Built by Constantine and enlarged to its present form by Justinian, Yerebatan Sarnici is the largest of several hundred ancient underground cisterns. Created to irrigate the gardens of Constantinople and the Byzantine Palaces, it has the capacity to store 100,000 tons (23,965,000) gallons of water
The different styles of the columns suggests them to have been recycled from the ruins of older buildings brought to Constantinople from various parts of the empire.
Yerebatan Sarnici was forgotten for centuries. It was re-discovered in 1545 by Petrus Gyllius, a french topographer, sent to Constantinople by King Francis I with a mission to find ancient manuscripts.
It is fun to note that this forest of columns and brick vaults was featured in the Bond film “From Russia With Love.
The entrance is next to the Tourism Police station and is fairly nondescript. We recomend you bring your own music and headphones. The site is fantastic, but the tourist chatter that reverberates down the halls can take away the magic.
Column resembling the columns of the Triumphal Arch of Theodosius I from the 4th century (AD 379-395). Ancient texts suggest that the tears on the column pay tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the Basilica Cistern.
Tucked behind the Yeni Mosque – adjacent to the Flower Market – one can discover the destination for plants, seeds, spices and birds You find yourself in one of the oldest covered bazaars in Istanbul; known as the Egyptian or Spice Bazaar. It was founded by the mother of Sultan Murat III, with the intention of creating some monetary assistance for the Yeni (New) Mosque during its construction and to help in it’s upkeep.
The Egyptian bazaar is well known for it’s natural medicines, spices, custom flower essences and traditional Turkish sweets. This was by far our favorite bazaar in Istanbul. Filled with beautiful stores; some very old and some very new all overflowing with ceramics, textiles, chess sets, beans & baubles.
A good tip for purchasing spices is to ask for vacuum packing. Most of the shops offer this service and you are sure to keep your powders dry and full of flavour on your journeys.
A special spot was the Cennet Turkish Paradise 48. There you can peruse lovely jewelry and embroidered textiles
Friendly note: Unless you really need to kill the curiosity or have need for cheap asian imports, don’t bother shopping to the Grand Bazaar.
In the middle of the Besiktas neighborhood, sit the historic Akaretler Row Houses. Peering at their curved facades, one can deconstruct their current perfection and see how it was a developers dream. The neighborhood has now been transformed into one of the city’s trendiest areas, where you will find every elite boutique from Etro to Missoni. Direct in the middle of this shoppers mecca lays the absolutely wonderful, very stylish and surprisingly accessible W Hotel Istanbul.
Besiktas, and the W, is situated well away from the chaos of the main tourist areas, but close enough for easy access. Be prepared to taxi in and out of ‘town’ for the sites and nightlife. Luckily, the cabs are not so pricey as to make the fare uncomfortable – our average ride to/from the W was about 15 -25 minutes and cost between 8 -& 20 YTL (About $6-15). The Ferry is right down the hill, 3 blocks away, and offers an exciting water journey downtown to Sultanhamet and the Hagia Sophia. Boats leave every twenty minutes before 10 am and every hour from then on. One thing you learn early is that all travel in Istanbul is highly traffic dependent, you learn to avoid rush hours quickly- the boats are your best bet for those times. It is also within walking distance to the Dolmabahçe Palace, the seat of the Ottomans from 1856 through 1924.
The W itself is a real jewel designed by Mahmut Anlar of the design firm Geomim. It manages to stay just on the side of fun & chic, without crossing over into ostentatious and eurotrashy. I believe this is the result of the excellent staff- which manages to keep everything grounded and never slipped into any type of haughtiness while we were there (5 days). On the weekends a trendy crowd comes to party in the upstairs bar- that looks to have lovely outdoor seating, which was unfortunately closed during our stay. Guests are invited to join the party, and we were never made to feel uninvited.
An interesting fact is that the W Hotels are a franchise, not a chain. Thus each W is independantly owned and managed- leading to varying experiences between locations. The slogan is “Whatever/Whenever,” and the staff at the W Istanbul certainly took that to heart! The service was impeccable; from the front desk to the attentive doormen (who make sure you don’t get taken advantage off by taxi drivers), the concierge staff is a fountain of useful information and charm and everyone has a genuine smile on their face.
The rooms are beautifully decorated and fully decked. The beds were very comfortable (you can order one off the room service menu!). Excellent water pressure gave a loving hot shower. The programed lighting is a delightful touch- ranging from reading, sleeping and the all important ambient mellow lounge look 😉
The W’s in-house restaurant was one of the Spice Market chain that has a menu created by Jean-Georges. It is a bit overpriced, as you would expect, but offers quality food. A find for us was the late-night room service menu that had an excellent pasta!
In the lobby, there is a quite comfortable lounge area known by the moniker “Sip”, located opposite reception, behind beaded curtains. Decorated with comfortable couches and settes; a place where you can relax with a tea and surf with the free Wifi. Jump next to the hotel for an acceptable coffee from the ever present “Cafe Nero” for an option to the overpriced hotel breakfast.
Having stayed in many hotels, including a few W’s, I must say that the W Istanbul deserves all the accolades it gets. It successfully manages to merge old world service with ultra modern decor, which combine to create an experience that is at the same time relaxing, exciting, welcoming and exotic! Kudos.