Saturday, May 2, 2009


ISTANBUL – 26 APR 2009 – I don’t know where we got our ideas about Istanbul. We expected hot, dirty, and loaded with beggars. Were we ever wrong! This is a beautiful city on the same parallel as New York City. The temp was in the 60s and there were tulips in bloom all over the place. It looks quite prosperous (no beggars) and there was very little litter.

There were some fairly aggressive street vendors but they were fairly easy to ignore with our experience with the really tough ones in India and Saigon. As we were bussing into the city we noticed lots of people fishing into the Golden Horn River from the bridge we were crossing and elsewhere. The guide said they were probably fishing for smelt this time of year.

Our tour started with the famous Blue Mosque. The sultan who built it wanted the biggest, most beautiful mosque in the world. While every mosque has at least one minaret, this one has six. The sultan told the architect that he wanted a golden minaret. Since the Arabic word for gold is similar to the one for 6 there was a bit of a mistake. The sultan ended up liking the result. However since 6 minarets was more than the holiest mosque in Mecca there were riots among the people and the sultan paid for the construction of additional minarets in Mecca where there are now 7. It is still an active mosque and very beautiful on the inside.

The faithful wash their faces, hands and feet at these outdoor fawcets before entering for prayers.

The floor of an active mosque is covered in carpeting – here a huge and beautiful one.

Topkapi Palace is also famous as the palace of the sultans of Constantinople for many years – and their large harem (1000 women or so). It turns out that harem is the Turkish word for private and the harem here was the private family quarters.

The women’s quarters was tended to by black eunuchs and white eunuchs served in many other capacities in the palace, some eventually rising to high office. We got a lot of grisly detail about how eunuchs are created (there are several methods varying in severity and effectiveness you will be happy to know). Pashas were the highest officials such as generals. The sultan’s mother had a powerful role in their society – she oversaw a lot of the palace activity and selected candidates for wives with an eye toward assuring lots of princes to be candidates to succeed the sultan (since many kids died early then). Here is a picture of her private courtyard.

There was a system of selecting highly intelligent girls who would be educated by various tutors and then would be brought to the palace as candidates for becoming a wife of the sultan.
The palace is huge and the grounds cover acres. The decoration is elaborate and some is quite beautiful. Here are of few of the ceramic tiles than seem to be everywhere in all kinds of designs.

Clyde especially enjoyed the sultan’s bath room. He imagined himself being bathed by some of the women of the harem.

Here is the Sultan’s private family room where he met with only the closest members of his family.

Here is where the sultan’s heir apparent lived in splendid isolation to protect him from palace intrigues. Many lower ranking wives conspired to eliminate the oldest son so their own son might someday become sultan and they, of course become the sultan’s mother.

We enjoyed visiting the treasury where the crown jewels are on display. . . emeralds as big as eggs and a diamond twice as large as the Hope diamond. Many fancifully decorated crowns, swords, medals, etc. No cameras allowed however. They also had a display of sultan’s garments from the 15 and 1600s which were in remarkably good shape.

We had lunch in a restaurant on the palace grounds overlooking the Bosporus. A selection of Turkish appetizers with an entrée called Sultan’s Delight – veal cubes in a spicy sauce served over pureed roasted eggplant. They had dishes of additional spices to add - mint, crushed red pepper, paprika, and oregano. It was delicious. They also served a drink they called sherbet – pomegranate juice with rosewater – great stuff. Clyde enjoyed the strong Turkish coffee but did not drink the sludge in the bottom of the cup.

Here is the view across the Bosporus to Asia. Istanbul is 60% on the European Continent and 40% on the Asian Continent.

We went to the Saint Sophia mosque. This was built in about 330 BC by the Roman Emperor Constantine as the first legal Catholic church in the Roman Empire. It had the largest unsupported dome in the world for 1000 years until St Peter’s was constructed in Rome. They kept it from collapsing by wrapping chains around the base of the dome – something new then, but still used today. It is now operated as a museum. Clyde inspected some of the Roman ruins outside before we went in.

It was converted to a mosque later after Turkey was converted to Islam. No images (humans, angels, etc) are allowed in mosques and you can see where angels were painted out into abstract forms on the ceiling. The light fixture shown below is an original oil lamp that has been electrified. As is often the case in ancient buildings some of the pieces get recycled from other buildings. The column shown is one of four massive green marble columns that were originally in one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world -- The Greek Temple of Artemis at Epheses. The altar in a mosque must face Mecca. The altar in St Sophia faced Jerusalem so you see it was shifted off center to satisfy the needs of Islam.

This cat is inside St Sophia. It befriended Obama during his visit and is now called “Obama” of course.

We ended the tour with some shopping and a rug-making demonstration in, of course, a rug sales room. Mary said prior to entering “I definitely don’t want a rug”. To show the power of Turkish rug salesmanship, this later changed to “We need that rug for our bedroom in Savannah”. We now have some additional baggage to tote.

But Instanbul is now on our go to again list.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely experiences all along the way . . . how many scrap books will this make!? Keep being safe - I understand you will be back soon. (Melissa Jones will be cleaning for you on Tuesday! Your house sitter called and all is well on the home front.) -Rebecca