Friday, January 25, 2013

Istanbul: Day 4

Hey folks,

I’m still continuing telling you about my Istanbul adventures, after day1, day 2 and day 3 this post – surprise, surprise, will be about our fourth day in one of the biggest and definitely most fascinating cities in the world.
The day started out amazing because, after two days of fog, rain and drizzle, the sun was up. The temperatures still didn’t go up to more than 6° Celsius (low forties in Fahrenheit) but it was still so nice. Everybody who had laughed at me before because I brought my sunglasses (I never take a trip without them) was now a bit jealous. After the usual breakfast in the café right next to our hostel we made our way to the Sultans’ palace, Topkapi. It wasn’t a long walk at all, since it was right behind the Hagia Sophia, which we visited later that day. Big parts of the palace were outside, as it is organised into several courtyards. They ranged from public to the Sultan’s very own living quarters and, of course, the harem.
We looked at exhibitions that were composed out of former sultans’ personal belongings, such as clothes, cups, thrones and, not to forget, lots and lots of jewellery. I was behaving like a true girly girl admiring all those huge diamonds, but what can I say? They just drew me in… After that, we freely moved around the palace, looking at many of the small salons distributed throughout the grounds. One was actually called “circumcision room” and standing in there gave you an eerie feeling as if you could almost feel the pain… but I don’t want to get into that too much. The whole palace had a gorgeous view right over the Bosphorus and with the sun out… let’s just say we were all very cheery. Next stop on our way out was the harem and here I must say that I wasn’t too impressed. Its architectural structure was very similar to all the other buildings we had seen so far and without all the dancing women and eunuchs, it was just another building for me. There were some beautiful stained glass windows and I wouldn’t mind being one of the sultan’s guests because their quarters were usually located within the harem. Just for the gorgeous view, of course :).

Turkish cookies with a rather, well... interesting name. For some countries, this word apparantly only means 'black' and doesn't have a negative connotation. They still tasted awesome.

The Hagia Sophia from the backside.

First gate.

Parts of our lovely group.

Second gate.

The library: books were stacked in the cupboards in between the windows.

Fountain in the middle of the Sultan's private quarters.

Jade :)


Across the Golden Horn - you can see the Galata Tower in the upper righthand corner.

Galata and Fatih Bridges

In the background, I think you can see the Bosphorus Bridge but I'm not a hundred percent sure.

Behind this, the Sea of Marmara begins.

Beautiful mural inside the harem.


Next stop on our tour was an amazing Turkish lunch with fresh lamb kebab and freshly baked bread. I don’t even want to think about how much I ate during this trip, but it was all so good! After our little lunch break, we made our way back to the Hagia Sophia and finally got a chance to explore this former church from the inside. First up, Norbert let us on the balcony and… all I can say way that it was an almost humbling experience. The structure was so old, it is claimed that it is one of the first big churches ever built by Christianity. There were many old mosaics that had partly been removed by sultan’s orders after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and turned the Hagia into a mosque, since Islam doesn’t allow pictures in mosques. Actually, one of the mosaics was the first one to ever picture Christ as a grown man with a beard, before he was only painted as a baby or an androgynous figure. Also, in the Hagia there is the first mosaic of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus in her arms, which then established the whole cult surrounding the Virgin Mary. What was also intriguing about the Hagia Sophia is that the Byzantines built the church on the foundation of a Roman temple, when entering the complex we could see some parts of the old Roman structure. Unfortunately, there cannot be more excavations because those would endanger the whole structure. As the Ottomans transformed it into a mosque, the started to destroy the Christian mosaics or simply paint over them, hang banners in Arabic and green and add some other mosque-like elements. By now, the Hagia is solely used as a museum and in parts, we can see all the different layers from the first structure, that was then carefully covered by Christian mosaics to the last layer, that later painted by Ottoman artists.

Here, you can see the old Byzantine structures (red bricks) and the minarett that has been added later.

The first ever mosaic of the Virgin Mary - you can see that around it, the golden mosaics had already been removed.

The half-destroyed oldest mosaic of Christ as a 'man'.

Above the mosaic, you can see the Ottoman murals.

How the mosaic would probably look if it was still intact.

The three layers.

Another mosaic with the Virgin Mary and the current Byzantine emperor with his wife.

This time Christ with emperor and his wife.

This is where Byzantine emperors were crowned.

The one seraphine (angel with six wings, the one on top of the angel hierarchy) that hasn't been defaced.


At night, we took a little trip across the city to eat at the Kunkapi fish market and the fish was so great! Probably as fresh as you can get it, because some fish were still alive that the fishermen exhibited at their different market stands. We ended our day with the most delicious Turkish dessert, Baklava, which we had almost every night because it was that good.
We don't know what it means but we thought it was great to find "Kent" in the middle of Istanbul.

Chandni, Prem, Chloe and me are very happy to eat Baklava.
I’ll try to do another post later this day, showing you how much snow we had here in Canterbury during the past couple of days and since I’m not planning to write as much, this post will probably be also in German. Oh, and I stole photos from Prem and Chloe again since my camera died halfway through the day. Thanks, you guys :).
Lots of love from Canterbury,

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