Not only is Istanbul big, but it’s also very old. Even from an early Ottoman period could the city boast high numbers of engaged tourists traveling through. With so many sights to see, foods to eat, and drinks to drink, it’s a wonder why so many Istanbul enthusiasts and locals alike recommend the same activities. Hoping to break this cycle, here are the latest non-touristy Istanbul recommendations.
SEE THE ORIGINAL TREATY OF KADESH
Signed between the Hittites and Egyptians in 1259 B.C, the Treaty of Kadesh (also known as Egyptian- Hittite Peace Treaty) is the earliest known peace treaty. Thanks to the archaeologists, the clay tablet was founded in Boğazköy (Ancient Hattusha) in the early twentieth century and it contains the seals of Hittite king Hattushili III and the Egyptian pharoah Ramesses II. Yeah, we know it is like a miracle!
The treaty is in Akkadian that was the diplomatic language of the time (like today’s English) and although half of the treaty is missing it reads: “It is concluded that Ramesses II the Great King is brother of Hattusili the Great King of the land of Hatti. For the land of Egypt and the land of Hatti, in order to establish a good peace and a good fraternity forever among them. […] If domestic or foreign enemies march against one of these countries and if they ask help from each other, both parties will send their troops and chariots in order to help. If a nobleman flees from Hatti and seeks refuge in Egypt, the king of Egypt will catch him and send back to his country. If people flee from Egypt to Hatti or from Hatti to Egypt, those will be sent back. However, they will not be punished severely, they will not shed tears and their wives and children will not be punished in revenge.”
Today, the original Treaty of Kadesh is exhibited in the Ancient Orient section of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums that was opened in 1903. Since the Treaty of Kadesh is the earliest known peace treaty, two-meters long copper replica of the treaty is hanged in the United Nations’ headquarters located in New York.
Literally means “meat with dough” in Arabic, lahmacun is an oval very thin piece of dough topped with minced meat -beef or lamb depending on the region- minced tomatoes, onions, as well as parsley and several spices such as cayenne, paprika, and cumin. It is very delicious and we believe it is not correct to call it as “Turkish Pizza”. There is at least one lahmacun maker in every district of Istanbul and it is one of the most affordable -and distinctive- foods in Istanbul. Lahmacun is served with an extra plate full of with onions, tomatoes, lettuce, parsley, and lemon, because it is usually eaten with them. In addition, ayran -a cold Turkish yogurt beverage mixed with salt- is almost a “must” for lahmacun.
There are two types of lahmacun: Urfa lahmacun is made with beef minced meat and onions and is more common. Meanwhile, Gaziantep lahmacun is made with lamb minced meat and garlic. It is totally up to you, but our favorite is Gaziantep lahmacun with garlic. There is a golden rule that you should keep in your mind while eating lahmacun: Eat it with your hand!
Here you can find our favorite lahmacun places in Istanbul:
- Tatbak Restaurant- Valikonağı Cad. Akkavak Sk. No:28, Nişantaşı/Istanbul
- Öz Kilis Kebap ve Lahmacun Salonu – Bedrettin Simavi Sk. No:5, Fatih/Istanbul
- Fıstık Kebap – Arnavutköy Mah. 1. Cadde, No:40, Beşiktaş/Istanbul
WATCH SPOONMAKERS’S DIAMOND LIKE OTTOMAN SULTANS DID
Built in the fifteenth century CE as an Ottoman Palace, The Topkapı Palace was the Ottoman imperial palace for 400 years. Since 1924 the palace have been serving as a museum and it has a huge collection with more than one million objects. The Topkapı Palace Museum has several collections and -without doubt- the most important collection is Imperial Treasure Collection.
In Ottoman Era, the sultans would keep and watch the objects in treasury that were mainly priceless gifts made from precious stones and metals. The most important object of the Imperial Treasury is Spoonmaker’s Diamond (Kaşıkçı Elması) that is the fourth largest diamond in the world. It weighs 86 carats (17.2 grams) and surrounded by smaller size, two rows of 49 diamonds.
There are several stories regarding Spoonmaker’s Diamond and the most common is that a poor fisherman finds the unprocessed diamond on the shore of Yenikapı in 1699 and sells it to a jeweler for three spoons by thinking that it is a worthless stone. Years later Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV (r. 1748 – 87) purchases the diamond and dresses it in today’s shape. Like an Ottoman sultan or queen, make sure to watch this exclusive diamond even for a few minutes.
DRINK BOZA AT VEFA BOZA SHOP ON A WINTER NIGHT
Boza is a historical and popular fermented drink in which it was started to drink in the 11th century CE during the Seljuq Empire. It is a malt drink made from corn and fermented wheat. Known as a Turkish drink, boza is also found in Balkan as well as Central-Asia countries.
Since it is a nourishing and thick drink, it is mainly consumed in winter. In addition, according to Ottoman primary sources, boza was the most popular winter drink among in the Ottoman Empire and is still very popular.
Vefa Boza Shop (Vefa Bozacısı) is one of the oldest shops in Istanbul dating to 1876 and is the oldest boza shop. It is located in the center of Istanbul’s historical peninsula -Vefa- that has several historical monuments such as Süleymaniye Mosque and Valens Aqueduct. Vefa Boza Shop is a family company and today it is managed by fourth-generation family members of Hacı Sadık, who founded the business in 1876. They are still producing their boza according to recipe of their grand-grandfathers. Vefa Boza Shop is open everyday until midnight and this beautiful shop is full every winter night. It is impossible not to feel like an Istanbullu (Istanbulite) after experiencing boza at Vefa Bozacısı. Make sure to enjoy your boza with a little bit cinnamon and chickpeas on it.
SEE THE MOST FAMOUS TURKISH PAINTING: TORTOISE TRAINER
The Tortoise Trainer (Kaplumbağa Terbiyecisi in Turkish) is a painting made by Osman Hamdi Bey in 1906 and currently it is exhibited at the Pera Museum. The Tortoise Trainer is the most famous Turkish painting and one of the most famous Turkish art work. Moreover, it is the most expensive Turkish work of art ever sold. In 2004, the painting was purchased $3.5 million USD.
Osman Hamdi Bey’s painting portrays an elderly Sufi dervish with a ney as well as several tortoises that elderly man attempting to train with his feet. According to art historians, the represents passive and unsuccessful reform attempts (Tanzimat reforms) of the Ottoman Empire that started in the mid-nineteenth century CE. At the time the painting was made (1906), there were huge criticisms to Ottoman sultan Abdülhamit II regarding the unsuccessful reforms, in consequence, Abdülhamit II was dethroned in 1909.
Different from his Ottoman contemporaries, Osman Hamdi Bey was mainly portraying his own (Ottoman) culture and cultural perceptions. Therefore, he is also described as the only Orientalist Ottoman painter. Thanks to Google Art Project, you can see the Tortoise Trainer with a good quality before seeing the object itself through this link: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/u/0/asset/the-tortoise-trainer/3AFvsWCD87FIWg
EXPERIENCE TURKISH COFFEE AND TRADITION
Introduced in the fifteenth century in the Middle-East, coffee has been the most popular beverage all over the world for centuries. Coffee was introduced to the Europe in early seventeenth century through Ottoman Empire and the earliest known European coffeehouse was opened in Rome in 1640s. However, according to the written sources the story of coffee started much earlier in Istanbul and Ottoman Empire compared to the Europe and the first coffeehouses were opened in Istanbul in 1540s.
Different from most coffees, Turkish coffee is prepared without filtration. After roasted and finely grounded, traditional Turkish coffee is cooked in a small copper pot (cezve) on a stove optionally with sugar. Accompanied by a glass of water, traditional Turkish coffee is served with thin porcelain Turkish coffee cups (fincan). Turkish coffee as a whole is a perfect combination of special coffee making as well as rich shared culture, because it is mainly drunk with other people either in houses or coffee-houses an inviting someone over coffee provides an opportunity for intimate talk and the sharing. In addition, since Turkish coffee is unfiltered it leaves coffee grounds inside the cup and people read fortune through Turkish coffee cup. Because of all these characteristics of Turkish coffee and tradition is in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural List and make sure to experience real Turkish coffee tradition in Istanbul.
ROW ALONG THE GOLDEN HORN
Approximately eight-kilometers long, Golden Horn (Haliç) is a natural deep inlet dividing European side of Istanbul into two parts. On one side, you have the historical peninsula of Istanbul decorated with hundreds-years old mosques, churches, and towers; on the other side, there are Galata and Beyoğlu districts dominated by Galata Tower and nineteenth-century buildings in different architectural styles.
It is a unique experience to row on the Golden Horn early in the morning, while a city like Istanbul is almost sleeping and you do not need to be a professional rower at all in order to experience this. Calm water, sunrise above the Bosphorus, and the sound of water early in the morning will bring you nothing but the peace that is the best way to start a day.