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Approximately 4½ hours
Historic Areas of Istanbul
"With its strategic location on the Bosphorus peninsula between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been associated with major political, religious and artistic events for more than 2,000 years. Its masterpieces include the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine, the 6th-century Hagia Sophia and the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque, all now under threat from population pressure, industrial pollution and uncontrolled urbanization."
A scenic drive takes you across the Galata Bridge into the heart of Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and the capital of the Ottoman Empire. You'll see the Byzantine Hippodrome -- once the heart of Constantinople's political and sporting life, and the setting for an array of games throughout the history of the Byzantine Empire. Monuments on the site include the Snake Column from Delphi and an Egyptian obelisk taken from the Temple of Karnak at Luxor.
Next you'll visit St Sophia, the Church of Divine Wisdom. It was originally built by Constantine the Great, and later rebuilt by Emperor Justinian to be the flagship church of the new empire. St Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture and is rich with mosaics, marble pillars and coverings.
Around the corner is the Underground Cistern -- a subterranean reservoir built by the Romans in the 6th century. The roof is supported by 336 Corinthian columns, many of which were purloined from pagan temples. The subtly illuminated interior is certain to generate wonder and inspire chills.
The Spice Market or Egyptian Bazaar was constructed in 1663 as a part of the adjacent Yeni Mosque complex, to generate funds for the upkeep of the mosque. This was an avant-garde concept at the time - light years ahead of the not-for-profit fundraising game. The Spice Market is the best place to purchase spices familiar and exotic, whose pungent aromas bear little resemblance to the supermarket variety, as well as fresh Turkish Delight, caviar and a fascinating array of teas before you return to the port.
Head back to the ship with an armful of Turkish delight or any other purchase you may make (at your own expense).
Please note: Expect dense traffic conditions in Istanbul.