Saturday, 4 May 2013

Day 8 - Istanbul (Rest Day)

A full days sightseeing today.

Mel kindly "volunteered" to be trip leader and did a great job collecting the money and keeping us together. We were collected by a local guide at 8:30 and had a guided tour of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka Blue Mosque) and Hagia Sofia.

Although built over 1000 years apart (Hagia Sofia completed in 537AD and the Mosque in 1615AD) the buildings share a striking resemblance with a square floor plan and domed roof. Clever roman engineering means the church feels less massive but the windows and bright tiling of the mosque make up for that.

Hagia Sofia was the largest church in the world until the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1493 when it was turned into a mosque. The Islamic touches, a mihrab (prayer niche) and some massive calligraphy are lightly done compared to the vandalism of the "cathedral from mosque" conversion in Cordoba.

A tour of the two main bazaars for some treats (dates stuffed with walnuts - yum) and then a kebap for lunch.

This afternoon it was the Topkapi Palace, home of the sultans. Some beautiful pleasure pavilions which were rather Mughal looking, not sure who copied who there.

The later Ottoman Empire seemed to be more influenced by Europe. The Sultan's military uniforms were reminiscent of Alexei Sayle in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".

Yesterday Deefor took the tram and metro to see the 5th Century fortifications which kept successive waves of Islamic invaders out of Constantinople for 1000 years. Sadly they didn't keep the crusaders out, so much of the wealth of the city can now be seen in Venice instead of here.

Overall a fantastic city with a sight (and a site) round every corner, friendly people, good food, and a real sense of being on the junction of two continents. Definitely one to return to.

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