MY Constantinople

(in pictures)

A city full of colors, tastes, smells, and culture.

Istanbul is a major city in Turkey that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. Its Old City reflects the cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled here. In the Sultanahmet district, the open-air, Roman-era Hippodrome was, for centuries, the site of chariot races, and Egyptian obelisks also remain. The iconic Byzantine Hagia Sophia features a soaring 6th-century dome and rare Christian mosaics.

Istanbul facts 

The Turkish Coffee

Turkish coffee is a method of coffee preparation that originated in the Middle East and the Balkans, including Turkey, Greece, and Iran.

Turkish coffee can be served unsweetened, with moderate amounts of sugar, or very sweet. It combines finely ground coffee beans with water and brings the liquid to a frothy foaming stage, just below boiling. The sugar is added to the boiling water and never after being served in cups.

Turkish coffee is traditionally brewed in a pot called a cezve. After it reaches the desired stage, the brew — including the coffee grinds — is distributed into cups. For the best results, each coffee should be prepared individually (to feel one cup).

The coffee grind powder sinks to the bottom of the cup, and the remaining liquid is consumed. Leaving the coffee unfiltered results in a much higher caffeine concentration than other preparation methods.

A common addition to Turkish coffee is cardamom (a spice), best served with a loukum (Turkish delight).

The Fauna of the city

Stray dogs and cats.

The world's media has portrayed Istanbul as a "cat haven" for years. Beautiful photos, tourism board videos, and award-winning documentaries show us a peaceful, happy, and healthy coexistence between street cats and the animal-loving local community of the over 15 million city.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Veterinary Services Directorate says the estimated number of stray animals – cats and dogs – is around 250,000.

The actual number is, however, much, MUCH higher.

Unfortunately, there is a considerable gap between idyllic Instagram images and the real life of stray animals of Istanbul, whose daily existence is full of suffering.

The same situation exists for dogs.

The window dogs ...

Its Huge dome is considered an unsurpassed architectural miracle. It kept the record of being the largest dome in the world until the Duomo was built in Florence in the 15th century.


Hagia Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία, 

Ayasofya), also called Church of the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom, is an essential Byzantine structure in Istanbul and one of the world’s most significant monuments.

The building reflects the religious changes that have played out in the region over the centuries, with the minarets and inscriptions of Islam and the lavish mosaics of Christianity. It was built as a Christian church in the 6th century CE (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. In subsequent centuries it became a mosque, a museum, and a mosque again.

Whirling Dervish

Dervish is a Persian word broadly referring to followers of a Sufi Muslim religious order known as the Mevlevi Brotherhood. Dervishes participate in wild dancing rituals that are notable for their whirling movements. These began in the early 1200s but are still practiced by the Sufi today.

This brotherhood was founded by the mystic poet Rumi, who is also responsible for the whirling dancing ritual. He was walking within earshot of a goldsmith and began dancing in a whirling pattern to the sound of the hammer. He became dizzy, went into a trance, and believed that he felt god.

Since then, dervishes have participated in elaborate whirling that results in a mesmerizing trance-like effect and is thought to achieve a release of the soul from earthly ties. Visitors to Istanbul can purchase a ticket and watch the whirling take place live or watch them free of charge in some cafes, like the "Meşale Restaurant & Cafe" located atArasta Bazaar.

The ceremony in which the whirling takes place is known as a sema. As they whirl, dervishes hold their right arm up to receive blessings from heaven. One can appreciate the dreamy state that results from the methodical, repetitive, coordinated movements. Those who have seen the ceremony performed describe the experience as quite intimate. Some recall how austere and earnest the dervishes appeared, with their movements seemingly effortless and perfect.

 When the tea is served, a cube of beet sugar is placed on the saucer beside the tea. The sugar is typically placed inside the mouth between the teeth, and as the tea is consumed, it washes over the sugar, adding sweetness.

The tea in Turkey is not drunk in cups but, like in the rest of the middle east, in glasses. Turkish tea glasses (Ince Belli) are small, dainty, and typically made with thin glass. These glass teacups are tulip-shaped and often have elaborate gold rims. The glass teacup's transparency allows drinkers to appreciate the tea's color.

The Narghile

In Turkey, when tea is shared among people, the narghile (water pipe) is often in the center, and tea drinkers share and enjoy it. Most of us know the narghile as a “hookah.” Hookahs are synonymous with middle eastern culture and are almost always present in social settings. A vessel with water is heated, and tobacco or charcoal is inhaled through one of the numerous hose extensions.

Turkish Tea

Turkish tea is a black tea beverage deeply rooted in the culture of Turkey. The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) is grown in the Rize province of Turkey. What sets this black tea apart from traditional black tea enjoyed worldwide is how it’s prepared, served, and enjoyed.

Tea in Turkey is called “Çay,” pronounced like “chai.” When you are in Turkey, tea is offered almost everywhere you go. It’s impossible to walk down a street, visit a shop, visit someone’s home, or visit a park without someone offering tea.

The tea culture of Turkey has an unspoken way that is more or less expected from the one who drinks the tea. The most important thing to remember when having tea is never to refuse tea when offered because if you do, it’s highly insulting.

Turkish tea should be sipped, not guzzled, and should never have condiments like milk.

Look for the old, traditional cafes that the locals frequent.

These are the perfect places to enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee or tea and an apple-taste narghile.


Gözleme is a traditional savory Turkish homemade flatbread with different fillings. Its dough is made with only flour, salt, and water. Gozleme doesn’t have sugar and dry yeast in it.

Gözleme was first founded in the Anatolia region centuries ago. You can consider the Anatolia region at the heart of Turkish cuisine. When you visit Anatolian villages, local women sit beside wooden tables where they prepare the Gözleme dough. After Gözleme dough preparation, they place them onto gas-powered, thin-plated unique grills, called ‘sac‘, to cook at.

Today, you can find it in cafes and restaurants in metropolitan cities, where it is served as a delicious appetizer that can be enjoyed at any time of the day.

You can make this delicious flatbread with various fillings. The most common fillings are spinach, minced meat, mozzarella cheese, potatoes, white cheese, or pastırma.


One of Turkey's most popular sweets after baklava, these semolina cookies are baked until golden brown, then doused in a thick, lemon-infused syrup, which makes them exceptionally moist and tender. Şekerpare (lit. piece of sugar) is a classic dessert made in every Turkish household, sold in every bakery and pastry shop, and appearing on nearly every restaurant menu.

This sugary treat is also traditionally prepared for various family celebrations and religious festivities like Şeker Bayramı, marking the end of Ramadan. Şekerpare cookies are most often enjoyed with Turkish coffee but are also essential to any traditional afternoon tea time spread.

Balat is probably the most photogenic district of Istanbul. Balat, with its old narrow streets and striking bay windowed houses, once, has been home to the Jew population of the city. It has a cosmopolitan nature that connects various religions and cultures with synagogues, mosques, and churches. Travelers wishing to experience Istanbul’s old tissue and witness its history step by step before it is lost to modernization should see Balat.

Balat has become very popular with locals and tourists, but it still is much more relaxed and tranquil than the rest of Istanbul, which is absolute chaos.  The orthodox Christian visitors have one more advantage because a visit to The Ecumenical Patriarchate and Saint George's Church can be combined with a visit to Balat.  

The Patriarchate is located in what is known as Fener ("Phanari" in Greek) neighborhood.  Fener was the center of the once sizeable Greek community of the city.  The Greek community has been eliminated, but some important landmarks remain.  One of these is the "Red School," or the "Fener Rum Erkek Lisesi," as it is known officially (Fener Greek school for boys).  The Red Church (Meryem Rum Kirmizi Kilise in Turkish) is just around the Red School.

Balat -A neighborhood of color

On the top of the hill stands Fethiye Camii, the Pammakaristos Byzantine Church. The Pammakaristos Church, also known as the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos ("All-Blessed Mother of God"), is one of Istanbul's most famous Byzantine churches and was the last pre-Ottoman building to house the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Converted in 1591 into the Fethiye Mosque (Fethiye Camii, "mosque of the conquest"), it is today partly a museum housed in a side chapel or parekklesion. One of the most important examples of Constantinople's Palaiologan architecture, the church contains the most considerable quantity of Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul after the Hagia Sophia and Chora Church.

The streets of Balat are beautiful on their own. The street's ambiance will enchant you even if you are not seeking something.

When we think of Balat, one of the first things that should come to mind is Merdivenli Yokuşu (the incline with steps). It serves as the neighborhood's emblem and is the location of the most famous Balat photographs. The homes on the Merdivenli Yokuşu have been reconstructed following the originals and are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. They look fake and out of place if you think the rest of the building is worn out.

It would be best to visit the Balat antique stores to shop for presents or save something to remember your day in Balat.  Remember to bargain, do not be a silly tourist. And also, keep in mind that most antiques are not “antique” at all… just modern artifacts made in China.

For me, what brings here locals and tourists is the myriads of cafes and restaurants. Most are modern establishments made to look old and traditional but attractive and cozy. The food is good, and the coffee is excellent.

The Ottoman HAN

What is a han? A Turkish Ottoman building that combined an urban hotel, stable, storage depot, and wholesale selling point is more a descriptor than a definition. Before the Ottomans had hans, the Seljuk Turks built many, and before the Seljuks, the Persians. But it should be pointed out that the Seljuks were much more interested in erecting caravanserai (caravan palaces), which served the many commercial caravans going between cities, than hans. They were located approximately one day’s journey between each, or 30-40 kilometers. This reflected the much larger economy under Ottoman control and trade growth in the Mediterranean.

The han usually rose two stories and sometimes three, the upper floors reached by staircases from the courtyard. The ground floor was used to house animals such as camels, horses, and mules that would have carried merchandise. It also had a large kitchen. The first floor would contain small rooms where a merchant would store goods and sleep. These rooms would have fireplaces for winter weather.

The origins of the han have been traced back to the ribat, soldierly outposts along the coast of North Africa, stationed there sometime after the rise of Islam in the seventh century.

There are many hans survived in Istanbul and are well worth visiting. Most are integrated into the bazaars (markets) and house little commercial shops or offices.

The pomegranate

The fruit is available from the end of summer into spring, and in every corner of Turkey, you see vendors freshly squeeze pomegranates and sell the tasty juice. 

In towns throughout Turkey, the widespread preparation of “nar pekmezi,” aka pomegranate molasses, is another widespread use of the pomegranate. It is usually a community affair as local women come together to prepare this special sauce in giant cauldrons. However, pomegranate molasses can also easily be prepared in the comfort of your home.

Pomegranate molasses is an essential ingredient in Turkish cuisine and is used to dress nearly every salad and as a sweet and savory sauce to complement spicy dishes such as çiğ köfte

The beloved pomegranate has always been one, if not the most highly revered fruit in Turkey. Not only is it a symbol of luck and good fortune, but it is also one of the most nutritious and delicious fruits. One of the glories of the arrival of fall is preparing the popular pomegranate molasses for the winter pantry, drinking its ruby-red juice, and feasting on its gem-like seeds.

The significance of pomegranates in the Mediterranean countries, where they have been cultivated since ancient times, is multifold. In Turkey, the pomegranate, or “nar” referred to in Turkish, symbolizes prosperity and abundance. Nearly every household will have some pomegranate sculpture decoration, and it is a steadfast tradition to smash a pomegranate on the floor on New Year’s Eve or at weddings in the hopes it will bring good fortune. In Islam, the pomegranate tree is believed to have been a part of the Garden of Eden, and the fruit is mentioned three times in the Quran. In Christianity, pomegranates represent resurrection; its symbolism is evident in devotional statues and paintings. In Judaism, pomegranates are consumed on the religious holiday of Rosh Hashana to symbolize fruitfulness. It is believed that the fruit has 613 seeds, representing the commandments of the Torah.


The origin of Lokum -Turkish Delight- dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Sweets and confectionery have always been an essential part of Turkish cuisine. An old Turkish aphorism tells one to “eat sweetly and speak sweetly”.

A whimsical tale tells of the creation of Turkish delight: To appease his many wives, a famous Sultan ordered his confectioner to create a unique sweet. Eager to please his Sultan, the confectioner blended a concoction of sugar syrup, various flavorings, nuts, and dried fruits, then bound them together with mastic (gum Arabic, 'μαστίχα' in Greek), a priceless flavoring from the Greek island of Chios (Χίος). Hereafter, a plate of Turkish delight was served at daily feasts in the Ottoman court. After several attempts, a most delectable sweet emerged from the royal kitchens. The Sultan was so delighted with these delicious little gems that he proclaimed the sweet maker the court's chief confectioner! And this is the story of how Turkish delight was created.

Before the 18th century, honey and grape molasses were the only sweetening ingredients available to Ottoman confectioners. With the introduction of sugar in the late 18th century, Ottoman Empire transitioned to a new era of sweet making. Sugar brought the beginning of endless creative possibilities to Ottoman confectioners and sweet makers. It was during this time that Turkish delight, one of the oldest known confections in the world, was created in the great kitchens of the Ottoman court.


Turkish Borekis is a thinly rolled pastry, often the paper-sheet thin variety known as phyllo (yufka in Turkish), wrapped around various savory fillings or arranged in layers.

The myriad types of börek are unmatched delicacies when cooked to perfection in Turkish cuisine. Boreks can be fried, baked, cooked on a griddle, or boiled. Preferred fillings are cheese, minced meat, spinach, and potatoes.

There are different names and types of Turkish börek. In the form of rolls filled with cheese or minced meat mixtures and fried, böreks are known as "Sigara (cigarette) boregi". Other varieties are; Su boregi, Boshnak boregi, Kol boregi, Talash boregi, Pachanga boregi, Gul boregi, Cig borek, Kürt (Kurdish) boregi, Tepsi boregi, and so on.

Traditionally, no girl should marry until she has mastered the art of börek making. Böreks should be light and crisp, without a trace of excess oil. It's one of Turkey's most traditional pastry dishes that can be eaten any time of the day, from breakfast to dinner, either as a main dish, appetizer, or snack.

Cheese borek

Turkish Delight was unveiled to the west in the 19th century. During his travels to Istanbul, an unknown British traveler became very fond of the Turkish delicacies, purchased cases of “rahat lokoum,” and shipped them to Britain under the name Turkish delight.

It is believed that Picasso enjoyed Turkish Delight daily to improve his concentration, while Napoleon and Winston Churchill relished pistachio-filled Turkish delights.

Today, Turkish Delight remains the sweet of choice in many Turkish homes. Enjoyed worldwide, the subtle flavors of Turkish Delight are known to compliment coffee and sweeten the breath at the end of a meal.

Meat burek

The Sweet Layers of History: Turkish Baklava

Baklava, the sweet, flaky pastry, is a dessert that transcends borders, but its roots are deeply embedded in the rich culinary traditions of Turkey. This delectable treat is a staple of Turkish cuisine and is renowned worldwide for its intricate layers of filo pastry, generously filled with chopped nuts, and sweetened with syrup or honey.

The history of baklava is as layered as the dessert itself. While the exact origins are debated, it is widely accepted that baklava was perfected in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire. The earliest known reference to baklava dates from a poem by the 15th-century mystic Kaygusuz Abdal. However, some historians trace its roots back to the Assyrian Empire, around the 8th century B.C.E., where it was prepared with layers of bread, nuts, and honey.

In Turkey, baklava is not just a dessert; it’s a cultural icon. Gaziantep, a city in southeastern Turkey, is particularly famous for its pistachio baklava and is often considered the baklava capital of the world. The city’s mastery of this pastry is so renowned that it has been registered with the European Commission’s Protected Designation of Origin, which recognizes products with a unique geographical origin and quality.

Making baklava is an art form that requires skill and patience. The dough must be rolled out to the thinness of a whisper before being layered with finely ground pistachios or walnuts. After baking to golden perfection, the pastry is drenched in a syrup made from sugar, water, and sometimes lemon juice or rose water, which adds a fragrant dimension to the sweet treat.

While traditional Turkish baklava is a timeless classic, contemporary chefs have introduced various twists to the original recipe. From chocolate-infused baklava to versions with clotted cream or ice cream, the possibilities are endless. Yet, the essence of baklava, with its crispy layers and nutty sweetness, remains unchanged.

Turkish baklava is more than just a dessert; it’s a testament to Turkey’s historical depth and culinary expertise. Whether enjoyed in a humble street-side cafe or a grandiose palace, baklava continues to be a symbol of hospitality and celebration in Turkish culture and beyond.


A Taste of Turkey’s Sweet Tradition

In the rich tapestry of Turkish cuisine, where savory kebabs and mezes reign supreme, there lies a sweet secret that has captured the hearts of food enthusiasts both locally and globally. This secret is none other than Künefe, a luscious dessert that perfectly embodies the essence of Turkish indulgence.

Künefe hails from the southeastern regions of Turkey, an area renowned for its culinary excellence, particularly in kebab fare. The dessert’s history is deeply rooted in the city of Hatay, with several other cities like Mersin, Adana, and Gaziantep also claiming its origin1. Künefe’s popularity extends beyond Turkey, with variations found in the Levant, Egypt, the Caucasus, and even Greece, reflecting the shared gastronomic heritage of these regions.

At its core, Künefe is a symphony of textures and flavors. It is crafted from kadayıf, finely shredded wheat dough, which encases a heart of melting cheese, traditionally made from low-salt Turkish varieties like kashar, lor, or dil. The assembly is baked to a golden crisp, with the cheese becoming tantalizingly stringy and soft. Once out of the oven, a drizzle of sweet syrup completes the dish, creating a contrast that dances on the palate.

Despite the challenges faced by Turkey, including the devastating earthquakes that struck the province of Hatay, Künefe remains a symbol of resilience and hope. The dessert continues to be a source of pride and joy for the locals, with the few remaining künefe shops determined to keep this beloved tradition alive.

While making Künefe at home can be a daunting task, the experience of enjoying it fresh from the oven in a traditional kebab house is unparalleled. For those visiting Turkey, it’s an opportunity to partake in a culinary ritual that has been cherished for centuries.


In conclusion, Künefe is not just a dessert; it’s a celebration of Turkish culture, a testament to the region’s history, and a beacon of hope in times of adversity. It invites us to explore the sweeter side of life, one stringy, syrupy bite at a time.


I hope you enjoyed this brief journey into the world of Künefe. If you ever find yourself in Turkey, be sure to indulge in this delectable treat!

A city photobook

Here are some of the latest pictures I took during my 2022 visit in the city.

Architectural details

A city in the mist.