Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Winter in Istanbul

Blue Mosque with snow on the domes

By Claire
It was still snowing this morning when we woke up, with a predicted high of 3° (for a quick and dirty Fahrenheit approximation, double the Centigrade number and add 30); so dressed in our snow suits, we ventured out with plans to see Hagia Sophia (inside) and either a bus tour (inside) or another museum (inside). Do you remember the movie, A Christmas story with Darren McGavin and Peter Billingsley playing Ralphie? There's a scene where Ralphie's brother is stuffed into a snow suit and sent out to play. Only he can't really function and he can't move his arms. He falls down and can't get up, something like a turtle on its back. Well that's how I felt in all my clothes today. However, I was never freezing and I'm grateful I had the right clothes.

Oh yeah, we blend

Turns out Hagia Sophia is pretty darn cold inside but my ear muffs, three layers and a thick fleece scarf helped. Justinian, the last great Roman Emperor, completed this church in 537, the third one on this spot. It took 11,000 people working around the clock for almost six years to finish construction. The day the Ottomans (under Mehmet the Conqueror) captured Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. This was the first and only time the 1,000 year old walls of Constantinople had been breached. Hagia Sophia became a museum in 1934. What a gorgeous place, even if it is undergoing restoration and has been for over two decades with at least another decade to go. It is the greatest single architectural achievement of the Byzantine Empire. It's dome was the largest in Europe for 1,000 years until the Duomo in Florence was built.

When Justinian stepped inside the church he exclaimed, "Solomon, I have surpassed you!" Unfortunately, photos were really difficult to achieve with the low lighting. Here are a few samples, including the usual cat. I also saw pigeons flying overhead. According to Rick Steves, New York City's Statue of Liberty could do jumping jacks in here. This place is large!

These steps are in the apse. It is the mimber--the pulpit used by the imam (cleric) to deliver his sermon. He stands halfway up the stairs as a sign of respect, reserving the uppermost step for the Prophet Muhammad.

Miracle column of St. Gregory--for centuries, people believed that this column "wept" holy water that could cure afflictions such as eye diseases and infertility. It felt pretty dry to me.

We wound our way up the ramp to the gallery level above.

13th Century gold mosaic

Column detail

Mahmut I's (1730-1754) Library

From the upper gallery

We left Hagia Sophia with the idea of taking a warm bus ride around Istanbul, comfortably sitting inside, relaxing and taking in the sights. The next bus wasn't until noon and it was only 11 so we moved on to plan B: The Istanbul Archeological Museum. It was nice and warm inside! Off came the layers as we took in the many sarcophagi in the first room. The star of the show is Alexander's Sarcophagus because it depicts Alexander in battle and hunting scenes on the sides.

I thought the horses heads were amazing. How do they do that?

This the "Alexander on his horse" scene as it looks today.

This is a model showing what it looked like in full color.

There was plenty to see but the museum is not very well laid out in terms of traffic flow (we were practically the only ones there). We had to retrace our steps every time we wanted to go to a new area.

Another Mouth of Truth? This one is from Syria.

Ancient action figure

Aladdin's lamp?

We were getting desperate for hot tea, soup and a place to sit but as we walked out we saw the Tile Kiosk. Kiosk is from a Turkish word, Köşk, meaning mansion or pavilion. What a beautiful place.

Tile Kiosk

I like the way they displayed this bowl, outside and inside using a mirror.

This niche was built in 1590 and displays a peacock amid tulips, carnations and flowering plum branches. It was a popular motif of the time.

The guard on the left was so tired (and bored probably) that he was resting his head against the wall and falling asleep. I noticed the other guard giving him a shoulder massage later on and asked if I could take a picture. They were horrified but readily agreed to a posed shot. I swore I wouldn't tell anyone.

By now we were on a mission to find a restaurant that served soup. Heading back towards home, I spotted a place I had read about in another blog by Adam and Kim, Queing Around Europe, India, Nepal and Southeast Asia. We met them in Rome and have been keeping up with their travels. I was frankly amazed that I found it so we decided to give it a try. This is the place with the guy on the street working hard to pull people into the restaurant. This is what he says: "Yummy Yummy good for tummy, let me help you spend your money!"

We enjoyed a wonderful bowl of lentil soup, bread and tea.

Totally revived we made our way home, looking for a place to buy a sink stopper. I can't believe I didn't think to bring it with me. I've been doing small bits of laundry in the bathroom sink but I have to stuff a sock into the drain and wash things very quickly. The neat thing is, we have a radiator in the bathroom that works as a drying rack!

We never found one but we did meet some interesting, helpful people. Two entire streets, several blocks long, were completely devoted to shoes, shoe repair, and shoe accessories. If only we had found that street when Chuck was looking for his shoe laces.

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny with clouds--no snow and no rain. We'll try some outdoor stuff.

If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte


Diane said...

I too was completely blown away by Alexander's Sarcophagus. How did they do that--so many eons ago? I applaud you for embracing Istanbul when it's snowing. You two are travel warriors and I feel very wimpy in comparison!

Karin said...

I loved the picture of the two of you in Hagia Sophia! Sp happy you are enjoying Istanbul! Claire, your hair looks very nice! (EVEN after wearing your hat!)


Natasha Yannacañedo said...

What AMAZING art!!!!

Nanci said...

Hagia Sophia ~ what amazing architecture and I agree the horses are a work of art ~ love all the detail you captured ~ thanks you have brought light into this gloomy day ~ such grandeur you are enjoying. Love all the cats. They are a constant theme in your story telling.