“I shall never forget my first impression of Constantinople…it surpasses anything I have witnessed in any part of the world.”
F. Marion Crawford, American novelist
The very name of Istanbul conjures up notions of excitement on its streets and intrigue in its harems, merchant vessels and admirals’ fleets plying the Bosphorus, and the steam engines of the Orient Express – the finest train of the day – pulling into Sirkeci Station.
Byzantium – its earliest name – is perhaps even more evocative. We conjure up Byzantine masters painstakingly crafting minutely-detailed gold mosaics and Emperor Justinian barking orders to complete his new church of Hagia Sophia in only six years. It is not hard to imagine how impressive the 250-foot span of its dome, soaring to nearly 200 feet in height, must have been to his subjects.
Poet William Butler Yeats described Byzantium as, “the center of European civilization and the source of its spiritual philosophy.”
Constantinople is perhaps the most romantic name of all. Whose minds don’t fill with images of marble hammams whose dark, steamy interiors are pierced by rays of sunlight entering through tiny star-shaped openings in its ceiling? One can almost hear the sounds of trickling water in hushed courtyards of marble mosques and the raucous sounds of the enormous covered bazaar full of traders from Venice and Asia bargaining with Ottoman merchants.
One can imagine Marco Polo’s father and traveling companion setting out from Istanbul in 1260 on his first trip to Asia.
Images like these are what draw so many of us to Istanbul. And it’s all still there – waiting for you: the Roman hippodrome, Byzantine frescoes (among the world’s finest), domed Ottoman mosques, and the spacious palaces of the privileged classes.
Yet our passengers are always surprised by Istanbul. Not so much by the beauty of the ever-changing vistas of water and hills – even though often more beautiful than hoped for. Nor are they surprised to feel at home so quickly, which they do.
The real surprise of Istanbul is that it is not at all a faded museum of history, architecture, and art, of once-great empires buried in the dustbins of history, nor is it a place peopled only by tourists, with locals having moved on to other places.
Instead, our passengers discover that its rich past is only a springboard. On this foundation is a city that thrives on all the things that attract us to any great place – fashion, shopping, food, music, art, and luxury. It presents an attractive aesthetic for the eye, endless temptations for the palate – don’t come here to lose weight – and a panoply of sounds to entice the ear, whether it’s a chorus of the call to prayer that rings out five times a day or late night jazz wafting out to Istiklal.
It is this combination of pleasure and tradition that keeps our passengers returning. When GQ asked if Istanbul is “the next Paris,” we knew it had arrived.
For those who love art and architecture, we can arrange for you to visit Hagia Sophia or the Byzantine cisterns after hours. We can also arrange a meeting with the owners of contemporary galleries in Galata, Karakoy, Nisantasi, and Istiklal and get you into special events at the Biennial.
As for shopping, the Grand Bazaar overflows with Iznik tiles and tulip-shaped tea glasses. But the scene encompasses more than what you might expect: Istanbul is brimming with young talent reinterpreting the traditions of the Ottoman legacy. We can arrange for you to meet one of Turkey’s top jewelry designers in his studio.
Then there’s the booming food scene in Istanbul, notably in the Beyoglu district. We will curate your dining experience by mixing Istanbul’s most creative restaurants with its finest traditional ones. And if you prefer to go local, we recommend our insider’s food tour of meyhanes (local inns) and food stalls serving mouth-watering kebabs and freshly baked borek (melted cheese in between layers of dough), and of course a taste or two of raki, the local spirit.
Istanbul is a city that many passengers return to, sometimes three or four times. They re-walk its neighborhoods of wooden Ottoman homes, revisit its antique stores, and check out its hottest new restaurants and designer boutiques. They come back for even more insight into a city they can’t get out of their minds.