Thursday, November 28, 2013

Istanbul Day Three

Day three in Istanbul saw a shift in my thoughts from Wow, we still have so much time left to Ohmygod, time is RUNNING OUT!! I don't know what caused the shift, especielly since we still have seven days here.

So today we headed for the big sites, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, as well as several sies near by. The plaza was beautiful, with designs laid out in the flower beds that we couldn't decided if it was writing or just symbols. The fountain mimics the domes of the buildings and the cobblestone square affords many spots for photos.

Our first tour was Hagia Sophia. The initial structure was the Great Cathedral of the Byzantine Empire, constructed near the Imperial Palace in 360. During riots following the removal of the ruling family, the church was burned and replaced in 415. This on also burned to the ground, only to be replaced in 532 with a grander building that still stands today. The structure is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. A massive dome crowns a glorious cathedral covered in mosaics and marble pillars. When the Ottomans took over Constantinople, the church was ransacked and pillaged, leaving it in a dilapidated ruin. The sultan ordered immediate renovations, converting the remaining structure to a mosque. They constructed minarets and covered the early mosaics with plaster, unwittingly saving them. In 1935 the site was converted to a museum, and the plaster was removed to display the beautiful mosaics.

Walking through the site, I was awed at the symbols of two of the great Western religions side by side. everywhere I looked there was something beautiful, whether it was colorful tile, intricate stone work or massive structures. The sense of history and significance left me wonderstruck. My husband reffered to the site as "engineer porn."

Once we passed through the baptismal and the courtyard, we exited and made our way over to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. More popularly known as the Blue Mosque, it was built early in the seventeenth century during the reign of Ahmed I and now houses his tomb. The blue tile that gives the structure it's name isn't as vibrant as the ones in the mosque built by Rustem Pasa, the sheer enormity of the structure, elaborate stain glass windows and beautifully carved pillars made up for any sense of lack. More than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles feature over fifty different tuli designs. While Holland is now known as the nation of tulips, they only claimed the title through clever marketing after some bulbs were taken from Turkey. The Turks view the plant as the flower of the god, since the word for tulip looks very similar to the word for Allah. At gallery level, the tiles are modest and traditional, but as they climb higher they grow more elaborate. On the center chandelier, a sharp eyed American pointed out some ostrich eggs, used to repel spiders and avoid cobwebs.

After the mosque, we wandered through the nearby Arasta Bazaar for a scarf, since the weather was rainy and cold and I was freezing. I preferred this market for scarves over the Grand Bazaar. From there we wandered down the exit street, ending up in a plaza that used to be the Hippodrome featuring an Egyptian Obelisk, Constantine's Column, and Column of the Serpent from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. We wandered over to check out the Golden Milestone, which used to mark the start of the Roman Road, measuring out all distances.

We had lunch at Sultan Ahmed Kofteci, which is famous for it's meatballs. The reputation is entirely earned. From there we wandered to the Basillica Cistern, featuring a 400 yard underground cistern that could hold 27 million gallons of water. You could seriously fit Soldiers Field down there! The lighting was beautifull and the structure awe inspiring.

By the time we finished there, I headed back to our hotel for a nap while Hubby headed to the waterfront, taking in some sites around Galata bridge, including the new mosque. When he returned, our room had no power, and we had to call the front desk to get it repaired.

For dinner we caught the ferry over to the Asian side of Istanbul and headed to Ciya Sofresi for dinner. This started off as a horrible experience, two introverted English speakers in a non-traditional ordering system restaurant. The place had no menus, and orders were placed at the counter before sitting. The chef is from Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey, so the meals are different from what you find in the rest of the city. Finally one of the staff came to our rescue and explained the ordering system, as well as describing the dishes. We had sweet potatoes and mince meat as well as bulgur with rice and spinach. It was very good and worth all of the confusion.

Next we headed a few steps down the aisle to a cafe where we were able to get a hookah. We chose red apple, which was a good choice. After we had smoked our fill, we made it back to the ferry just in time, nabbing a seat just as we shoved off from the dock. A short tram ride later, our hotel was in sight when hubby spotted the Packer game airing through the window of The Port Shield, a little pub down the road from our hotel. He happily watched a bit of the game while drinking an over priced Guinness.

Tomorrow we will be heading into Topkapi Palace, so I fully expect to walk my poor feet right off.

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