Hello! How are you? Before I dive into all of the wonderful places we were fortunate to visit, Angelo and I would like to thank you for reading and hopefully subscribing to our blog. As I write this Angelo is on his computer editing photos and researching where we shall trek to next! I have to say that keeping this blog has it’s up and downs as far as staying motivated to consistently update the site. Your comments, feedback and overall support mean a lot to us and we just want to let you know how much we appreciate it!! Our last dancer spotlight from Vietnam got a lot of shares in the house and dance community and it gives us a lot of energy to keep going. Also, some of you have personally messaged either me or Angelo about travel advice or suggestions, which is great. If you have your own website or blog and want to link one of our posts, please do! Lastly, if you know of friends that might be interested in reading our blog, please share. We really want to reach as many people as we can, uniting dancers, artists, and fellow travel enthusiasts!
Ok, whew! Now back to Istanbul and all the amazing places we were able to visit. Istanbul, well Turkey is an interesting country because it was the gateway for the Silk Road. Many occupants influenced the current culture and religion in the area including the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. For someone who grew up in Southern California, it is always really cool to see places that are older than 100 years old – just for the fact that they demolish 99% of the buildings over 80 years old in LA. Anyhow, hope you enjoy the photos and commentary, and don’t forget to like us on Facebook or on Instagram, thanks!
AYA SOFIA or HAGIA SOPHIA
First a church in 537, then a mosque in the 1400’s and now a museum, Aya Sofia has gone thru many incarnations. Presently the entire left side of the lower level is being renovated, so the view as a whole was a bit disappointing. What was not disappointing was the beautiful mosaics of Christ, Mary and various leaders throughout the Byzantine era. It’s captivating to see this religious art in person because you can fully appreciate all of the detail with your eyes. Also there is something about seeing the sunlight reflect off the mosaics that give them life and vibrancy. Aya Sofia has so much different colored marble throughout the complex – and some of it is from Turkey, but much is imported from throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Could you imagine hauling a shipload of marble from Egypt to Istanbul back in 530 ?? In the main hall you are surrounded by low hanging chandeliers that hover over the marble floor. These were added in Ottoman times, I guess they had candles that were placed on the upper levels before being taken over in 1453 by Mehmet the Conqueror. When you look up, it takes a moment for your eyes to appreciate the grandeur of the dome. On both sides of the structure there is a winding ramp that leads to the upper level where you can look from a different perspective at the main space. Quite breathtaking is this view if you ask me. There is also a last judgement mosaic which was my favorite of them all and the tomb marker of Enrico Dandolo, the 42 doge of Venice.
My favorite part of the Hagia Sophia is the Beautiful Gate just next to the museum shop. It dates back to 2nd century BC and is made out of bronze. It is probably the oldest part of the entire museum. I found it to be striking.
This one site where the royal court of the Ottoman empire lived for 4 centuries took an entire day to visit. It is that huge, just the kitchens alone took 30 minutes to see, and we were rushing! If you are truly interested in understanding about this fantastical palace I highly urge you to read further about it. My short synopsis will not do justice of what we saw. It was built in 1453 by Mehmet the Conqueror and continued to expand as sultans ruled from this palace. At one time, 4000 people could live on these grounds. Just by visiting the kitchens alone, I could sort of comprehend how many lived there. They have a special Chinese celadon porcelain that changed colors supposedly if it was touched by poison. There is a kitchen dedicated only for sweet and dessert making. There are HUGE slabs of marble where I am assuming dough and hot sugar was tempered. Also on display was the ornate china and tableware that the sultan and his family would eat from, such opulence!
At Topkapi palace there is a Harem, which requires it’s own entrance fee. It is where the imperial family lived. Concubines, eunuchs, wives, children and the sultan resided here. The rooms are ornamented with colorful tiles, exquisite fabrics and vibrant stained glass windows. There were even small decrepit rooms where sultans would imprison their brothers. As visitors, you only are allowed to view the first out of six floors, which was a bummer. Also, there is no furniture still in the rooms besides beds, so you have to use your imagination of what it looked like. Outside the harem in an outside courtyard you can overlook a large pool where the family could swim.
In the third court, Angelo and I waited in long lines for two important exhibitions : the religious relics in the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms and the heavily guarded valuables in the Imperial Treasury. We could not understand why so many were in line for the Sacred Safekeeping Room and why people were a bit pushy and anxious until we went inside. Behind thick glass and in dark lighting we saw Moses staff, Muhammed the Prophet’s footprint, Joseph’s dagger, Abraham’s pot and other very precious relics. The Imperial Treasury has one of the biggest diamonds in the world on display there, Spoonmaker’s Diamond – which triumphs in at 86 carats!! Also we viewed the famous Topkapi Dagger which has 3 very large emeralds on its handle. The Ottoman Empire accumulated so much wealth, we saw so much precious stones it was almost disturbing.
There were many other sections from Topkapi Palace that I will not write about, but if your are interested about hearing more, please email me 😉
This mosque features a courtyard that is the same size as the interior. There is an entrance for those who wish to pray inside, all others use a side entrance for tourists. If you wish to go inside you must have your head covered and shoulders unexposed (women) and no short shorts. If you come unprepared there is a small stall near the line where you may borrow a scarf. Upon entering the Blue Mosque your eyes drift upward toward the open space of the dome. The interior is decorated with iznik tiles that add the blue hue to the entire space (hence it’s name). Also there are wonderful stained glass windows that allow for light to enter the mosque and gives warmth over the praying floor. Visitors must take off their shoes before entering because inside is a bright scarlett carpet that gives a colorful opposition to the tiled walls. From an architectural standpoint alone the massive mosque is quite impressive; furthermore, for Muslims it would be an amazing place to visit and worship.
THE BASILICA CISTERN
Do you know what a cistern is? Well neither had I, until reading about this site in Istanbul as one of the top places to visit. For those of you who don’t know, it is a waterproof container that holds liquids – usually water. It can hold just a couple of gallons or in this case be a reservoir for an entire area. It was built by the same dude who commissioned the Hagia Sophia, Emperor Justinian in 532 ad. This dude, Justinian did not sell short in grandeur in all of his projects. It was Angelo and my favorite tourist site that we visited in Istanbul. May I suggest if you visit one day, do go on a weekday and right when it opens at 9am. Otherwise you will find yourself in a long line and once you get down there it will be hard to appreciate. There are 336 massive columns that support the roof of the cistern. When your inside, it is dimly lit and you walk over the low water on raised platforms. Underneath the walkway, schools of carp swim in the clear water dotted with turkish coins on the cistern floor. The columns look orange in the light, but Angelo’s photos reveal a green moss color with his flash. At the rear of the cistern is two medusa heads, one is upside down and another is on it’s side.
ISTANBUL ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUMS
The set of three buildings that comprise of these museums is a fascinating look into Turkeys history and it’s surrounding areas in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. There are objects dating back to ancient Babylon, Anatolia, Byzantine and of course Ottoman Empires. We really enjoyed the terrace outside the museum where lies the museum gift shop and cafe. There are large trees that adorn the outdoor cafe tables, and adjacent there are lots of marble sculptures that reside here. You can find a few cats seeking shade on top of the white objects, lazily stretching out as the wind dances thru the trees.
GRAND BAZAAR & SPICE BAZAAR
If you go to either, head out early and be prepared for huge crowds. There was a moment when we were at the spice market and I was getting squished by others and took 3 minutes to walk 3 feet! At the grand bazaar you can find bellydance costumes, carpets, colorful bags, leather, gold, silver, glass … so much to see. The spice bazaar has all the dried fruits, coffee, tea, herbs, spices, cheese, pots, nuts and Turkish delight. We actually found both places quite overwhelming and congested. Many of our Turkish hosts told us they really do not like to shop there. But I feel that if you are a foreigner, it is great to experience places like this at least once 🙂