AWAY DAYS – ISTANBUL

There is plenty to get excited about when deciding to take a trip to one of the world’s most populous cities. Istanbul is a rare place as it spreads across two continents, with Europe on the west side and Asia on the east of the Bosporus strait which all but splits the city in two.

With the southern side of the city on the Marmara Sea — which feeds into the Aegean and then the much larger Mediterranean— and the north featuring a coastal line along the Black Sea, Istanbul’s views are simply respondent and more than worth the trip alone.

It is this strategic geographical position that has seen the area of Istanbul populated since around 660BCE, with culture and history assured for any discerning tourist.

One such historical location that must be visited is the eerie but fascinating Basilica Cistern. A remarkably huge underground Roman water source held up by more than 300 marble columns in a marvellous spectacle and feat of Roman engineering dating back to the 6th century.

The Basilica is open seven days a week from 9am to 5.30pm to the public with ticket prices cheaper if brought in advance but costing roughly 20 Turkish Lira on the day.

However, as sports fans, Istanbul is probably more famous for hosting one of the fiercest rivalries not just in European football but in any sport, anywhere in the world.

Known as the Eternal Derby, Fenerbahce, located on the east side of the Bosporus Strait, and Galatasaray on the west, saw cultural differences initially classed as one cause for the rivalry.

However, it was not until 1934 when things first turned ugly, when unexpected riots broke out during a friendly between two teams. The game had to be ended with players brawling, which led to high tension in the stands. The rivalry has grown more intense ever since, with both sides’ home grounds becoming atmospheric cauldrons when their local rivals come to town.

Over the years, it is Galatasaray who hold the advantage in terms of silverware having won the Turkish Super Liga 22 times compared to Fenerbahce’s 19.

Galatasaray’s stadium – Türk Telekom Stadyumu – also holds just over 52000 spectators compared to Fenerbahce’s Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, which can house just over 47,000, giving Gala bragging rights.

Both stadiums are well served by Istanbul’s Metro with Galatasaray’s on the M2 line and Fenerbahce’s serviced by the Sogutlucesme and TCDD Kızıltoprak Istasyon stations, which are both within walking distance of the grounds.

Turkey’s third largest club Besiktas is also located in Istanbul and well worth a visit especially due to its more central location. However, perhaps the most famous Istanbul ground of them all is the Atatürk Olympic Stadium.

Turkey’s largest capacity stadium was the host venue for Liverpool’s remarkable Champions League success over Milan in 2005 and will once again host Europe’s top club knockout competition in 2020.

The stadium is located on the European side of the city and is serviced by the blue M3 line with the stop Olimpiyat Parki the one to get off at.

Unfortunately, stadium tours are not possible, so the best way to see it is to attend a game. There’ll be plenty of fans of Champions League teams hoping to visit in May next year.

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