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Turkey Part II

By the time we finished the archeological museum it was 2:30 and we were ravenous.  We picked a cafe close to the palace, and settled at a window table to watch the world go by.  After taking drink orders our waiter carried over a tray loaded down with small plates of cold appetizers.  I love eggplant and there was a chopped eggplant dish which I immediately ordered.  Walter and Pat picked a couple of other dishes.

The waiters returned with two kinds of bread.  One was a puffed up loaf that looked like a sopapilla covered with sesame seeds, and then a braided flat, round loaf.  They were both delicious.  In addition to our orders we were given a plate of chopped tomato, cilantro and chili that was absolutely delicious.  The eggplant came and it turned Pat into a believer.  After that we ordered eggplant where ever we went.  A Turkish cookbook is definitely in my future.
For our main courses I had the lentil soup which was exquisite, Pat when with cheese stuffed mushrooms and Walter had the meatballs (kofte).  They were highly spiced and delicious, but there wasn’t enough spice to hide the flavor of the lamb which I don’t care for.  I wanted to try the meatballs, but I’d have to wait for a restaurant where they made them with beef.

After lunch we started strolling back toward the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia.  We were surprised to see Uzi armed soldiers lining the streets, and then we realized they were running a drill in preparation for President Obama’s visit the following week.  Walter pointed out approvingly that the soldiers were positioned with their backs to the street, looking at buildings the place where a threat would materialize and not at the motorcade as it passed.
We paused in a calligraphy store and Pat bought a couple of drawings.  I didn’t see what I was looking for so I just chatted with the owner who was very excited about the President’s visit and loud in his praise of Obama.

We moved on the the Blue Mosque, but found it was closed for an hour because of prayers and wasn’t open to tours.  It was late in the day and we knew we would need hours for the cathedral so we postponed Haghia Sophia until tomorrow, and went off to the Mews which ran alongside the Blue Mosque for more shopping.  These weren’t the sultan’s stables, but were the stables for the soldiers.  Now they had been converted into shops.  Here is a picture of me on this rainy day in the bazaar.

We found a shop with calligraphy, and I found what I was looking for.  I got a two page piece from an Ottoman book that shows a hunt, and has a pink horse among the other more normal colored horses.  I know, I know, they are tearing apart books and selling pages, but my not buying it wasn’t going to stop the practice.  So I bought it.

I also found an embroidered scarf that had the peacock motif, and I marked it for a return for another look when I had more time.  We headed back to the Mosque, and found ourselves accosted by a cute older man in a shiny black suit.  There were lots of ubiquitous men in shiny suits lurking around the historic sites.  The opening gambit is always the same.  “English?”  “Australian?”  “American?”  Our accents fooled them.  We were usually pegged first as English or Australian, and only as a last guess as American’s.  I don’t know what it is about the way we speak.  None-the-less you have guess your nationality.  Then they ask where you are from.  Once you tell them they always have a cousin, brother, uncle who now lives in New Mexico.  Then they invite you to their store to have some apple tea, and maybe, if your interested, he will show you his carpets.  Sometimes it’s leather goods, but mostly it’s carpets.

Walter’s response is “Maybe tomorrow”, and that seems to work.  This particular gentlemen, Mehmet, was very persistent, and he was very taken with Pat.  He kept holding her hand.  Once we got free because we wanted to see the mosque we began to tease her about her admirer, and how she was going  to go out on the town.  I’m surprised she didn’t deck us both.

But on to the mosque.  The Blue Mosque is unique in that it has six minarets.  Some of Walter’s readings had indicated that Sultan Ahmet I (1603-1617) wanted the mosque to be sheathed in gold.  The architect looked into the feasibility, discovered there wasn’t enough gold in the treasury to come close to the Sultan’s desires, and settled on building the multiple minarets because the word for gold and the word for minaret were quite similar.   I haven’t been able to verify that, but it’s a great story or an architect’s cunning.

We entered through an arch on the right and found ourselves in a vast courtyard. 


The octagonal sadirvan (there should be a little dingus below the S, but my keyboard lacks the dingus) is where a worshiper washes before entering the mosque.

We were sent to a entrance for tourists where we took off our shoes, placed them in a plastic bag.  Pat and I covered our hair with scarves and we entered the mosque.  My camera did it’s best because it was very dark in the interior and they didn’t want us to use a flash.  (An aside, I turn off the flash when I’m photographing in museums.  It’s hard on the artifacts and the digital camera does a pretty good job of adjusting for the light.)

From the outside the Blue Mosque is more beautiful than Haghia Sophia, but the interior dimensions are marred by the four massive structural pillars that support the main dome. 


The dome in Haghia Sophia is free standing.  Underfoot was a deep red Turkish carpet.  Every inch of the interior is covered in carpet.  The carving on the mihrab is particularly beautiful and there are 260 windows.  The stain glass is modern, but it is still a stunning sight. 


I particularly liked the massive brass candelabra that holds lamps. 


The women only signs did set my teeth on edge.  The woman are supposed to stay in these little corrals while the men use the vast expanse of the central hall, but I kept reminding myself that it’s not my culture and not my religion, and I was there to enjoy the architecture and nothing more.

For dinner we went off looking for a terrace restaurant where Walter had eaten on his trip three years ago, but it was closed.  So, we picked a place at random and had another great meal.  I had chicken stuffed with spinach, and it was excellent.  Walter and Pat had lamb.

I was keyed up and didn’t want to sleep so we went out for a night walk through the Hippodrome and past the Blue Mosque.  Here are a few of my “art” shots from that evening.


Friday we headed out early and were at Haghia Sophia when it opened.  This was the third church erected on this site.  The first one completed in 360 A.D. burned down during a riot by supporters of John Chrysostomos, the Patriarch of Constantinople who had been deposed by Empress Eudoxia.
By 415 a new church had been built by Theodosius II.  This church also burnt down during the Nike Revolt of 532 A.D.  That was the revolt that started at the races at the Hippodrome when the crowds demanded freedom (nike), Justinian nearly lost his throne, but Theodora told him to butch up so he had his guard slaughter 30,000 people in the Hippodrome.
Here is a picture of all that remains of that church.  A marble bas relief that shows the apostles as lambs.

After that little act of ancient world diplomacy Justinian set about rebuilding the church on an even grander scale.  He instructed his governors in the various provinces to send him all their most beautiful and precious things to put in the church.  They stripped temples and buildings across the ancient world and the results are stunning.  Here is a photo of the marble panels that cover the walls.

Once inside I stared up and up at the dome.  This was the largest free standing dome in the ancient world.  The dome of the Pantheon in Rome is wider, but this one is higher.  The view is a marred by the scaffolding, but they are repairing the dome, and may be removing the paint that was applied after the Ottoman conquest.  If they are going to reveal the golden mosaics that covered the dome it would be worth a trip back to Istanbul to see what they find.  Even with the scaffolding the grandeur of the space is obvious.  They have removed the whitewash to reveal some of the mosaics.  Here is one example.

One of the eeriest things (and I plan to use these critters in book three) were the cherubim in the four corners.  They are creepy with their six wings, but the Ottomans painted out the faces and replaced them with these strange glowing star-like shapes.  Since cherubim are Assyrian god figures it all coalesced to send a shiver down my back.

Remember how I said that cats are everywhere in Istanbul.  Here’s a cutie who wandered in and posed next to a giant marble urn from Pergamum.  The urn is Greek and its mate stands on the other side of the building.  They were each carved from a single block of marble.  One of the sultans had the urns brought from Pergamum and placed in Haghia Sophia when it was a mosque.

I should mention that Haghia Sophia is no longer a mosque or a church.  Atta Turk when he founded the republic decreed the building would become a museum rather then a place of worship.  I was beginning to develop a growing respect for this man.  By taking this step he prevented Haghia Sophia from becoming a Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock situation.

After touring the basilica we moved on to the Basilica Cistern.  This was the coolest thing.  The roof is supported by columns taken from ancient temples.  Apparently there are hundreds of these dotted around Istanbul, most have been forgotten and lost, but occasionally after a heavy rain or an earthquake one will be unearthed.  Here are some fun photos from the Cistern. 

Check out the Medusas, and the peacock motif on this column.  I’m betting this column came from Egypt.

Yes, they really are put in upside down and sideways.  Some people think it’s a way to show contempt for the pagan ideas.  Walter just thinks the columns worked better that way.

That afternoon Pat and I had booked a tour so that we could see the Harem at the palace.  When Walter had come you had to be on a commercial tour to see the Harem.  Unfortunately we were given an old brochure and the harem actually wasn’t included.  And it turns out they’ve changed the policy.  Now you just pay extra and get to see the harem.  At that point I decided to return to Istanbul one day early so I could return to the palace.

I did get some interesting tidbits from the tour, however.  Tulips originated in Turkey, and the word tulip comes from the word for turban.  There was a couple from Holland on the tour with us, and when our Turkish guide pointed out that Holland not the originator of the tulip the Dutchman muttered.  “We were just better at promotion than you were.”

Here’s a picture of one of the gates into the palace.

And a picture of me standing next to the pool where the “favorites” used to bath, and the Sultan would make his selection for that evening.

The tour took us to the Rustem Pasa Mosque, and then dropped us off at the Spice Bazaar.  Even though many of the stalls sell jewelry instead of spices the aromas were intoxicating.  Barrels of heaped spices march out of small booths and into the walkway.  The scents of chili (the Turks have three kinds of chili), cumin, mint, dill, etc. mingle in a rich miasma that leaves your mouth watering.  I bought some saffron and a box of Turkish delight.  The traditional form, made with honey and pistachios and no powdered sugar.  I thought it would be fun to offer to friends.

I decided on some retail therapy to drown my disappointment with the tour.  I went back to the bazaar and bought my peacock scarf and a couple of extras as presents.  

Dinner was in a seafood restaurant down on the Golden Horn.  I had sea bass in a tomato sauce with cheese — delicious.  And our appetizer of cold squid salad was equally delicious.

We went to bed early because the next day we were off to Ankara.

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