ISTANBUL, Turkey - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicked off his first official trip to Turkey yesterday the way most visitors would: By taking in the historically rich sights in scenic Istanbul.
He was welcomed at the start of his four-day visit to the country by Deputy Mayor Ahmet Selamet and Istanbul province Governor Vasip Sahin, and hosted to dinner by Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas at the Ciragan Palace.
Today, Mr Lee will meet key Turkish business chiefs over lunch before flying to Ankara, the country's capital, where he is scheduled to meet Turkey's top leaders.
"Turkey has a vibrant economy, and offers promising opportunities for our companies. PSA and ST Electronics are already here," Mr Lee said in a Facebook post upon arriving in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey.
Yesterday, he spent the afternoon touring three of the city's most famous historical sites: the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Within walking distance of one another, the three landmarks showcase Turkey's heritage as a major global power and the meeting point of key civilisations. They draw millions of tourists every year, including a large number of the 16,000 Singaporeans who visited Turkey between January and August this year.
Mr Lee first stopped at the Topkapi Palace, a former residence of sultans of the Ottoman Empire from 1465 to 1856 and now a museum housing Ottoman artefacts. At its height, the empire stretched from the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, to today's Iraq, and covered large parts of today's Middle East.
As its capital, Istanbul drew on top global talents to design some of its most iconic buildings.
Among them was chief architect Mehmet Aga, hailing from what is Albania today. He designed the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Mr Lee's second stop yesterday. Commonly known as the Blue Mosque after the dominant colour of its interior tiles, the mosque was constructed from 1609 to 1616 and is of unrivalled religious significance to many.
Its floral patterns represent earth in spring as well as the gardens of paradise.
At the mosque, imam Musa Asgin Tunca gave Mr Lee and his delegation a brief tour. Mr Lee was "enthused about the mosque... he said it was very beautiful", the imam later told Singapore reporters.
Mr Lee rounded off his tour with the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine basilica which was the world's largest cathedral for almost 1,000 years.
It was the seat of the head of the Greek Orthodox Church from the year 537, and was later converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered the city, then known as Constantinople, in 1453.
Mr Lee is accompanied in Turkey by his wife, Ms Ho Ching, as well as Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, Senior Minister of State (Finance and Transport) Josephine Teo, and MPs Foo Mee Har and Zaqy Mohamad.
A Singapore business delegation is also in town for a Turkey- Singapore business forum.
On Wednesday, Mr Lee will head to Milan, Italy, to attend the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting.
This article was first published on October 13, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.