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The Toddler’s Guide to İstanbul: Basilica Cistern

İstanbul is a rich and vibrant city for people of all ages.  For some it may be daunting with young kids but İstanbul offers many wonders for the inquisitive toddler mind.  This is the first part in our Toddler’s guide to İstanbul.  Each guide entry will offer some cheat sheets of interesting facts as well as directions of how to get there   Our first experience and destination is The Basilica Cistern in Sultan Ahmet.

What’s great about the Basilica Cistern for young kids?

It takes them into a softly lit underground world that they have never experienced before.  It allows them to explore the history of a place.  It is also not to big or overwhelming for young legs to maneuver (although some parts are slippery so some attention is needed).  There are fish swimming in the water and two carved Medusa heads that interest them.

The Basilica Cistern Interesting Facts for Toddlers

  • Built by Emperor Justinian I in 6th Century CE
  • Before running water and taps, this held the water for the people who lived near by.
  • No one knows the origin of the Medusa heads (But kids are fascinated by the fact that one is upside down and one is on its side).
  • Medusa:  Although most of the story of Medusa might be a bit bloody or scary for the average 3-4 year old, the facts that I felt I could share were that she is a Gorgon sister, it was not safe for people to look at her, and people created large stones of her head to protect them from bad things.
  • People forgot about the Cistern during Ottoman times.

Activity Alerts:

1-A fun activity was to play spot the difference with the two Medusa heads as they are close to each other.

2-Search for the fish who appear and disappear.  How many different coloured fish are there? Which fish is the biggest?

3-Throw a coin into the water and make a wish.

4-Count a row of pillars.

Entrance Fee: Free for kids under 12.  Adults are 10TL, but teachers and students can enter for 5TL

Getting there: If you are living in or visiting İstanbul by far the best way is to ditch the car, get out of the traffic and use public transport.  Coming from the Anatolian side of İstanbul there is now the Metro option from Kartal to Kadiköy which connects you to a boat to the Karaköy/Eminönü port, or alternatively the overground train from Gebze to Haydarpaşa (Kadıköy) where you can directly connect to a boat to Karaköy/Eminönü (to the European Side).  On the boat you can feed the seagulls and see so much on the bosphorous.  Be prepared for the flood of questions.  From Karaköy or Eminönü take a tram in the direction of Zeytinburnu to the Sultan Ahmet stop.  From there walk down and you will see a sign pointing to the left for the cistern.  Cross the small sqaure on the left with the fountain and walk down the steps.  You will see a very small stone building which is the entrance to the cistern.

 

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Accidental Chess Play for 3+

We got caught in the pouring rain and had to dive for cover in a coffee shop.  Except we were quite unprepared and it wasn’t really a child’s coffee shop.  With two three year olds there is only so much that they can take when trapped somewhere for a long period of time.  We had looked at all the pictures on the wall from a photography exhibition, talked with the owner, toured the whole of the coffee shop, made faces at strangers, counted cups etc and in that last moment of desperation when all was on the verge of chaos I spied a chess set, free and available for use.  I asked the boys if they wanted to meet a king.  We took the rolled chess set, tipped out the pieces, pulled out the board and they met chess for the first time.  They touched all the pieces, looking for the kings.  Then we looked for the queens and so on.  Then they asked why there was a board.  So I explained that it was a game and each piece had a place so they wanted to know where they all went and that’s how our chess began. Continue reading

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