Sultanahmet: a welcoming world of arcaded alleyways

There’s the Sultanahmet of the Grand Bazaar, Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and then there’s Sultanahmet — backstreets, strange alleyways, crumbling archways, workshops pulsing with odd music. These days there’s an odder feeling then ever, what with the intense heat and Ramazan it’s important to find shaded spots whether you’re fasting or not. I was somewhat surprised just how many people weren’t fasting when I plunged inside the off-street maze the other day, as I always think of the old city as a place where life is lived a bit more traditionally. There are plenty of fasters, don’t get me wrong, most snoozing on rugs in corners to escape the long and trying day. I can only imagine what it must be like to fast this Ramazan when the days are so long. However I also saw plenty of tea drinkers and cigarette smokers puffing away as well, who were looking significantly more animated.

What also impressed me was just how cool it was in these shaded corridors. These old buildings, cracked and deteriorating, nevertheless have thick walls and arcades deep in a shade that the heat doesn’t seem to penetrate. It’s still hot, just not unbearably so. The other thing that struck me is just how friendly people are in this part of the city. After my recent experience trying to photograph flowers on a public street in my own neighborhood went so awry (see Delicate flowers), it’s nice to feel welcome in this very different part of the city. Despite feeling much more like an interloper wandering in this party of the city, I’m not treated as one. This country never ceases to amaze me. And I mean that in every sense.