Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

RGS in Istanbul

RGS in Istanbul

Mustafa Kemel Ataturk (1881-1938) built the modern, tolerant and diverse state that is Turkey, whose mainly Muslim nation prides itself on its democratic values. Nonetheless, the inaugural History tour of Istanbul began with Taksim Square, the site of recent protests against the removal of trees from a city centre park which morphed into a more general ‘Occupy’ movement that spread across other Turkish cities in 2013.

The second day included visits to the Blue Mosque, the incredible Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace and ended with a ‘cultural’ evening of belly-dancing and Istanbul’s equivalent of the Eurovision song contest. After a visit to the spice market, a boat tour of the city from the Bosphorous and a climb up the Galata Tower, the highlight of day 2 was undoubtedly the 6th century underground Basilica Cistern built by Justinian from monuments already derelict in his time, including two pillars propped up with heads of Medusa, strangely positioned upside down and on the side. We finished the day with a trip to the Grand Bazaar and for some of us, a Turkish bath at a 16th century Hamam!

Day 3 involved a trip to Gallipoli and the resumption of our education about World War I battlefields, as well as a trip across continents as we left the European side of Turkey and crossed to the Asian side by ferry. We travelled back to Istanbul the following day via Troy and the story of its somewhat inept excavation at the hands of Heinrich Schliemann which became legendary in our group.

The snow-bound journey back to Istanbul was interesting, but proved to be just a taster for what was to come as whiteout conditions closed Ataturk airport. Our extra time in Turkey was, however, well spent, sampling more of the Grand Bazaar, Turkish food and clothing! An exhausting but brilliant trip and the students’ behaviour was fantastic!