Sunday, October 14, 2012

Amazing Istanbul

Ayasofya Museum
There are a lot of good art museums, opera, theater, and cultural attractions in Istanbul, but for tourists with just a few days, there's only the the peninsula between Halic (the Golden Horn) and the Mediterranean.  It contains a large area of World Heritage sites. The Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, probably one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and the Ayasofya (also known as the Hagia Sophia) an enormous church for over 900 years, then converted into a Mosque for more than 400 and which is now a museum, are the biggest draws. They sit opposite each other across a fountain. Gulhane is a large park with trees, flowers, walkways and lots of feral cats who are quite friendly. In the park is the world famous Istanbul Archaeological Museum which has a huge collection of Hittite, Sumerian, and Byzantine art. The most impressive part of the collection features sarcophagi from a cave site in Lebanon that was once the kingdom of Sidon, discovered in the late 1800s. The carved marble cases with deep bas-relief sculptures of battle scenes had remained untouched for 2500 years and look as if they were finished yesterday. The Romans built enormous cisterns to supply water to their city Byzantium which was then renamed Constantinople, and is now Istanbul. The Ottomans used the cisterns as well, and one is now a museum called Yerebatan Sarnici. And finally the Topkapi Palace was home to dozens of Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, and is a repository of Muslim religious relics such as Mohammed's cloak and sword.

The treasures of the Ottoman Empire, a reign of over 600 years, are on display, heavily guarded, and (to me) the most impressive of the tourist sights. Gold and jewel encrusted thrones, baby cradles, turban pins, boxes, knives, swords, and silk clothing with gold and silver thread are all part of the collection, in addition to portraits, miniatures, and rare tiles. An entire museum in the Harem section is dedicated to life in the palace featuring such oft used items as a marble birthing chair inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Photography was not permitted inside the Palace, but was in the mosques and archeology museum. So, here are a few pictures for a visual taste of Istanbul. 

Ceiling in the Blue Mosque
Sunlight in the Ayasofya

Tile mosaics, detailed like paintings, plastered over
when the Ayasofya was converted into a Mosque, are now revealed. 

Inside the Ayasofya

Lamp in the Ayasofya

Single man praying in the Blue Mosque

Outside of every mosque, there is a
place with fountains for washing
feet, arms and face before going in.

Looking straight up a column in the Blue Mosque