Monday, March 17, 2014

The Fab 5 In Istanbul

Our first full day in Istanbul, we did a guided tour of the main sites in the city.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Or perhaps better known as The Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls, was finished in 1616, taking 6 years to build. The tour guide frequently mentioned how long it took for the mosques to be built, and they were all mostly under 10 years, which shocked me. Just off my trip from Madrid, where buildings and churches would take hundreds of years, it was impressive.

While it is a pretty famous tourist attraction, it is an active mosque, so non worshipers cannot go inside during those 5 prayer times.

We got there at the perfect time, right after a prayer time and with a short line. Once we entered, we had to take off our shoes and carry them in a plastic bag. We then had to pull our scarves up to cover our hair, and I was given what appeared to be a sheet with Velcro to wrap around my waste as my ankles were showing. Only then were we allowed to enter the mosque. 


Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia was a former Greek Orthodox church, briefly converted to a Roman Catholic church under the Latin Empire, later an imperial mosque, and now a museum.

Famous for it’s massive dome, it’s considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and said to have “changed the history of architecture”. The current building was constructed in 5 years, again baffling. It was the principle mosque in Istanbul until the larger Blue Mosque was built.

It is a very beautiful building. It was interesting to see decorations of both a church and a mosque. This is a big challenge in the restoration process. Christian mosaics can be uncovered but at the expense of important and historic Islamic art. Restorers have tried to maintain a balance between the Christian and Islamic cultures within the building.  

Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul.
It is supported by 336 columns organized in 12 rows, constructed using columns from ruined buildings. The most interesting columns were supported by upside-down Medusa heads.
It was a very cool, eerie place and I imagine quite the escape for tourists in the summertime, as it was cold down there. Kelly also mentioned she wanted to have her birthday party there. So the entire time, I kept pointing out where the dance floor would be and where we could put the bar and where the presents table would be located.

Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi is a large palace that was used at the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years. It is now a major tourist attraction and holds important holy relics of the Muslim world.
There are four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, it was home to nearly 4,000 people. After the 17th century the Topkapi slowly lost importance as the sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosphorus. Hashtag sultanproblems. 
The palace complex has hundreds of rooms, but only the most important are accessible to the public today.
One of these important rooms is the Imperial Harem, which was my favorite. It’s a maze of an apartment consisting of 300 tiled rooms connected by courtyards. At its peak it was home to over 1,000 harem women, children and black eunuchs.
The head of the Harem was  the sultans mother (or valide sultan). She kept the Harem organized and have quite the influences on the sultan’s selection of wives or concubines. The goal of every concubine was to become the future valide sultan. So it’s safe to say there was a lot of murdering, I mean competition, all up in there. Hashtag trustnoone. The whole story of Harem was fascinating. I don’t think I can do it justice, so learn more here.
There was some pretty tight security as we entered the palace. We had to place our bags on a conveyer belt to be screened (much like the security line at the airport) and go through a metal detector. I’m sure it had something to do with the shooting that took place a few years ago. 
The palace was beautiful and looking at some of the important artifacts was neat- all the jewels and costumes they wore. It also offered an impressive view off the cliff.

Hippodrome of Constantinople

This was a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople. It is now a tourist attraction with a few original structures that have survived. It comes from the Greek hippos (horse) and dromos (path or way). Horse and chariot racing were popular in the ancient world.
Now, it is one of the city’s most popular meeting places. It’s really neat that parts of it still exist after so long, but it was difficult for me to picture what it used to look like. So below is a drawing of what it used to be, and below that are pictures of what’s left. Hashtag imaginationtime. 

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