Aye Sofya and the Blue Mosque

Istanbul Travel Blog

 › entry 32 of 37 › view all entries
Today I am in Istanbul. After a week of fire and war, we come to the cradle of culture. As we drove into the city we saw the Obelisk of Theodosius, the 3500 year old column taken from the temple of Karnak hundreds of years ago, were we were so recently. We all split up, and Michelle and I checked into our hotel room, then we met up at the Grand Bazaar. Michelle and I had a great time just walking to the bazaar, indulging in street food, and looking around. The actual bazaar itself was huge, a covered building housing 4500 shops. The labyrinth was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 1450s as a mini-city walled off, covering 50 acres and 65 main streets. We spent all of our money, Michelle buying an old prayer necklace from an antique store, me buying a shirt and a couple of old Russian and Turkish coins. Just as well, because I lost my wallet afterwards, and I only wish I had spent that last $40 too :) We had a great dinner out, although I did get worried when Michelle didn’t come home to the hotel room – she stayed out too late and got locked out, and had to spend the night in the truck.

Today Michelle, Tamara and I explored Sultanahmet, the centre of the city. We started with the Topkapi Palace, built by Mehmet the Conquor in 1453. The Sultans lived in it until the 19thcentury, and it housed 40 000 people (175 acre complex). The complex was huge, with the most beautiful buildings. We walked though the Harem, and visited the museum where hairs from the beard of Muhammed, along with his bow and sword, and the swords of his successors, the first four Immans, were kept, with a rotation of mullahs constantly praying over them. We also visited a museum with the costumes of the Sultans, preserved thanks to the tradition of packing away the clothes of each Sultan when he died to preserve them (no Sultana clothes are there, because these were considered their private property to be given to relatives when they died, rather than belongings of the state).

After the Topkapi Palace we walked through Aya Sofya, the Church of the Holy Wisdom. It was built in 532 CE by Emperor Justinian, and was the largest church in the world for 1000 years. It has a massive dome and four minarets (added 1000 years later when it was converted to a mosque), although much of the original gold and marble was plundered during the Forth Crusade. Wandering around inside it is amazing at just how huge it is. Rooms that would be the size of a Cathedral in England are simply balconies overlooking the main congregation underneath the dome. Westminster Abbey would probably fit inside the main room. It isn’t so much a beautiful building, being rather crude and blocky in a way, as awe-inspiring in its sheer size.

After Aye Sofya we visited its sister shrine, the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is very similar in design, just across the a boulevard with a fountain from Aye Sofya. It was built during 1609-1619 by Sultan Ahmet I and his architect Mehmet Aga (he was the Sultan who caused a scandal by entering into a monogamous relationship and having multiple children from the same woman). It has seven slender minarets (there was only meant to be six, but he built a seventh to make up for an insult to the authorities at Mecca), and thirty domes and half domes, but with one main dome like Aye Sofya. The blue tiles were made in the famous Iznik factories, and Sultan Ahmet banned them from making titles for anyone else. It was an active mosque, so we didn’t feel comfortable interrupting people’s prayers, and quickly left.

After an exhausting week we frittered away the afternoon sitting in cafes and drinking many litres of water.

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
photo by: Memo