Turkey Part 2: Historic sights of Istanbul

So much has been written about Istanbul sights and monuments that it is a waste of time writing something original about it. So I will let internet do the teaching and my photos do the ogling. Naturally, there will be a few tidbits about my feelings. Quite a few of these photos will be in the form of a slideshow. Do watch please.

the-blue-mosque-square-10.jpg
Sultanahmet Square with the Blue Mosque visible on the right (pic: Internet)

The two most famous sights in Istanbul – Blue Mosque and Ayasofya – are on either side of the Sultanahmet Square. The Hippodrome is also around the corner and the Basilica Cistern just a bit further away. The Topkapi Palace is probably 1-2 tram stops away but it is a walkable distance as well.

The Dolmbahce Palace (in the Beşiktaş district) is also not in the Sultanahmet  area but a tram takes you close enough after which you have to walk a bit. The queues are really long and so, you may not be able to do justice to two of them in one day, unless your second place of interest is the Cistern. The Chora Church (in the Edirnekapı neighborhood) is in a totally different direction and a bit off route – so you may want to club it with the Bosphorus cruise.

If you are a museum addict and have a lot of time, you may want to buy a Museum Pass which will save you a lot of time and money. The 3 must-see museums are Hagia Sophia, Topkapi and the lesser-known but very beautiful Chora Church. You also have to plan your museum visits as they are not open all 7 days.

10417479_10152479526016888_6013758419226368295_n
Once a Greek Orthodox church (537-1453), except between 1204-1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29th May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularised and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.

HAGIA SOPHIA

This one left me awestruck! Although there was restoration work going on, the magnificence of this structure left me spellbound. Without a doubt, it was the highlight of my tour. The confluence of cultures is also best reflected in this architectural wonder. For a detailed explanation of its architecture, watch this Khan Academy video.

10712890_10152479527141888_7562653176808178686_n
An imperial mosque – once a church and now a museum that preserves both elements.
10660292_10152479526686888_5290104865517872513_n
Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture.” It remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a 1000 years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. It was designed by the Greek scientists Isidore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician.
10408615_10152479526821888_4558948086317161597_n
Enter a caption

The Christian cathedral made a strong impression on the new Ottoman rulers and they decided to convert it into a mosque.

10635789_10152479527646888_5879999845785744178_n

10639582_10152479526881888_170325855169275304_n

There are many important monuments in İstanbul, but this venerable structure – which was commissioned by the great Byzantine emperor Justinian, consecrated as a church in 537, converted to a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and declared a museum by Atatürk in 1935 – surpasses the rest due to its innovative architectural form, rich history, religious importance and extraordinary beauty.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/turkey/istanbul/sights/museums-galleries/aya-sofya#ixzz4EkeeS5f7

10606321_10152479527466888_8451156323375348656_n
The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels and other relics as well as the mosaics depicting Jesus, Mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were removed or plastered over.
10635979_10152479526986888_1683295179436222667_n
Islamic features – such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets – were added.

10698645_10152479527566888_839870484105610417_n

10671392_10152479527211888_1460212914970785703_n
The pulpit equivalent of a mosque

10689756_10152479527306888_1035324880698657592_n

This is the most interesting part. The altered mihrab is not exactly between the 2 candle stands but a little more to the right. Coincidentally, the church had a positional advantage which helped the Islamic conversion easier!

16100_10152479527776888_7632756300366691700_n
Marble urn
10672343_10152479527976888_6122893817516745381_n
Royal possessions

10622894_10152479528021888_7312168450915833040_n

10647064_10152479528051888_1721503880715906232_n

10491265_10152479528111888_2631287087826290947_n

There are 4 seraphim mosaics ( God’s protector angels with 6 wings) on the 4 pendentives that carry the dome. The 4 seraphims’ faces were covered with 6-7 layers of plaster for almost 160 years during the sovereignty of Ottomans. The last person who saw the faces of the Seraphims was the Swiss architect Gaspare Fossati while he was holding the restoration at Hagia Sophia in 1840s. With a 10 day hard work, experts managed to take off the 7 layers of plasters and reveal the face of one of the seraphims. The certain age of the mosaics is unclear however they are known to be older than 700 years.

10703600_10152479527106888_2227418784267054462_n
The only original seraphim

And there are those mind boggling mosaic work.

1911770_10152479528336888_3031084763149743544_n

10676335_10152479528376888_3348841781425332733_n
Not much remains
10628158_10152479528431888_933033041095846019_n
A close up

10151742_10152479528686888_8266228273913867034_n

10672130_10152479528811888_4053982272465726857_n
See how beautifully the mosaic work is wrapped around the walls

10444531_10152479528766888_780602792722824463_n

10620616_10152479528956888_3434754362224496177_n

10689819_10152479527051888_6459634475115306879_n

1932435_10152479526361888_4331659688733481859_n

TOPKAPI PALACE 

Topkapı is the subject of more colourful stories than most of the world’s museums put together. Libidinous sultans, ambitious courtiers, beautiful concubines and scheming eunuchs lived and worked here between the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman empire. A visit to the palace’s opulent pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury and sprawling Harem gives a fascinating glimpse into their lives.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/turkey/istanbul/sights/castles-palaces-mansions/topkapi-palace#ixzz4EfyQt2oX

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As advised, we started from the harem. Quite a fascinating tour! Also discovered what a vital part eunuchs played in the lives of the sultans.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From the harem, we went to the Imperial Council room.

The Sultan also had a magnificent view of the Bosphorus from his private balcony.

10672279_10152483644111888_8023619626048631847_n.jpg

The Baghdad Pavilion of his residence was quite fetching.

This one will send a shiver down most male spines: The Circumcision Room.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally we got out of the palace past the royal kitchen.

10436699_10152483645766888_7722791802559903523_n
Chimneys of the royal kitchen

As we were coming out, we saw another group getting ready for their guided tour. Outside the gates, a vendor was selling some gooey candies. The Turks have an incorrigible sweet tooth that can rival even the Bengalis.

1524743_10152483646261888_1606710423096509372_n
I found the umbrella colour very appealing
10255031_10152483646296888_489458193859949844_n 5.02.16 PM
Sweet vendor

CHORA CHURCH/KARIYE MUZESI

I am so happy to discover this little gem from my research. My Turkish friends too had never heard of this place but being locals, helped me find this place which I may not have otherwise been able to. They happily accompanied me in a cab and were as astonished to find this treasure trove. They have audio guides to assist you there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

İstanbul has more than its fair share of Byzantine monuments, but few are as drop-dead gorgeous as this mosaic- and fresco-laden church. Nestled in the shadow of Theodosius II’s monumental land walls and now a museum overseen by the curators of Aya Sofya, it receives a fraction of the visitor numbers that its big sister the famous Aya Sofya attracts but offers equally fascinating insights into Byzantine art. Parts of the museum were closed for renovation as of 2016; check which are open before visiting.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/turkey/istanbul/sights/museums-galleries/kariye-museum-chora-church#ixzz4EgO1toBI

10407714_10152479599021888_5075277018551852119_n
The first mosaic as you enter

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The mosaic below shows the birth of Christ – the bound feet indicate that Mary is a virgin. Baptism is shown on the bottom left.

1601437_10152479599476888_3677572675508051994_n

Shown below is very rare depiction of Christ as a foetus. The angels on the side symbolize divinity.

10653446_10152479599716888_4674431943523448395_n 7.16.54 PM10151829_10152479599541888_1950397016077252056_n

More of these stunning ancient mosaics.

10665303_10152479600061888_3030812443322395224_n

10704019_10152479600146888_3003828421431342569_n

10170684_10152479600161888_3490138150725805344_n

10672332_10152479600236888_603536827723140064_n

The Nativity is just one of the beautiful scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin found in Chora. You could teach a whole Bible class just by walking around and pointing at the mosaics in this beautiful church: besides The Nativity, there are, The Presentation of the Virgin to the Temple, The Annunciation, The Flight into Egypt, The Miracle at Cana, Christ Healing the Leper, The Samaritan Woman at the Well, Christ Healing the Blind Man, Christ Healing the Paralytic, The Temptation of Christ, The Resurrection, treasures all.

Read about more details here. Meanwhile, enjoy the slideshow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Evidence of destruction during the Fourth Crusade is visible everywhere, although serious restoration work was in progress.

10514751_10152479601116888_8841891605442561798_n

10394501_10152479601236888_6658817412987869284_n

10246773_10152479601286888_4784518744947625806_n
The king orders all babies to be killed
10350414_10152479601366888_4584728135487234363_n
Vivid graphics of the killing and a lady imploring
10640986_10152479601401888_2249394762895756192_n
Wailing mothers – this is all that is  left of the mosaic

Now look at the other walls filled with some magnificent frescoes.

10649611_10152479601641888_3034110888877835181_n

10690257_10152479601736888_6504650201384849115_n

10649751_10152479601826888_8967370474354678909_n

10157241_10152479601906888_7306310346905672021_n

10518835_10152479601976888_2983472375031423571_n

1798875_10152479602101888_3016654854333348823_n

BASILICA CISTERN

1922417_10152479598586888_4041973485774560533_n
On a hot summer day, this is a very cool place to be strolling in

10712848_10152479598591888_7999704273316673643_n

This cistern has a very interesting history but then what in Istanbul doesn’t? It was named so as it lay underneath Stoa Basilica, the grand Byzantine public square. It got closed when the Byzantine emperors shifted their royal residence. It was then forgotten for centuries until getting accidentally rediscovered in 1545 by Petrus Gyllius during his research on Byzantine antiquities. He noticed that people in that area collected water, curiously by dipping their buckets through holes in their basement. Sometimes, they even managed to catch fish! Even after this startling discovery, the Ottomans didn’t do much and it became a dumping ground for all sorts of junk, including corpses.

1450032_10152479598846888_9196805162473020052_n
The cistern could hold 80,000 cubic meters of water which was transported by the 971 metre long Valens Aqueduct and the 11.545 metre long Maglova Aqueduct to the city centre
10606323_10152479598896888_8958976283367485526_n
The fish is still kept here – quite a surreal touch

Do not forget to walk up to the far left-hand corner of the cistern, to see the two very interesting Medusa-head column bases. One is positioned upside down, while the other is placed sideways. Why they are placed this way continues to be a mystery. According to an unconfirmed fact, they were recycled from a building of the late Roman period.

10406762_10152479598921888_6157175629566433048_n
Recycled columns or something else?

10696291_10152479598956888_1432053295069506909_n

A couple of things I missed out due to bad luck/timing.

SULTAN AHMED CAMII/BLUE MOSQUE

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was commissioned in the beginning of the 17th century by Sultan Ahmed I  to reaffirm Ottoman power. He wanted this mosque to surpass the splendour of Hagia Sophia and so wanted six minarets to be built. Its popular name comes from the “blue color Iznik tiles inside the mosque with its emerald and turquoise hues. The high ceilings are lined up with over 20,000 handmade blue tiles made in the 17th century in Iznik, the ancient Nicaea, so famous for its fine ceramic designs featuring flowers, trees and abstracts patterns.”

blue-mosque-interior-2
One of the high ceilings lined with hand made blue tiles

However, I did not manage to get inside the mosque – it closed down for 2 hours for the noon prayers before my turn came (in the very very long queue), and I had to catch a flight in the afternoon. Enjoy the stunning visuals here that another lucky and better photographer got to capture.

DOLMBAHCE PALACE

Built in the 19th century, this was one of the most glamorous palaces in the world with its huge chandeliers and crystal staircase made by Baccarat. It is closed on Mondays and Thursdays – please plan carefully as we had to return very disappointed on a Thursday. So, all we got to see was this. You may explore this link to get an idea of its grand interiors.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Read about my other 2 blogs on Istanbul in Turkey Part 1 and Turkey Part 3.

4 thoughts on “Turkey Part 2: Historic sights of Istanbul

Comments are closed.