Istanbul is one of those cities that is so hectic, energetic, and full of action. You have to have your head on a swivel the whole time you’re there. There are police cars driving on the tramway, people fishing off of every bridge and pier, mosques and towers everywhere. For us to see more than one major sight per day was impossible.
We stayed in the Sultan Ahmet sector of the city. It was only a short walk to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Basilica cisterns. There was so much to see and do that we didn’t even get inside the Blue Mosque. We were so close that we walked past it twice a day!
Just getting to a major monument like the Hagia Sophia involved so many side-trips, stops, and distractions that it took half a day. Carpet shops, people watching, and sidewalk cafes for tea occupied a lot of our time. Well, not carpet shops but carpet sellers… verrry chatty guys.
The Basilica Cisterns
Back in the day, the plumbing was weird. Really, really weird. Under the streets of Istanbul, not far from the Hagia Sophia there are ancient cisterns. The basic idea was to store water underground so that the palace wouldn’t run out of water. For some reason, they did a fair bit of decorating down there.
The columns holding up the roof are carved, and some of them are quite elaborate. The most bizarre carvings are the two giant Medusa heads in the back corner.
Apparently in normal times there are fish swimming around the base of the pillars. Imagine the water quality back in the day. At the moment the fish are corralled into one corner near the Medusa heads, for renovations and refurbishment. The rest of the cisterns have just a few puddles on the floor.
You would think the Medusa heads are the strangest thing in the place, but that honour belongs to the weeping column. This is one of the only columns that is completely carved with a sort of teardrop motif. The theory is that it is carved in remembrance of all the slaves that died during construction.
The strange part is the hole in the side of the column. I’m not sure which came first, the people’s fingers or the hole. Apparently people think that it is a lucky hole of some kind, so they stick their finger in and swipe it around. We did not partake.
The Hagia Sophia
The enormous, impressive Hagia Sophia has suffered a couple of identity changes in the past. It was built as a Roman church, burned down, rebuilt, demolished, rebuilt, etc. This went on for a while and then the current version was built and then finally converted into a mosque. I’m not a historian, check out the whole history here.
The front view is already amazing, especially with the opposing view of the Blue Mosque.
The massive bronze doors tower above a marble step worn away by millions of feet. Then you step into a cavernous interior that could contain its own weather systems.
It really is awe-inspiring, breath-taking, super-spectacular. The main dome is enormous, and there are mosaics and half-domes in every direction.
Around the upper galleries there are golden mosaics depicting the folks that coughed up the cash to build the place.
It’s very easy to get swept up in the beauty and awe. It’s tempting to think that ancient buildings like this were built with a higher standard of workmanship. Look at this.