ISTANBUL, TURKEY - May 2011, Part One
Kiley and my first day in Istanbul! Packed with the Grand Bazaar, two mosques, a palace and some interesting Turkish dining experiences.
So to remind you - Kiley and I both arrived wee early in the morning on a night bus from Selcuk
We thought it'd be a good idea to skimp on sleep to get maximum hours in Istanbul.
We knew there would be so much to do.
We headed over to the main attraction.
The Hagia Sophia...
Pretty large lines already, I thought we'd be beating the crowds!
Turns out we were right to come early!
These people were all in the tours line and there were barely any people in the individual entry line, so we got right in when it opened at 9am!
(There's Kiley's little head)
The entrance to the museum
My first time inside a mosque! Well...I suppose it's not actually a mosque anymore, it's a museum...
Rebuilt by the orders of Emperor Justinian in 537, for 900 years Hagia Sophia had been the center of Orthodox Christianity until 1453 when the city was concurred by Ottomans. 500 years following the conquest of Muslims, it became a jewel for the Muslim world and as the grand mosque of the sultans.
There I am! We were lucky to have come so early, there were hardly any people on the floor.
The beautiful chandeliers were incredible, just floating above the ground level.
Kiley, as a tour guide
God, those lights! I still can't believe I was there.
The walls were incredibly detailed textures and mosaics
The outer "chambers" had this great stone texture juxtaposed with the rich warm glow of the main room.
We walked around and explored for a few hours (yeah hours), this place was HUGE!
And my mind was just blown at the history.
The intricacies were just...jfkldsflkdafdkasfjlkdas
A view of the ground floor from the balcony
Restored mosaic! Look at the tender pink on the cheeks!
Just an example of the scale of the place (there's Kiley, hello!)
(Sorry about picture size, not sure what I was thinking a few months ago when I edited and resized)
Some quiet moments
GOD can your mind grasp this space?
Such an odd juxtaposition. The shape of a mosque with elements of mosaic Christianity. How did this survive?
Kiley and me on the ground floor of the Aya Sofya!
You can see the Blue Mosque from the courtyard of the Aya Sofya
Oh hay there Sarah-dancing-awkwardly-in-front-of-the-B
We left the museum and walked around to the burial tombs.
The most striking part of the tombs was the rich tilework of the rooms themselves.
Basically there were separate tombs for different royal families.
The different tombs had these intricate designs that were all unique.
Kiley and I were the only people visiting the tombs at the time!
Yeah, those boots have been ALL over Europe! Hahah, every place I traveled to I wore those boots I had to buy in London because my American boots couldn't handle the rain.
Yeah, sorry. I'll stop blowing your mind.
Right next door to the Aya Sofya is the Topkapi Palace...
Some wiki history of the Palace (duh):
Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople. The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, and covered a large area with a long shoreline. The complex was expanded over the centuries, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and the 1665 fire. The palace contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint. The name translates as "Cannon gate Palace" from a nearby gate which has since been destroyed.
From the end of the 17th century the Topkapı Palace gradually lost its importance as the Sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosporus. In 1856, Sultan Abdül Mecid I decided to move the court to the newly built Dolmabahçe Palace, the first European-style palace in the city. Some functions, such as the imperial treasury, the library, and the mint were retained in the Topkapı Palace.
Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1921, the Topkapı Palace was transformed by a government decree dated April 3, 1924 into a museum of the imperial era. The Topkapı Palace Museum is administered by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important are accessible to the public today. The complex is guarded by officials of the ministry as well as armed guards of the Turkish military. The palace includes many fine examples of Ottoman architecture. It contains large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armor, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts and murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasures and jewelry.
Basically - This was a great royal palace at the height of the Ottoman Empire, but the Dolmabahce Palace became the new home to the Royal family. Sad, considering that the Dolmabahce Palace is incredibly European, very French Renaissance, very Versailles.
The entrance to the Palace.
We had some major monetary decisions to be made - we wanted to see the harem but it was extra monies.
We decided for it.
Inside the palace, there were different "levels" for lack of a better description.
You could enter one courtyard and explore, and then go into the next and then the next and then the next.
I guess each one is more and more beautiful and less and less people got to see them as they went on.
Some maintenance issues. haha
I like these kinds of cheesy renderings.
It's hard sometimes to visualize how rooms were used.
I always question how can a place with so many thousands of rooms ever have rooms with single purposes.
It was a bit sprinkley...Istanbul decided to rain on us.
Here's Kiley inside one of the first rooms of the Harem.
Some wiki info on the Harem (it's hard for me to remember all the things I read)
The Imperial Harem (Harem-i Hümayûn) occupied one of the sections of the private apartments of the sultan; it contained more than 400 rooms. The harem was home to the sultan's mother, the Valide Sultan; the concubines and wives of the sultan; and the rest of his family, including children; and their servants. The harem consists of a series of buildings and structures, connected through hallways and courtyards. Every service team and hierarchical group residing in the harem had its own living space clustered around a courtyard. The number of rooms is not determined, with probably over 100, of which only a few are open to the public. These apartments (Daires) were occupied respectively by the harem eunuchs, the Chief Harem Eunuch (Darüssaade Ağası), the concubines, the queen mother, the sultan's consorts, the princes and the favourites. There was no trespassing beyond the gates of the harem, except for the sultan, the queen mother, the sultan's consorts and favourites, the princes and the concubines as well as the eunuchs guarding the harem. The harem wing was only added at the end of the 16th century. Many of the rooms and features in the Harem were designed by Mimar Sinan
This Mimar Sinan was a popular architect for the royals at the time.
God, I fell in love with the vibe in this room.
The tiles were this bright turquoise gold...
And the floors were of a rich texture and design.
There were these dark hallways that only the concubines passed through - apparently they were dangerous as many of the women would try to leave scars on the women they felt were a threat to their beauty and priority as a woman of the Sultan.
From the room of the Queen Mother I believe
I think I have those socks from REI...
You could see out the window to some of the city
And I thought the first rooms for just the eunuchs were beautiful.
God, and just think how many more rooms there are of this quality.
Honeymoon picture...hahah (can you even see us?)
We spent a few hours there - there was SO much to see.
I can't even conceive what it'd be like to visit this place in the summer time.
Next we head over to the Blue Mosque (this was also the path back to our hostel)
DROOL DROOL DROOL
Sorry if you're sick of mosaic and tiling by now, but FUCK, this place was just incredible in person.
Subtle pattern changes, extravagant color, rich lighting.
Oh, this is the Blue Mosque. Did I say that already?
The design of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the culmination of two centuries of both Ottoman mosque and Byzantine church development. It incorporates some Byzantine elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. The architect has ably synthesized the ideas of his master Sinan, aiming for overwhelming size, majesty and splendour.It has 6 minarates along with 8 domes and 1 main one
From what I recall, this mosque was built as a challenge to the great Hagia Sophia!
It was meant to match it in size, scale, architecture and beauty.
They face each other across a giant courtyard in the old part of Istanbul.
You can see people in prayer in the background.
The Blue Mosque is still a functioning mosque. We're not wearing shoes right now and had to undergo a clothing check to make sure we were in clothes suitable for a Mosque.
Why do I look so elf like in that picture?
Back outside the Mosque I struggle to put my shoes back on.
And there's the Hagia Sophia in all its glory from the steps of the Blue Mosque
We see people huddled around these candy carts.
And surprise! I make friends with a cat addicted to diet coke as well!
This is reminiscent to me of days when I was younger at the Buddhist temple. A man would come on Obon days (a summer Japanese festival) and make hot sugar animals for all the kids.
Just as I remembered - too sweet and hard to finish.
But it was nice to eat the lollies and enjoy the park
We hit up the tram line.
Istanbul has a pretty convenient public transport system.
SO MANY ORANGES
Here we go...
Into the Grand Bazaar.
Obviously the authentic English writing above the doorway is enough to warn me about haggling, prices and the vibe of this market...
I guess the only way to describe this massive place is
a) We didn't realize it would be indoors
b) We didn't realize all hallways would be similar in size, dimension and color
c) So many booths sold the same items
d) There was something like 18-20 different exits/entrances
Yeah. Needless to say, we got lost.
We finally manage to find an exit
We walk through an outdoor clothing market and find ourselves to be a bit lost.
We wander around for an hour or so trying to find a tram stop.
Yeah - we later realized we actually exited at the complete opposite end of the market that we entered from.
Kiley at the tram stop
We decided to cross the Golden Horn for some dinner
Gorgeous light at this hour
here's the less touristy part of European Istanbul
I mean, obviously we're right at the coastline of the Golden Horn still, but it already carries a different vibe.
It's more like a functioning contemporary city and less like a tourist trap.
You can see the Mosques we visited earlier in the distance
GOD THIS COLOR
Ataturk - didn't forget about you, buddy.
So we're walking up and down the banks trying to find a place to eat.
It's getting pretty late now (about 9 pm) and it's the kind of environment where people stand outside of their establishments and try to lure you inside with "special deals just for you"
We're hungry and desperate enough that we decide on this place.
The host promises us a rooftop seating and a meal with rice, fish and veggies for 7 lira. Not bad, we think.
Here's the view!
This was a weird meal.
So they moved us like 3 different times to different places.
I guess the host didn't account for actual rich customers who would want to dine on the rooftop.
Everytime we were asked to move, they offered us another perk.
We eventually had fish, fries, salads, free drinks, and a fruit platter...
And then our waiter like...wouldn't let us leave.
He insisted we stay until closing so he could take us clubbing.
And that he'd keep giving us free drinks if we stuck around.
We kept asking for the bill and declining the offers, but he didn't seem to let up.
It was kind of weird, I've never been semi-stuck at a restaurant because the waiter just wouldn't bring the bill.
And he had one of his fellow waiters take pictures of him with us. Hah
I guess that's the price of a really yummy but affordable meal?
We were just exhausted...
We wanted to go back to the hostel and sleep.
YES, all of what you've seen in this post was done in one day - the same day that we got out of the bus at the bus port from Selcuk in the wee early morning hours.
Day 2 of Istanbul to come...
Much love friends.