Monthly Archives: May 2015

Istanbul: A City Of Minarets, Ornate Palaces & Byzantine Monuments – Part 2

On the third day of our visit we returned to Sultanahmet. We went first to the Blue Mosque which is a colossal building situated almost directly opposite the Aya Sofya. The grounds between the mosque and the Aya Sofya are worth walking around, especially in April when Istanbul’s Tulip Festival takes place. There’s also the outline of a hippodrome which still holds two obelisks and the lavish German Fountain, built to commemorate Kaiser Wilhelm’s visit to the city in 1898.

German Fountain

The German Fountain in the Hippodrome, Istanbul.

The Blue Mosque was built in the C17th and is truly a work of art. Its gigantic columns support a series of highly decorated and stunningly beautiful domes. Only the ground floor of the building is open to visitors (outside of prayer times) as there have been some problems with the theft of tiles.

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The domed ceiling of the Blue Mosque.

The domed ceiling of the Blue Mosque.

Next we headed to the Basilica Cistern which was part of the water system built in the Byzantium period. The huge underground cavern is made of a series of columns which support vaulted ceilings. There’s not much to see but the site is hugely atmospheric and the architecture is incredibly impressive. Keep an eye out for the two Medusa heads and a tear drop column, features of other ancient sites which have been recycled to build the cistern.

One of the Medusa heads from the Basilica Cistern.

One of the Medusa heads from the Basilica Cistern.

Afterwards we went to the Topkapi Palace which has to be one of the most incredible buildings, or rather a series of buildings, in the world. It’s almost like something out of a work of fantasy fiction with its series of kiosks (small independent palace buildings), ornate tiles and plush divans. It’s the sort of place which has to be seen to be believed. The Palace itself is built around three courtyards which each have a number of rooms, stuffed with treasures, leading off of them. Yet, strangely enough, it is not the whole Palace but one section which is particularly fascinating: the Harem.

Topkapi Palace - Imperial Hall

The Imperial Hall in the Harem of Topkapi Palace.

Tiles from the Harem of Topkapi Palace.

Tiles from the Harem of Topkapi Palace.

The Harem was where the Sultan’s private quarters, and those of his mother, were located. They are particularly lavish and the tiles, ceilings, cupboards and windows have all been painstakingly decorated. It was also where the Sultan’s wives – he was legally allowed four legitimate spouses – lived along with his concubines. Indeed, the Harem could hold up to 300 concubines who were usually slaves from Eastern Europe. These women would be presented as gifts to the Sultan by foreign dignitaries, were captives of war, or simply bought to serve the Sultan. Although some of the women became concubines, there was a hierarchy within the Harem and the women would progressively work their way up. They would be trained in Turkish culture and language before serving the Concubines, then the Sultan’s mother and finally, if they were deemed pretty or accomplished enough, they would become concubines for the Sultan. Thanks for reading x

Tiles from the Harem.

Tiles from the Harem.

The Gardens of Topkapi Palace.

The Gardens of Topkapi Palace.

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Istanbul: A City Of Minarets, Ornate Palaces & Byzantine Monuments – Part 1

I’ve recently returned from three days away in Istanbul. It’s a magical but chaotic city. Magical because of its beauty, vast monuments and fabulous food but also chaotic because it doesn’t seem to know which culture it belongs to. I’d heard the old saying about how Istanbul is the city where the West and East truly meet but I didn’t realise how much the two cultures could both contrast so obviously and yet work together so well. There was a sort of beauty in the chaos and a whole spectrum of different people living side by side.

Galata Bridge

View of Suleymaniye Mosque from the Galata Bridge

 We visited a number of sites during our short stay in the city and ate a whole host of fabulous food. We arrived in the early evening of the first day and headed straight down to the Fish Market in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. The food in Istanbul was, from what we tried of it, delicious and always fresh. The fish was incredible and reasonably priced. We also tried Turkish pizza, known as pedi, which is diamond shape and traditionally topped with mince.

New Mosque

The courtyard of the New Mosque.

On the second day we crossed the Gelata Bridge, which has amazing views of the city, and headed straight to the New Mosque. The New Mosque is hardly new, as it was built in the C16th, but it is strikingly beautiful with fantastically ornate domed ceilings and vast chandeliers. Women have to wear headscarves and both sexes have to remove their shoes and cover their legs before entering the building. This is standard practice in all mosques so trousers or long skirts are recommended whilst visiting the city.

New Mosque ceiling

Domed ceiling of the New Mosque.

Afterwards, we headed up the extremely steep hill to Sultanahmet, the area where most of the major sights are located. We visited the Aya Sofya (also known as the Hagia Sofia in Greek) which was once a church, then a mosque and is now a museum. The vast building was built by the Byzantium emperor Justinian in 537CE and was a church until 1453, when it became an Imperial mosque. The whole place speaks of decaying grandeur and is certainly both breathtakingly beautiful but also delicate. Once you become accustomed to the sheer size of the building, there’s an awful lot to see including: the mosaics, a marble door, some possibly Viking graffiti and huge Islamic medallions. Perhaps most bizarre of all is the Weeping Column which was supposedly blessed by St. Gregory and is now moist. As the story goes, if you put your thumb in the hole in the column and your thumb is damp when you remove it, the moisture will cure your ailments.

The Aya Sofya from the gardens of the Blue Mosque.

The Aya Sofya from the gardens of the Blue Mosque.

After lunch (kebab – when in Istanbul and all that.), we headed to the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar. Shopping in Istanbul is not a relaxing experience: the vendors are attempting to lure you into their shops with flattery and are fairly persistent too. If you hate to haggle (as I certainly do) then be on your guard. Nevertheless the bazaars are beautiful and the assortment of olives, cheeses, spices, Turkish delight, baklava, lamps, tiles, cloth and jewels is certainly an assault on the senses.
Check back next week for part 2. Thanks for reading 🙂

The Aya Sofya

The Aya Sofya

Mosaics

Mosaic in the Aya Sofya. The Madonna and Child are flanked by the Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (L) and the Empress Zoe (R).

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