Ok, folks. I’m so far behind on this blog that I’ll still be writing this after I get back to the US, so I’m going to *try* skim a bit to catch up.

SO, to recap our 4th day, we visited Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia), the absolutely enormous church that was built in 532 AD (current structure–earlier structures had been in place since 360) and remained a church (and the largest one in the world) for almost 1,000 years, until the Ottoman takeover in 1453. It was then used as a mosque until 1934, when it was secularized and became a museum.  The layers of history and religion in this city are fascinating–how frequently and easily things are repurposed and how this affects both peoples–evidently Aya Sofya’s layout influenced subsequent mosques (including the Blue Mosque from the previous post).

This was a building I remember from Art History 101, way back when, and it doesn’t disappoint. Aya Sofya’s most impressive aspect is the massive interior space underneath the main dome, especially when you consider it’s construction in the 6th c. It’s also known for its gorgeous mosaics, which have taken a beating over the years.

Aya Sofya--notice the angels in the corners around the dome

Mix of Islamic and Christian decoration together

Next was the Subterranean Basilica Cistern—368 columns with various capitals—all scavenged from various other buildings. The columns rise out of water a few feet deep and populated by carp. The ceiling is constantly dripping and there is no natural light, just orange lights at the bases of the columns so it’s a very mysterious and sobering place. Also, unfortunately, impossible to photograph. What I can show you are two huge medusa heads at the base of two columns., one on it’s side, one upside down—possibly to prevent tourists peering into her eyes?

Medusa in the cistern

Then it was on to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, which had an exquisite Qur’an exhibition for the 1400 year anniversary of the revelation of the Qur’an.  There were beautiful inlaid qur’an stands and cases which I especially liked, as they are like small bldgs. Also an amazing display of carpets with excellent descriptions of the different styles/patterning based on location and culture of production.

Qur'an cases

Immense "garden" carpet

And our day was not over yet! We then left Sultanahmet to explore the western districts of Istanbul. We took a tram out to Istanbul University and walked up to Sehzade Mosque, which has an impressive graveyard outside:

Notice the turban on the headstone in the foreground. Most headstones are narrow at the bottom and widen towards the top, and are highly decorated with calligraphy or floral designs.

We reached the courtyard during the prayer, so we waited outside in the courtyard. While we were sitting there, a Turkish woman came up to us, said “Selam”, and sat down and starting chatting away in Turkish. I drew upon my *very* limited Turkish and found out that she was waiting for her husband, who was inside. We gave her our names and told her we were American, which made her happy. I asked her whether she had children, and  found out that she has two sons, one 33 who is living in Salinas, CA, and one, 24, who is in Istanbul. I told her we were the same age as her older son, and she said she had only seen the son in CA once since he left, and she started tearing up. Then her husband came out and met us and took our photo with his wife–he was very friendly, but seemed a little embarrassed. We told her he was very nice/handsome. It was a very touching experience.

The mosque itself was beautiful, and had a different style of decorations inside than what we had been seeing in the more frequently-touristed mosques:

Exterior of Sehzade Mosque

Interior of Sehzade Mosque

The mosque is close to remains of Roman aquaducts, which now see a steady flow of traffic instead of water.


We wandered back through the streets of the city to Eminonu, a major ferry port, and took a ferry to Kadikoy, on the Asian side of the city. This area is more modern-looking than Sultanahmet and was full of neon signs and people on cell phones. We were searching for a specific restaurant, Ciya, which is an excellent lokanta, which serves ready-made food. You serve yourself appetizers (the hummus was incredible) and order main dishes from the chef, which are then brought to your table by your waiter. I had an amazing spinach and yogurt-dish and a delicious bulgar dish. It was one of my favorite meals so far. Kelli sprang for dessert and had an interesting crystallized walnut (completely black), crystallized orange and cream. We headed back to the ferry, only to find out that the line we wanted was “finished” for the night (everything here is “finished”–it sounds very final) Fortunately a kind woman helped us get onto another ferry going to the Beyoglu side, from which we took a tram back to the hotel.

Next post: Cappadocia!!

About Stephanie Beck

Exploring the international world of art.
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