Sunday, 23 November 2008

Other Sultanahmet Experiences

Istanbul's Basilica Cistern

My last two posts covered two world famous sights in Sultanahmet, but there is more to this part of town, which I will try to convey in this post. This is also the area where you'll find the funky Basilica Cistern, which was part of the very advanced Byzantine water supply system. The cistern was constructed in the 6th century and forgotten during the city's decline. It was rediscovered in 1545 by a scholar who had heard reports about locals in the area who would lower their buckets down their basement floors and magically get water - and sometimes fish - back up. Now it has been restored and cool lighting provides for an interesting atmosphere.

Other than we walked around town including the old Hippodrome where chariot races used to be held. There's not much trace of that, but a couple of monuments and other stuff to look at.

One of two stone Medusas in the cistern. It is not known why it is upside down.

All the pillars in the cistern are plain except for one single decorated column with a tear drop-like design.

Egyptian obelisk brought to the city in 390 when it was already more than 1800 years old

Nitoli in front of the marble display on which the Egyptian obelisk stands. The self-congratulatory displays show Emperor Theodosius showing off in various scenarios

The Spiral Column brought here from Greece. It commemorates a Greek victory against the invading Persians

A found donated by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany hoping to forge a closer alliace with the Ottomans

The fountain still works as Nitoli demonstrates here

The street of our hotel - the building to the right. This picture was taken on a public holiday, hence all the flags

Nitoli enjoying Sultanahmet Park

Nitoli feeding the pigeons with seeds bought from the old lady on the bench

Nap time...

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The Blue Mosque - Star of Istanbul's Skyline

The Blue Mosque seen from its courtyard

After visiting the Aya Sofia, next on our to-do list was a visit to the Blue Mosque, also known as Sultanahmet Camii. Only about 400 years old it does not hold the same sense of timelessness and history as the Aya Sofia, but with it's 6 tall minarets (something considered proposterous by some as the only other mosque with 6 minarets was the one in Mecca) and beautiful exterior it is the defining feature of Sultanahmet's skyline.

It is the biggest of all Ottoman mosques, and takes it's affectionate nickname from the blue tiles within its interior. Following are a few pictures of the Mosque - next post will look at the rest of Sultanahmet.

Once again I tried to stitch several images together to convey a sense of the central space of the Mosque

The lighting is created mostly by low hanging lamps, meaning that the central space of the Mosque gets dominated by the many strings and wires coming all the way down from the roof.

Nitoli enjoying the experience inside the fenced foreigner section

The Blue Mosque seen from a boat in the sea of Marmara

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Aya Sofia - Millenia of History

First floor gallery in Aya Sofia

On the very top of our to-do-list in Istanbul was a visit to the iconic church-turned-mosque-turned-museum Aya Sofia. It was built by Emperor Justinian and completed in the year 537. It was easily the greatest church in the world, until it was converted to a mosque following Mehmet's conquest of Istanbul. It was then a mosque until Atatürk had it converted to a museum in 1934.

The Aya Sofia's interior is stunning with an enormous unobstructed space with a dome that seems to be unsupported by anything. Even by today's standards it's an engineering marvel. In the 6th century surely the unparalleled the magnificence of this structure must have been seen as direct manifestation of God's greatness.

It would take an extreme wide-angle lens to take a picture of the interior that captures the sense of space. Since I don't have that, I tried instead to stitch together 3 different pictures. They didn't align with each other 100% but I think it's good enough to give a sense of just how big the Aya Sofia is. Following that picture below are som shots of both the inside and outside of Aya Sofia:

The central space of the Aya Sofia in a composite image

A mosaic showing Jesus along with John the Baptist and Virgin mary. It's known as the Deësis mosaic and is believed to be from 1261

Ongoing restauration work means that scaffolding takes up a good part of the old church. Although it would have been nice to see the whole space in its entirety, the scaffolding helps illustrate how tall it is. It's like a 20-story building standing under the dome

Nitoli at the Weeping Column. There's a small hole - if you put in your thumb and it comes out moist it means all your ailments will be healed. Unfortunately it came out dry in this case.

Nitoli admiring a big alabaster urn made out of one single block of marble

The Mihrab - altar showing praying Muslims the direction towards Mecca

I love this. It may look like just a small piece of graffiti. Well, it actually is but what makes it special is that it was carved here by a visitor who had come all the way from Scandinavia and visited the church in the 9th century! His name is Halvdan and he wrote his message in runes, the alphabet of my distant forefathers.

Nitoli and I posing in fron of the beautiful mosaic filled ceiling in the Inner Narthex

Nitoli just outside the entrance of Aya Sofia. In the pit behind her a panel of sheep are the remnants of a Theodosian Church who lay he before the Aya Sofia was built

Aya Sofia seen from the rooftoop of our hotel, the Side Pension & Hotel

A characteristic yellow Istanbul taxi in front of the Aya Sofia

The Aya Sofia seen in all its glory from the Sea of Marmara

Sunday, 2 November 2008

First Night in Istanbul

The world famous Aya (Hagia) Sofia in Sultanahmet

Following our amazing wedding in Denmark, we managed to squeeze in a mini-honeymoon in the fantastic Turkish metropolis of Istanbul. We had a wonderful time, and managed to squeeze a lot of stuff into just 4 days. In my first post I will just cover some of the first impressions from the first night in the city, then in my next posts I will move on to the individual things we did and saw.

We stayed in the area called Sultanahmet, a place which is popular with tourists due to the fact that a good part of Istanbul's world class sights are located there, such as the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque. It also means that the place is rather touristy and expensive, but it's also well kept, beautiful and safe. Overall our first impression was that we were struck by the beauty and charm of the place. Later on we would discover that Sultanahmet is a good starting place, but certainly not all that there is to Istanbul - not by a long shot. For dinner on the first night we crossed the bridge to Galata and Istiklal and that would turn out to be a trip we would repeat many times.

Nitoli in front of the Blue Mosque on our first night in Istanbul

Coloured lamps in a tourist shop in Sultanahmet

Nitoli on a busy Sultanahmet street where people sit and eat at outdoor tables

The Galata tower across the Golden Horn

One of the many mosques dominating Istanbul's skyline

Nitoli enjoying our first Istanbul-meal at an Istiklal meyhane, where many already made dishes are brought to your table to choose from. Charming but expensive way to dine.