Sunday 19 February 2012

Istanbul Sultanahmet Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 4.9 km (3 miles), terrain mainly flat with hill-climb near the end

Istanbul running routes:
Istanbul Sultanahmet old town route
Istanbul Bosporus shore run 

For more running routes, see Routes List

This route hits the water just where the Bosporus route leaves it.

NOTE: To avoid the tourist masses that daily flood the area between the Hippodrome and Topkapi, try to run in the mornings.

If you were smart enough to book a hotel in Istanbul's Sultanahmet neighborhood, the heart of the old town, then here is a route that will take you past all the main sights. This is an inspiring route, indeed, heading past the greatest glories of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
The Blue Mosque, with stray dog
We'll start at the Hippodrome, out front of the Blue Mosque, then head past the Hagia Sophia, past Topkapi palace, through the beautifully restored section of Sultanahmet, then down to the Bosporus waterside to the fishing harbor before heading back to the Hippodrome. This will entail a run downhill, and then back up the hill at the end: but Istanbul is built on top of a ridge of hilltops beside the water, so there is no way around it.

So, let's not waste any time: time to hit the streets!

The starting point is at the Egyptian obelisk in the Hippodrome, that long, paved plaza in front of the Blue Mosque. The Hippodrome was built by the Romans as a horse-racing stadium, seating 30,000. The stadium building blocks have long been carted away to be used in the many Ottoman building projects, but the north/south-oriented open space has remained.
The Hippodrome
The obelisk was placed there by Emperor Theodosius, and its marble base depicts him watching the horse races from his royal box. To the south of the Egyptian obelisk is the surviving base of a spiraling bronze snake column, which the grateful Greek cities once donated to Delphi to celebrate their victory over the Persians, using the Persians' melted-down weapons.

And just south of that stands the masonry obelisk, still showing the holes where the gold-plated bronze plates once depicted the successes of one of the Byzantine emperors.

But the real star of the scene is the Blue Mosque, sitting off to the east side of the plaza, its 6 minarets and huge dome dominating the horizon. Definitely take time later to visit it and see its beautifully-worked interior.

So now, turn north and run up the Hippodrome, towards the red hulk of the next amazing building: the Hagia Sophia. This impressive structure has withstood invasions and earthquakes for about 1500 years. Built by Emperor Justinian, it was the greatest church in Christendom. When the Turks stormed the city in 1453, Sultan Mehmet rode into the church on his horse and turned it into a mosque. After the Turkish revolution of 1922, it became a museum, and you can visit its mix of Moslem and Christian symbols, in its semi-restored state. I wonder what it would look like if someone did a first-class job of restoring the interior...
Heading towards the Hagia Sophia
We'll just run past it, staying along the left side of the fence (you have to pay 10 lira to get inside, but time for that later). DON'T run down the main street with the tram tracks, but take Cankurtaran street along the Hagia Sophia fence.

Stay on Cankurtaran street until the street ends by running straight to the battlement-topped walls of the sultan's Topkapi palace grounds. Turn right there to run uphill on Soguk Cesme street between Hagia Sophia and the palace walls. There is a row of wooden houses lining the stone walls on the left. The houses all belong to one hotel, with suites in each house: not bad!
Wooden houses along Topkapi walls
The street leads to an open space, and the massive gates to Topkapi on the left, and a beautiful pavilion straight ahead in the street. Turn right here to run along the east side of Hagia Sophia. We'll then zig-zag once through the nicest part of Sultanahmet now to see more of its beautifully restored wooden houses.
Gate inscriptions at Topkapi palace
Running south along Kabasakal, you are passing, on the left side, a long, open archaeological dig of what was once part of the Byzantine emperor's palace grounds. A fire destroyed the modern building on the site, letting archaeologists explore the area, which they've been doing for years.
The ladies' baths
Then, the first building on the right after the Hagia Sophia is the women's baths, with their interesting bubble windows. The street ends at Dalbasti street, where you turn left (eastwards) and run to the end, at Kutlugun. You might see various stray dogs around here, but don't worry: they seem to be pretty contented, and are totally uninterested passing joggers.

This is the nicest neighborhood in the old town. It's full of beautifully restored buildings, now used as hotels and restaurants. Few Turks live in this small area now, but if you head down the hill to the east, the neighborhood is less dominated by tourists.

Turn left at Kutlugun and run back to the Topkapi walls again, where you turn right and go a further block before you zig back south again on Akbiyaik. This is the main entertainment street in the neighborhood. Follow it past all the hotels, restaurants and caf├ęs as it curves to the left and starts to head downhill. Just before it goes under the railroad bridge, turn right on Akbiyik Degirmeni street, just before the nice hotel.
Along Akbiyik Street
This street is already a bit less touristy, with some unrestored homes. Turks live here, and you can get a feel for normal Istanbul life as you run through the neighborhood.

The street winds just inside the railroad line. Just stay to the left when you don't know where to go.

Eventually, it will come out at a little plaza where you can see the cross-street go downhill under the train tracks, on Aksakal street. Look to the right, uphill, and you'll see the rounded brick support wall of the south end of the Hippodrome.

NOTE: the Bosporus running route connects up to this one at this spot.

Turn left to run south on Aksakal, under the train tracks and past the ancient city walls, running straight to the Bosporus water. Cross the shore road, Kennedy Caddesi, and turn right to run past the gas station, where you can finally turn left to run into the waterside park. The old city walls line the scene along the right side.
Head straight west along the water
There is a smooth walkway right along the water. You are now heading westwards, towards the fishing harbor in the distance. When you reach the first fish restaurants at the harbor, turn right to cross Kennedy Caddesi and head back into town.
The fishing harbor and restaurants
You are now running uphill on Cap Ariz, and the neighborhood has the feel of a fishing village, full of fish restaurants. When you reach the fish fountain on the roundabout, turn diagonally to the right onto the semi-pedestrian street, Ustad. This is a tough uphill stretch. Sorry about that! Walk parts of it if you need to. You will run about 11 blocks until the street ends at Talli Kuyu street.
The fish fountain: follow that guy in the black coat up Ustad!
Turn right to run along this neighborhood shopping street. Near the end, you'll run past a few expensive hotels, including the Santa Sophia Hotel. The street then curves to the left, going uphill.

It ends at Paykane street, where you turn right and run the five blocks back to the south end of the Hippodrome.

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