The Four Seasons Hotel was perfectly situated on top of a hill in the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Eminönü district on a historical peninsula overlooking Istanbul’s most iconic and sacred landmarks. As soon as I arrived in my room, I released a big sigh and tested the bed. Looking around, I saw a Turkish theme with neoclassic details and understated elegance in warm golden hues accented in black and gold. The room was spacious with three huge French windows allowing the natural light to fill the room. The windows contained window boxes filled with geraniums that opened to the street below where I could watch storekeepers standing in front of their shops and restaurants smoking and talking to pedestrians.
The Four Season’s Hotel was steeped in history. The understated opulence completely disguises its past as a prison. The only vestiges left are the floor tiles in front of the elevators and a few initials and a heart scratched into two pillars. The dungeon is still in the basement, but it has been sealed off for decades. The building was constructed around a courtyard where the prisoners would get their exercise and fresh air. Now the courtyard displays meticulously manicured lawns, hedges and gardens aglow with flowers. In the center of all this beauty is a glass-enclosed gazebo that serves a sumptuous buffet breakfast.
SURROUNDED BY HISTORY
In Istanbul, you walk in the 10th century and the 21st century simultaneously. Istanbul has it’s old and it’s new; sometimes the new is inside the old; sometimes the new sits right next to the old; and sometimes the old is refurbished to look like new or visa versa.
Such was the case with The Four Seasons, Sultanahmet, where one of the most iconic places in Turkey is only a few yards away,The Blue Mosque.
On my way to this significant landmark, I passed an ice cream vendor who put on a delightful show while scooping the ice cream. Before handing the cones to the children, he tipped them upside down and they gasped, but to their surprise, the ice cream defied gravity and never fell out of the cone. He tossed the ice cream around like a baseball, but never dropped a lick of it. I, too, was amazed and bought a delicious pistachio ice cream cone, turning it upside down just to test it.
BLUE MOSQUE (Sultanahmet Cami)
The Blue Mosque got its name from all the tiles that decorate it from floor to ceiling. Built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I, because he wanted a monument that eclipsed the celebrity of Ayasofya and is the only mosque with six minarets instead of two. The work is described in eight meticulous volumes now stored in the Topkapi Palace library.
I stood in the cavernous mosque shoeless and head covered feeling dwarfed. Upon inspection of one of the 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles on the lower level, I could see a blue tulip, one of fifty tulip designs. Upstairs in the gallery the designs are more flamboyant representing flowers, fruits and cypresses.
More than two hundred stained windows filter light through the mosque. Enormous tablets quoting text of the Qur’an and names of the caliphs tower overhead while the carpeted floor of the mosque is totally empty, devoid of furniture or chairs.
The call to prayer (Ezan) is chanted six times daily and Muslims pray five times a day wherever they are. The purpose is to remind Muslims of Allah (God) and seek his guidance and forgiveness. Prayer times were set according to the movement of the sun, not the clock. Five times a day, in olden days, a prayer caller had to climb a narrow spiral staircase to announce the call to prayer. Today, a public announcement system is used.