Let’s get started with Season 2!! I flew from Madrid to Istanbul excited about setting off for my dream journey along the Silk Road. A little bit of context first.
What is known today as the Silk Road was never a single route but rather an intricate network of smaller trade paths between the Occident and the Orient. Therefore, setting a start/finish point doesn’t make much sense. But I have to start somewhere, don’t I? 🙂 Istanbul probably makes the best choice. Owing to its strategic location straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul has come to symbolise the route’s western terminus, the gateway to Europe for traders carrying products from the Far East. The Chinese would point out this is the end of the Silk Road, since silk flowed westwards; for Europeans travellers, however, it is more of a beginning as they head towards the less-known Orient.
Istanbul has it all: a modern and lively metropolis, a rich history of a city previously known as Byzantium and Constantinople and a strategic position between Europe and Asia and in the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It is the symbolic bridge between Eastern and Western civilisations.
Hagia Sophia is a testament to Istanbul’s rich history. It served as a cathedral during the Byzantine Empire, later as a mosque under Ottoman rule and was secularised and opened as a museum in the 1930’s as part of the efforts by Atatürk to create a modern and westernized Turkish nation-state. The interior is breathtaking, one of the most impressive religious buildings I’ve ever seen. You can clearly distinguish Christian and Islamic elements mixed together in this massive construction.
Just a short walk from Hagia Sophia lies Sultan Ahmed Mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque, which is still working as such. It is almost equally as amazing, and more beautiful from the outside.
That Turks are skilled traders is well known. Actually, they will try to sell you whatever best suits them, even if you ask for something else – and sometimes successfully. If you enter a shop to buy a T-shirt you may well end up with a pair of shoes, after a few cups of tea… 🙂 So my first experience in a Silk Road bazaar was in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, a buzzing market built in the fifteenth century.
In the Grand Bazaar I spotted several shops advertising pure silk products. Would the silk have come from China? 🙂 I don’t think it works like that these days, but certainly this was a cool detail to start with a Silk Road trip.
There are 28 caravanserais (or Han, as it is called in Turkey) inside the bazaar itself. Those are places where Silk Road traders used to rest, more info in posts to come.
Istanbul was my starting point for travelling around Turkey: Izmir, Selçuk (Ephesus), Bodrum, Pamukkale, Antalya, Konya, Cappadocia, Ankara and back to Istanbul. I’ll keep you posted.