Istanbul is, as always, breathtaking. Having only 5 hours in Istanbul as I was transiting through to Santorini, I knew I had to make the best of the time I had.  There were so many places to see, but with little time in my hands, I had to make a plan and think logically about what I wanted to see most out of this short trip. My thoughts quickly landed on the two most important places I wanted to go to – The Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque.

Being here, my mind pondered, “Has Istanbul always been this amazing?”

And yes, Istanbul has always been an amazing place. First known as Lygos in the early 13th Century BC, it has stood as a bastion of trade, faith and growth for the past three millennia.

Although today Istanbul is an Islamic majority city, it was once a centre for Orthodox Christianity. Today, hundreds of mosques are within walking distance of each other, making it very easy to go to prayers for all visiting muslims from all over the world, and MANY muslims visit Turkey.

Byzantium it was called when the Romans came, and built the original Hagia Sophia, which was originally a church. Many remnants of the Christian origins of Hagia Sophia are preserved and now the Hagia Sophia, or Aya Sofya, depending on where you come from, is a wonderful museum for millions of visitors every year.

Central area Istanbul
Massive central area, as you can see – unfortunately I came during a restoration phase, so half of the area was closed up. You can see the sermon area and where they crowned former Byzantine Kings as well. (Photo: Hadi Othman)

The Hagia Sophia is huge. Freaking huge. And what makes it even more amazing is the fact that this was constructed in 537 AD. No big caterpillars, no crane towers, no health and safety standards. Amazing.

With the amazing intricate details on the walls, to the beautiful windows and lighting, it was a sight to behold.

Hagia Sofia
You can see the Hagia Sophia from far away. This is taken from about 1km away – just on the steps of the Blue Mosque. (Photo: Hadi Othman)

I was very much taken by the Hagia Sophia, and I thought that nothing can top that, but I was proven wrong when I saw the Blue Mosque. Not only did it take my breath away, I was bewitched by its opulence and striking beauty. Officially, it is known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but I preferred calling it the Blue Mosque. With the amazing intricate details on the walls, to the beautiful windows and lighting, it was a sight to behold.

In fact, there is a small alcove which had an opening in the second level of Hagia Sophia, which I cannot see out of, but had guessed that I could get a pretty shot of the Blue Mosque from.

Blue mosque
I took this shot from 2 feet UNDER the window, without being able to see the actual shot. I had to guess, reach out my hand and just keep shooting. Editing had to come later. (Photo: Hadi Othman)

I was so fortunate that it was a beautiful blue day, and on my way to the Blue Mosque, I caught this next shot.

Blue mosque 2
This was so amazing. It was SO HOT, but worth the walk. (Photo: Hadi Othman)

The outer grounds of the Blue Mosque were neatly trimmed grass, flowers and beautiful trees reminiscent of palaces and when I close my eyes I can ignore the rowdy tourists and imagine how it must have been like in the days of old.

I understand this mosque is still in use, so it was a privilege to see it even though it is actually used for prayers during other times.

Entering the mosque (you must wear appropriate modest clothing both for women and men, and women have to put on a headscarf – all provided free of charge by the mosque officials during my time) I took off my shoes and put it in a bag provided by the mosque officials, went through a small door, and then, there was this view.

5 hours in Istanbul
The colors and the flow – just wow. (Photo: Hadi Othman)

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the place at night, but I understand it’s just as beautiful. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t have time to do anything else, and I was VERY lucky not to run into the infamous traffic jams that back up most of the world’s urban places so I got to my connecting flight in time. Phew! (If not, this would have been quite awkward, though I don’t mind being stranded at this beautiful place..,)

Perhaps I will one day come to Istanbul again, but if you have only 5 hours, these are the two places you should definitely go to. If you’re worried about your growling tummy, don’t, because there are heaps of tantalizing Turkish food sold in small pushcarts scattering all around.. Not to forget, Turkish delights! Turkish Delight and sweets go a LONG way, so trust me, my 5 hours were well spent!