All posts filed under “Destinations

Istanbul Tours, private istanbul tours, Istanbul Shore Excursions

History of the Harem

Constantly regarded as an enigmatic matter for European voyagers, the Ottoman  Harem was a popular subject for writers,  who wrote hundreds of pages and tried to unveil this secretive center of attention. As the matter is still being discussed by many, the Harem Quarter in Topkapi Palace keeps attracting thousands of tourists each year.

In the early ages of the empire the Ottoman Padishahs used to marry girls of Turkish origin. As the empire expanded, the Palace started to pick slaves from various nations as concubines. Unlike the general belief, the population of the Harem women was not merely comprised of the wives of the Sultan. The maids and wives of former Padishahs and their families were also members of the Harem community.

Formation of the Harem
The first Ottoman Harem was in the old palace – which now lies inside the Istanbul University Campus – until 1550. As the palace was burnt down by a severe fire, the idea of moving the Harem to Topkapi Palace was brought on the agenda. After a while, Suleyman the Magnificent was finally convinced by his wife Hurrem Sultan and approved the relocation of the Harem into Topkapi. Soon after the Harem was annexed to Topkapi Palace, women started to participate in state management.

topkapi palace, harem room, istanbul tours

A room in the Topkapi Palace Harem Quarter

Management of the Harem
The Harem had a strict ranking system.  In order of command; Valide Sultan (mother of the Sultan) was followed by the head wife, the first, second, third and fourth wives of the Padishah (Sultan), his concubines, female servants, their supervisors and the slaves. The prerequisite of becoming one of the prestigious wives of the Padishah was to give birth to son, a potential heir-to-the-throne.

Picking concubines for the Harem
According to the Islamic jurisdiction at the time, slaves had no rights at all. The master was entitled to sell, donate or even offer the slave as a present. Suleyman the Magnificent liked Hurrem Sultan, who was originally brought from Northern Black Sea region. After Hurrem gave birth to a son, she was liberated. Furthermore, the Emperor married Hurrem, with whom he fell deeply in love. Hurrem Sultan was the first slave to have officially married a Sultan in the history of the Ottoman Empire. In addition, she was entitled to manage the entire Harem community. The concubines, on the other hand, were mainly comprised of female slaves captured during the wars. The concubines picked for the palace were  observed for 24 hours before they were paid for. In case she had some sort of a defect – such as being a heavy sleeper or snoring during the night – the price would be reduced and paid accordingly.

The number of the concubines in the Harem
The number of the concubines in the Harem varied from one Sultan to another. It is known that there were not so many concubines during the initial foundation and improvement eras of the empire. While the Harem’s population was 456 during Mahmut’s reign I, it rose to 688 during Abdülmecit’s reign and to 809 during Sultan Abdülaziz’s reign.

Sultan Murat V noted down his encounter with the first concubine presented to him in his diary: “I was around 13 or 14. One day, I was busy with some carpentry work, when I heard the voice of a lady in the next room. I stopped working. My heartbeat increased. The rustling sound of her silk dress became more evident. I was swirling into feelings I had never felt before. A young and beautiful Circassian girl came in smiling and approached my desk with an elegant gesture. She sat by me whispering something. It was the first time I was sitting in a room with a lady I did not already know. I was inexpressibly ashamed and astonished. As I was too stunned to move, she took the tool out of my hand with a smile on her face. She said “Sir, please leave this activity for a moment and take advantage of this opportunity for a five or ten minute pause. No one can listen to us at this very moment. Your Agha (the Padishah) is also informed. He is not far; in fact he is watching us right now…”

During his second visit in 1898, the German Emperor William II had an interesting discussion with Abdulhamit II. Through his translator the German Emperor asked Sultan Abdulhamit II how many wives he had. At that time the Sultan had four official wives and four unofficial wives – concubines, who were the mothers of the Sultan’s children. He replied “I have eight wives.” The Emperor,  remaining indifferent to the reddening face of his wife, Empress Augusta-Victoria, who  was one year older than the Emperor and  criticized for being sort of vulgar, asked  “Eight women? How do you manage eight women while I cannot deal with only one empress?” Sultan Abdulhamit, who spoke French fluently, put an end to the conversation  without waiting for the translator by saying “This is quite  an art, Your Majesty”

Istanbul Grand Bazaar Tours

Grand Bazaar – Shopping in Istanbul

No Istanbul shopping tour or historical sightseeing tour of Istanbul would be complete without a visit to the world famous Grand Bazaar!

Built by Fatih Sultan Mehmet (The Conqurer), the Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsi as it is known in Turkish, is reminiscent of a city. It was an important step in the “Conquerors” target to make Istanbul “his own city”.  Built in a modest scale compared to today, the bazaar was extended during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent.

It is well known for its jewelry, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices and antique shops. Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, with special areas for leather, gold jewellery and the like.

The complex houses two mosques, four fountains, two hamams, and several cafés and restaurants. In the centre is the high domed hall of Cevahir Bedesten, where the most valuable items and antiques were to be found in the past, and still are today.

The Grand Bazaar extends over a 45 thousand square meters area with 64 alleys and 5000 thousand of shops.  It is one of the largest covered markets in the world. Despite resembling a labyrinth, all streets are linked an amazing order.

There would be separate craftsmanship and guilds in each of the streets. In one you would see quillions while on the next clog makers  awaiting customers. A passage from the street of mirror makers would lead to fabric sellers and from there onto fez makers. Some of these guilds have been forgotten and lost today, but the names given to the street still survive.

The Grand Bazaar has witnessed an amazing flow of people throughout its history. Some Istanbulites would arrive to sell and sometimes to buy. Furthermore, wealthy people of the time would keep their precious jewelry and fur coats in a safe in the bazaar. Part of the state treasure was also kept in a safe here. The Grand Bazaar was the centre of life in old Istanbul and stayed that way for over 550 years.

Although the city’s pulse beats in different corners today the Grand Bazaar is stıll a major centre of attraction. Allowing for seasonal and situational variances around 300 to 500 thousand people visit the bazaar “daily”.  Almost 20 thousand people work here.

A leisurely afternoon spent exploring the bazaar, sitting in one of the cafés watching the crowds pass by, bargaining for purchases, is one of the best ways to recapture the romantic atmosphere of old Istanbul.

Petra Jordan Tours

Jordan Tour – Top 5 Sights

The territory in which Jordan is located is one of the oldest settlements in the history of humanity. With approximately 125 thousand registered archaeological sites, the most famous of which being the Red Rose City of Petra, the Aqaba Gulf and the Dead Sea, Jordan is fast becoming a “must see” destination.

There are many Jordan tours & Jordan travel packages of various duration that cover most of the major highlights.

The capital city of Amman reflects contrasts with a mixture of old and new and by being in the Jordan Valley a mix of desert and fertility. While the old parts of the city still keeps its history the new city has modern buildings, luxurious hotels, smart restaurants, art galleries and boutiques. Two of the best sights to see during a Jordan Tour of Amman are the Citadel; housing military and religious artifacts, and the Theatre; with seating for 6000 and still in use today).

A definite must include on a tour of Jordan is Petra. In 1812 an adventure loving Swiss traveler sets of wearing Bedouin clothing and during his wanderings discovers an antique city carved into the rose colored rock on the outskirts of an immense desert between the Dead Sea and the Aqaba Gulf. Burckhardt’s name is written into history as the discoverer who awoke Petra from its centuries long sleep. Although the date of first settlements in Petra has not been determined, it is known that it was the capital of the Nabateans between 400BC – 106AD. A narrow passageway, almost two kilometers long, leads to the centre of Petra. You are then greeted by the Treasury, a 40m high building with columns carved into the rock face.

Another touristic feature of Jordan is that it is host to the world’s lowest elevation lake. The Dead Sea is 400m below sea level, with no living creatures, and has water so dense as a result of all the salt and minerals that it is almost impossible to swim. The water of the Dead Sea is warm even in winter months so can be included during a winter tour of Jordan.

Aqaba on the northern shores of the Red Sea is an interesting location. It is the only port in Jordan and neighboured by Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The most important aspect of Aqaba from a travel point are the reefs of the Red Sea. A good location for a diving and snorkeling holiday in Jordan.

No travel package to Jordan would be complete without a Jeep safari in Wadi Rum. This protected area covers 720 square kilometers of dramatic desert wilderness in the south of Jordan. Huge mountains of sandstone and granite emerge, sheer-sided, from wide sandy valleys to reach heights of 1700 meters and more. Narrow canyons and fissures cut deep into the mountains and many conceal ancient rock drawings etched by the peoples of the desert over millennia. Bedouin tribes still live among the mountains and their large goat-hair tents are a special feature of the landscape. There are many ways to enjoy the attractions of Rum, including jeep, camel and hiking tours and you can stay overnight in a Bedouin tent and gaze at the amazing canopy of stars.

Discovery Ancient Egypt Tours

Egypt – Tour the land of Pharoahs

Are you looking for a great travel destination? Are you looking for an interesting environment? Then consider taking a trip to the unique and ancient land of Egypt. If you love to explore the architecture and lifestyles of the old world, then a tour of the mystical land of Egypt is the perfect solution to indulge your dreams. Here are the top 5 reasons to plan your travel to Egypt.

Nile River

The Nile is not only visually stunning, but is the focal point of several centuries of ancient history. From legendary tales of Biblical times to the stories of Cleopatra, this river has much to tell. Treat yourself to a Nile River Cruise during your tour of Egypt. The Nile is a very important part of Egyptian life and lore and the pyramids and tombs were often built along the river, since ancient Egyptians believed that the river was an influence on life and the afterlife.

Cairo

As the largest city in Egypt, Cairo is the center of industry and commerce. Here you will find not only modern conveniences but also many bazaars and outdoor markets with local goods & merchandise that has been imported from the region. While in Cairo, be sure to do at least one sightseeing day tour covering the Pyramids & Sphinx in Giza along with the Egyptian Museum & Citadel/Old Cairo downtown. Also check out the Cairo Tower, located on Gezira Island. This 187-metre structure gives a fantastic view of the city and outlying areas.

Mt. Sinai

As a very important and historic Christian site, this is proclaimed to be the place where Moses led the children of Israel and received the Ten Commandments from God. It is also claimed as the place where Moses saw the burning bush and spoke to God. The site is currently the home of St. Catherine’s Monastery, also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration.

Ancient Temples

You will find temples dedicated to various gods scattered throughout Egypt. In Abu Simbel, in the southern region of Egypt, you will find the Temple of Ramses II as well as the Temple of Nefertati. Add an excursion to Abu Simbel during your Nile Cruise as a special treat. Heading north up to Luxor you come to the valley of the kings. Filled with ancient temples and statues, this valley is the one of the most well-known areas of Egypt for studying ancient Egyptian architecture. This is also the place where you will find the burial chamber of Tutankhamun and also the sarcophagus of Ramses IV.

The Pyramids

The most recognizable and popular tourist site in Egypt, the pyramids are filled with legends and mysteries. Located in Giza, the Great Pyramid is known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Built during the second century B.C., these pyramids stand as witnesses of the Egyptians architectural and engineering mastery. No tour for Egypt would be complete until you see these ancient structures.

By visiting Egypt you will have stories you can tell for years to come and be pleased you chose to venture out of the ordinary.
Santorini Island Tours

Greece Travel & Tours

There are two kinds of travellers. Those who like to find a paradise where life stands still and relaxation is inevitable or those who are more of an explorer type who immerse themselves into a culture and absorb every bit of the new land. No matter which category you fall into, your needs will be met with a trip to the cradle of western civilization; Greece. With so much to do, so much to see, a great place to start is to look into Greece vacation packages so you will not miss out on anything.

Any Greece tour vacation package will include the opportunity to soak up thousands of years of culture and a history so extensive and rich that it may be nearly impossible to take it all in. When a country is called “The Birthplace of Democracy”, that alone should indicate that there will be a significant amount of history to take in. When you add that birthplace of the Olympic games, political science, western philosophy, western literature and drama, the wealth of interesting and appealing events and locations should easily fill your ‘what should we do’ list. For the traveller looking to soak up the sun instead of the history, the islands surrounding Greece with the red beaches and sunshine will provide the backdrop you would expect for any holiday where rest and relaxation is your priority.

Greece tours and vacation packages can be tailored to take you to the spots that offer the most intrigue or interest. The archaeological and architectural wonders that dot the Greek landscape would be more than enough to keep even the most discerning history buff busy for the duration of the trip. Athens alone features some of the world’s best museums, and archaeological museums are spread throughout the islands. Museums are among the top Greece tourist attractions due to the country’s rich history and devotion to the arts. Greece will also give culinary adventurers the chance to sample something that is a big part of Greek culture. Food is celebrated in Greece and a vacation allows you to sample the Greek food you have come to love at home in its authentic environment. Seize the opportunity to sample fresh seafood and an array of locally grown vegetables, fruits and herbs. A trip through the farmlands of Greece reveals the beautiful rows of Greece’s great olive trees so you can see the source of where Greek olive oil, considered by many to be the finest in the world, comes from.

Greece has something for everyone. For the tourist who will be focused on culture, history, adventure or relaxation there will be ample opportunity to be exposed to a little of everything. Greece can easily be a year round destination. From November to April the weather will be cool, but with the variety of tourist diversions available there will be much to see and do. The summer months see an influx of travellers who see Greece as a destination of choice and once you determine which of our Greece vacation packages will be best for you, surely this destination will be added to your own travel portfolio as well.

Thanks to Nick P for this article

Leander Tower Istanbul - Bosphorus Cruise

Turkey … a must see destination

Turkey is considered one of the most amazing tourist destinations of the world with a reputation amongst travel enthusiasts for greeting visitors with friendly smiles and open arms. With a rich historical heritage and blessed with majestic mountains and a magnificent coastline, Turkey has something to offer everyone.

Today Turkey is a modern European nation and has protected its historical treasures to share with those lucky to visit. It is a country of bustling cities, rugged landscapes, beaches with fabulous views and many attractions that are well worth exploring. Turkey is also a great winter destination with numerous ski resorts and offers adventure activities for those interested in watersports, hiking, horse riding, bird watching, etc. There is also the option for sailing holidays, on a traditional gulet.

Istanbul

One of the largest cities of Turkey and known as the only city in the world to bridge two continents. It is here that you can see all contrasts of Turkey. Though it is one of the ancient cities with its own cultural significance it is at the same time also a cosmopolitan and global city. The most famous and fascinating attractions include Topkapi Palace, St Sophia, Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), Dolmabahce Palace, to name but a very few. For shopping enthusiasts it is an ideal destination with the Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, markets and modern shopping malls.

Cappadocia

This area has become one of the most popular tourist destinations of Turkey and has a fascinating blend of truly magnificent scenery. With its stunning geological formations, particularly its fairy chimneys and its many valleys and rock-hewn churches and monasteries with age old frescoes, it is a destination not to be missed. It is also excellent for all those who enjoy outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking and horse riding. Here you can also add a very special memory to your vacation with a hot-air balloon ride over the Cappadocia valleys.

Ephesus

One of the most well-known archaeological sites of Turkey and said to be one of the world’s best preserved examples of a Greco-Roman City.  Here you have the chance to walk down marble streets, view the magnificent Celsius Library and the Grand Theatre, just a few of the many buildings and fountains that can be found in this open air museum. In the area you will also find the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis and the Cave of the Seven Sleepers.

Antalya

A tourism capital of Turkey, this region has many beautiful beaches, many of which are counted among the cleanest in the Mediterranean. In addition, it also has a rich archaeological heritage with Perge, Side, Aspendos to name but a few. Some of the great architecture in Antalya boasts of Lycian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influences.

Ankara

The capital city of Turkey is host to many impressive tourist attractions such as the Anitkabir Museum that also acts as a mausoleum of Turkey’s founder, Kemal Ataturk; Hisar- a Byzantine Citadel sitting on top of a hill, and the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, with artifacts ranging from the Paleolithic era and continue chronologically through the Neolithic, Early Bronze, Assyrian, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuq and Ottoman periods.

These are some of the major tourist places that you should visit while travelling in Turkey. Adding to this is the friendliness of the locals along with some great cuisine made from fresh and local ingredients.

With all these, and many other attractions and things to do, a holiday tour in Turkey is sure to be an unforgettable experience!