Aya Sofia, Topkapi and More

Trip Start May 21, 2011
Trip End Jun 11, 2011

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Wednesday, June 8, 2011

So today we followed through on our "get up early" promise and arrived at the Aya Sofya before it opened to beat the big crowds.  The Aya Sofya is arguably Istanbul's most famous monument. It was built in 537 AD by Emperor Justinian and reigned as the biggest church in the world until Istanbul (previously Constantinople) was conquered in 1453 by Mehmet the Conquerer.  Thereafter it was converted to a mosque until 1935 when it was finally turned into a museum.  The arches and domes inside are massive and it's unique to see Christian and Muslim decor in the same place.  It lacks the lavish ornaments of a functioning cathedral as few of the original artifacts remain, but it's a spectacular building nonetheless.

After the Aya Sofya we wandered up the hill to the Topkapi Palace.  Topkapi Palace was built by Mehmet the Conquerer and he started on it in 1453 shortly after his conquest of Istanbul.  It was the home of the Sultans and their families for another 400 years.  The massive complex is a somewhat orderly collection of buildings surrounding larger interior courtyards.  The Harem is one of the more interesting sections of the Palace.  The Harem, as popularly believed, was the location the Sultan kept his many concubines (up to 300 for some Sultans).  However it was more than just that, it was the Sultan and his family's private (and lavishly decorated) living quarters.  Not all of the concubines were for the Sultan either.  Only the most talented and best looking were selected for the Sultan, while the others might be given to other nobles or stay on as slaves.  Two of the other most interesting areas of the palace did not allow photographs; The treasury and the Islamic Relics exhibit. The treasury contains many of the riches owned by the former sultans: crowns, jewelled thrones, royal armour, gifts from other rulers and the Spoon Makers diamond.  The Spoon Maker's diamond is the fifth largest diamond in the world at 86 karats and was originally purchased by a spoon maker for the price of 3 wooden spoons.  Of course there are so many riches on display here that soon rubies and emeralds the size of a golf ball get a "ho-hum" response.  The Islamic Relics exhibit contains an equally impressive display of items important to both the Islamic faith as well as Jewish and Christian: a staff of Moses, possessions of Mohammed and many other such artefacts.  The gardens and the courtyards themselves are also interesting to explore as are the many other buildings.

Once we were thoroughly saturated with viewing the Topaki Palace we had lunch on a roof top patio with a great view of the Blue Mosque before returning to our room for a nice long rest.  Following our rest we went back to Taksim square and Istiklal Cadessi to follow through on our promise of eating and drinking at a trendy Turkish tavern.  The whole area was teaming with night life again and it was enjoyable to just soak up the atmosphere.  Following that we explored a few of the side streets and discovered some of the endless rows of bars and cafes.  We then made our way back home, not wanting to be too tired for our river cruise the next day.
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Rick Vigrass on

Have you had a chance for a game of tavla and a cup of mint tea or Turkish coffee in a tea/coffee house? Used to be men only in the rural areas. And have you seen any sutlach (rice pudding)? They love it but to me, it is only rice pudding. Hope you are having a good trip, your photos are great. Can't wait for the slide show when you return.

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