Istanbul, Day 2

2006 September 16
by haris
Today we decided to wander out a little further and take our time around Sultanahmet Square and the vicinity (although “vicinity” may be relative…). After the usual Turkish breakfast of olives, cheese, yogurt, and bread, I wandered to the balcony where there was a nice view of the Bosphorous:

view from hotel balcony

We decided to walk up the hill towards the Hippodrome first. The Hippodrome was apparently a track used back in the day when chariot races used to be a national pastime or something. At the two ends there are obelisks, one of them distinctly Egyptian looking:


The second stop was the Blue Mosque!!!! After having seen so many pictures, the real thing was right in front of my eyes! I wandered around the periphery snapping a few pictures, and then went inside…. words cannot describe…. a high domed ceiling, intricate tilework all over, simple but elegant chandeliers hanging from the dome, and the serenity of a sacred house.

interior, blue mosque

For visitors, there is a small area near the entrance that is blocked off by a short wooden fence, and people were just milling around, looking in awe with their heads all turned upwards, some taking pictures (and having a puzzled look on their faces when the pictures all came out dark…) . There were a couple of people in the front of the mosque praying, so I asked the security guard if I could go that way and pray as well, and he said yes, so I did :) Just to think… this was where the Sultans used to pray.

We then walked out across the park to the Haghia Sophia. It seemed a lot darker than the Blue Mosque, and this feeling of dampness. The juxtaposition of Byzantine and Muslim art was quite strange, but oddly harmonious. Supposedly, when the Ottomans decided to convert the church into a mosque, they plastered over the intricate mosaics on the ceilings and such. They also added a few decorations, the most prominent being those huge wooden plaques with the names of Allah (swt), the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and other important figures written in gold Arabic calligraphy.

interior, haghia sophia

On the first floor was also a small room apparently used as a library.

library, haghia sophia

To get to the second floor, you have to go up these ramps (there are no stairs) which are very slippery; while I’m sure it’s fun to slide down, going up was a slight problem for the ladies… More fun stuff on the second floor, including some famous mosaics, this one in particular with Jesus in the middle, John the Baptist on the right, and the other guy I can’t remember.


After a couple of hours we went back out, and relaxed a little outdoors and off I went again taking some pictures. We then decided to visit the Basilica Cistern. Apparently they used to transport water here via a Roman style Aqueduct (which I also wanted to see but it was a little out of the way) and store it for use. It was really dark and damp. I didn’t have my tripod with me, so I had to rest the camera on random things to take decent pictures…

columns, basilica cistern

Two of the columns have the head of Medusa as their bases, one sideways and one upside down, and I haven’t really gotten a clear answer as to why they are that way.

sideways medusa, basilica cistern

After this, we went back out to Sultanahmet Square, and I took a few more pictures of the Blue Mosque because the lighting was so nice!

blue mosque

I then wanted to visit the Tomb of Sultan Ahmut II adjacent to the Blue Mosque but they had the whole street in front of it blocked off for some reason, and it seemed like there was a procession going on, with movie cameras and all these guys in military uniform. We thought maybe there was some important dignitary visiting, and hung around for a little bit, and then we found out that in fact they were making a movie!!! It was something about the fall of the Ottoman Empire. They had all these elaborate costumes, some people were borrowing hats (my wife included…) and taking pictures, until they had to give them back to the costume guy.

movie extra

They were finishing up filming, so I dropped by the tomb really quick:

tomb of sultanahmut II

We were quite tired after this so we went back to the hotel. I decided to come back out to take some pictures of the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia at night.

blue mosque

haghia sophia

That was the end of this eventful day. Tomorrow, the plan is to go a little further out to Topkapi Palace, and go from there!

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