TRIP TO TURKEY: PART 2 ISTANBUL.
JUNE 15 2019
Our second day in Istanbul was packed with a well thought out itinerary. We were up and ready as early as possible but were slightly worse for wear.
We were being taken on a guided tour of Istanbul city which included the monuments in the Sultanahmet area which included the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia. All of these were situated close by in the Sultanahmet area , and was a short tram ride away from our Hotel. We had visited the area the previous evening, and had explored it a little bit.
The Blue Mosque/ Sultanahmet Camii.
The blue mosque is so called because of the hand painted blue tiles that embellish the interior of the mosque. These are called the Blue Iznik tiles, in more than 50 different tulip designs.
It was constructed in 1609-1616 by the ruler Ahmed 1 to reassert Ottoman power. It is spectacular to look at with six minarets, five main domes and eight secondary domes. The interior has several stained glass windows and is adorned by chandeliers.
It is a functioning mosque and prayers are offered 5 times a day , during which time tourist are denied entry. This was the first monument we visited .
A part of the mosque was walled of for renovation , and we couldn’t see much of the interior. The blue hand painted tiles with the tulip design were a wonder to look at . To think about the effort that went into making each one of those, and there were thousands of them. The floor had lush carpets and even those had blue tulips on them. The Turks surely did have a thing for blue tulips.
The visitors should wear modest clothing, and a stroller for kids will be extremely useful here. I, foolishly left our stroller at the entrance of the mosque, when I saw the steps of the main entrance, and then we exited through another area. We visited the other two buildings and only then did we retrieve the stroller, my back was seriously shot by then.
Topkapi Palace/ Seraglio
The Topkapi palace is a short walk away from the Sultanahmet Camii. It served as the main residence of the Ottoman Sultans in the 15thcentury. It was built by Mehmet the Conqueror.
The Topkapi palace is a vast sprawling property with several gates and courtyards.
When it was still the residence of the Sultans, only the elite were allowed entry into the inner most sanctum sanctorum of the Sultans.
It’s opulence and grandeur is a testament to the luxurious lifestyle of the rulers and the hierarchy of the palace servants.
It will take more than an entire day to explore the whole place. It is now a museum and has an elaborate armamentarium, the rifles and pistols made of gold, studded with precious stones, armours, helmets, and swords. The enormous swords were a sight to behold. Only a person with tremendous strength could lift it even an inch.
The harems of the palace housed the Sultans concubines, where they could freely indulge in debauchery. I always wondered how these men could possibly(ahem…) perform with hundreds of women. How did they find the time to even rule the country after fulfilling their conjugal obligations.
In reality, the harems had a complex system of hierarchy into which young girls entered at a young age. Here, they were schooled in arts, etiquette, religion and ascended gradually in the hierarchy to ladies in waiting to the Queens, and only the best of the best got to service /serve the Sultans.
The Holy Relics of the Prophet has been housed here in the Sultan’s living quarters for centuries. These include the Holy Mantle or the prophet’s cloak, some of his other belongings like footwear, rings, seal. It also housed many swords of the prophet and his followers among other things. It was a thrilling experience to observe the belongings of the most revered man who has walked this earth, and who is responsible for the spiritual nationality of billions of people (including mine).
Adam decided it would be fun to run around the courtyards in circles.So, half my time was spent chasing after him.
I missed the palatial kitchens and the dining area. And by that point , I was tired , and wanted a break from the information overload.
After the Topkapi Palace, the guide took us for our pre booked lunch
to a nearby hotel. It again consisted of the standard fare of chicken kebabs, pita bread, salads, kunafe and tea.
But this was not as palatable as the meal of the previous day.
After the meal, the guide was really keen for us to visit a leather outlet store called “Punto”. We thought it will be a welcome break from the heat and readily agreed. After a warm welcom into a lavishly set up store with rows upon rows of neatly arranged leather jackets, and handbags, they offered us Turkish tea ( the supply of this seems endless everywhere), and as soon as we are settled in ,an impromptu fashion show was set up for us(yes, you read that right) with foot tapping music and all. There we are, slightly taken aback by this turn of events, and in front of us attractive Turkish men and women, paraded in amazing leather jackets. At the end of it, they showed us around. A look at the price tags, sent us scurrying out of the store,clutching our hearts and more importantly our wallets.
Hagia Sophia / Aya Sophia
It was time to visit the Hagia Sophia. I was looking forward to visiting this place all day. As impressive as the Seraglio was, the place that really blew my mind was the Hagia Sophia/ Aya Sophia which means Holy Wisdom.
It is the oldest of all the three buildings . It was built in AD 537 by the emperor, Justinian as a Greek Orthodox Christian church, and was the world’s largest cathedral for almost a thousand years. Impressive, right?
If all this history wasn’t enough to keep your brain scrambling to grasp the scope of this wonder, it was converted to an Ottoman mosque in 1453 by Mehmet the Conqueror until 1931. It was then converted to a museum in 1935 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.
This building is considered as the epitome of byzantine architecture. It is made of bricks, the floors of white marble. This building is as red as the Sultanahmet Camii is blue.
It has a gigantic central dome which rises 180 feet above the ground, supported by four minarets, built by the Ottomans.
The walls have spectacular Byzantine mosaics of the church as well Islamic art and calligraphy, balancing both Chrisitian and Muslim art.
There are eight Islamic medallions or Calligraphic panes in the main recess with the names of Allah, Mohammed, the four Caliphs,Hassan and Hussein.
Most the Christian mosaics are seen in the upper gallery.
On the way to the Upper gallery.
I felt the Hagia Sophia to be a symbol of merging of cultures, Chrisitianity and Islam, much like the city of Istanbul.
The entire place was lit up by huge chandeliers hanging from the dome. The muted lighting of the chandliers lend a serene, almost reverential atmosphere to the whole place.
It was truly marvelous to walk the corridors of the Hage Sophia. The place had an air of mystic that commanded respect.
It seemed like the walls, the domes, the lights had absorbed the power of centuries of prayer uttered in those very halls, and if you listened closely you could hear the chanting from ages ago.
The blue mosque as seen from the Hagia Sofia.
Grand Bazaar/ Kapalicarsi.
This was the place I was looking forward to the most. The grand bazar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. Today it covers, 3100- sq.ft, has over 3000 shops, 17 inns, 61 streets, 4 fountains, 2 mosques, and several cafes and restaurants. Take a minute to let the scope of this sink in.
It bustled with activity. Vendors promoting their fares, shoppers haggling with them, the chatter of the people, the aroma of the spices, the sweet shops, really fat Turkish cats wandering about. You have to see it to believe it.
The shops seemed to stretch endlessly, alleyways giving way to many other alleyways. I was scared to venture about too much for the fear of getting lost in its sheer maze like vastness. I got myself a ring from a jwellery shop, because I didn’t want to leave the oldest bazaar in the world without a purchase.
Meanwhile, my brother disappeared for a while to visit the nearby steak house of Nusret “Salt Bae”.
I left the Grand Bazaar with the feeling that there was much left to be explored, that the time spent there was hardly enough. Perhaps, it was a good thing for my pocket, but surely, one day , I hope to return just to wander and marvel at the place.
It was the end of our second day of out trip. We headed off to the airport to catch our flight to Antalia. I hadn’t researched much about Antalya, having spent most of my energies on Istanbul and Cappadoccia. But, Antalya was one surprise after the other.
Until next time
Neema M Ali