It’s a lovely grey day here in Istanbul, with rain on the horizon, making us plan on more indoors activities, perhaps the Dolmabace Palace and/or the Spice Bazaar.
Yesterday was a lovely day – we visited Ayasofia (Haghia Sofia), Sultanahmet Camii (the Blue Mosque) and Yerebetan (Basilica Cistern) in the morning. All were lovely, but the Blue Mosque gets my vote as the loveliest building I’ve had the good fortune to see. Inside and out it is graceful and flowing on the grandest scale.
The Basilica Cistern was a nice way to while away half an hour while it sprinkled rain above. This underground Byzantine water storage tank is held up by over 300 columns pilfered from direlict buildings in around the 4th century AD. Now it’s moodily lit and has new-age music softly playing. Especially interesting are the Medusa-head colums and a column with a pretty teardrop motif.
Ayasofia was, naturally, fascinating. Built as a Christian church by the Emperor Justinian in the 500’s, and converted into a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in the mid-1400s, it is now an interesting mix of both religions. Although there’s much scaffolding on the inside due to a many-year-long restoration project, it’s still quite beautiful. What can be seen of the original Byzantine mosaics is very lovely, and the muslim frescoes painted over the rest are lovely as well, albeit in a very different way.
After lunch, Sarah & I tried to visit Cucuk Ayasofia (“Little Haghia Sofia”), but after finally finding it, discovered it is completely closed for rennovation/restorations, oh well. We rested at our lovely hotel (the Kybele in Sultanahmet), then took the T4 bus to Taksim Square (a word to the wise – don’t do this during rush hour! It took us a bit over an hour to get less than 3 miles in a hot and crowded bus, uggh!).
Walking down Istiklal Caddesi was quite the experience – a nonstop sea of people pulsed against us. So this is where Istanbul’s 11,000,000 residents are! I’ve never seen so many people in my life – this made downtown SF at rush hour look like a ghost town. We did a little window shopping and tried in vain to find the Mevlevi monastery to inquire about getting tickets to Sunday’s dervish service, but couldn’t find it and wound up having a very interesting dinner at a Russian/Georgian restaurant located in the old British jail instead.
All told, a good first day out. We’re loving Istanbul so far, and still have a week left, yay!