Sunday, May 5, 2013

Istanbul, Down the rabbit hole..


“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 Tulips

 A 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 laud ourselves on our choice of hotel.Staying in Sultanmhet means we are in the heart of the city.
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 Theodosius

Our 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 Mosque

I 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
We walk around the court yard and pass what looks like a row of ornate taps.
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..
We wander around the mosque. Women sit at the windows, heads covered praying. There is a sense of peace in the midst of all the noise. The pillars are entirely made of marble.

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..





Our eyes quickly adjust to the sun as we step outside. At the entrance we throw away the plastic covers that held our foot wear and walk towards the hippodrome. It is from here that we get the best shots of the blue mosque.

Hagia Sophia

What 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 Dome is magnificent, an example of the celebrated byzantine architecture of the era in which it was built. Our guide points out that others like the Blue Mosque that we first visited were actually built as replicas of Hagia Sophia..

The Dome..
At the far end of the hall and above the many stained glass windows is the mosaic of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. On both sides are circular discs in Green declaring the basic tenets of Islam, the names of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed.

The end of the hall, A painting of the Virgin Mary right on top, with circular discs declaring important people of the Islamic faith
This is a fascinating, fascinating place. Over the years religions have come and gone, but seeing them stand together like this is a surreal feeling.
We walk up to the upper floor, where there are more mosaics. We also get a better view of the mosaic of Mary from a balcony very close to the ceiling.

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 Palace

When 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 Cistern

Our 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..
At the very end are two stone pillars supported by Medusa heads. Roman in origin, how they came to be in this place is still unknown.
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.





6 comments:

  1. Beautifully told. Brings back memories: yes fascinating is the word. The two religions co-existing was one of my best memories from Istanbul too. But I will remember Topkapi palace, always, for quite a different reason: where my pictures were sacrificed to the harem. LOL! -Sunanda

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    Replies
    1. haha :)..
      When did you guys visit ? We should all go sometime ..that would be fun

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    2. This was way back in '06 or '07. Yeah let's do Cappadocia, Ankara and more eastern Turkey like Lake Van and stuff together, it would be a lot of fun to do it together. I haven't done eastern yet, just Istanbul. Can't wait, so many trips planned in the head :D

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  2. Reminds me of my trip to Istanbul a few years back. I loved Sultanahmet..what a buzzling place it is!

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    Replies
    1. @Anu - Absolutely!... Its a brilliant place

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  3. Too many mentions of Turkey and Istanbul in recent past in conversations, blogs....may be its a sign! it sounds magical!

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