Trailer of the Travel Documentary “Istanbul Unveiled” (New Trailer)

“Istanbul Unveiled” is a documentary film that is part of a series, “Cultural Interactions”. Other parts of Turkey and Turkish culture will appear soon. 66-minute HDTV documentary to be released on May 2013.

An American young lady visits the off-the-beaten places in Istanbul and interviews the most interesting characters with her questions about the most wondered topics.

Another Unique Place to Visit in Turkey: Aphrodisias


“Imagine coming upon a city of antiquity so rich in archeological treasure that choice sculptures roll off the sides of ditches, tumble from old walls, and lie jam-packed amid colonnaded ruins.” Those are the words of Turkish archeologist Professor Kenan Erim who directed the excavations at Aphrodisias under the auspices of the New YorkUniversity. He is so closely associated with the site that he can suitably be accepted as the father of Aphrodisias and therefore fully deserved to be buried near the Tetrapylon.


The name of the city has the same root as “aphrodisiac”. Both words derive from the Greek name for the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Aphrodisias was one of several ancient cities dedicated to the goddess of love. Within the borders of Caria, during the Roman period, Aphrodisias became an artistic center with a famous school of sculpture.


The site has been systematically excavated since 1961 by professor Kenan Erim and has yielded a wealth of art treasures to archaeologists.







If you have only one day in Istanbul


İstanbul is one of the most historical and beautiful cities in the world. Throughout history It was the capital city of the three great empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. There are so many nice things to see in addition to so many nice things to do. One or two days in İstanbul would never be enough but it is a good start.

Let’s say you are going to İstanbul with a cruise ship and you have only one day in İstanbul for a shore excursion. What should you do if you have only one day for city sightseeing or a one-day tour in İstanbul? You can join an organized tour or hire a private tour guide for a private tour of the city for your limited time. Your organized tour will save you a lot of time or your private tourist guide will be able to tailor the program according to your pacing and interests.

Old City, Istanbul

Here is the list of highlights in İstanbul if you are there just for one day:

-Ancient Hippodrome

-Blue Mosque – Sultan Ahmet Mosque)

-Hagia Sophia – Ayasofya – St. Sophia Church

-Topkapi Palace Museum – Topkapı Sarayı

-Grand Bazaar – Covered Bazaar – Kapalı Çarşı


The Hippodrome was a stadium type building which was built for chariot races in the Roman period (second century) by Septimus Severus. Constantine the Great reconstructed, enlarged, and adorned it with beautiful works brought from different parts of the Roman Empire when he chose Byzantium as his new capital.


Although there is not much left of the original building except the Egyptian Obelisk, Serpentine, and Constantine Columns, according to the excavations carried out, the Hippodrome was 117 m / 384 ft wide and 480 m / 1575 ft long with a capacity of 30,000 to 100,000 spectators. It is said that one quarter of the population could fit into the Hippodrome at one time.

Chariots drawn by 2 or 4 horses raced here, representing the factions among the people: The Blues and the Greens. The Blues were the upper and middle classes, orthodox in religion and conservative in politics. The Greens were the lower class and radical both in religion and politics.

The remaining monuments from the Hippodrome are as follows:

The Egyptian Obelisk (Dikilitaş)

Dikilitaş was originally one of the two obelisks which were erected in the name of Thutmose III in front of Amon-Ra Temple in Karnak in the 15C BC. The Roman governor of Alexandria sent it to Theodosius I in 390 AD. The obelisk is situated on a Byzantine marble base with bas-reliefs that give some details about the emperor from the Kathisma and the races of the time. The Emperor Theodosius I, depicted on four sides of the obelisk, is watching the erection of it, watching a chariot race, receiving homage from slaves, and preparing a wreath for the winner of the race.

The Serpentine Column (Burma Sütun)

After defeating the Persians at the battles of Salamis (480 BC) and Plataea (479 BC), the 31 Greek cities, by melting all the spoils that they obtained, made a huge bronze incense burner with three entwined serpents to be erected in front of the Apollo Temple in Delphi. This column was brought here from Delphi by Constantine I in 4C AD.

The Constantine Column (Örme Sütun)

Unlike the Egyptian Obelisk, this is not a monolith but a column built of stones. Who erected it and when it was built are not known. According to the inscriptions, it was renovated and restored to have a more beautiful appearance by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus and his son Romanus II in the 10C AD. The original column would have been from the 4C or 5C AD.

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque)

Turkish people call it the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. However, visitors fascinated with the beautiful blue tiles always remember it as the Blue Mosque. It was built by Sultan Ahmed I as a part of a large complex. The complex consisted of a mosque, tombs, fountains, a health center, kitchens, shops, a bath, rooms, houses and storehouses.

Blue Mosque

Being close to the Topkapı Palace, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, for many years, was regarded as the Supreme Imperial Mosque in İstanbul. Even at the times when the palace was left and the sultan moved to the Dolmabahçe Palace, Sultan Ahmet Mosque shared this honor with the Süleymaniye.

The architect was one of the apprentices of Sinan, Sedefkar Mehmet Ağa. He designed one of the last examples of the classical period’s architectural style. The mosque is situated in a wide courtyard that has five gates. There is an inner courtyard next to the mosque with three entrances. The inner courtyard is surrounded by porticos consisting of 26 columns and 30 domes.

Interior of the Blue Mosque

The interior of the mosque is a square with a width of 51.65 m / 170 ft and a length of 53.40 m / 175 ft covered by a dome. The main dome rests on four semi-arches and four pendentives. There are 260 windows that no longer have the original stained glass. The walls all along the galleries are covered with 21 thousand 17C İznik tiles having many flower motifs in a dominant blue color.

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

The Hagia Sophia was probably the largest building on the world’s surface, barring the Egyptian Pyramids, or the Great Wall of China. For many centuries it was the largest church.

It was dedicated to the Hagia Sophia that means the Divine Wisdom, an attribute of Christ.

Hagia Sophia

Today’s Hagia Sophia is the third building built in the same place. The first one was a basilica with a wooden roof and was built in 390 AD. This original church Megale Ecclesia (Great Church) was burned down in a rumpus in 404. Theodosius replaced it with a massive basilica that was burned down in the Nika Revolt against Justinian in 532. Justinian began rebuilding the Hagia Sophia in the same year. The architects were two Anatolian geniuses, Anthemius of Tralles, an engineer and a mathematician and Isidorus of Miletus, an architect. They started collecting materials from all over the empire. In the construction ten thousand workers worked under the supervision of one hundred master builders.

Justinian reopened it in 537, entering the Hagia Sophia with the words “Solomon, I have surpassed you!”

Throughout Byzantine history, the Hagia Sophia played an important role as emperors were crowned and various victories were celebrated in this remarkable building. The Hagia Sophia even gave refuge to criminals.

After conquering Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet immediately went to the Hagia Sophia and ordered that it be converted into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia was used as a church for 916 years and as a mosque for 481 years. In 1934, by the order of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, it was made a museum and has since been open to visitors.


The Hagia Sophia has a classical basilica plan and the main ground plan of the building is a rectangle, 70 m / 230 ft in width and 75 m / 246 ft in length. The central space of the Hagia Sophia is divided on both sides from the side aisles by four big piers and 107 columns (40 downstairs, 67 upstairs) between them. The space is covered with a huge dome which is 55.60 m / 182 ft high. The dome, due to earthquakes and restorations, is slightly elliptical with a diameter of 31.20 m / 102 ft on one axis and 32.80 m / 107.60 ft on the other.


Most of the mosaics are from the times after the iconoclastic period. In the inner narthex above the main entrance, also called the Imperial Gate, there is a 10th century mosaic depicting Jesus as the omnipotent ruler, seated upon a jeweled throne, dressed as an emperor, and making a gesture of blessing with his right hand. In his left hand he is holding a book inscribed with these words: “Peace unto you; I am the light of the world.” On both sides of Jesus Christ are two medallions, the Virgin Mary on the left and an angel with a staff on the right. Emperor Leo VI is depicted kneeling in front of Jesus.

Hagia Sophia Deesis Mosaic in the Gallery

Above the main apse is the mosaic depicting the Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus. She is sitting on a bench with her feet resting on a stool. Her right hand is on her son’s shoulder and her left upon his knee. Jesus is raising his right hand in blessing and holding a scroll in his left hand.

In the galleries is the 13th century mosaic panel of the Deesis scene: Jesus as the omnipotent ruler flanked by the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist who are shown interceding with him on behalf of mankind.

At the far end of the last bay in the south gallery is a mosaic showing Christ enthroned with his right hand in the gesture of benediction and the book of Gospels in his left hand. On the left is the figure of the 11th century Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus offering a moneybag and Empress Zoë holding a scroll on the right. The emperor’s face in the mosaic was changed each time Zoë changed her husband. Constantine IX was Zoë’s third husband.

To the right of the mosaic of Zoë there is a 12th century mosaic showing the Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus flanked by Emperor John II Comnenus offering a bag of gold and red-haired Empress Eirene holding a scroll. At the extension of the mosaic on the sidewall is the figure of Prince Alexius.

At the end of the inner narthex, before going out to the courtyard (today’s exit) stands the 10th century beautiful mosaic: The Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus in her lap, on one side Emperor Constantine offering a small model of the city as he is accepted as the founder, on the other side Emperor Justinian offering the model of the Hagia Sophia as the emperor who had it built.

Topkapı Palace Museum (Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi)

The Topkapı Sarayı was the Ottomans’ second palace in İstanbul. The construction of the Topkapı Palace, including the walls, was completed between 1459 and 1478. As different sultans ascended to the throne, each added a new part to the palace. These now represent for us the different architectural tastes and styles of four centuries. The changes were made for reasons of practicality, to commemorate victorious campaigns, or to repair damage caused by earthquakes and fire.

Topkapi Palace

The Topkapı Palace was never static but was always in the process of organic development, influenced by the times. The first of these influences was the parallelism between the palace and the empire. As the empire became larger, the palace was likewise enlarged. The second is that as the sultans felt insecure and withdrew themselves behind walls and removed themselves from nature, there was an attempt to bring nature inside the walls in the form of miniatures, tiles and suchlike. If late Ottoman period palaces are excluded, only the Topkapı Palace survived from the glory days of the great Ottoman Empire, which implies that palaces for the Ottomans were something different than the ones we know today. There is a kind of humble simplicity and practicality in the Ottoman palaces. The Topkapı Sarayı was a city-palace with a population of approximately 4,000 people. It covers an area of 70 hectares / 173 acres. It housed all the Ottoman sultans from Sultan Mehmet II to Abdülmecit, for nearly 400 years and 25 Sultans. In 1924 it was made into a museum.

The palace was mainly divided into two sections, Birun and Enderun. There are four consecutive courtyards of the palace; the first two are Birun, the outer palace, and the second two are Enderun, the inner palace, with the Harem.

The first courtyard that was open to the public was entered through the Bab-ı Humayun (Imperial Gate). This was the service area of the palace consisting of a hospital (with a capacity of 120 beds), a bakery, an arsenal, the mint, storage places for various things and some dormitories. This courtyard acted something like a city center.

The second courtyard, also called Divan Meydanı (Divan Square), which started after the Bab-üs Selam (Gate of Salutation), was the seat of the Divan (Imperial Council Hall) and open to anyone who had business with the Divan. This was the administration center.

In addition to the Divan there were also the privy stables and kitchens. The kitchens consist of a series of ten large rooms with domes and dome-like chimneys. In these kitchens in those times they cooked for about 4,000 people. The kitchens were used separately for different people, because different dishes for different classes had to be prepared.

In the kitchens today, a collection of Chinese Porcelain which are considered the third most valuable in the world, are on display, together with authentic kitchen utensils and Turkish and Japanese Porcelain.

Just before entering the third courtyard, in front of the third gate, the Bab-üs Saade (Gate of Felicity) or the Akağalar (White Eunuchs) Gate is the place where the golden throne was placed for all kinds of occasions, such as coronation ceremonies and religious holidays. Payment of the Yeniçeri salaries took place there also, as well as the funerals of sultans or handing over of the sancak, the standard or the flag of the Prophet Mohammed by the sultan.

The Enderun, inner palace, started at the Bab-üs Saade and was surrounded by the quarters of the inner palace boys who were in service to the sultan and the palace. The first building after entering into the third courtyard is Arz Odası, the Audience Hall. Many important ceremonies also took place there. Foreign ambassadors and results of Divan meetings were presented to the sultan in this chamber.

In the middle of the courtyard is the library of Sultan Ahmet III. On the right is a section where sultans’ costumes are shown. Next to this is the treasury section where many precious objects are displayed. Among these the Kaşıkçı Diamond (the Spoonmaker’s Diamond) and the Topkapı Hançeri (the Topkapı Dagger) are the most precious.

The holy relics are personal belongings of the Prophet Mohammed (a mantle, sword, seal, tooth, beard and footprints) and Caliphs, Koran scripts, religious books and framed inscriptions. Relics including a hand, arm and skull bones belonging to John the Baptist are also on display in this section.

In the fourth courtyard there are pavilions facing the Marmara Sea and others facing the Golden Horn. Among them are the Baghdad Pavilion and the Revan Pavilions built by Sultan Murat IV in the 17C to commemorate his victories in these two cities of Iran.

The Harem

The concept of the Harem has provoked much speculation. Curiosity about the unknown and inaccessible inspired highly imaginative literature among the people of the western world.

Harem in the Topkapi Palace

The word Harem which in Arabic means “forbidden” refers to the private sector of a Moslem household in which women live and work; the term is also used for women dwelling there. In traditional Moslem society the privacy of the household was universally observed and respectable women did not socialize with men to whom they were not married or related. Because the establishment of a formal Harem was an expense beyond the means of the poor, the practice was limited to elite groups, usually in urban settings. Since Islamic law allowed Moslems to have a maximum of four wives, in a Harem there would be up to four wives and numerous concubines and servants. Having a harem, in general, was traditionally a mark of wealth and power. Though the women of the harems might never leave its confines, their influence was frequently of key importance to political and economic affairs of the household, with each woman seeking to promote the interests of her own children. The most famous harems were those of the sultans.

The harem was not a prison full of women kept for the sultan’s pleasure. It was his family quarters. This was the place where the dynasty lived.

Girls in the Harem were trained according to their talents in playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, writing, embroidery and sewing. Many parents longed for their daughters to be chosen for the Harem. Women could visit their families or just go for drives in covered carriages from which they could see out behind the veils and curtained windows. They could also organize parties up on the Bosphorus or along the Golden Horn.

When a Sultan died, the new sultan would bring his new harem which meant that the former harem was dispersed. Some were sent to the old palace, some stayed as teachers, or some older ones were pensioned off.

Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)

During the Byzantine period the area of the Grand Bazaar was a trade center. After the Turks came to İstanbul, two bedestens formed the essence of today’s Grand Bazaar. They were built by Sultan Mehmet II between 1455-1461 in an attempt to enrich the economic life in the city. Later on, as people needed more places for their trade, they also added parts outside these bedestens. In time the Grand Bazaar was formed.

Grand Bazaar

Throughout the Ottoman period, the bazaar underwent earthquakes and fires and was restored several times. Today, shops selling the same kind of merchandise tend to be congregated together on their own streets or hans, as this was originally the Ottoman system. In addition to two bedestens there are also 13 hans in the Grand Bazaar. With 18 entrances and more than four thousand shops, it is one of the greatest bazaars in the World. The atmosphere of the Grand Bazaar is very interesting for tourists and has consequently become a very popular place for foreign visitors.

Copyright © Serif Yenen – Turkey Travel Specialist (

National Holiday Celebrations with US Travelers – 19 May 2010

National Holidays in Turkey

From the nationalistic point of view, National Holidays are important days because they give people the opportunity to feel and exhibit national unity. On these days all ceremonial activities are carried out by official institutions, such as schools, state organizations or military forces; people join in with these activities. Preparations in schools or military places start a few weeks before with rehearsals for performances. Students and others who take part in the parades or shows are smartly and colorfully dressed. Following the parades there are ceremonies in halls, stadiums or school courtyards. Poems are recited and speeches are given, followed by fireworks or cannon shots.

National Independence and Children’s Day (April 23)

On this date in 1920 the Turkish Grand National Assembly was established in Ankara by Mustafa Kemal. As this was the written record of the transition from a religious community to a nation, this date was designated as a national holiday. Since 1929 it has been declared as the first Children’s Day in the World by Kemal Ataturk, acknowledging the importance of children in the future of nations.

Atatürk Commemoration, Youth and Sports Day (May 19)

On this date in 1919, Mustafa Kemal first set foot on Anatolia at the Black Sea port of Samsun. This marks the beginning of his organization of the nationalist forces before the Independence War.

Victory Day (August 30)

On this date in 1922, the fifth day of the big attack against the invading Greek troops, the Dumlupınar Battle under the command of Mustafa Kemal was won and determined the outcome of the Independence War. This big attack ended in Izmir with the defeat of the Greeks on September 9.

Republic Day (October 29)

The Republic of Turkey was proclaimed by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1923.

Unique Experiences: Don’t leave without experiencing a Turkish Bath: Hamam

Cagaloglu Hamam. Photo by elvedon

In a Turkish hamam there are either two separate sections for each of the sexes or different days and hours allocated to men and women.

When you enter the first section or the changing area of a hamam you begin by taking off your clothes and putting on a “peştemal”, which is a piece of striped cotton cloth. This is wrapped around the midriff and tucked into place. Some people choose to wear their bathing suits underneath or instead of the “peştemal”. A type of wooden clog, called “nalın”, is worn on the feet. They will help you not to slip on the wet marble surface.

Dressed in “peştemal” and clogs, you go to the next room where a “göbek taşı” (navel stone), a marble heated table, is situated in the middle. Marble sinks and taps all around the walls surround the room. Here, you sit next to one of these sinks and start pouring lukewarm water over yourself with a hamam tası (bowl). You keep pouring water until your skin softens, meanwhile increasing the temperature of the water as your body gets used to it.

The hamam attendant, tellak, will take you to the “göbek taşı” when your skin is ready and start rubbing your body with a special glove, kese. Tiny black pieces will get rubbed off your body that most people think is dirt. This is in fact the top layer of dead skin. At this stage a short massage is optional. Next, the tellak will give you a soapy rub down and wash you with water in decreasing temperature in order to make your pores close. He will then wrap you in towels.

Now it is time to go back to the lukewarm section to cool your body gradually while you lie down and drink tea in the traditional tiny glasses. Staying too long in the bath or moving to the hot or cold rooms without spending enough time in the lukewarm section is harmful for the body. Otherwise the whole hamam experience is something very healthy and cures lots of diseases.

10 Best Meat and Kebap Restaurants in İstanbul

Here is my list for the best meat & kebap restaurants in Istanbul. Please share your experiences and I would love to receive your “ten best list”.

1. Beyti ($$)

Address: Orman Sk. No: 8, Florya
Phone: +90 (212) 663 2990 – 92
Web: ↗

2. Develi ($$)

Address: Balık Pazarı, Gümüşyüzük Sk. No: 7, Samatya
Phone: +90 (212) 529 0833
Web: ↗

3. Günaydın Et ($$)

Address: Kasaplar Çarşısı No: 10, Bostancı
Phone: +90 (216) 417 9209
Address: Bağdat Cad. No:493/1, Suadiye
Phone: +90 (216) 445 6338
Address: Atatürk Cad. No:64, Sahrayıcedid
Phone: +90 (216) 411 6875
Web: ↗

4. Hamdi ($$)

Address: Tahmis Cad. Kalçın Sk. No: 17, Eminönü
Phone: +90 (212) 528 0390
Web: ↗

5. Komşu Kebap ($$)

Address: Valikonağı Cad. Işık Apt., No: 8/B, Nişantaşı
Phone: +90 (212) 224 9666
Web: ↗

6. Köşebaşı ($$)

Address: Çamlık Sk. No:15, 3. Levent
Phone: +90 (212) 270 2433
Web: ↗

7. Musa Usta ($)

Address: İstiklal Cad., Küçükparmakkapı Sk., Beyoğlu
Phone: +90 (212) 245 2932
Web: ↗

8. Sultanahmet Köftesi ($; no alcohol)

Address: Divanyolu Cad. No: 12, Sultanahmet
Phone: +90 (212) 520 0566
Web: ↗

9. Tike ($$)

Address: Hacı Adil Cad. 4. Aralık, 2. Levent
Phone: +90 (212) 281 8871
Web: ↗

10. Çiya ($; no alcohol)

Address: Güneşli Bahçe Sk. No: 43, Kadıköy
Phone: +90 (216) 330 3190
Web: ↗

Special dishes from Turkish cuisine: Kebaps

What is Kebap?

Kebap is roasted, broiled or grilled meat prepared in many different ways, each of them named by adding a word to kebap; döner kebap, shish (şiş) kebap, patlıcan kebap, etc.

Shish (şiş) Kebap is cubes of marinated chicken or lamb meat on skewers. Meat on skewers is grilled in a barbecue.

Photo by korayatasoy

Adana Kebap is barbecued spicy meat mounted on a wide skewer. This is ground lamb meat that is mixed with fat from lamb’s tail.

Photo by chowdownphoenix

Urfa Kebap is very similar to Adana Kebap but it is not spicy.

Photo by zerrincd

Köfte is grilled or fried meatballs.

Photo by Andra MB

Döner Kebap is lamb meat roasted on a revolving spit.

Photo by CescoCesco

Photo by CescoCesco

Where do you eat kebap?

You eat kebaps at kebapçı. Kebapçı is the place where kebaps are sold. It is a kebap restaurant.