One of my favourite films this year has to be Argo, Ben Affleck’s multi-award-winning thriller telling the story of the rescue of six US diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. And yet given Iran’s fractured relationship with the western world, it probably comes as no surprise to learn that much of the filming actually took place in California and Istanbul, proving itself to be an ideal substitute for Tehran’s busy street and crowded market scenes. We take a look at three of the film and indeed the city’s most iconic features.
Perhaps Istanbul’s most famous monument, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) served formerly as a Christian church, then as a mosque before becoming a museum in 1935 and home to an unrivalled collection of Byzantine Mosaics. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for almost 500 years the Hagia Sophia was Istanbul’s principal mosque and served as the blueprint for many of the Ottoman mosques that followed, most notably the Sultanahmed Mosque. The Hagia Sophia also appeared in the James Bond films, Skyfall and From Russia with Love and also features at the end of Dan Brown’s latest thriller, Inferno.
Sultanahmed Mosque / Blue Mosque
Built during the early 1600s on the site of the palace of the Byzantine Emperors, the Sultanahmed or ‘Blue’ Mosque serves as the national mosque of Turkey and is another of Istanbul’s must-see treasures. Dominating the skyline with its six impressive minarets, the mosque is actually one of several to be known as the ‘Blue Mosque’ because of the Iznik blue tiles adorning its interior walls. With prayers taking place five times a day, the best time to arrive at the Hippodrome (west entrance) is mid-morning and female visitors should be prepared to cover their heads with a scarf. As well as appearing in Argo, the Blue Mosque also features in the 1998 film, Armageddon.
As prominent in Skyfall as it is in Argo, Istanbul’s mighty Grand Bazaar is an absolute essential on any short break to the Turkish capital. One of the largest and oldest markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar dates back to the 14th century and plays host to over 5,000 shops lining some 60 covered streets, with visitor numbers reaching between 250,000 and 400,000 daily. Renowned for its hand-painted ceramics, jewellery, furniture, leather goods, antiques, embroideries, carpets and spices, the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar is a literal sensory assault and an utterly memorable experience of Istanbul at its most authentic.