December 28, 2005

Islam’s Greatest City – A Photo Tour of Istanbul at Christmas

Hotel Window Istanbul.jpg

Hotel room, Istanbul

Istanbul Skyline.jpg


Beyoglu at Night.jpg

Downtown at night

Beyoglu at Night 2.jpg

Downtown at night

Night Shopping Istanbul.jpg

Shopping downtown

Night Stroll Istanbul.jpg

Night stroll downtown

Pidgeons Istanbul.jpg

Taksim Square

Israeli Flag Itanbul.jpg

Israeli flag among others, Taksim Square

Beyoglu by Day.jpg


Beyoglu Side Street Day.jpg

Side street, downtown

Tokapi Palace.jpg

Topkapi Palace

Hagia Sophia Outside.jpg

Hagia Sophia

Inside Hagia Sophia.jpg

Inside Hagia Sophia

Grand Bazaar 2.jpg

Inside the Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar 3.jpg

Inside the Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar 4.jpg

Inside the Grand Bazaar

Blue Mosque.jpg

The Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque Courtyard.jpg

The Blue Mosque courtyard

Inside Blue Mosque.jpg

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside Blue Mosque 2.jpg

Inside the Blue Mosque

Cistern Istanbul.jpg

An underground cistern for storing water

Medusa Head Cistern Istanbul.jpg

A Medusa head at the bottom of a pillar inside the cistern

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 28, 2005 11:37 AM

Looks like you may be staying in the same hotel where I stayed when I was in Istanbul. Turkey is a nice country! Enjoying your travel stories. Have fun you guys.

Posted by: d-rod at December 28, 2005 12:38 PM

Just wow. It never ceases to amaze to see the beauty of it all, does it? I'm looking forward to Fes soon.

Posted by: Dave at December 28, 2005 12:50 PM

Have you bought a carpet yet? Those guys were like gnats when I went there.
Loved it there otherwise.

Posted by: MG at December 28, 2005 12:51 PM

Lovely photos, and definitely reinforces my wish to someday travel to Istanbul.

Posted by: shay at December 28, 2005 12:55 PM

sigh, I miss the magical city of Istanbul. I lived near Taksim Square when I was there. My favorite neighborhood is Ortakoy. If you are ever near Perpa, there is a little cafe called Cafe Perpa, simple and good food for a good price. The cistern is a great place to go to escape the city heat in mid August.

Istanbul, a romantic city, and full of traffic!

I miss Simit bread!!

Posted by: Pamela at December 28, 2005 01:15 PM

Great photos. Pamela, you can purchase Simit at

Posted by: THL at December 28, 2005 02:17 PM

The best outing in Istanbul is
the ferry trip from Sirkeci to Kadikoy
(the ancient Chalcedon)
or better yet from Besiktas to Kadikoy.

Kadikoy has a great amount of charm
and tourists almost never visit it.
When I am in Istanbul
I always stay there
in a hotel with a view of the Bosphorous
and the entire European side
with magnificent sunsets.

It also is convenient.
A 30 minute trip
by boat and dolmus
will get you to any part of Istanbul.

Posted by: Allan at December 28, 2005 02:31 PM

Forgot to mention:

the best Turkish food in Istanbul is at
Haci Abudllah

an Osmanli (Ottoman) restaurant near Taksim.

Posted by: Allan at December 28, 2005 02:38 PM

Supurb shots Michael. Some, like the cistern are absolutely delightful.

Posted by: GM Roper at December 28, 2005 03:23 PM

Thanks for turning comments on again. Even while they were off, I eagerly awaited your reports. Thanks for the wonderful photoblogs on Istanbul, and Beirut and your work in Cairo.

Posted by: Ed Poinsett at December 28, 2005 03:33 PM

Thank you for the beautiful pictures.

Posted by: kadmous at December 28, 2005 03:41 PM

Whoa. Comments are open again. Yea!

(say hi to a turkish girl named gizem if you run into her, she's my roommate's girlfriend, she's home for the holidays, odds are you've crossed within a few blocks of each other.)

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 28, 2005 03:46 PM

I was in Istanbul when the Greek's threw out the colonels back in '74. Absolutely wonderful city even back then.

The bazaar and the Blue Mosque are the two memories I cherish most. I remember doing a lot of TM in the Blue Mosque and never once, even during prayers on a Friday was I bothered.

I was amazed at the number of Jewish merchants in the bazaar and having arrived in Turkey from nine months in Israel, I was amazed that there were no problems according to the shopkeeper I was buying from.

Wonderful pictures and posts, Michael. thanks for bringing back my memories.

Posted by: Grantman at December 28, 2005 03:53 PM

Amazing pictures! I particularly like the lit columns inside the water cistern. Looks like a beautiful city.

Posted by: jlb at December 28, 2005 04:13 PM

this may get me in trouble, and thats not my intention, but does anyone else notice how minarets look suspiciously like ballisitc missiles??

granted, they were around and designed as such long before man ever took to the skies, but...

great pix though.

Posted by: cwb at December 28, 2005 05:19 PM

Michael, those are truly beautiful photos. And I'm glad that we are able to thank you through the comments again. I am loving your articles

Posted by: Maggie at December 28, 2005 06:29 PM

Love the pictures, especially the Medusa head. Gotta get to Istanbul, that's obvious.

Posted by: BeckyJ at December 28, 2005 07:21 PM


I was in Istanbul two years ago. I'm convinced you broke into my house, rummaged through my photo files and printed same! Astonishing! Wonderful city, warm people.

Posted by: Rick at December 28, 2005 10:12 PM

Genocide denial, an illegal occupation/ethnic cleansing of half of a foreign nation, brutally fascist policies towards minorities, pervasive anti-Western xenophobia...

My, it sounds like a wonderful place to visit.

Posted by: Sephiroth at December 29, 2005 02:38 AM

Fantastic fotos, Michael. Thanks.

Seph is too negative -- the Armenian genocide was long before the Nazi genocide of Jews; and the Germans are in NATO (like Turkey), and in the EU; and are pretty democratic. (How come no Dems screaming to withdraw troops from there?)

But the Kurds need a way to choose to leave Turkey peacefully; if (when?) Iraq breaks into 3, there will be HUGE pressure for "Turkish Kurdistan" to leave. Bush's (Bremer's? same diff) biggest mistakes were having proportional representation lists, and no National Trust Fund to spread oil-money to all (voting?) citizens.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad at December 29, 2005 03:26 AM

Horrible analogy. Does the German government arrest anyone who dares mention the Holocaust, with a ten year prison sentence facing the arrestee? And "democratic" in and of itself is hardly praiseworthy, the quality of the results that democracy produces are what matters. And to be gentle almost to a fault, Turkish democracy has produced some absolutely horrible results fairly consistently over the past few decades.

"How come no Dems screaming to withdraw troops from there?"

I don't know; ask them. I'm a Libertarian, and I for one support immediate withdraw from that cesspool.

Posted by: Sephiroth at December 29, 2005 03:44 AM

Thanks for posting the pics! While I appreciate your colorful reports a picture speaks a thousand words. Istanbul looks like a beautiful place....for men. Where are all the women?

Posted by: Natasha at December 29, 2005 07:59 AM


is your worldview so simplistic that you cannot separate the two? You must be a blast at all the parties.

Posted by: Carlos at December 29, 2005 09:06 AM

"is your worldview so simplistic that you cannot separate the two? You must be a blast at all the parties."

I'm not sure how to respond to this, mostly due to the fact that I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

Posted by: Sephiroth at December 29, 2005 11:55 AM

I thought it was pretty self-evident. If someone responded to lovely pictures of a Hawaiin sunset with a diatribe about "Bush", wouldn't you think that person bizarre, or at the very least a total drag? Same thing here.

Posted by: Carlos at December 29, 2005 01:04 PM

Funny memory from when I was in Constantinople (just b/c we lost it to the jihad doesn't mean we have to accept the new name) back in 1990 I was walking through the Grand Bazaar and suddenly this merchant starts shouting "American Jew! American Jew!" and runs up to me and takes off my shades. I thought I was going to get beheaded, though, ironically, I'm not jewish but an american w/ italian and lebanese blood. Then the merchant gave me a hug and that's when I noticed his star of david gold necklace. Breathed a sigh of relief!

Posted by: minuteman at December 29, 2005 01:10 PM

I was in Istanbul in February of 2002, and it was a wonderful time for me. I longed to see the Hagia Sophia since I was 12 years old, and it owudl only be another 12 years before I got to see it and be inside it.

A good friend of mine found me a great deal that was nomally reserved for Chinese tourists and I paid 22.50 a night instead of 125. I also hope you got a chance to see the underground cistern..that would be a perfect place for a dinner with Shelly.

Istanbul also reminded me of New York, only it was cheaper and safer, plus it managed to be secular but not afraid to show its faith, as I heard calls to prayer, that are undoubtedy as familiar as the hourly chiming of church bells in my native New Orleans.

Istanbul is a city where East meets West, with a history to rival much of Western Europe as Byzantium was a town of trade and commerce long before London's own founding, and like Sofia the city has an older history that is not as prominent.

While I am glad to be stateside for a while, I do admit that my overseas assignments afforded me great travel opportunities, like Istanbul, Sofia, Florence, Seoul, and Singapore.

Posted by: Green Baron at December 29, 2005 01:40 PM

Sorry, this is a political blog, and if you don't want to be bothered by reading political discussion on posts and comments, well then maybe you would be happier elsewhere.

Posted by: Sephiroth at December 29, 2005 02:15 PM

Pamela - had to crack a smile at your post, it brought back such tasty memories! Simit ... truly one of Turkey's gifts to the world.

Posted by: Asher Abrams - Dreams Into Lightning at December 29, 2005 09:24 PM

Some places demand photographs ... Isatanbul is one of them. Thanks for this beautiful, lavishly illustrated post.

I was stationed in Izmir for two years (1985-87), and managed a too-short visit to Istanbul with my wife of the time. I would love to go back some day.

BTW, Izmir is a great town. You probably won't get a chance to visit it on this trip, but do mark it on your list. I hope to get back there again one day, too.

Posted by: Asher Abrams - Dreams Into Lightning at December 29, 2005 09:27 PM

Minuteman, great story!

And what's more, I had a similar experience! I remember one time walking around town and I heard a voice calling "Hey! Musevi!" (Jew!) It was, indeed, another one of our tribe.

On a darker note, we were in Turkey at the time of the terrorist attack on the Istanbul synagogue. From our Turkish neighbors (we lived in the city of Izmir itself, not on a base), we got only support, sympathy, and unmitigated outrage over the atrocity. More than one Turkish neighbor called attention to the news reports indicating that the attack was done by foreigners - they wanted to be sure we did not associate the attack with their own country in any way.

Posted by: Asher Abrams - Dreams Into Lightning at December 29, 2005 09:33 PM

Natasha, I assure you that Istanbul is not gender-segregated. There were many wonderful, attractive women all over Izmir, too. But like I say, I was married at the time ...

Posted by: Asher Abrams - Dreams Into Lightning at December 29, 2005 09:35 PM

Istanbul is a great city, but I don't think you can get a full picture of Turkey by merely visiting Istanbul (particularly if you mostly stay in the more cosmopolitan parts) any more than you can get a full picture of Lebanon by visiting the Christian and Sunni Muslim parts of Beirut. Or of Iran by visiting North Tehran, of India by visiting South Bombay, of China by visiting Shanghai, etc.

Sephiroth's comments are excessive, but much of Turkey's populace, both Turkish and Kurdish, does remain rural and conservative, with the Turkish part having a tendency to demonstrate a fierce nationalism that borders on xenophobia. When it comes to the subject of admitting Turkey, I don't think it's the prospect of taking in Istanbul or Ankara (or for that matter, the seaside resorts along the Aegean) that unsettles the EU, but the prospect of taking in the rest of the country.

Michael, thanks for reopening the comments - the dispatches have been great.

Posted by: Eric at December 30, 2005 10:27 AM

"fierce nationalism that borders on xenophobia." Sounds like some people I know in rural north Texas.

Every time I see photos of Istanbul I get twitchy, in the sense of wanting to hop on the next plane there.

Posted by: Mike at December 30, 2005 11:01 AM

Mike, that's just the point. I think New York's the greatest city in the world, but I don't think you can have a good understanding of what America is like in aggregate by spending a week in the place. Even if you do make it to Harlem and Staten Island.

Posted by: Eric at December 30, 2005 11:12 AM


In your other post on Instanbul, you hold it up as a shining counter-example to Islamophobia. You couldn't have picked a worse example.

Before Istanbul was a great Islamic city, it was a great Christian city. And for hundreds of years, it was the GREATEST Christian city - the center of Eastern Christendom. That is until it was conquered by the Turks.

I suggest you go visit all the great mosques that used to be great churches. It should soon become clear that Instanbul is a great Muslim city only because it was FIRST a great Christian city.

The history of Istanbul should serve as a warning to the Western world. Given the current demographic trends in France, I can predict with some degree of confidence that 500 years from now, a naive traveller will visit the city currently known as "Paris" and pronounce it a great Islamic city that really "kicks ass."

Posted by: HA at December 31, 2005 04:04 AM


Go to Tripoli. Then go to Istanbul. Then see if you still have the same attitude.

In the meantime, you're still banned. If you want to show up here again after getting kicked out, I suggest being apologetic and polite instead of an asshole.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 31, 2005 05:56 AM

Istanbul is one of my favorite cities must venture beyond Itsklal Caddesi next time you go...if there in the warmer months you must go to any of the Prince Islands...peace and paradise a short ferry ride away from the hustle and bustle of the city...Sa!

Posted by: Ruthie at January 3, 2006 12:28 AM

MJT - I have nothing to be apologetic for. Am I an "asshole" for challenging your assertion about Instanbul being a counter-example to Islamophobia? Is that all it takes?

Enjoy your travels. And don't worry, because I won't sneak onto your threads and ruin them with my "asshole" comments. I have no interest in participating on your terms.

Posted by: HA at January 3, 2006 03:34 AM

My "tour" of Turkey was about three months in 1966 so your photos are inspiring. Nicely done!

Thank you.

Posted by: Steve Gioe at January 3, 2006 06:11 AM

MJT, it's started again, you're burning precious time. Please, turn off comments and return to posting your excellent mix of the everyday with the overall. Only that will help people better understand this world of ours.

Ph, and thanks for this place, it really is a site for sore eyes ;)

Posted by: crionna at January 3, 2006 10:21 AM

There is some truth to what HA says. But it should also be acknowledged that the Ottomans and the Turks did a pretty great job of preserving what they conquered and building on it, rather than destroying it. Even the Sophia Mosque contains lots of old Christian frescos.

I loved Turkey myself when I visited last year. And I second what Asher said about Izmir.

That said, anyone want to explain to me why Jews and Turks, for instance, deserve a country and Kurds don't? My general feeling is that a people ought to have a right to their own independent country if they want one and if they are able to fight for it and keep it without oppressing minority groups within their claimed territory. OR ON THE OTHER HAND if another people has attempted to wipe them out (genocide). That's how the Kurds have earned their right to nationhod, in my book.

Posted by: markus at January 4, 2006 08:25 AM

Beautiful pictures. Please, feel free to share all the rest of your experiences, and don't feel down when people nitpick.

It's something to do with human nature, I suppose.

Posted by: B. Durbin at January 4, 2006 09:48 PM

Not knowing the full history of Michael's interactions with HA, I have to say that MT seems to be overreacting. HA is right - Constantinople was founded as a Christian city, as the capital of the first expressly Christian state in history. Even under Ottoman rule Istanbul was the capital of a multicultural and multireligious empire, Istanbul had very large Greek and Armenian populations right up until 1920. In fact I believe it was still the largest Greeek speaking city in the world in 1920. To this day the patriarch of the Orthodox church still resides in Istanbul. Since 1920 it has been the capital of an aggressively secular state. To call it "Islam's Greatest City" is certainly an oversimplification (and a mortal insult to Greeks/Orthodox Christians everywhere). Unfortunately I doubt the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban or the fanatics in Iran find anything to admire in Istanbul. To them it is a city of decadence and sin. Even religious conservative Turks detest Istanbul - they feel the same way about it that conservative American Christians feel about NYC. Istanbul is exactly what we are fighting for and they are fighting against.

Posted by: Vanya at January 6, 2006 08:32 AM

As a Greek whose grandparents were violently removed from here in 1922, your assertion that this is Islam's greatest city is insulting. This was once our home and native land - not a trophy won in battle.

Posted by: Theofilos at January 10, 2006 10:47 PM

i'm going to Istanbul in 3 weeks...... have been looking for a hotel with that exact view..... could you pleeeasse tell me the name of the hotel and possibly the room number? i would really appreciate it.. sending light from Tibet

Posted by: Kirra Givanni at July 20, 2007 02:33 AM

I lived in Istanbul from Oct 1959 to Jul 1961. I loved the city and surrounding territory. I explored every corner of the city that I could reach on my limited budget.
I would love to be able to revisit the city to see how much it has changed since that time. I know it has grown into a huge city. When I lived there, the only way across the Bosphorus was by ferry. Today, two large suspension bridges span the Bosphorus - I bet they are very impressive.
Some of my friends there was the minister of agriculture and the manager of the Fenerbace Sports team. I was never threatened nor insulted in that country. The Turkish people are wonderfully self reliant and friendly - if you make a friend there, they will go out of their way to keep you as a friend. Those who post negative notes about Istanbul and Turkey are sour grapes. I will never understand why people will carry grudges that happened a hundred years ago - or, in some cases a thousand or more years earlier. It is so silly and adolescent. Only weak people are unable to forgive and forget. Forgiveness is the attribute of only the strong. I guess that is the answer. To those people I would say: Get over it!

Posted by: Jerry at September 11, 2007 11:00 PM

Hello Michael,
Thanks for the wonderful pictures of Cairo, Istanbul and Beirut.
I first been to Istanbul in 1992 after a brief visit to Beirut and was totally stunned with its splendour and magnificence. I must say that before my visit I was conservative ,ignorant and badly informed about the Turks and Turkey.
During Ottomans, Greeks Turks, Armenians and others all lived happily and tolerantly. until the end of the Empire when some influential and opportunist countries started using Turkey’s ethnic richness to divide and rule her land
My family (Half Greek and Half Armenian) is a casualty of that period, but when most Christians were forced out of Turkey, most Muslims were forced out of Greece too.
And if it was not for the protection of the Ottomans, I don’t think the Orthodox Christianity would have survived from the onslaught of the Catholics. (remember the last Crusade ?)
As Jerry said to those soar grapes ‘’get over it’’ What happened in history is history.
I love the motherland of my forefathers and I am made to feel home whenever I am there. I am just in process of buying a house in Yesilyurt district of Istanbul where I can enjoy this magnificent city for the rest of my life.
Enjoy the rest of your travel and thanks once again the wonderful photos.

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