Between Allah, Jesus and the Man-Eating Empress

Trip Start Sep 07, 2006
Trip End Sep 17, 2006

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Thursday, September 14, 2006

Today was just so jam-packed with sights, sounds and important information that I fear my brain is shot and subsequently, I have lost the ability to be funny. Mind you, this was the first real day in which I set foot in (arguably) the greatest city in the world, a city that has been the battleground of empires for millenia, where the Roman Emperor Severus took over in AD 200 after wiping out the local Greek population, and where, 1300 years later, the Roman Emperor Constantine died and lost Constantinople to the Muslims while fighting on its city walls. More importantly, the Romans and Muslims were considerate enough to build their 3 most important monumental ego-extensions within spitting distance of each other, so that time-strapped, kiasu tourists like ourselves could tick off the maximum number of sights with minimal euro and effort. I am, of course, referring to the Blue Mosque, the Aya (Aiyaaaa!!) Sofya used-to-be-Roman-church-then-converted-to-mosque-when-the-Ottomans-invaded (at least back then they had the decency to preserve that which was beautiful, unlike the Penang Municipal Council who partially destroyed the sacred Moongate in order public toilets there....!!) and the Topkapi Palace, which everyone pretends to be so interested in when all they are really interested in is the harem.

Blue Mosque
This baby, which graces the cover of my Istanbul LP, is 1000 years newer than the Aya Sofya. Parallel to the walls of the Blue Mosque is a bench-lined square, where we came upon a tall, solid, earth-colored column engraved with huge hieroglyphics. This thing, which resembled the sort of fibreglass nightmare you would encounter in Sunway Pyramid, turned out to be a 3500-year old Egyptian Obelisk. The dusty square it stood in turned out to be a 1500-year old Hippodrome (the chariot racing kind, in case you know of any other kinds). Pheee-eeew!!

Basically, the reason the mosque exists (according to LP) is that the majestic grandeur of Aya Sofya just across the street was getting to be a real thorn in Sultan Ahmet I's butt, so he decided to build something even better. Unfortunately, the poor bastard died at age 27, a year after it was completed (1616). But we still enjoy its beautiful dome and tiled interior today, didn't we? Never thought the day would come when I'd be zooming in on Jawi script with my camera, but wow, check out the pics.

Aya Sofya
Between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya is a grassy park with a huge pond where we whiled away an hour just enjoying being sandwiched between 2 of the greatest buildings on earth. Well, that was my father's excuse for picking up a "handmade" Aya Sofya engraving, postcards which will never be sent, and an Aya Sofya picture book so that we could play point-and-match once we entered its hallowed interior(s). This was fine by me, except that 2 Chinese tourists, initially mistaking me for a fellow countrywoman, made me take picture after picture of them on his Nokia N70 because each one was "too high", "too low" or "no mosque". For ***** sake, its not even a REAL camera!!

Apart from being 1000 years older than the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofya is also more fun because a) there are mosaics in it and b) these mosaics are of people we actually recognize, i.e. the likes of (in descending order of recognizability) Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, Emperor Constantine, Empress Zoe (rhymes with Toe), etc. Furthermore, like any other tourist-worthy attraction, there was a juicy story waiting to be told and re-told, which, in this case, was the fact that the tiling of the Empress was laid with her husband with Jesus in the middle (that is a VERY dodgy sentence if you read it again) but she (Zoe) was such a man-eater that after her first hubby kicked it, she married another one, who died, and then she married a third, requiring that hubby's tiled face be stripped twice. Not bad for a virgin who first married at age 50 (seriously).

Basilica Cistern and Bazaar
Did not go to Topkapi Palace because I was still reeling from History cortex trying to digest 2000-year old facts while Visual cortex gazed at tens of thousands of ceramic tiles (Blue Mosque) and millions of mosaic tiles (Aya Sofya). Fortunately, the History cortex is situated very near to the Trash Can, and all that needs to be done to transfer the former's contents to the latter is a half-hour of spacing out in a relaxing environment. Which happened to be the 1500-year old Basilica Cistern (its a manmade underground resevoir) located -you guessed it- just next to Aya Sofya. Of course this is not free, it costs 10 Lira to walk among its artificially-lit columns while Gregorian Chant-like music plays, and its too bloody dark and wet to snap pictures. Which is probably why in ancient times nobody could be bothered to go inside, which explains why the Romans actually forgot it was even there, and some scholar had to rediscover it when housewives told him they could miraculously get water from their basement floors and that fish would even come up in the buckets. Now do you see why Istanbul is, like, maybe, the greatest city in the world??

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, like all other Grand Bazaars or Central Markets, a VERY chaotic and confusing place where shopowners all but forcibly drag you into their shops. However, IMHO the one here is worse because (if you are female) everyone greets you with either the borderline flattering "Ohhh!! So preeety *pretends to faint*...where you from? Japan?" or the downright scary "!! *wide-eyed intensity* I am here...waiting for my whole life for you!" Within 10 minutes (this is true) of stepping into the bazaar, I had received an invitation to a nightclub, my waistline was obscenely (with gestures) commented on (OK it was a compliment, but still) and 3 shopkeepers had recognized me as the one they'd been waiting for since the Blue Mosque was built. All while my father was strolling by my side!!!
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goran84 on

Really a great pleasure to read your blog page, I hope you liked our country..

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