Istanbul 11-15-08

We are going to start this journal with a brief history of Istanbul that we learned, and helped us better understand some of the things we saw. The main points of interest we visited were, Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome, St. Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar. The population of Istanbul is around 10 million.

Brief History of Istanbul

Istanbul originally began as a small settlement at the opening to the Black Sea. A Greek colonizer named Byzas seen the tremendous possibilities of a trading settlement at the narrowest crossing point between Europe and Asia. The first name for the city was Byzantaium. It was founded approximately 700 B.C. The narrow stretch of water separating the continent of Europe from Asia is known as the Bosporus, and connects the Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea. In the year 313 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine issued an edict of tolerance for all religions which effectively stopped the persecution of Christians, and decided to move the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantaium and rename the city Constantinople. His vision of new Rome took place as he designed palaces, baths, public buildings and churches. Three great structures dominated the city, the Imperial Palace, the church of St. Sophia, and the Hippodrome. These represented government, religion, and the people. St. Sophia, the church of Holy wisdom was to be the “queen church” of the new empire. The Hippodrome was conceived as a colossal stadium for chariot races, able to hold 100,000 spectators. To mark the turning points of the track, he used the Serpentine column from Apollo’s temple at Delphi, and the Obelisk from the temple of Karnak in Egypt. The four bronze horses that once marked the entrance were taken by the Venetians in 1204, and today adorn the church of San Marco in Venice. (Dad, we will be seeing those in Venice, do you want to try and steal them and take them back to Istanbul? Ha) During the crusades, Constantinople was the principle defense against the expansion of Moslem power into Europe.

The Ottoman Turks overran the city in 1453 under the leader the Sultan Mehmet II. The Sultans built themselves an opulent residence of Topkapi a name which means common gate. St. Sophia was converted to a Mosque and graceful minarets were added to the corners. (A minaret is a tower used to call the people to prayer.) Close to St. Sophia is the beautiful Blue Mosque. It occupies the site of the old Roman Imperial Palace. It gets its name because the interior is decorated with some 20,000 delicate Isnik tiles with a shimmering blue cast. The 216 stained glass windows and the geometric decorative patterns complete the cheerful airy image. The Grand Bazaar was also built by Mehmet II and covers a space that houses more than 4,000 individual shops and stalls. The stretch of shoreline that is now Istanbul is also known as the Golden Horn.

In 1936 the Turkish President Ataturk ordered the plaster that had covered the original Christian mosaics in St. Sophia to be removed and restored. So the church we see today has Moslem and Christian ties.

The pictures below are of Topkapi Palace, that was the first stop on our tour. I couldn’t believe how large this place was. When we got up to the gates there were military guards posted. The first pictures are of the common area where the common people were allowed.

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The pictures below are of the library and kitchen.

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These next two pictures are of the second gate which was the Royal entrance.

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The below left picture is of a silk table scarf that was encrusted with diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, with gold thread running through it. We also saw an 86 karat diamond that was bigger than a cat head biscuit!! Ha Below right is the entrance to the Sultans quarters.

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We’re talkin Turkey now! The below pictures are of Tony standing at the entrance to the Royal Children’s quarters and the ceiling above his head.

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Below are pictures of St. Sophia which is the 7th largest church in the world. It is so hard to describe the sheer vastness of the interior spaces. It is so ornate, you just can’t imagine. The massive dome is the central highlight, and the interior is decorated with marble and precious stones. The pillars are from Ephesus where we visited yesterday. The picture we took of the Virgin Mary, with Jesus as a young child is one of a very few depicting him other than an adult, or infant. His facial features in this mosaic were adult like. The gifts being offered were St. Sophia and the Roman Royal Palace. It was uncovered in 1955.

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Next we walked through the Hippodrome and saw the Obelisk from the temple of Karnak. Then we stopped to have lunch. It was really good too. Next door to that was a shop that made ceramics. Our guide had set up a private presentation of how the ceramics were made. There were nine of us in our group and they brought us wine, apple tea and Turkish coffee while we watched.

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There was a contest to see who could name what he was making in the demonstration and I won!! They gave me a small yellow bowl as a prize. Then they told us about these plates with the pattern that symbolizes the ever changing circle of family. From the center your family is always in constant change, and the circle is never ending. We loved it and decided to buy one. So Brandy there is another box coming that needs to be opened! Ha

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After leaving the Ceramic shop we walked to the Blue Mosque. As a matter of fact we walked about everywhere today and I think it was a little over 10,000 miles or so! Ha The weather has been great the entire trip so far. It was a little cool in Istanbul but the light jackets were plenty. Pictures of the Blue Mosque are below. One of the pictures is of worshipers washing their feet before entering. We had to take off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag and carry them with us.

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Our next stop was another private demonstration of Turkish rugs. We again had refreshments and listened to shop owner tell us the differences between wool, cotton/wool, and all silk rugs. For a 6’x8’ the wool rugs ran about $4,500.00 and had approximately 600 knots per square inch all hand done of course. The wool/cotton blends ran about $8,000.00 and the all silk ran about $15,000.00 and had 800 knots per square inch. NO BOXES COMING HOME FROM HERE!! HaHa (For Real)

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From here we went to the Grand Bazaar and a special fresh spice store that our guide’s family operated. I was in heaven. I bought Ionian Saffron, and Papparika, and a special blend of spices. They just scooped how ever much you wanted into a bag. We could taste anything we wanted to in the store and I got a fig, and walnuts, and Tony got a candy called Turkish delight and dried apricots.

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It was getting close to time to head back to the ship, but on the way we passed little fruit stands that had pomegranate and oranges. It was a very long day but a great day. We were tired and our heads were full. This is an amazing place to see. And one more thing we can check off our bucket list is being in Asia if only for a little while.

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Below are pictures of the port of Istanbul. One shows little fishing boats that were behind our ship.

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See you in Mykonos!!