Podcasting in Istanbul?

Hello everyone,

Robin here. I need your feedback. I’ve had an idea and I’m excited about it. But I need you to tell me what you think of it.

I would like to go to Istanbul and spend a week there, and visit all the Byzantine sites I can. During my stay I would record material for the podcast, including my first reactions on seeing the sites. I’ve never been there before so I think that would be really fun.

Then I would create audio guides for the major sites. So that when you visit the city one day, you could have your own History of Byzantium guided tour. Not only would I talk you through what you can see, but also what you can’t. Describing the cityscape as it would have been to help immerse you in the experience.

The Theodossian Walls

The Theodossian Walls

For those who don’t want to wait I could take footage and pictures and create videos walking you around the sites. I would also create a proper map of all the Byzantine buildings and ruins that you can visit. Nothing complete seems to exist online and with only a quick trawl I’ve found nearly 50 places that I want to see.

Part of what’s motivating me is that I wish something like this had existed when I went to Rome a few years ago. There are so many pieces of the ancient world still lying around that don’t make it into mainstream guidebooks. And even if you do find them there’s no one around to tell you about their history.

If I was able to go to Istanbul I could also arrange a meet-up with any listeners who were able to travel there at the same time. We could visit the Hagia Sophia together or walk along the walls.

I did explore the idea of arranging a professional tour but there are many obstacles. And the company who ran Mike Duncan’s trips no longer operate them. Anyway, I like the idea of doing this independently and leaving it up to you to choose whether you want to be a part of it.

So please can you give me your feedback? What do you think of the idea? If I were to go to Istanbul what else could I do there? What else could I record? What would you like to hear or see? Or be a part of? Comment on this post to get a conversation going. I’m sure there are great ideas out there if we put our heads together.

If this idea is not for you, I’d still really appreciate hearing from you. To save you time I’ve created the poll above. It’s just one question to gauge your level of enthusiasm. It will only take 10 seconds and it would be hugely helpful.

Thank you for taking time out to help me with this. If things go well then we’re talking about a visit sometime in 2018. So there’s plenty of time to go but any thoughts or reactions to the idea are needed now. I’ll keep you updated.

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36 thoughts on “Podcasting in Istanbul?

  1. Michael Rae

    Excellent idea. Would love to join you but of course timing is everything so when you have proposed dates please inform.
    One undertold story is that of Blachernae, the palace, church and monastery (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blachernae). During a visit a number of years ago there was a Greek monk there who was able to conduct a tour amidst the ruins but he spoke only Greek. There is an underground spring that has religious significance.
    It would be important to visit the Patriarchate in the Phanar District (https://www.patriarchate.org). Given the importance of your work I think it would be worthwhile to try to arrange an interview with the Patriarch himself. He will be a rich source of history.
    Certainly, a visit should be paid to the underground cisterns (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_Cistern). To provide potable water to the population during time of siege, this remarkable engineering achievement was installed. Fish were allowed to swim in the reservoir’s water to convince the consumers of the water that it had not been poisoned.
    Finally a visit to the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is in order (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chora_Church). Now a museum, this gem features imperial portraits among the mosaic frescoes.
    In general it would be best to have both a Greek speaking historical guide as well as a local Turkish one.

  2. Harry Dimopoulos

    Hi Robin, I am Harry Dimopoulos, a long time listener and born and raised in Constantinople.
    I love your idea.
    My 1st reaction is one week is nowhere near sufficient.
    I live in Naples, FL and right now I am coping with recovering from Hurricane Irma. Nevertheless I thought I will quickly react to your idea. I will have more time to give you my thoughts on what to visit at a later time. Hope we stay in touch.
    Best wishes, Harry

  3. Alparslan

    This is a great idea. I’m slightly biased because i live in İstanbul and having a fan meet up here would be amazing for me but i honestly do think that there is a lot to explore in here and seeing the ruins here is an incredible experience. If you have any questions about Turkey and İstanbul i will be glad to help.

  4. Joe M

    Hi Robin,

    I love the idea. I don’t think I will be able to ever go to Istanbul myself, my wife and I have many more places we both agree to travel to in Europe first (wife usually just gets to pick), but I would love for this project to morph into something where someone could get a decent experience of the Byzantine sites without actually having to go there in person. Pictures and videos with detailed information on both would be very informative.

  5. My wife and I will come with you. We went to Istanbul a couple of years ago and found the Turkish tour guides very poor. They are extremely touchy about Byzantine history and give misinformation about Byzantine and Christian history. For example, the official tourist maps put some sites in the wrong locations. The church of Our Lady of Blachernae was shown in a rather dangerous gipsy quarter! We felt this was deliberate rather than incompetence as all the Turkish sites are shown correctly. Fortunately a hotel owner passing in her car warned us and we found the church purely by accident.
    Secret police are on duty outside the patriarchate.
    I tried to find a Greek guide without success and could have done without the lectures on the danger Christians posed to Turkey and other less pleasant observations!
    It was apparent that their security services were on alert, and I could feel trouble brewing. The main police station was suicide bombed a couple of days after we left.
    Having said all that, we felt it was one of the best places we’ve ever visited. We need to keep the security situation and review, and ensure we can get insurance cover.
    We will come. One week should be sufficient, but not less.

  6. Neil McKee

    Great idea. I’ve been wandering with Google street view but it’s not enough.

    Tempting as it might be, try not to mount a coup. It wouldn’t play well in episode 1357 if our “main source” from back in the 21st century suddenly burst into the narrative.

  7. Robin, that’s brilliant! I went to Constantinople a few years ago but I saw to few things compared to what I should have seen. I will definitely visit again in the future, surely with my children, and I’d love to have a proper history tour of the place available. Thanks for your efforts and for sharing your passion with like-minded people!


  8. costas

    Robin, as wonderful and, indeed, intuitive your idea is, allow me to give you a few cues from the position of someone who attempted it:

    1. For the Turkish state Byzantium is an affair as much Greek as for the Greeks themselves.
    2. For us all these matters may be ancient history, but for these two peoples they are as recent as today’s news. The official Turkish state actively pursues a policy of distortion, oblivion, and persecution of all things Greco-Christian. I will refer you to recent statements of Tayip Erdogan over the amazing findings of the shipwrecks found in KONTOSKALION Harbor (check out his statements in https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/31/the-big-dig)
    3. Echoing what Brunostud mentions, not only local tours and guides contain gross historic distortions, but active enmity to all projects, inquiries, events related to the Byzantine past is palpable. I don’t need to add that we leave in strange times too…
    4. Besides the best known monuments, that under international pressure became protected sites, there are hundreds or even thousands traces of the era spread in the city. The past 5 centuries have not entirely wiped out the story of the 20 centuries that preceded them, but these little treasures, when they are not actively destroyed, are pretty much kept out of sight. The help of a Constantinopolitan Greek could go a long way in your expedition. I, myself, walked the Theodosian wall outside the touristic perimeter (a small portion has been restored) and saw inscribed marbles buried in the grass, until the presence of some unpleasant looking people convinced me and my wife to drop amateur archaeology and get out of there.
    5. Whatever precious few remnants have survived the past 5 centuries, bear the deep scars of barbarity (whitewashed mosaics, smashed reliefs, chiseled statues, scratched out icons). Those few inches that have somehow been recovered, such as the Pantokrator mosaic in Hagia Sophia only give you the measure of the destruction, as you can now only imagine what this thing must have looked like.
    Despite all that, your idea is great and while you are on it, you may want to drop by Thessaloniki where several Byzantine monuments still stand. Here too, not much survived the tender mercies of 4 centuries of Turkish occupation, but at least you be in the home-field.

  9. Anders

    A lovely idea. Istanbul is a great city and one gets a different perspective on things on site.

    During a short visit there with my then employer, an official involved in the construction of the Marmara rail tunnel spoke of the inevitable delays for all construction projects.
    The layer of archaeological remains is fifteen meters (50 ft) thick(!), and when they set out to build a new interchange station at Yenikapi on the European side, they found a forgotten harbor complex that had to be excavated before construction work could begin.

  10. Thank you all so much for the feedback so far, keep it coming. And thank you for the warnings too. I am aware of the security situation and I have been told various stories about non-Turkish tour leaders having a difficult time.

    For those reasons and others I am not trying to run a week-long tour for listeners. I would be working during the week (recording, filming, photos) and I imagined the meetup being a separate thing. Perhaps on the weekend?

    One thought would be to stay for a working week and the weekends either side of it. Then I could offer to meet listeners on each weekend – giving two sets of dates for anyone who could make it. But I envisage those as meetups of like-minded people. Not me charging you to come on tour days.

    I think we could still discover some amazing things just from the connections we collectively have. I’ve already had offers from listeners who live in Istanbul or know local tour guides.

    Does that clarification make sense?

  11. Maybe after this trip, I’d actually know enough to guide listeners around the city.

  12. Steve Scherer

    I’m very interested in going. I was supposed to visit last year but after the attempted coup Istanbul was knocked off my tour itinerary. Since you’ll be busy doing your own thing for most of the week maybe some listeners would be interested in setting up informal groups and meeting regularly during the week. (sharing tours, museums, site visits, etc.) Considering the issue of safety and the issues with the government, safety in numbers probably isn’t a bad idea. I travel alone and would feel a lot better if I knew I could regularly meet up with people, especially those with shared a shared interest in Roman/Byzantine history. To be honest this is the only reason I haven’t already gone. Also, it goes without saying that the Istanbul Archaeology Museums are a must see.

  13. Yes it seems a legitimate reason to visit the capital!
    I hope. you shall find a nice stay maybe around the Golden Horne and will you see and meet wonderful people in the city.
    Your work is much valued and appreciated by highly appointed members of the community..

  14. hbaber

    I’ll be in the UK, at Oxford, for the coming academic year, with a long vacation March 11 – Apr 21 so getting there would be feasible, and I’d be keen. I’ve been to Istanbul twice, but didn’t see everything I’d like to have seen. It’s a spectacular city on the water–on one trip did a boat trip up the Bosphorous. We were taken on this expedition by the Gulen folks but, um, I don’t think you want to get hooked up with them at this point in politics.

  15. Paula McKay

    Robin, Thank you for your podcast which is very entertaining and fascinating for me. My husband and I would love to meet you in Istanbul. I have been wanting to go there for the last few years.Lars Brownworth on his blog Finding History re his 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast mentioned “must-see” sites in Istanbul back in June 2011. Might be interesting to look at.
    Thanks again, Paula

  16. Terry

    This is awesome!!!!

  17. Arsen Nisanyan

    Great idea! I’d very much like to join the tour.

    Also, if there is anything I can help you with, please do let me know. I have lived almost my whole life in Istanbul and I know quite a few people here (fellow Byzantinists etc.) who might be of use.

  18. muso

    if you go Istanbul make sure you try those fish sandwiches they sell close to boats. it is one of the most amazing places I have ever been to, the energy is amazing and you cam feel all the history in the air.


  19. Andy


    I had the privilege of going to Istanbul in 2013 with my wife and had an incredible time. We spent a solid week there and it was pretty jammed packed with seeing Byzantine/Orthodox/Ottoman sites. I used Rick Steves book as a guide and I thought it did a pretty decent job with the “must see items”. While I had a decent understanding of Byzantine history, my much improved knowledge now would likely make it even more worthwhile. I would thus very much enjoy seeing the major sites again through this project, but especially all the other ones that don’t warrant a mention on the tour guide. One place I did see, off the usual tour guides, was the Helki Seminary on one of the Princes’ Islands. Very political issue there, but the grounds are still maintained by the church and you can see the graves of several Patriarch’s. It was a really neat detour that I would recommend.

    Very excited for you! You will have a blast. Looking forward to what you come up with.


  20. Mark

    I think it’s a great idea! I spent two weeks in Istanbul a few years ago and had a really nice time. A few thoughts:

    1) The Hagia Sofia alone is worth the trip. Truly amazing, photographs do it no justice.
    2) Eat a kokoreç, it’s especially delicious to sober up with at 4 in the morning. It’ll be the minced meat sandwich with peppers. I do not understand why this sandwich hasn’t taken over the world. The Greeks have a similar thing but I personally prefer the Turkish version.
    3) Very few Turks seem to speak English at all, and learning a wee bit of Turkish will be extremely helpful to you (it’s actually a very easy language for the basic stuff and I’m convinced they have the most logical alphabet ever).
    4) The “Byzantine” part of the city is relatively small, so you may consider broadening your interests while there to include some Turkish and Ottoman history. The nightlife isn’t bad either.
    5) I hired a private tour guide for a day in the old city and a bit in Beyoğlu/Pera, worth every penny (about £70 if I recall and he was excellent)
    6) While explicitly Ottoman, the hammams are the natural successor to the Roman baths and are pretty awesome. I really enjoyed the hammam in Kadıköy/Chalcedon (and I liked the neighbourhood itself), while I didn’t care for the baths in Beşiktaş. Pay the old guy to flay a few layers of your skin off.
    7) If I went back, I’d probably stay somewhere in Beyoğlu near the Galata tower. I stayed in Beşiktaş which was nice, but not especially convenient or historical. Even less convenient but extremely charming was Ortaköy.
    8) Don’t bring a razor, just go to the barber. They are literally everywhere and if I recall correctly about the cost of a Gillette blade, maybe less.
    9) The people are super nice if given an opportunity. It’s a huge city and very, very crowded so opportunities may be slim.
    10) Did I mention the kokoreç? Overall the food is very good once you figure out the menus. The restaurant at the top of the Marmara Pera Hotel was really good. The big surprise was how good the Turkish wines were.

    Hoping there’ll be a bit of a meet-up that I can make and that you have a great time!

  21. Robin, Great idea. I was there 10 years ago, it’s amazing the Byzantine history that still exists, but I’m not sure one could do it justice in 6 months, let a lone a week. But a week is a great place to start. I’d be keen to go back. David

  22. Hey all,

    It sounds like many of you are keen for me to act as a tour guide. There are 3 reasons I hadn’t thought about that initially.

    1) I haven’t been there yet!
    2) I have no experience of the logistics or costs of running a tour.
    3) I would have to charge you all for the privilege. And I’m just thinking about paying for local guides/entrance/transport and other costs. I wouldn’t know quite how to charge for my time (with the hours of research and planning involved)

    Keeping the podcast going (and the ongoing work for my Father) is a full time job. So this would be a major undertaking on top of that. I would consider it if there was enough demand. But it would need more than one trip. I would need to go first to learn the ropes before inviting you to be guided by me.

    If that were to happen would you be happy with the extra cost?

  23. You should definitely visit even if its just for your personal enjoyment! If it makes the podcast even better, all the more reason 🙂

    Constantinople/Istanbul is an amazing city and my favourite place in Europe, and I believe everybody should visit it at least once in their lifetime.

    Just wait until you enter the Hagia Sophia for the first time, it will take your breath away.

  24. Andy

    This would be an excellent idea, I have just come back from a trip to The island of Delos. And the information is so sparse there unless you have a serious working knowledge. The trip seems such a waste. Istanbul probably has a bit more information around it but an audio walking tour of the places would be excellent.

    One thing I would say is it would be very hard to record a quality recording in the popular destinations due to the noise levels. Not sure how you could overcome this but overall it’s an excellent idea.

  25. Christopher Watterson

    Funny timing, since I flew back from Istanbul after seeing the Hagia Sophia this morning.

  26. Evan

    Sounds like a great idea to me. Constantinople is the next place I’d love to go visit overseas, but due to the security situation, I can’t see myself going for awhile. I was able to visit Mystras in Greece last year and was blown away by the Byzantine sites, I’m sure Constantinople will be that much better. Just please stay safe if you end up going. One thing that a previous commenter mentioned that I’d be interested in hearing about is the Orthodox Patriarchate at St. George. An interview with the Patriarch himself would be incredible if you could pull it off.

  27. Mark

    Hi Robin

    Yes, yes, yes to all of your ideas. On the back of your series I was already planning a trip to Istanbul next year and a resource of ‘what to see’ videos and audio guides would be great! I was interested in not just the ‘greatest hits’ but the hidden Byzantium treasures that are off the beaten track – I understand parts of the old palace can be visited (if you know where to look) and the gate where Emperors entered the city upon return from battle is still there albeit it is walled up etc and a day walking the Theodoian Wall is a must.

    Even better if there is a ‘History of Byzantium’ tour organised and attended by fellow podcast listeners – I will defiantly sign upto this! And yes more than happy to pay a bit extra for this.

    Keep us up to date with your thoughts Robin – I am very interested.


  28. Lindsay

    Hi Robin,

    Go go! One of the most fascinating cities I have ever visited. Drove my partner mad as i relentlessly set out to explore those magnificent walls. There are I believe some local guides with some extensive historical and contemporary knowledge .. the web can help in this. Perhaps explore any possible contacts in the Universities there (although they have been suffering from ‘purges’ recently).We spent the best part of two weeks just in Istanbul – Constantinople – Catstantinople .. if you like felines, especially the one who now seems to occupy the area of the imperial throne in the Haga Sophia. Mmmmmm.
    So much to see, explore, do, just wander, such a vast city, take a cruise past the “Throat Cutter”.
    Perhaps better to go first by yourself, meet up with anyone interested …. I would love to if possible ….and then decide if a tour thing is a plausible scenario. Reclaim the throne! …. a much better option than the present worrying leader.
    have recently been rewatching the rather old series Byzantium – The Lost Empire by John Romer I believe. He rambles through some old almost forgotten Byzantine ruins. Also just read Bethany Hughes wonderful work: Istanbul”, which also talks about old half-forgotten sites, but much more contemporary than Romer.
    Sorry so much blah blah, but such a truly great place to visit.


  29. Greg

    Go to Istanbul! It is a great place to visit! I wish I could go with you, but I have other obligations.

  30. peter

    Fantastic idea, Robin! I’ve had the opportunity to visit The City twice, ten years apart, and it is an amazing place. I’ve always travelled solo, but if you were to put together a tour, I’d gladly pay for the privilege.

    If you’re interested, I’ve posted some of my photos from Istanbul to Flickr here:

    The Blue Mosque

    The Hagia Sofia warranted its own collection:

    Hagia Sophia and public park
  31. DK

    That would be splendid idea, Robin. And frankly speaking, someone people would be willing to sponsor you for (I at least would). Istanbul is an amazing city in all aspects, I can assure you that. To stand inside the Hagia Sophia and – e.g. – marvel at that recently uncovered gigantic paintings of the archangels from time of Justinian…that is a sight to behold. Also to stand in the gardens of Topkapi and having a vague idea of the sights the byzantine emperors had from their palaces…go for it,at any rate!

  32. James J Harper

    I’ve enjoyed your podcasts and had a great trip to Istanbul and the Aegean five years ago, but I would not visit again while Erdogan remains in power. In 2012, there were signs of his authoritarian tendencies, but the situation has deteriorated so much since then. Traveling to Turkey now would give tacit support to Erdogan. Hopefully the structures of Byzantium will outlast the current ruler.

  33. Baris

    Hi Robin,

    It would depend on the dates of your visit, but I could offer you a place to crash for a couple of weeks, if expenses are an issue. Don’t expect much, it’s a (large for its type) studio apartment near to the Sabiha Gokcen Airport, which is near the Istanbul border on the Anatolian side, i.e. far from where you want to be. Your daily commute, if you want to avoid the rush hour, would be ~1.5 hrs one way (3 hrs total), but such times are a part of life in Istanbul. Also, I’m a single postdoc, and I keep my place as clean and neat as I can, but it’s still effectively a student’s house. I expect to be in another city within a year though.

    Here’s some advice from someone whose understanding and knowledge of these matters is much less than yours: Someone above said one week is not enough. If all you have is one week, I’d suggest you do your homework well so that you have all of your plans in place. Istanbul is a city that’s been lived in properly and continuously for two millenia (the oldest signs of habitation are 10k years old). I’d guess that the reason there are no guides from the Byzantine perspective is because both the places and the mythos/history has changed during that time because of this, and due to the fact that each new emperor/sultan has needed to modify that mythos for their own needs.

    The current (registered) population is ~15M, which does not necessarily include all of the seasonal employees and students. It’s a properly big and crowded city. Expect to have some historical places to be converted to houses currently being lived in or a grocery store.

    • Baris

      I’d also add that if expenses are less of an issue, you’d be probably better off staying close to where you want to study, both because of the commute times and because you’d want to “breathe the air in”, so to speak.

  34. Jarrad

    I’ve taken my family to Istanbul a couple of times. There are numerous, amazing places to visit. Do not miss the Great Palace Mosaic Museum. The guidebooks I used either did not mention it or gave it a throw away sentence. It is small but gave a glimpse of what the Emperor’s Palace must have been like. Of course, the major sites like the Cora Church or the Hagia Sophia are amazing, but it was nice to get a little taste of the palace.

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