Travel | Istanbul 1 A Turkey's flag seller at Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar. 111 2 2 An aisle at Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and the oldest shopping malls in the world. 3 The Grand Bazaar sells everything including carpets and textiles with favourite's Ottoman motifs. 4 Byzantine army figurines sold for souvenirs at the Grand Bazaar. architecture is splendid, culminating in the 400-odd rooms of the harem quarters. Delicate arched doorways lead into courtyards where exquisite pavilions are mirrored in rectangular pools. But the palace also has exhibits that range from calligraphy and porcelain to armour and gold jewellery, highlighting the sophisticated craftsmanship of imperial times. Relics of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are among its priceless treasures. Istanbul’s architecture is seldom modest. Right outside the enormous Topkapı Palace stands the gargantuan Blue Mosque, with its many domes and six minarets. Light streams into the interior of the building through stained-glass windows, lighting up the patterns on its blue Iznik tiles and woodwork encrusted with ivory and mother-of-pearl. During the month of Ramadan, lights are hung in the trees outside and food stalls are set up after dusk offering all kinds of local delicacies – a rather agreeable reminder that daily life still continues in Istanbul despite its impressive historical monuments. A later sultan, Süleyman the Magnificent, also stamped Istanbul with his architectural mark by erecting some of the city’s most prominent Islamic buildings during his long reign from 1520 to 1566. Among the most notable is the octagonal Rüstem Paşa Mosque, named after the sultan’s grand vizier and son-in-law. This is certainly the most elaborately decorated of all the city’s mosques, with every inch covered in superb tilework depicting tulips and other flowers in beautiful, multi-coloured harmony. The palace of an earlier grand vizier, Pargali Ibrahim Paşa, now houses the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, which by any account is one of Istanbul’s top museums. It houses outstanding illustrated Qu’rans, stunning Qu’ran boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and official edicts written in sumptuous Arabic calligraphy. There are also several examples of the tugra (official seal) of Süleyman the Magnificent, intricately scripted and embellished with floral and 3 4 At the Grand Bazaar, seek out Ottoman jewellery, old textiles, calligraphy and perhaps an elegant brass coffee pot or hubble-bubble. geometric designs in gold, scarlet and peacock blue. If the taxman would only send us letters signed like this, we would no doubt pay up with a glad heart. In contrast to all this sumptuous decoration, the Süleyman Mosque has a rather austere beauty. Inside, mother-of-pearl inlay vies with glazed tiles and Ottoman stained glass, but the gigantic dome is the real architectural masterpiece, seeming to effortlessly float high above your craned neck. The huge mosque is part of a splendid imperial complex that includes surrounding schools, as well as a library, medical college and hospital, over which soar four minarets so slender it seems they are about to topple over. Also in the grounds lies the mausoleum of the great Süleyman and his wife. Its dome is fantastic in rich red, black and gold patterns studded with glittering diamonds to resemble a starry sky. If exhaustion hasn’t set in, there is plenty more to see on the Islamic trail, including a dozen more notable mosques. For a change of pace, the Sadberk Hanim Museum is the waterside mansion of a billionaire businessman that has superb collections of Byzantine silver, Islamic art and Ottoman-era embroidery and calligraphy. Divan Edebiyati Museum, meanwhile, has a collection of musical instruments and exhibits devoted to the Sufi sect of Islam. Go on a Sunday afternoon if you can, when there are concerts of Sufi music accompanied by the spinning dances that give this sect their ‘whirling dervish’ nickname in the West – and proves that Islamic culture in all its variety is still alive and well in various corners of modern Istanbul.