Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia and Topkapi Palace and more

Istanbul Travel Blog

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cruise ships coming out of the Bosphorus Strait before dawn

We had an early start because 5 cruise ships had docked along the piers overnight and that meant thousands of tourists would be descending and going to the same places we were going today!


We crossed the Galata Bridge where we saw people fishing from both sides and it looked like a fun place to walk on. Heading into the old city, we passed the train station made famous by the Orient Express and also the hotel where Agatha Christy stayed, it was under some renovation at this time.

The Egyptian obelisk at the Hippodrome in front and the Brazen column in the back, very small from this angle


We arrived at the Hippodrome just before 8:30am and looked at the 3 monuments there, the Egyptian obelisk, the metal Serpantine Column without its heads and the Brazen Column from which the bronze casing had been removed. The Hippodrome was a stadium at the heart of Constantinople, dating back to 3rd century. This was the site of several bloody events in history, one of which happened in the year 532 when a brawl between chariot racing teams got out of hand and developed into a revolt, during which time much of the city was destroyed, at the end, an army of mercenaries trapped and massacred 30000 people in the Hippodrome! The Egyptian Obelisk came from outside of Luxor and dated to 1500 BC. The obelisk stands on a base which had carvings depicting how the obelisk was raised: mounds of earth were erected on one side and then another side, the obelisk lowered to lean on one mound and then the other mound until it became fully standing.

the entrance to the Blue Mosque from the Hippodrome
Chariot racing was also depicted, The green intertwining serpants formed a short column, it's supposed to have come from Delphi, the heads of the snakes had been missing for a long time.


Walking around the Hippodrome, we entered into the Blue Mosque courtyard. There was a moment of disbelief, I was in the Blue Mosque just like that? The rectangular courtyard was surrounded with arched columns. But inside the courtyard were also many temporary looking stalls, no idea what they were for, but they looked ugly and not belonging to this place. Then we removed our shoes and put them in bags and went into the mosque itself. The mosque had a huge and tall dome surrounded by shorter partial domes. There were huge columns inside the mosque and long wires hung from the ceiling of the domes to just above people's height supporting huge metal rings full of lights or lanterns in the old days.

Courtyard of Blue Mosque with all the empty booths lined up (waiting for Ramadan Sep 1-30 2008)
The floor was covered in carpet. A section of the interior was blocked off from tourists and only mulsims could go past to pray. Looking up the domes was a dizzying experience. The stained glass windows were numerous and if beautiful we couldn't see them up close, but the effect of the entire interior was quite impressive.


Next we walked past the Haghia Sophia toward the Topkapi Palace. We went through 4 courtyards til the end of the palace ground where it meets the water. Across the water we could see the hospital where Florence Nightingale tended to the wounded on the Asian side of Istanbul. In the palace, we saw in the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle sacred relics of Islam. These included the mantle once worn by the prophet Mohammed, the staff of Noah supposedly, the hand of St John.

ceiling of Blue Mosque
Also there was a gutter (big ornate rectangular object) from Kaaba (the Muslim shrine in Mecca), and other retired objects from the Kabba such as lock and keys.


In the Treasury's collection were many precious jewels, including a daggar with 3 huge emralds, a diamond of 86 carats, lots of diamonds, ruby, emarld, jade, in medals, etc. all very impressive. We did not go into the first room where thrones were kept because the lines to see them were pretty long.


After a quick look in the kitchen, where large ceramic bowls and dishes were on display, we left the palace grounds and headed for Haghia Sophia. This former church was under restoration, and a huge scaffording was erected in the center hall.

interior of the Blue Mosque
It was an impressive space, old looking, in fact it's more than 1400 years old. It was a Byzantine church initially built in the 6th century. Then in the 15th century, it was converted into a mosque. Near the entrance, we could see the ruins of the earlier Haghis Sophia from 415AD displayed in a pit. That was the 2nd Haghia Sophia. The first one from the 4th century left no trace now. Inside the height of the dome is impressive, at 56 meters or about 184 feet. After walking around the nave, interior of the mosque, we went up the stairs to the 2nd level gallery, where the women would have to be for their prayers. There are mosaics here in fragmented forms. We can also see the backs of the huge caligraphic roundels hung at this level but visible from the ground level. As great architectures go, Haghia Sophia is almost like the St Peters in the Vatican, but not as well decorated or preserved inside, but the outside is certainly much more unique, with the minarets and domes.
Interior of Blue Mosque


Next we were brought to near the Galata Bridge for lunch at the Hmdi restaurant right next to the waterfront. After lunch, we had free afternoon, so Kevin and I decided to walk over the Galata Bridge to the Tower and then back to the hotel.


We first went into the New Mosque. It has a very beautiful interior, rows of stained glass windows, large rings of chandliers hung from the ceiling, red carpet covered the floor. There was a blocked off section where people were praying, and women were praying in another section near the entrance. Then we went out onto the Galata Bridge.


It was interesting to see all the people fishing from the bridge, and they showed us their catch, many fishes, not large ones.

Interior of Blue Mosque
Fishing licenses are not required in Turkey, one just had to get a fishing pole to fish.


Galata Tower was much easier to find from this direction because we could see its top and pick the correction direction. The ticket cost 10 TLR each, and we got an elevator ride to the 7th floor, then we had to climb 2 more flghts of stairs to the panoramic observation desk. The view was spectacular and we couldl wallk 360 degrees on the deck outside the tower. The tower was 60 m tall, apparently high enough so that in the 1700's Herzarifen Ahmet Celebi was able to attach wings to his arms and flew to Uskudar across the Bosphrus. There was a restaurant here and it's probably a popular spot for dinner and city lights view.


We then walked north and found the tram line on the pedestrian stree of Istiklal Caddesi.

Interior of Blue Mosque
This was definitely a happening street as it was crowded with people, not all tourists. There were vendors selling corns on every block. Kevin found a bookstore and bought some maps for our driving trip later. We just walked up the street all the way to Taksim square and then back to the hotel.


For dinner we had heard about this restaurant near the airport called Beyti, famous for its meat dishes. We had made a reservation eariler and took a taxi there. The taxi ride took a LONG time because the traffic was just really congested, more than 1 hour for 25km (about 48 TLR) the driver wanted to wait for us so he can take us back so that's fine too. Our table was on the terrace and the service was superb. We had various lamb and beef dishes among the 4 of us (I had the mixed grill for the main dish), and it was definitely worth recommending to people going to Istanbul.

Blue Mosque seen on the way to Haghia Sophia
The owner came out to greet all the guests several times, and my dad made friends with him. The owner gave him a gift too! In the restaurant were lots of photos of famous people who had dined at the restaurant. From presidents to prime ministers to movie stars and senators. The drive back was only 25 minutes as it should be.

portia says:
I was wrong about the lines! Now that I have been to the Blue Mosque 3 times, the first time (this entry) we went in the Hippodrome side, and then to the tourist lines like your photo showed, and there was a line but not too long a wait. The 2nd time, Sep 5th, I went in the Hippodrome side entry around sunset, no lines! and the 3rd time, again through the tourist lines, during the day.
Posted on: Sep 17, 2008
Eric says:
traffic sounds worse than LA!
Posted on: Sep 03, 2008
cmgervais says:
Oh, I have a picture of it:
http://www.travbuddy.com/travel-blogs/26844/photos/view/142/31
Posted on: Sep 02, 2008
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cruise ships coming out of the Bos…
cruise ships coming out of the Bo…
The Egyptian obelisk at the Hippod…
The Egyptian obelisk at the Hippo…
the entrance to the Blue Mosque fr…
the entrance to the Blue Mosque f…
Courtyard of Blue Mosque with all …
Courtyard of Blue Mosque with all…
ceiling of Blue Mosque
ceiling of Blue Mosque
interior of the Blue Mosque
interior of the Blue Mosque
Interior of Blue Mosque
Interior of Blue Mosque
Interior of Blue Mosque
Interior of Blue Mosque
Interior of Blue Mosque
Interior of Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque seen on the way to Hag…
Blue Mosque seen on the way to Ha…
Hagahia Sophia
Hagahia Sophia
model of Topkapi palace
model of Topkapi palace
palace cat, there were many
palace cat, there were many
Kevin plays with a Siberian Husky …
Kevin plays with a Siberian Husky…
the Circumcision Pavilion in the t…
the Circumcision Pavilion in the …
close-up look
close-up look
ceiling of the kitchen in Topkapi …
ceiling of the kitchen in Topkapi…
interior of the kitchen, Topkapi P…
interior of the kitchen, Topkapi …
writing over the gate of the Palace
writing over the gate of the Palace
Exterior Buttress of Haghia Sophia
Exterior Buttress of Haghia Sophia
ceiling of the hallway in Haghia S…
ceiling of the hallway in Haghia …
Interior dome ceiling of Haghia So…
Interior dome ceiling of Haghia S…
interior of Haghia Sophia at the N…
interior of Haghia Sophia at the …
huge roundels hung in Haghia Sophi…
huge roundels hung in Haghia Soph…
the Apse of Haghia Sophia
the Apse of Haghia Sophia
upstairs mosaic in Haghia Sophia s…
upstairs mosaic in Haghia Sophia …
in front of the New Mosque
in front of the New Mosque
looking over the Golden Horn at Ga…
looking over the Golden Horn at G…
outside the New Mosque
outside the New Mosque
a better view of the Galata Tower
a better view of the Galata Tower
Galata Bridge
Galata Bridge
View of New Mosque from Galata Bri…
View of New Mosque from Galata Br…
courtyard of the New Mosque
courtyard of the New Mosque
Galata Tower
Galata Tower
On the Galata Tower
On the Galata Tower
view of cruise ships from the Gala…
view of cruise ships from the Gal…
View from Galata Tower, look at al…
View from Galata Tower, look at a…
view from Galata Tower toward the …
view from Galata Tower toward the…
View from Galata tower looking at …
View from Galata tower looking at…
Mom and dad at dinner
Mom and dad at dinner
Istanbul
photo by: Memo