The Istanbul Marathon
2016 marks the 38th edition of the Vodafone Istanbul Marathon. The event will take place on Sunday the 13th of November, with participants launching from the starting line at 9am. Four events will take place throughout the day giving thousands of people the chance to take part. Not only is the Istanbul Marathon the only one in the world that crosses two continents (Asia and Europe), but it is perhaps one of the most beautiful and impressive runs on the planet. This particular event is the perfect opportunity to combine keeping healthy with taking in some incredible sights at the same time. If the route itself doesn’t provide you with enough eye candy, you can timetable some sightseeing in around your run.
The world famous marathon was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Philippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon who ran to Athens to report the victory and announce that the Persians had been defeated in 480BC. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly exclaiming “we have won” before collapsing and dying. There are two roads out of the battlefield of Marathon towards Athens, one that passes over the mountains and a flatter route which spirals around the range. With the actual route the messenger ran unknown, the first marathon of 1896 measured at 40km, the distance of the longest route between Marathon and Athens.
When the modern Olympics began in 1896, the organisers were looking to create an epic event within the games that would be incredibly popular and attract a large number of applicants and act as a grand finale while recalling the ancient glory of Greece, and so the marathon was born. The length of an Olympic marathon was not fixed at first, though 40km seemed like an apt distance to begin with, however most defined routes between 1896 and 1920 depended on the available route at each venue. Since 1924, the marathon distance has been set at 42.195km. The winner of the first Olympic marathon in 1896 was Spyridon Louis, a Greek water-carrier who set the bar, running it in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds.
Today, more than 500 marathons are held throughout the world each year, with tens of thousands of competitors, a small percentage being professional athletes. Aside from the world’s major races held in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City and Tokyo each awarding $500,000 annually to the best overall male and female performers, there are some incredibly interesting and some crazy marathons that take place in the strangest of places. The Midnight Sun Marathon is held in Tromso, Norway and some are now held at the North Pole and in Antarctica over desert terrain. Other unusual marathons include the Great Wall Marathon on the Great Wall of China, the Big Five Marathon, among the safari wildlife of South Africa, the Great Tibetan Marathon, in an atmosphere of Tibetan Buddhism at an altitude of 3,500 metres and the Polar Circle Marathon, on the permanent ice cap of Greenland.
The Vodafone Istanbul Marathon, formerly known as the Intercontinental Istanbul Eurasia Marathon, is the only marathon where participants run over two continents during the course of a single event. This athletic event has taken place in Istanbul since 1979 and is now highly regarded for its fantastic scenery and superb organisation. There are four events that take place throughout marathon day in Istanbul so there is something for everyone. The elite athletes can of course take part in the marathon itself, but must be able to complete the course in under 5 hours which is when they open up the roads to traffic again. Anybody who cannot manage 5 hours can participate in the 15km run, the 10km run or the 8km fun run, each of which follow the start of the marathon route.
The course is asphalt and mostly flat, incorporating just a couple of steep hills along the route. Beginning on the Asian side of the city, shortly before the First Bosphorus Bridge, runners cross the bridge, affording them one of the most outstanding views across the river and the city of Istanbul, before passing through some of the most famous historical sites in the world. The event organised by Istanbul Sports Events also hosts the Istanbul half marathon which takes place in April. The start line for each race is set behind the Bosphorus Bridge on the Asian side and finish in impressive locations in the city on the European side. The marathon itself ends between the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Hagia Sofia in Sultanahmet Square. All of the organised races cross three bridges, one over the Bosphorus and two over the Golden Horn which give incredible views of both Asia and Europe.
Here are just some of the amazing landmarks that play host to the incredible feat of the Istanbul Marathon.
Located in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul on the coastline of the Bosphorus strait, the Dolmabahçe Palace served as the main administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1887 and 1909 to 1922. The palace was built by Sultan Abdülmecid I between 1843 and 1856 after deciding that his residence at the medieval Topkapı was lacking in luxury and comfort in comparison to the palaces of European monarchs. The construction of Dolmabahçe Palace cost the equivalent of $1.5 billion in today’s currency and contributed to the deteriorating financial situation of the Ottoman Empire. However, it became the home of six Sultans between 1856 and 1924 when ownership was transferred to the national heritage of the new Turkish Republic. It is also the place where Atatürk died in 1938.
Dolmabahçe Palace is the largest in Turkey, containing 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 baths and 68 toilets. The design is eclectic, pulling architectural ideas from the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles, blended with Ottoman designs. The palace is extensively decorated with gold and crystal with a mere 14 tonnes of gold used to gild the ceilings. The impressive Ceremonial Hall is also home to the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier. Visitors are allowed access to the palace by guided tour.
Just to the north of the Golden Horn’s junction with the Bosphorus stands the iconic, medieval Galata Tower. It’s high, cone-capped cylinder reaches up into the sky above the city and offers a panoramic view of Istanbul and its historic peninsula. Originally, the Romanesque style tower was built as “Chirstea Turris” (Tower of Christ) in 1348 and was the tallest building in Istanbul, standing at 66.9m. It replaced the old Tower of Galata which was used to control the northern end of the massive sea chain that closed the entrance to the Golden Horn. The new tower was used during the Ottoman period as an observation tower for spotting fires. Ironically, the tower itself suffered two fires, one in 1794 which damaged the stairs and another in 1831 which initiated restorations. During the 1960s, the wooden interior of the tower was replaced with a concrete structure.
The Galata Tower was famously the launch pad of the first human flight. Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi donned himself in artificial wings and jumped from the top of the tower before gliding across the Bosphorus to the slopes of Üsküdar on the Asian shores.
At the northerly most point of the marathon route, runners will come across the beautiful Ottoman imperial Fatih Mosque, which was once one of the largest examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture in Istanbul. The place of worship is named after Mehmed the Conqueror, known in Turkish as ‘Fatih Sultan Mehmad, the Ottoman sultan who conquered Constantinople in 1453. The mosque was also once home to Sahn-ı Seman Medrese, the main centre of Islamic sciences such as theology, law, medicine, astronomy, physics and mathematics, in Istanbul. The original complex constructed around the mosque included a market, hamam, primary school and a public kitchen which served food to the poor, but the vast majority of it was destroyed in the 1509 earthquake.
Today, aside from the mosque itself, to the north and south are the Sahn-ı Seman, eight great medrese, four to each side which are symmetrical and contain 18 cells for students, each able to house four people. The Hospice is to the southeast corner and has a beautiful courtyard supported by 16 columns of very antique and granite, and several tombs including that of Sultan Mehmet II and his wife. There is also a domed library at the side of the mosque which connects the street with the inner courtyard of the mosque.
The stunning and sprawling Topkapı Palace cannot be missed by anybody as it towers above the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. The palace was one of the major residences of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. The estate was also a grand setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. At its peak, the palace was home to over 4000 people, containing mosques, a hospital, bakeries and a mint. Must sees include the Gate of Salutation, the Audience Chamber, the Conqueror’s Pavillion and its incredible terrace views over the Sea of Marmara and the extensive and ornately decorated Harem which boasts more than 400 rooms which house the sultans’ wives, concubines and children.
Today, the palace is a museum and popular tourist attraction in the historic area of Istanbul which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. There are hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important are accessible to the public. The museum houses large collections of porcelain, robes, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts and an impressive display of Ottoman treasures and jewellery.
The infamous building of Istanbul which brings together Christanity, Catholicism, Greek Orthodox and Islam, Hagia Sofia was originally a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica and then a Roman Catholic cathedral, which was later converted into an Ottoman mosque. The complex was secularised and opened as a museum by Atatürk and now serves as the most popular tourist attraction in Istanbul. During its renovation at the time, the Islamic prayer carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations were uncovered for the first time in centuries and the white plaster which had been used to cover many of the Christian mosaics when the building had been turned into a mosque was taken down.
Hagia Sofia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture and should be on the top of anybodies list when visiting Istanbul. Famous for its incredible and massive dome, forty windows that sit around the base of the structure allow the light to reflect everywhere in the interior of the nave, making the dome appear to be hovering. There is much to see inside the main building, not least the beautiful mosaics of Jesus, the apostles and archangels Gabriel and Michael and the added Islamic calligraphy.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque)
Magnificent hand painted blue tiles adorn the interior walls of this famous Istanbul mosque, bathing the mosque in blue as the lights frame the mosques five main domes, eight secondary domes and six minarets at night, lending it to its popular nickname, the Blue Mosque. It is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. The upper levels of the interior are dominated by blue paint and more than 200 stained glass windows decorate the walls letting in natural light. Calligraphic verses from the Quran decorate the walls and you can’t help but feel at peace when you take your steps inside.
The mosque is still functioning today but visitors are welcome if respectful outside of prayer times. Visiting the Blue Mosque is one of the most incredible experiences that you can have in Istanbul. Not only are you fortunate enough to enjoy some of the most incredible architecture in the world, you are placed into what can only be described as a moment of amazement, peace and wonder. It is truly an amazing place that cannot be missed as it dominates the historical centre of Istanbul.
If you can’t make it to Istanbul, perhaps consider one of Turkey’s other marathons or even ultra marathons if you are brave enough! Does the Iznik Mountain Marathon, a 50km run with a 2000m climb and descent sounds like your cup of tea? Or perhaps the Cappadocia Trail, a 60km run through the world famous fairy chimneys. If that’s just not enough for you, the Cappadocia Ultra Trail extends the run to 110km! Whatever inspires you to get out your running shoes, nobody can deny that Istanbul is one of the most beautiful venues and best locations in the world to experience this incredible event. Many treats await you at the Istanbul Marathon!