few more million visitors!
It certainly took me a couple of days to properly orient myself and to navigate around the public transport system. At the confluence of the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus, and the Golden Horn you can understand why this great city became so strategically important both politically and as a trading post along the Silk Road. So in some sense I had always felt drawn to Istanbul as I see a thread connecting it to Samarkand, our namesake that great city in Uzbekistan.
I was travelling with my family and had chosen to stay slightly outside the centre in an area called Balat, in the old city on the European side of Istanbul, on the western shore of the Golden Horn. Known for its beautiful ,colourful houses and narrow cobbled streets it has always been home to minority populations - Jewish and Greek Orthodox. With lots of antique shops and quirky cafes it was the perfect place to come back to each evening. We even came across an antique auction one night.
We stayed in a beautifully renovated house with a pretty terrace from where we had a view of the Bosphurous and the great city and listen to the call to prayer - along with the barking a of a great cacophany of dogs that lived locally!
You cannot go to Istanbul and not visit at least some of the main sites - and the Hagia Sofia is certainly one of the wonders of the world. There are huge numbers of people everywhere but I found it quite moving that so many people still flocked to this extraordinary building, now a mosque but over the centuries an Eastern Orthodox church as well as a catholic one.
We did also visit the Cisterns of the Basilica and the grounds of the Topkapi Palace but to be honest, the number of tourists at these sites was quite exhausting. I am always more interested in exploring the less obvious parts of a city and our forays further afield proved that to be the case
Sunday morning at the Bomonti Antique market felt just like an exotic visit to Kempton - with much of the same mixture of tat amidst the quirky and interesting and many of the same characters you find in antique markets the world over. I spent a happy morning browsing some interesting textiles but didnt feel brave enough to buy.
Çukurcuma is a charming neighbourhood famed for its antique shops and we had a relaxing morning strolling its pretty streets. Faik Paşa Caddesi and Çukurcuma Caddesi, the two main streets are full of small antique and junk shops where you might unearth all sorts of treasures - but not very many bargains.
The main halls of the Grand Bazaar are fun to wander through whilst you gaze at the lovely ceilings but mainly full of overpriced and tacky goods. However, if you go to the very edge of the GB and explore the hans (old trading inns) there are still treasure troves to be had - and luckily I found a couple.
It was with some trepidation I had come to Istanbul to buy fabric for lampshades and also to indulge my passion for suzanis but I wasn't disappointed. In a city the size of Istanbul, it can be hard, if not impossible to find good textiles at reasonable prices so when I found Osman tucked away in a little Han right on the edge of the Bazaar, my dreams really had come true. A fountain of knowledge and a collection of beautiful pieces from all over Central Asia and Eastern Europe - I was really able have fun and indulge my passion. Over the next few weeks you will see some of my purchases come on line - if I am able to let them go!! Beautiful embroidered linen pieces from the Pomak Tribe, vibrant Hungarian throws and Turkish and Uzbeki suzanis.
Even more hidden away I found Ishmael where I found a collection of truly glorious old suzani but sadly they were too big an investment for me now but if anyone is looking for something really stunning to work as a centre piece for a scheme do get in touch as I can show you. I also bought some fabulous ikat from Uzbekistan and a new find, some beautiful hand loom cotton from Izmir which will make really striking shades.
And before I go - a highlight of a trip was taking a cruise on our own boat down the Bosphurous where you get a real sense of the city in all its extraordinary diversity - the golden domes, sprawling high rise blocks, tumbling minarets and grand Ottoman mansions.
I could go on for ever but that's it for now. A glimpse of Istanbul - but do get in touch with me if you would like to know more or want any tips if you are visiting Istanbul.