“Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked.
'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat.
'I don't know,' Alice answered.
'Then,' said the Cat, 'it doesn't matter.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
City of TulipsA fork in the road does not just offer two paths, it also has the option of stopping. And so we did stop, to take pictures. In this city, where the Tulips first arrived the morning comes alive in a splash of colour.
In a month all of them will be abloom, and Istanbul awash in reds, yellows and pinks.
The famed tulip gardens of Netherlands might coat themselves in flower glory, but here is where it all began. First cultivated by the Ottomans, the word Tulip comes from the Turkish word 'tulbent' .
Time has a way of forgetting things, even some as beautiful as this flower and so somewhere this rich floral legacy faded away, only to see a revival recently. Istanbul, now has a bulb planting program taking it back to the days of the sultan when the Tulips adorned the palaces and the streets of this beautiful capital of the Ottomon empire.
|Tulips planted along the city squares..|
We explore at will and relax when we please. We have heard so much about the Blue mosque and The Hagia Sophia. But there is plenty to see as we stroll along this pretty part of the city on out way there. Trams glide gracefully across busy roads and the traffic seems unceasing.
The Obelisk of TheodosiusOur guide, is an encyclopedia of information. Our first stop is the Ancient Egyptian Obelisk of Pharaoh Tutmoses iii, re -erected by the Roman emperor Theodosius in Constantinople(now Istanbul) and now called The Obelisk of Theodosius. Not so apparent until we are told is that the obelisk is made from red granite. What draws the eye to it are are beautiful carvings along the length of the obelisk, towering26m above us.
|The Obelisk of Theodosius|
The Blue MosqueI am distracted by the sun, the luxurious feeling of warmth on my skin. It has been a long winter back home in London this year and this is such a welcome change. The square we are in is teeming with tourists. Like ants on a hot day we scurry about, almost in line behind our guide, loosing scent, scattering and forming ranks again :).
And so we get to the Blue Mosque, an exquisite structure with an underlying blue that shines through the stone, its minarates standing tall, towering into the skies above. Built during the rule of the Sultan Ahmed I, during the period from 1606 to 1616, is is still being used as a mosque.
|The entrance to the Blue mosque|
I marvel at how similar this is to the taps I have seen in some of the temples in the South of India from where I come. Before we enter the mosque, we are given plastic bags in which to put our shoes in. And Out of respect we cover our heads
|Inside the Blue Mosque..|
Stepping inside is an experience. I am struck by the sight of the beautiful stained glass windows, stacked neatly one above another encircling us , as we walk around the dome like structure.
|The Stained glass windows in the Blue Mosque..|
|A different view., the prayer area and the main dome..|
|Let there be light..|
|The ceramic tiles , inside the blue mosque..|
The interior of the mosque is laid out with Ceramic tiles from the region Iznik. These blue tiles, with intricate designs of tulips are a beautiful foil to the stained glass windows through which light filters in.
|View of the Blue mosque as we walk towards the hippodrome..|
Hagia SophiaWhat do I say about Hagia Sophia, that hasn't already been said. It's a beautiful fascinating place, an intersection of two great religions standing together side by side. Walking in I was struck by the atmospheric calm, the beautiful chandeliers hanging off the ceilings washed in gold, high windows and intricate paintings..
|Chandileres indside Hagia Sophia..|
|Ceilings washed in gold..|
We step into the interior and I am awestruck by the immense great hall, ending in stained glass windows with a beautiful painting of the Virgin Mary at the other end..
Hagia Sophia was once a church, an eastern Orthodox cathedral and the seat of the orthodox patriarchy in Constantinople the ancient capital of Turkey. When Constantinople was invaded by the Ottomon Turks in 1453 under Sultan Mehmed II, it was converted to a mosque.
Today it houses elements of both religions, something I have never seen before.
|The chandeliers inside Hagia Sophia..|
|The end of the hall, A painting of the Virgin Mary right on top, with circular discs declaring important people of the Islamic faith|
|Virgin Mary with child..|
|The hall from the top level..|
Of all the places I've seen so far in Istanbul, Hagia Sophia is my favourite. We walk around for a bit before we run out of time. The heat is making me tired, but it really is lovely being out in the sun and I won't complain.
Topkapi PalaceWhen we get to the Topkapi palace it's teeming with people. This was once the seat of the sultans of the Ottomon Empire and in 1921 , by official decree was converted into a museum.
Our guide likens it to the Forbidden City in Beijing, the seat of power of the emperors in China.
The palace still houses several important relics and we look woefully at the long queues stretching out into the sun :).
There is a lot to see here. We are on a mission to see the most important ones and get in queue.
Right ahead we meet some co- travellers from Karachi. We get talking. Questions on Pakistan and questions on India :). This is my favourite bit about travelling. Meeting someone from somewhere you wouldn't normally get the opportunity to meet. He doubles up as a guide with his knowledge of Arabic translating as we walk along, pointing at exhibits of interest. Inside we see a model of a Kaba, which stands in Mecca. One of the many keys to the Kaba is housed here. We also see personal belongings of the Prophet, hair from his beard preserved over the years and the stick used by Moses.
The museum has one of the largest diamonds, which was in the possession of the Sultan.
It's past lunch time and we eat at a restaurant that faces the coast
|The Asian side of Istanbul...|
The Basillica CisternOur final stop was the Basillica Cisteren, one of several hundred ancient cisterns lying under the city.
The floors are wet and we watch our step as we walk in the dark. As our eyes adjust to the darkness, we are told this place was once surrounded by gardens and overlooked the Hagia Sophia.
|The Basillica Cistern..|
|The Medusa heads..|
|The Medusa Heads..|
The heads have a eerie look to them in the near darkness :). We take a lot of pictures and finally head out again into the sun...
That rounds up a lovely day at Sultanmhet, though our journey through Istanbul had only just begun.