Walkthrough — Hacktoria: Geolocation 08

(Click here to watch and listen to the video version of this blog entry)

Note: The Hacktoria website no longer has geolocation challenges therefore all the links have been removed. This blog entry is for legacy purposes only. Free feel to give it a go by attempting to geolocate the image before reading the walkthrough.

Back again with another Hacktoria geolocation walkthrough, this time on challenge 08.
I must confess that this image took me a bit longer to locate than I had anticipated at first. Getting to the correct country was extremely easy and fast but then getting from the country to the exact location was a completely different matter. If you’re stuck in this tight spot or if you can’t even get to the correct country, keep reading and hopefully this will all make sense to you.

Geolocation – 08

Question: What is the name of the city where this photo was taken?

So, first things first, let us right click the image and save it on the desktop. Then open it and zoom all over the place to get as many pieces of information as possible.
The first useful thing I noticed was a mosque (centre right area). The street is big and wide and empty. I can tell this is a google street view image due to the light watermark all over the sky that says “google 2020”. This tells me that I will be able to find this location on google maps using the street view option. This makes it easier when trying to pinpoint the exact area; if there is no streetview available where I am looking at then I do not need to bother with it as it will be wrong anyway. The correct location WILL have google streetview. This already narrows it down a bit since certain countries do not allow google street view (looking at you Germany).

Another thing that strikes me is the amount of security. It is not over the top like you would find in South Africa but it’s much more than you would find in Spain for example.

The type of residential building is telling me Eastern Europe; tall blocks of flats with some colour splashed around on a mainly white base. If you google “eastern europe residential building” you’ll see what I mean:

The mosque however is telling me to look a bit more South than Eastern Europe, perhaps the Ottoman Empire area, excluding North Africa.

Now that I have an idea in my head where I am looking at I am going to crop that mosque and see what I can get.

As usual Google and Bing are of little use when it comes to reverse image search but then comes our friend Yandex to save the day. I am always very curious to read what it says under the “Image appears to contain”. Unfortunately I do not read Russian so I just have to translate it all.

“мечеть турция стамбул” = “mosque turkey istanbul”
“турция мечеть” = “turkey mosque”
“мечеть” = “mosque”
“город стамбул турция” = “the city of istanbul turkey”
“camii” = “mosque”

Right, so we got some leads. Yandex is telling me this is a mosque (already knew that), and that this is located in Turkey, perhaps in Istanbul.

Before we follow that line of thought there are still a few other things I would like to check to confirm we are looking at the right place.
Another detail I noticed when I first looked at the picture was how interesting the sidewalk was. There was a small pattern on it that at first does not feel remarkable but if you have been to Europe you might have noticed a difference between countries’ sidewalks. I have lived in several European countries and I can assure you that each one has a slightly different sidewalk style that you can usually find in the more central area of a big city. I decided to just search for “turkey sidewalk” and after looking at too many turkeys I spotted a few images with the same type of sidewalk pattern as the one found on the geolocation challenge.

Now, I understand that this is confirmation bias, I searched for turkey sidewalks and I found what I was looking for. However at this point I was not trying to find the country, I was just trying to confirm my suspicions.

Another interesting thing I like to search for in images is the type of flora present. Searching and identifying types of trees, bushes, flowers, etc, can be very useful when trying to pinpoint locations on a map. So let us see what this tree is on the right. I used plant.id and got a few options. It gives me the result of Pinus sylvestris with a 23.2% certainty. That number does not inspire much confidence but the more I look at the tree the more it does seem like a pine tree so I assume it’s correct.

Time to go to wikipedia and see where we can find “Pinus sylvestris”.

It does cover Turkey as expected but just the Northern part. This is very helpful to start narrowing it down within the country. It is contradictory with the previous information I got from Yandex telling me that the mosque was probably in Istanbul. You can see from the map above that this type of pine is not found in the Istanbul area. You can also tell a lot about a mosque based on the minaret style. Below are some of the examples of different types of minaret. In the middle is the characteristic Ottoman minaret, similar to the one seen in the mosque of geolocation 08 image.

Unfortunately I could not find a list of all the mosques in Turkey organised by style. There are endless lists of the most famous mosques but from the image we can tell that this is not a main mosque. It is a decent sized one but it probably not appear on a “top 10” or whatever number you want, list.

I decided to just try to narrow it down by geographical area. I know that the street from the challenge is unlikely to be located in the Southern and Western regions of Turkey so we can at least start there. Searching for regions of Turkey we get this map.

I superimpose the region’s image above with the native pine region using Photopea and got the image below (I did not do a great job with the merging, just enough to get the gist of it). I started focusing my search on the Black Sea Coast, Central Anatolia and Eastern Anatolia. I can see how it also touches a bit of the Marmara and the Aegean regions but I needed to start narrowing down somewhere so this is it.

It’s still quite a huge area to cover so I tried thinking more strategically. I can see from the geolocation challenge picture that the area is quite urban but not too busy as to indicate a city centre. It is definitely not a rural area either so I am guessing I am looking at the suburbs or a big Turkish city.

Whilst looking for more details that could help me I decide to focus on the power lines. A quick google check identifies them as a fir tree mast shape with a double circuit 345 Kv power.

So now the question is where are these types of power lines located in Turkey. Another quick google search and I found the map below showing different types of power and transmission lines in Turkey.

If you right click on it to open it to the original size you’ll be able to read the legend on the right bottom corner indicating that the colour we are looking for is the dark brown, the thicker one. There’s no “345 Kv” key but there is a “380 Kv” which is the closest one. Fingers crossed it is similar enough to help us.
If we compare the map above and a map showing Turkey’s big cities we can attempt to narrow down our search even more.

So if we then combine all the previous maps into one we see that there are a few cities that match all the criteria. They will have native pine trees, 345/380 Kv power lines, will be a big city with suburbs and will certainly have plenty of mosques. I can spot Ankara being the biggest one and then plenty of cities around the Sakarya province.

I will spare you the details on how I spent days (!) looking through hundreds (thousands?) of mosques on google maps. At some point after using a ridiculous amount of keyword variations and cropping the original images and then reverse searching it using other keyword variations I stumbled upon the winning combination.

I used the screenshot below showing the building and the power line to do a reverse search image on Yandex.

Then on the search bar I added the name of the city “Ankara” so that it would look for this building only in Ankara, Turkey. And this is what I found.

I had already scrolled a bit when I noticed a building very similar to the one I was looking for (second line, with a red rectangle around it). I opened the image and got some more information and a link.

I clicked on the “Park Çiftlik Konutları — Ansa Yapı” link on the right which led me to this page.

The building looks very familiar so let us compare the photo I found (on the left) with the one I cropped from the original geolocation challenge (on the right). Amazing resemblance!

And what do we see there behind the building on the left? A power line!
There’s a nice row of Pinus sylvestris, our tree friend from a while ago, the number of flats in the building is the same, the shape, colour, everything matches. It seems the photo on the website was taken from the other side of the building so now we just need to figure out where it is located. Using the information we already had from the website where we found the last photo, we can just put on google maps “Park Çiftlik Konutları”.

The residential area looks quite familiar and what a lovely surprise, there’s a mosque. Knowing that the mosque in the original picture was located on the right, almost at the end of the road, we can position ourselves to where the screenshot had been taken (shown by the red arrow above).

And now using google street view we can check it out.

And it’s a match!
We can compare them for the sake of it but it is quite clearly the location where the image was taken.
On the left there is the original image for Hacktoria’s geolocation 08 challenge, and on the right is the screenshot I took after finding the location. You can see there is a match on the streetlights, the unfinished building on the centre left, the white and green (blue?) building on the centre right, the mosque, and the white and orange building that helped us identify the location.

So now we can answer the question:

What is the name of the city where this photo was taken?

And these are the exact coordinates:
39.9529, 32.8013

This was so far the hardest of the geolocation challenges I completed from Hacktoria. It took me days and I kept second guessing myself. My advice is to just step away if necessary, breathe and do something else.
I hope that was informative and helpful in case you were stuck.
If you reached the same conclusion using a different method feel free to share it as I would be very happy to learn new techniques and/or tools.

~ Sofia.

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