Turkey: Day 4 – Istanbul’s Old City

4-DSCN8744On the easternmost tip of the European peninsula sits the Topkapi Palace. Built by Mehmet II between 1459 and 1465, the Palace was the residence of the sultan until 1856.

The Palace had numerous roles. It served as the seat of government, had schools and training centers for soldiers and officials, as well as a Harem; which was also a school for women.4-DSCN8944

We started the day at the Topkapi Palace. Walking through its great central courtyard and through its rooms demonstrated the power and wealth of the Ottoman Sultan.

The Palace suffered serious damage during the earthquake of 1509 and the fire 1665, but it has been refurbished since and holds true to its original features.

The Palace is full of incredible murals as well as colorful tile mosaics. Fountains and water features are abound.

4-DSCN8803You can walk through the rooms where the Sultan would hold his cabinet meetings four times a week and see the large clock and arms collection.4-DSCN8798

On the north east corners of the Palace you will find the Treasuries, housing gifts that were presented to the Sultans through the years, including an 86 karat diamond. As you walk through these display rooms you will exit to an open terrace where you get a spectacular view of the Asian side of Istanbul, along with the Sea of Marmara.4-DSCN8923

In a separate set of display rooms, you will also find what is said to be the staff of Moses, the staff of David and several artifacts of the Prophet Muhammad.

We exited through the Imperial Gate of the Topkapi Palace and headed to the Hagia Sophia, which is located just outside the gates.

4-DSCN8668Considered one of the 8 wonders of the world, the Hagia Sophia is an enormous museum that has seen its share of history as well.

The first church, an Orthodox church, built on this site was completed in the year 360, but burned down in 404. The church was rebuilt, but was destroyed during riots in 532. In 537 the Emperor Justinian inaugurated the church structure we see today.

4-DSCN9058In 1453, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and took control of the Hagia Sophia and made it a Mosque. Some of its beautiful mosaics were destroyed, but others were merely covered.

4-DSCN9150After the creation of the Turkish Republic, President Mustafa Ataturk (father of the Republic), closed the Mosque and made it into a museum.

4-DSCN9203The Hagia Sophia features giant columns and domed ceilings with great artwork. However, very few its original mosaics remain, and those that do are far from intact. But I must say that what is left is incredible.

The altar of the Orthodox church remains, but the focal point has been moved off center to face Mecca.

4-DSCN9028The church had two anti-chambers. One for those who were walking through but were not believers, and one for the Christians who were just entering the faith.

As with most buildings in the early days, there was a separate gate for the Emperor. The massive wooden doors of the Imperial gate are said to be made from the wood of Noah’s Ark.

After our visit to the Hagia Sophia, we headed to the Blue Mosque.

4-DSCN8665The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I and was completed in 1616. It remains a place of worship today, and closes to tourists during prayer times.

4-DSCN9192To enter the Mosque, you are required to be appropriately dressed, and if you are wearing shorts or if women do not have proper head covers, they will be provided for you. You are also required to remove your shoes and are provided with a bag to carry them in when you enter.

4-DSCN9210The Mosque’s sheer size is impressive. Its colorful stained glass windows provide a very warm feeling in the Mosque. The painting on the columns and the walls is very bright and keeps a common flow.

Outside the Mosque is a courtyard where many sit to observe the architecture of the structure.

The Imperial gate of the Mosque features a chain, just above 6 feet high, for the Sultan to bow to enter the gates when he was on horseback.

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As we exited the gates, we were in the U-shaped Hippodrome of Constantinople. This was the venue for sporting events in Constantinople and considered its social center.

The Hippodrome features two obelisks. The first, is the Obelisk of Thutmosis III. It was brought to Constantinople in 390 by Theodosius the Great. The obelisk is over 3,500 years old. The second obelisk is the Walled Obelisk, which was commissioned by Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the 10th century.4-DSCN9296

Our day ended with a flight on OnurAir to Izmir where we will spend the night.

Day 5…

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