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Thursday, October 9, 2014

10/5: Istanbul's Fabulous Blue Mosque, Mosaics & Antiquities (Take 2)

10/13 I've changed the title of this post as I figured the original title of An Armchair Visit didn't adequately describe what we saw and perhaps explained why there'd been only 3 readers. My apologies to those of you getting automatic updates and therefore seeing this again.

Fair Warning: This is going to be a long post so you might want to fetch yourself a cup of tea or, depending on the time of day and your mood, a glass of wine! Annie

We had bought ourselves 2 Museumkarts the day before which were valid for free entrance to a number of museums for 72 hours from the time of purchase. The bonus was that it meant we could go to the head of the line at each museum too which was critical when there were still so many tourists in town for the Bayrim holiday.

We went directly to the Blue Mosque and it was only after we entered, that we understood the name as the inside is covered with 20,000 shimmering blue-green Iznik tiles interspersed with 260 stained glass windows. Arabic calligraphy and intricate floral patterns are painted on the ceilings of the gloriously airy mosque built in just 8 years beginning in 1609.

Very strict rules concerning what could and couldn't be worn in the mosque!

The crowds were horrendously long to enter the Blue Mosque - a good 45 minutes, I think. The pass was no help here, drat it!

I think you'll agree though that the wait was well worth it.

The women, during one of the 5 prayer times, sit in a screened area like this.

At a mosque, you have to be VERY careful to take your shoes off, while standing up, before touching the carpeted area; likewise, after leaving the mosque, you need to be equally respectful of Muslim religious laws.

Walked to the Ceramics Museum just steps away via the Arasta Bazaar which we had already seen but were glad to pass by all the exquisite carpet shops and drool over. We enjoyed being able to see the fantastic mosaics with very few people around for a change.

Titled 'Riding a Dromedary'

More photos from the Arasta Bazaar

I fell in love with pillow covers like these. Haven't bought any yet but still hoping to!
From the museum we went across the huge Sultanhamet Sq. to Aya Sofya, aka Hagia Sophia, perhaps the greatest work of Byzantine architecture and considered, for almost a thousand years, beginning from its completion in 537, as the world’s largest and most important religious monument. We entered and saw the half domes, then gazed with wonder as the great space opened up with the immense dome, almost 18 stories high and more than 100 ft across. As we looked up, we saw thousands of gold tiles glittering in the light of 40 windows. Only St. Peter’s in Rome, not completed until the 17th C., surpassed Aya Sofya in size and grandeur.

We overheard a guide saying the painting of the Virgin Mary was only discovered 6 years ago when renovations were undertaken.

The upstairs galleries are where we saw the most intricate mosaics.

The magnificent 13th C. mosaic of Christ and John the Baptist.
Had to stand on my tippy toes and hold my camera out of a window in the upstairs gallery for these photos, not knowing what was there!

12th C. mosaic panel

A  better photo of the newly discovered Virgin Mary from upstairs.

A water facility built in 1740 next to the mosque for men only to do their ablutions.

The mosque's elementary school from 1743.
Loved the trivets but too heavy and fragile to bring or send home, more's the pity. Don't you love the Best Buy sign?!
Walking over to the Basilica Cistern, we saw this woman right dab in the front of the restaurant making these cheese filled pastries. I felt like a voyeur watching her, I must admit.

The restaurant where the woman was working.
Steven bought one of these meatball sandwiches just outside the Archeological Museum.
Our next stop was at the Archeological Museum which is actually 3 museums in one and located in a forecourt of Topkapi Palace to get a head spinning look at the civilizations that have strived for thousands of years in and around Turkey.  The museum was established in 1891 when a forward thinking archeologist and painter, Osman Hadi Bey, campaigned to keep native antiquities and some items from the former countries of the Ottoman Empire in Turkish hands.

We headed directly to the Tiled Pavilion for its bright profusion of colored tiles that covered the former hunting lodge that was built in 1472. After seeing so many beautiful mosques both in Edirne and here in Istanbul with their spectacular, predominantly blue Iznik tiles, it was yet another feast for the eyes to see so many more of the same tiles here.  During the 16th and 17th centuries, the city of Iznik produced perhaps the finest ceramics in the world.

Only the ceiling but still very attractive!

Can't remember the name of the museum but it contained fantastic tombs and sculptures!

Some stunning sculptures down a dark hallway on the waqy to the bathroom of you please!

The one above and those below were all outside.

The following photos are from a museum that had superb exhibits on Istanbul through the ages with artifacts from prehistory through the Byzantine and Ottoman periods.
Late 6th C. Relief of a Charioteer

Statue of Hermes

These massive mosaic panels were just like the ones we'd seen in Berlin's Pergamon Museum way back at the beginning of our trip!

Our last stop of the day, after waiting in line for a good while, was at the Basilica Cistern. The major problem with the site of Byzantium was the lack of fresh water and so, for the city to grow, a great system of aqueducts and cisterns was built. The most famous was the Basilica Cistern whose present form dates to the reign of Justinian in the 6th C. The cistern was always kept full as a precaution against long sieges. Walking through this ancient underground waterway took us along dimly lit walkways that weave around 336 marble columns that rise 26 feet to support Byzantine arches and domes, from which water drips unceasingly.

After descending into the fairly temperate depths, we could see many fish, thought to be descendants of those that arrived in Byzantine times, still flit through the dark waters. 

 The 2 most famous columns feature these upturned Medusa heads.

Saw SO many young women and girls wear these fake flower wreaths on their heads all over Istanbul.

I hope you've all enjoyed your armchair visit of some of Istanbul’s most famous sights and that you didn’t have to drink TOO many cups of tea or glasses of wine to slog through this post! Think I feel like one of the former now myself after writing this post as it’s almost 11:30 pm and we’re off in the morning to fly to Izmir to visit Ephesus. With love and my hearty thanks to each of you for taking the read and/or at least look at the photos of our daily adventures. Annie on 10/9.