Friday, May 17, 2013



Our plan of action for Monday was to visit the Topkapi Palace and the spice market. Being that the palace is the number one attraction in Istanbul, we decided to visit it first thing in the morning.

On our way to the palace we walked right passed the Blue Mosque and noticed that the lines were short. Thus we made a short detour to take a peek - specially since Elliot and I happened to be wearing long pants (required for entry).

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque (the real name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque) is an enormous building, flanked by six huge minarets (highly unusually for mosques). It was built in the early 1600‘s and is known as the Blue Mosque because of the extensive use of blue Iznik tile in the interior.

A sample of the Iznic tile 
Inside the mosque

The chandelier and the prayer area of the mosque

Huge chandeliers hang from the ceiling of the main dome. They are beautiful but the wires used to hang the chandeliers, to me, detracted from the overall affect. Regardless, it’s easy to see why this mosque is considered to be one of the great mosques of the classical period.

After our brief visit, we walked over to the opulent Topkapi Palace, a set of buildings composed of a primary residence, the state treasury, an audience chamber, a library, an imperial treasury and the more infamous harem.

Entrance to the Topkapi Palace

This was where Ottoman Empire sultans lived since the 15th  century. At one end of the palace were superb views of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Asian side of Istanbul. Even though there were a number of displays of furnishings and very glitzy royal jewelry, a dagger, a Koran and a huge diamond, overall, I felt that the displays lacked the ability to convey the feel of the lives that these people lived - and all the plotting and scheming that reportedly went on in the harem between the concubines and their children.

On of the rooms in the Harem

Within the confines of the Harem

The dormitory court of the concubines

A living room in the Harem

Meeting chamber 

Audience chamber where the sultan listened to requests from guests

The terrace

After our tour of the Palace we walked through the spice bazaar - it’s more of a bazaar for everyday locals and was fun. It’s smaller and more manageable than the Grand Bazaar and has more everyday types of items, including freshly ground Turkish coffee.

The spice bazaar
Apricots and figs filled with various nuts 
An herbal-organic shop

Spice shop

Meredith and Elliot stopping for a pose when crossing the Galata Bridge

A view of the Galata Tower 

A quaint neighborhood near our apartment

The following day, we headed for the Hagia Sofia, another good site to do early in the morning because of crowds. A massive 1600 year old building, it went from being a church to a mosque and today, because of Ataturk, is a museum. (We never realized until we visited Cordoba, Spain a few years ago and saw its stunning mosque/cathedral, just how many houses of worship have changed hands from one religion to another).

The main hallway in the Hagia Sofia

Looking inward to the main interior of the mosque

The main dome and chandeliers

The De√ęsis mosaic dating back to the mid-1200's

Completed in 360 A.D , it was a Christian cathedral until 1453. It is generally considered to be the very best architecture of the Byzantine era, particularly its massive dome. The interior is adorned with mosaics and huge marble pillars. Standing inside it, it has a cavernous, yet splendid feel.

In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and the sultan ordered the church to be rebuilt/converted into a mosque. From then until 1931 it was a mosque, until Ataturk had it made into a museum.

Although it looks like a traditional mosque (unlike the one in Cordoba), there are some peculiar remnants left from its days as a church. Upstairs, for example, there are well preserved mosaics of Christian scenes. Walking through the mosque really gives one a sense for the history that has taken place within its confines.    

After our visit to the Hagia Sofia, we strolled through Gulhane Park and had tea just under the Topkapi Palace. The teapot was a typical Mid-Eastern style one with a small pot of strong tea sitting on top of a large teapot of hot water. You place a little of the strong tea in a cup and mix it with the hot water from the other teapot. While sipping our tea we enjoyed the splendid views of the harbor below.

Having tea and enjoying the view at Gulhane Park 

Afterwards, we walked to the nearby Archaeological Museum. What we had thought would take one or two hours took over three hours - and even that wasn’t doing it justice. The main museum has a large collection of sarcophagus, tombs, statues, coins, seals, decorations, parts of temples, an obelisk and lots more. On the second floor there is a treasure trove of artifacts from early civilizations of Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Arabia and Egypt dating back thousands of years and progressing through the Bronze Ages and Iron Ages.

Some of the sarcophagus had detailed reliefs on them depicting scenes of historical events. What also caught my attention was that I had not been aware of the knowledge base and technical know-how of the people in the Bronze and Iron age. Five thousand years ago, people in this area were forging such things as bronze daggers, figurines, cooking utensils and more. Admittedly, my ancient history has some major gaps that need filling.

A sarcophagus from an Egyptian king around 500 B.C. 

The sarcophagus of Alexander the Great

Bronze daggers

Bronze candlestick from the 4th century B.C.

The bust of Greek poet Sappho, born on the island of Lesbos around 630 B.C.  

On our last full day in Istanbul, we ventured back to the Grand Bazaar for some carpet shopping. All you have to do is look into the direction of a storefront to gain a store-owner’s attention making it a little tricky if you want to first window shop.

Eventually, the four of us ended up at the same, dusty little shop sipping tea and having two gentlemen haul out carpet after carpet, until we each settled on a kilims (a thinner, woven type of carpet). After a little bargaining we settled on a price, shook hands and were the new proud owners of kilims.

We are shown stacks of carpets

Looking down one of the many corridors

Our new friends after sipping tea, finding what we liked and striking a bargain

Everybody's happy

The older area of the Grand Bazaar

You say you want a light? We have good prices for you.

In the evening we met Meredith and Elliot’s friend, Kate and her mom, Liz, at their hotel for drinks and mezes (the Turkish version of tapas). The hotel had a rooftop restaurant that afforded grand panoramic views of Istanbul - surely a great way to end our visit to this vibrant and multifaceted city.

Meredith, Kate and Elliot

On the day of our departure, Meredith and Elliot packed up early and left for the airport to fly to Izmir and onward to Cesme peninsula for a little beach time. Diane and I packed afterwards, had our last Efes beer a bit later and closed the door to Istanbul.

Our last sunset in Intanbul

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