Nearly two years ago, shortly after arriving in Istanbul, Jason, Ellie, and I went for the first time to Sultan Ahmed, the historic downtown area. Just as we started along the sidewalk between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, the Call to Prayer went off. I’ve heard many Call to Prayers before–most notably during our two years in Jordan. But the Call to Prayer at Sultan Ahmed is different than any other I had heard before. It starts at the Blue Mosque, where the Imam sings the first line; then the Imam at the Hagia Sophia sings the same line; then the Imam at the Blue Mosque sings the second line; followed by the second line sung by the Imam at the Hagia Sophia. Then the singing goes back and forth between the two buildings.
It is such a unique experience for a couple of reasons. First, because the back and forth has an almost stereo sound. Second because (and I may be wrong about this), but the Hagia Sophia may be the only non-mosque in all of Islam that has a Call to Prayer. The Hagia Sophia was once the largest building in the world. It was first built as a Byzantine Christian basilica by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. In the 13th century, it was converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral. Then in the 15th century, it was converted into a Muslim mosque and the minarets were added. Finally, in the 1930’s, Ataturk designated the building as a museum. In my opinion, it is the most fascinating building in the world–both structurally and historically.
But on that summer day in 2018, as I stood between the two historic buildings and listened to the Call to Prayer go back and forth, I was so moved that by the end of it, I had tears streaming down my face. Honestly, it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I turned to some friends who were with us and said, “I can’t believe I get to live here for two years!”
And now here I am, two years later, about to leave Istanbul. I’m not going to lie, this tour has probably been the most difficult for me personally of our four tours with the State Department. Part of this is because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the strict policies that were implemented, but there are other things that have made this tour particularly hard for me. However, Istanbul will go down as the most beautiful and historically significant city we have lived in. In fact, with maybe the exception of Jerusalem, Istanbul is probably the most fascinating city I have ever been to. And I will forever think of it as the world’s most dazzling city.
So, with that, here are my ten favorite things about Istanbul (in no particular order, with the exception of #1):
- The beautiful and inspiring Call to Prayer
- The Bosphorus
- Turkish breakfast
- The many mosques, with their minarets pointing heavenward across the city skyline
- Emirgan Park
- The sense of safety and security I have felt throughout the city
- Open air produce markets
- Our cozy apartment in Istinye and our beautiful apartment complex
- The Tulip Festival in April
- The kindness and hospitality of the amazing Turkish people
It’s with a heavy heart that I leave Istanbul tomorrow. A huge piece of me will forever remain in this amazing city. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “If the world were one country, Istanbul would be its capitol.” I feel so blessed to have spent the past two years in this incredibly fascinating, historic city; with the lovely Turkish people.
Thank you Istanbul and Turkey for two wonderful years. You have treated us well and we will love you forever.