Sunday, November 11, 2012


Saturday, Nov. 10th

What a day we had today!  Our VERY reliable "local alarm" woke us up at precisely 5:36 this morning, and we had our coffee and breakfast while planning our day.  It was pretty soggy today, so we chose two (mostly) indoor places to visit.  A little rain won't stop us!

The beautiful Hagia Sophia in the misty rain:

A little history: The Hagia Sophia was built and dedicated in 360 AD, and served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople until 1453.  (During the years between 1204-1261 it was converted to a Roman Catholic Cathedral under the Latin Empire.)  The building then served as a Mosque until 1931, when it was secularized and opened as a museum in 1935.  What an incredible history for one building!

The line wasn't too bad at 10 am, and soon we were inside.  It was interesting right from the start!

Old architectural elements:

 Inside the first entrance we saw these tablets, they are a record of decisions passed by the general synod (a supreme religious assembly) that was held at The Hagia Sophia in 1166.


The outer hall had pretty painted ceilings:

The view as we entered the main room:

This is the second story area, I was wishing we could go up there:

This is in the altar area, it's a mihrab--a niche or chamber in a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca.  This mihrab was built in the 19th century to replace an older one:

 The mosaic above the altar, Jesus and Emperor Leo VI the Wise (11th century):

 Another view of the main hall:

There is a HUGE chandelier in the very middle, it's surrounded by several smaller chandeliers.

Detail of one of the many columns:

 The dome of the main hall:

 The altar area:

Beautiful mosaic above the altar:

There are even a few stained glass windows:

 This is the Muezzin's Loge, built around 1575. The muezzin is the person who gives the call to prayer in a Mosque.

 This roped off inlaid marble floor is the Omphalion, the place where Byzantine Emperors have been crowned:

As we were looking around, I noticed people walking around the upper levels!  Yaaay--we can go up there!  It was an interesting walk up--the floor was very rough stones, and it just spiraled around and around up to the top level--it was quite steep!

 The view from the top level was amazing:

But the biggest treat were the incredible mosaics!  They were STUNNING!

 Mosaic panel from the 11th century.  Jesus, Virgin Mary (L) and John the Baptist (R)

Close up of Jesus' face:
 Virgin Mary:

 John the Baptist:

 This is a small painting of what the mosaic looked like before the centuries took their toll:

There were several small windows on this level--pretty views over the square:

From another window we could see clear to the Bosphorus Strait:

 As I was looking out the windows, I realized that the window casings were carved stone--all one piece!  Pretty impressive, I think.   There are lots of windows in the Hagia Sophia!

 Another mosaic panel from the 12 century.  Title: Virgin and Child Enthroned.  The other figures were added later, and are Emperor Johannes Komenos II, Empress Irene and their son Nexios.

Detail of Virgin and Child:

 Mosaic, 11th century:  Jesus Christ Enthroned.  Other figures are Empress Zoe and Constantine IX.

Detail of Jesus' face--this was just stunning!

Another view from the upper level:

After a couple of hours admiring the Hagia Sophia, we made our way out into the drizzle.  We passed an area with yet more artifacts--this is a marble capitol from the 7th century.

As we left the gates of the Sophia, we saw a vendor selling this hot drink; we were a little chilled, so decided to give it a try.  It's called Sahlep, and is milk, honey, orchid buds, vanilla, cream and cinnamon.  It had a delicious flavor, but the consistency was like thin wallpaper paste--Glug, Glug!!

 It was raining a little harder now, so we walked toward our next destination, looking along the way for someplace to have lunch.  We settled on a small "Kebap" place, and we had a delightful lunch of a mezzes plate, with stuffed eggplant, humus, yogurt with spinach and spices, and smoky tomatoes and eggplant.  Mmmmmm good!  This time we didn't get a big, puffy lavash, but sliced "french"bread.  We like the lavash much better.

 We shared a kabap plate, it was grilled ground beef that was delicious and spicy, and the rice and grilled long green pepper were really good:

We tried our first Turkish coffee--it's REALLY strong stuff!  The nice owner patiently explained to us ALL about how to make good Turkish coffee, down to the last detail--including correct water temperature!
 As we paid our bill and left, he warmly thanked us and shook our hands.  What a nice gentleman!

We walked the short block or two to our next stop: Topkapi Palace.  This Palace was the primary residence of Sultans of the Ottoman Empire for about 400 years, 1465-1856.

Here's the main entrance:

 Here are a few views around the Palace grounds:

The grounds were lush and green, and beautifully landscaped.  There are rose gardens and tulip gardens, but it's a little late for flowers.  Still pretty, though.

 The Imperial Council Hall:


Interior of window alcove:

Ceiling detail:

There were many "Galleries" of displays of relics from the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed in ANY of these galleries!   If you "Google" Topkapi Treasury, you can find some pics n the web.

I can't even begin to describe the treasures we saw--but I will say that I've never seen so much gold in one place.  Jewels?  Oh, just a few thousand!  Literally piece after piece set with emeralds, rubies, pearls and turquoise.  Tens of thousands of them! There were vases, bowls, etc, and even a large gold throne set all over with emeralds and rubies!  Did I mention diamonds--thousands and thousands of diamonds--even one that was 84 carats!  Yes EIGHTY FOUR!!  AND--it was surrounded by "smaller" diamonds--oh, maybe just three to five carats each!  There were rooms and rooms of such treasures, really too much to process......

The last area we explored was the Harem.

There was room after room of beautiful tile work:

This was one of my very favorites:

 Hall of the Eunuchs:

Another view:

 The Passageway of the Concubines:

 Court of the Concubines:

 Apartments of the Queen Mother:

The Queen Mother's Courtyard:

 The Hall With a Fountain, this is where the princes and consorts of the Sultan waited before entering the Imperial Hall.  Notice only part of the "crown" has been restored:

More amazing tile work:

The Privy Chambers of Sultan Murad III--beautifully detailed ceiling:

Bathing/washing area:

Fireplace--many rooms in the Palace had fireplaces like this, several were covered with tile:
 Bed? Playpen?

 More tile work--I will admit that David doesn't like the tile as much as I do, but he's very patient with me taking picture after picture.  Believe it or not, I've only posted a small portion of my tile photos!

There were even a few stained glass windows in the Sultan's quarters:

Sultans room--notice the "heater" in the middle!

MORE tile work:

This is the prettiest window we saw, the colors are so vibrant:

 The last area in the Harem was the "Courtyard of the Favorites"

It had a very ingenious floor drainage system--and it was beautiful to boot!  There were small channels all around the courtyard leading to this one central drain:

Here you can see the drain hole--I couldn't see where it drained to, though.

Nice views over the city:

 We spent about 3 hours exploring the Palace--it was incredible!

We wandered our way out, exiting on the opposite side through these big, beautiful doors:

Lovely view through the doors:
 We didn't realize it when we walked out this side--but we were only about a block from our apartment!

It was a quick walk home in the misty rain.  We made one stop to pick up dessert, and then we had dinner "in" tonight.  Same as last night, and we enjoyed every bite all over again!  Especially that WONDERFUL, best ever blue cheese.......

Dessert was a chocolate creation--this bad boy was filled with chocolate cream, two slices of chocolate cake and topped with glazed raspberries.  We ate it just for you, Jeanne!

It was a fun and educational day in Istanbul.  We both agreed that so far, The Hagia Sophia is our favorite place in Istanbul.

Tomorrow we are flying off to Cappadocia for three days.  We have some fun adventures planned, so please keep your fingers crossed for good weather!


  1. Wow the Hagia Sophia pictures were amazing so can only imagine what it was like to actually be there. The pictures of the palace were also pretty amazing and it sounds like you had a chance to see quite a bit of "bling". Travel safe to Cappadocia and we are hoping that you have clear weather for your three day visit there. Looking forward to hearing about your fun adventures and seeing pictures.

  2. Oh, I forgot to mention that your dessert looked really good. With chocolate cream, chocolate cake and raspberries it just had to be tasty. I made apple hand pies for dessert tonight and they were good, but they weren't chocolate.

  3. Oh my gosh..... you truly must be in sensory overload. What beautiful, beautiful tile work. I would give anything to see this in person and I very much enjoy your pictures. Hugs!