Istanbul – September 29, 2013
Istanbul is the Golden Horn, the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus, not to mention Byzantium, Constantinople, the marriage of east and west, Europe and Asia and the confluence of Islam and Christian Orthodox religions. Yesterday, we experienced all of these things while our eyes, noses and mouths were stretched to the limit to receive the sensory overloads offered to us by Istanbul.
In the morning, we visited Hagia Sofia, which has stood for over 1500 years. Its name means Holy Wisdom. It started as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, then became a Muslim Mosque, and today is a museum. For over 700 years, it was the largest church in the world. The columns from the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, were removed from Ephesus and later incorporated into the interior of Hagia Sofia. The church was built in 5 years, not by architects, but by mathematicians who used their accuracy and knowledge of Roman temples to expedite construction. The church contains Islamic elements along side Christian elements. The church is famous for its dome, which remains one of the 5 largest church domes in the world.
From Hagia Sophia, we moved along 1000 years in time to the Topkapi Palace, which was the palace of the Ottoman Rulers. Topkapi means cannonball gate. The Ottomans ruled an empire which stretched to Fez in the West, Hungary in the North, Egypt in the South and the Red Sea in the East. The Treasury of Topkapi is as rich or richer with jewels and diamonds as any Treasury we have seen. One diamond was 86 carats and is the fourth largest diamond of its kind in the world. The Sultan of Topkapi had a Queen and a harem of over 400 women living in the Palace. The women were divided in rank from lowest to highest as concubine, favorite and consort or wife. The harem was guarded by eunuchs although it was hard to find volunteers for the job. Everyday the kitchen had to prepare over 4000 meals for the inhabitants of Topkapi. The mosaic tiles and intricate designs of such tiles were spectacular.
After seeing Topkapi, we viewed the Blue Mosque, which is a youngster by comparison to Hagia Sofia. The Blue Mosque was completed in 1616. It is so named because of the blue Iznik tiles found on its interior. The blue Mosque was built opposite Hagia Sofia to show the dominance of Islam over Christian Byzantium. It has six minarets, the same number as the mosque in Mecca.
Finally, we ended our first day of touring Istanbul with a surprise. We visited the underground. Of course, Rita thought we were getting tickets to ride the subway, but she was certainly surprised when she walked down the steps into the cisterns. Apparently, to ensure a good water supply, the Turks built a vast underground water storage cistern beneath the old city. The ceilings of the cistern are supported by 1001 columns. It was an amazing thing to see.