Day 8 – Feeling Blue (and Wise and Regal)

Having shaken the bug (but moving a bit slow) we venture first to the Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofya in Turkish and Church of the Divine Wisdom in English) before checking out The Topkapı Palace and ending with the Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque.

After breakfast we caught the tramway for an early start in hopes of beating the crowds. As we got off at our stop we noticed that things seemed much more hazy than usual. It became apparent that something somewhere was on fire. Then we realized; it was the bathroom.
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Now, I’m the first to admit that I’ve put out a grand total of zero toilet fires in my days, and from the general reaction of the first responders, it seems that the Turkish fire department is in a similar situation. Hell, even one of the policemen was taking pictures with his cell phone.

After the newness of watching the bathroom fire wore off we headed to stand in the small line to the Aya Sofya. Lest we think that was all the excitement we would have for the day, four fire trucks came screaming down the road, lights flashing, sirens blaring and loudspeaker barking some instruction or another. But they were apparently headed the wrong way as all four had to make a three point u-turn right in front of the whole line. It looked an awful lot like a fire example of the keystone cops.

The Aya Sofya sure had a lot to live up to.

Fortunately, it delivered ten times over. In my mind, knowing the history of the Aya Sofya is to know the history of the whole city. Built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 537, it stood as the most massive church on the planet (and as legend has it, Justinian declared ‘Oh Solomon, I have outdone you!’). When the Latin invaders took over the city in the 1200s it became a Catholic church before again returning to Byzantine hands some 50 or 60 years later. And, with the violent arrival of Sultan Mehmet II and the Ottomans in 1453, it was converted into a mosque. In its current form it stands as a museum, a decision made by Atatürk, the man who brought about Turkish independence in 1923. Being the central part of so many religions for so long has taken its toll, but the building is still one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a toilet fire).
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The sheer expanse of it all is breathtaking and difficult to comprehend. To think that this was all built almost 1500 years ago is mind boggling. And the largesse is only the start as there are frescoes of gold leaf and jewels scattered throughout.
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I simply can’t imagine any ruler on the planet, upon conquering the city, looking at the detail and work of the Aya Sofya and thinking, ‘yea, that’s gotta go.’ But with each successive shift in ideology and rule, that’s exactly what happened. So there ends up striking images of huge panels with the prophet’s name or sections from the Qur’an coupled with the Virgin with Child.

From the grandeur of the Aya we move to the Topkapı Palace. Built by Mehmet II shortly after his conquest, it includes four courtyards, a harem for his wives and concubines, and a circumcision pavilion. So it had everything you could need, really. While the grounds were impressive enough, my favorite parts were the library and all the amazing tile that were used in the construction.
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They also had a section that contained some ultra holy relics from Islam, like Muhammad’s footprint and mantle. We couldn’t see the mantle, but I did see the box it was held in.

Leaving the regal palace we conquered some lunch before heading to the Blue Mosque. Officially named Sultan Ahmet Mosque after the building’s commissioner, the blue tiles of the interior give the building its nickname. While it is impressive, it felt like more of a tourist attraction than any of the other mosques we’ve visited. I also can’t imagine praying in such an environment. That being said, the scale and opulence is impressive.
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Once finished with the mosque it was time for some earring shopping
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before heading back for a quick rest before dinner. Tomorrow we leave for home, but I’m sure there will be at least one more post before we head out.

2 comments

  1. I can’t wait to hear all about it! We can compare stories!

  2. Pingback: Writing Turkey: A Collection « The Ultimate Penultimate

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