Sunday, October 25, 2009

Istanbul III

Tuesday saw a large group of us finally getting ourselves together and visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), the Church of Holy Wisdom, which really cannot be described save pictorially:

Shields of 'Uthman and Hassan

Another library!



One of many mosaics

The view, minus the scaffolding, that Theodora would have had from her special seat.

Afterwards, Matt, Emily and I went back to the Christian neighborhoods and explored some of the churches that had been closed the previous day, some with such fascinating names as St. Mary of the Mongols or St. Stephen of the Bulgars. St. Mary's in particular had some assuredly ancient, smoke-blackened icons and even catacombs, although we were forbidden to enter the latter. We spent that evening (...and some of the morning) again at Taksim with some French students we befriended.

Wednesday was our last day in Istanbul, and Peter, Jamie, Sam and I once again teamed up and took a boat ride on the Bosphorus, during which I saw Leander's Tower (of Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander fame!) which was very exciting for the literature nerd inside me. This, supposedly, is the very place from which Leander leapt into the Hellespont to reach Hero on the other side:

"He touched her hand; in touching it she trembled.
Love deeply grounded, hardly is dissembled.
These lovers parleyed by the touch of hands;
True love is mute, and oft amazed stands.
Thus while dumb signs their yielding hearts entangled,
The air with sparks of living fire was spangled...

What is it now, but mad Leander dares?
"O Hero, Hero!" thus he cried full oft;
And then he got him to a rock aloft,
Where having spied her tower, long stared he on't,
And prayed the narrow toiling Hellespont
To part in twain, that he might come and go;
But still the rising billows answered, "No."
With that he stripped him to the ivory skin
And, crying "Love, I come," leaped lively in."

And some mandrakes for sale on the street for various bodily ailments.

Later, the four of us made our way to the Cemberlitas Hammam, the most famous of the Turkish baths, and turned our faces away from our wallets to get into the fabulously restored complex. Peter and Sam left Jamie and I at the entrance as we split for the men's and women's sections; the women's bath had a large central marble dais upon which women lay on their backs or stomachs and were scrubbed and massaged by the attendants. Around the platform were niches with basins and fountains where three or four women could bathe. The ceiling was high and vaulted and had beautiful lamps and carved geometric shapes. To the side were the hot and cold pools. We scrubbed ourselves with the lemon soap provided and enjoyed the thick steam that filled the hammam and the echoes of voices and laughter and splashes of water.

Clean and warm, we ate dinner together and Peter and I (Jamie and Sam were leaving the next day) met up with the rest of our original crew at the airport to head back to Amman.


  1. Isn't it 'Uthman in that first shield?

    Man, I've got Istanbul envy. Incredible place.

  2. You're right about the Hagia Sophia being virtually indescribable. Nice pictures. I envy you!