Monday, October 19, 2009

The Aegean Sea Cruise: Istanbul

Our journey through the Aegean Sea continues with a day in Istanbul. I didn’t know quite what to expect from this ancient city, but nonetheless, I had high expectations. Since I was a kid, I’ve had a mysterious curiosity about this city; I was finally able to satisfy my curiosities. Over many centuries, Istanbul has seen a tremendous amount of history and change, serving as a central point of development for entire civilizations. The Greeks saw Turkey as a crucial point for commerce and trade between Europe and Asia, and settled the town of Byzantium for that purpose roughly in 700BC. For a long period, all trade between Russia and Europe passed through the sea of Marmara, which they later referred to as the Golden Horn. It was a thousand years later when Emperor Constantine chose this area as a new site for a Roman power. He was concerned about the future of Rome, and wanted to branch out his base, so to speak. By this point there was a great deal of turbulence and fighting, and with all the power of the Roman Empire, Constantine in the year 313 AD issued an edict to allow toleration of all religious beliefs, paving the way for Christianity to flourish along with Pagans in the area. To further show his power, he built a collection of Roman style buildings, monuments and infrastructure that reflected the glory and authority of Rome. In addition to government buildings, he introduced Roman baths, public buildings, forums, and churches. Three structures in particular defined the city and continue to do so even today. The Imperial Palace, The church of St Sophia and the Hippodrome. The Imperial Palace was of course where, the Emperor’s family and government resided. Lavishly appointed, it had throne rooms, terraces, sprawling courtyards and gardens and as was common in Rome, water fountains everywhere. St Sophia church was built to be the “queen church” of his new empire. The Hippodrome was sort of like a new version of the Coliseum; an entertainment arena for chariot races holding 100,000 spectators! To impress his people with Roman glory and power, the Hippodrome had public embellishments such as a huge Serpentine Column brought from Apollo’s Temple at Delphi, an Obelisk from the temple of Karnak in Egypt, and a bronze statue of Horses from Venice. All this was accomplished by the year 330 AD, and by this point people commonly referred to Byzantium as Constantinople. His vision for using this city and port to strengthen the Roman Empire was hugely successful; it remained under Roman rule until its fall in 1453. A period of infighting and new violence followed, with the rise of Moslem into the area, and soon the Ottomans emerged as a new force. Sultan Mehmet assembled a huge well trained army and soon Constantinople became the center of the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan converted the Imperial Palace to Topkapi Palace, St Sophia was converted to a mosque and various elements throughout the city began to reflect their culture. The Sultan wanted to revive Constantinople, having lost much of its population from all the war and fighting with the decline of the Roman Empire. Greeks, Armenians and others were encouraged to return and settle here. By the time Constantinople was renamed Istanbul, a variety of elements from its long Roman and Ottoman heritage remained intertwined and still evident today. Sunday was the Eur-Asia Marathon, so Istanbul was preparing for the throngs of media and observers by closing streets and blocking normal pathways. We met our driver and guide extra early to get across the city before everything was closed down. Since we were in a small car it was easy to navigate the side streets. We started with a walking tour of the Hippodrome, where we saw the Obelisk, what is left of the Serpent Statue, and views of the Imperial Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia. We were looking at structures dating back over two thousand years, which is really mind-boggling. The combination of cultures and civilizations that remains is truly remarkable.

The famous Blue Mosque was an Imperial Mosque for the Sultans, therefore were very grand and elaborate. Incredible architecture, beautiful tiles decorate walls with intense colors and intricate patterns. As it remains a place of worship, we followed the custom to remove shoes before entering the mosque. I was very impressed and touched by the beauty of this great structure. Here are some photos:

above: standing outside in front of the Blue Mosque

above: multiple interior photos showing the beauty of this great Imperial Mosque.
We went onto the Haghia Sophia museum, a truly stunning structure with interesting contrasts of styles, materials and purposes. Originally built at St Sophia church, it was converted to a mosque, and served as a place for learning and social discussion. It was converted to a museum and is under a lengthy restoration to uncover some of the Christian mosaics that were covered by plaster when it was converted to a mosque. While many aspects of Christianity are acknowledged by Muslims, their religion do not allow for the personification of physical people within a mosque. So images of Christ, Mary, angels were covered up. The intent is to retain the best of both periods, showing the beauty and history from throughout its history. Here are some images of the Hagia Sophia:

above: The Sultan's library inside

above: beautiful gold mosaics now uncovered and restored

above: incredible tiles with beautiful designs

above: multiple colors and styles of marbles throughout

above: this photo is especially for my brother Joe to figure out the reference. It's from a movie scene....
I also enjoyed our visit to the Imperial Topkapi Palace, home of the Sultan and seat of his governmental affairs. It is a grand, sprawling estate, richly appointed with opulence and splendor. Here I saw some of the finest examples of tile work and textiles. Colors that cannot be replicated naturally today, and intricate patterns that embody their rich culture. Let’s just say it was good to be the Sultan. Here are my photos:

above: a room where the Sultan's advisers would meet. The Sultan would sit in a room behind the gold screen, so they never knew when he was actually in their presence, so they always had to behave as if he were there.

examples of incredible tile work and designs. above: mother of pearl and tile

above: the tree of life design is found throughout Istanbul

above and below: Jewel encrusted robes worn by the Sultan.

Some photos of in and around Istanbul:

above: a case of baklava and Turkish Delight. Wow I was in heaven!
Our time in Istanbul exceeded my expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed the day and would gladly return again to explore the friendly Turkish people. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your time. Today we’re in Mykonos, Greece. It is sunny and warm…so come back tomorrow for a fresh report.

-Rick Rockhill


Anonymous said...

The best art is always found in places of worship... all for the glory of God.

That pastry case looks super delicious! A perfect accompaniment to my morning coffee! LOL!

Odat said...

Wow...can't wait to get there!!
How's the weather there now?

Diane J Standiford said...

Wow. I'm speechless. Have a Greek friend and her photos always leave me jaw dropped. Looking forward to tomorrow.

grace said...


KathyA said...

The mosaics, tapestry, marble, painting -- amazing!!!
Istanbul is really not what I would have expected.

Desert Songbird said...


OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Did you ever see the film "TOPKOPI? YOu will have to rent it now, having seen the Museum in person....Mellina Mecuri was the Star!


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