Friday, October 16, 2009

Istanbul II

Continuing from the end of number one:

Saturday night saw Peter, Sam and myself walking along the waterfront in Sultanahmet and then exploring Taksim Square, a crowded, brightly lit tunnel-vision of restaurants, fancy shops, and nightclubs.

The next morning, a large group of us went to Topkapi Palace, which proved to be quite the challenge to get into without getting trampled by Spanish tour groups and the like. After we made it through the gauntlet of ticket booth, line, mosh pit, line, metal detector, etc., (a sort of modern-day version of the increasing exclusivity of the gate of the sultan, followed by the first courtyard, up to the fourth which was the sultan's private audience hall) it was fascinating to finally see the place I had learned so much about in studying the Ottomans in Making of the Modern Middle East last fall. There was a small museum that contained such relics as a hair from the beard of the Prophet, the case that contained that hair, a mold of his footprint, one of his teeth, and so forth; unfortunately photography was forbidden! The rest of the palace reminded me very much of the Mughal palaces I saw in India: courtyards upon courtyards, elegant calligraphy and archways, beautiful tile-laden walls and a propensity towards libraries :). Construction was started on Topkapi in 1459 by Mehmet II, who conquered Constantinople, and it was the seat of Ottoman governance for about the next 400 years. It's hard to capture the enormity of the place and its true sense of majesty, however contrived that may sound when describing a palace. I'll let the pictures try to describe it better:


Tiles and calligraphic Ottoman seal of the sultan (tughra)

View of the Bosphorus

Tiled wall of a library, with special niches for turbans!

Another library shot

Monday saw myself, Peter, Sam and Jamie exploring the area around Balat, where there were a lot of historical churches, but unfortunately we couldn't get into any of them. However, wandering the neighborhood streets was a great experience, to see a little slice of everyday life away from the tourist-ridden Sultanahmet. The neighborhood also fell along the lines of the Theodosian Walls, which we climbed and walked along for a while. We also found a small shrine with a tomb covered in decorative sheets and flowers; the first nod towards this kind of popular devotionalism I'd seen so far in the Middle East. We eventually made our way to the little Byzantine Church of St. Saviour in Chora, which had the most spectacular mosaics I've ever seen. We even made friends with one of the Turkish museum guards, who gave us a free tour (the French tour we were trying to listen in on wanted us each to pay ten euros. Right).

Neighborhood street

Another street shot

Part of the Theodosian Walls

St. Saviour in Chora

This mosaic of the baby Virgin taking her first steps is remarkable because of the depiction of wind - it's hard to see, but the trees at the top are leaning to the right, and Mary's mother's shawl is being blown over her head in the same direction.

Incredibly preserved mosaics from the Byzantine era and onwards.

That evening saw, for me, a quiet walk along the waterfront and an early night, since I hadn't slept properly since Thursday!

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