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.