Istanbul: Entering a spectacular metropolis by sea

The Blue Mosque as seen by passengers on Louis Cruises’ Louis Cristal as the ship came into port. All six minarets are visible.


ISTANBUL, Turkey — I have been in Istanbul several times, but this spring, for the first time, I arrived on a cruise ship, Louis Cruises’ Louis Cristal.

Istanbul’s most famous mosque, the Blue Mosque.

Turkey’s largest metropolis, but not its capital, Istanbul is fascinating. First known widely as Constantinople, it was the capital of the eastern Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Empire. Later, the Ottoman Turks — who renamed it — made it their capital, too.

It was important for its location where Europe meets Asia and where the Aegean (via the inland Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus strait) meets the Black Sea.

A sometimes wild, and certainly varied, history has left the city with a few Roman ruins, the remains of impressive walls, Christian churches with beautiful mosaics, 575 Ottoman-era mosques and a few palaces.

And, as is often true of good strategic locations, Istanbul’s setting is spectacular.

Entry into Istanbul by ship is all about that setting. Sailing into port, passengers had nice views of the Blue Mosque, the best known of the hundreds; Topkapi Palace, the hilltop home for sultans and their harems, and Hagia Sophia, once the world’s largest church.

The dock was on the European side of Istanbul, the world’s only city located on two continents. The historic sites and the business center are on the city’s older and larger European side.

The Asian side, accessible by bridge or ferry across the Bosporus, is the “sleeping side,” our guide said.

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