Thursday, November 25, 2010

Awed by Istanbul

Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2010
Istanbul, Turkey

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
We've only been here a few hours, but have already been astounded by the history and sights within a few feet of our hotel in the old Sultanahmet district. We walk out the door, and there's an ancient bazaar, full of tempting treasures,

with the majestic Blu
e Mosque towering behind. A few steps further and there's the Haghia Sophia (above) , the former center of Orthodox Christianity dating from 537 A.D.
It's Thanksgiving Day, and we got to Dulles airport extra early yesterday, expecting long lines at security on such a busy travel day, with the possib
ility of an "opt-out" protest as well. Well there was no one in line ahead of us, we breezed right through with normal security procedures, the new scanners were not in use. Nothing to protest there, not that we planned to do so anyway.
About twelve hours after taking off from Dulles, we're descending over Istanbul, floating by neighborhoods dotted with graceful minarets, usually in pairs on either side of a broad dome.

There's that Bosphorus we've been reading about for weeks, on our right as we're driven to the hotel. Huge ships are lined up for the trip up to the Black Sea - this is one of the busiest straits in the world.
We're welcomed to the Hotel Seraglio with Turkish coffee and Turkish delight - both delicious. We're both surprised by what Turkish delight actually is - we expected something overly sweet, more candy-like. But this is rather like a chewy marshmallow, not sugary, rolled in shredded coconut. Yum! We're looking forward to trying more flavors.
Through the years, we've learned that Rick Steve's travel books are just right for a first-time visit to a city. Kirk is leading us on the Historic  C
ore Walk from Steve's Istanbul tourbook. We gawk at the mosques, then go under- ground.... and into a forest of columns, reminding us of the Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain.
Is this another center of worship? No, it's an underground cistern, built by the Emperor Justinian at the same time as Haghia Sophia to provide water for the city.
It's an astounding engineering feat, with its 336 columns supportin
g brick vaults high above. There are just a few inches of water in the cistern now, but it used to be 6 feet deep.

A couple of impressive Medusa heads, remains o
f an even more ancient building, were casually used as bases for columns.

Back above ground, we en
ter the Haghia Sophia, ascending a stone ramp to the upper gallery. Emperor Justinian demanded the biggest dome in the world way back in the 6th century, and that's what he got.

A beautiful pattern of lights adds to the
auty of the space, suspended from the dome far above.
They were added in the 1800's by Ottoman
rulers - candlelight at that time. Must have been magical! It is as bright as daylight when you stand beneath the lights on the ground floor.
Covered with plaster or whitewash during the Ottoman regime, exquisite Byzantine mosaics have been carefully exposed now that the space is a museum rather than a mosque.

We've seen photo after photo of the glittering Deesis mosaic, Christ responding to his mother Mary and John the Baptist, but the gaze of those eyes, in person, is soulfully shiver- inducing.
To make such a realistic face with tiny pieces of stone - amazing!

As we walk from Haghia Sophia towards the Blue M
osque, the call to prayer
the air above.... wafting from first one mosque, then another, then another.
We are charmed with this city - and eager to continue our discovery.


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