Istanbul, Turkey. Day 3. Part 1.
Enjoying the beautiful day, Hippodrome
This was a packed day. As a result, there are too many photos - to better show you the places - and so, I had to split the post into half. This first part will cover the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya. The second half will consist of the Basilica Cistern, Lunch, Topkapi Palace and the Nargileh cafe.
Simit seller, Hippodrome
Don't expect to see the ruins of a Hippodrome here. The space had been converted into a nice park and is just next to the Blue Mosque which in turn is just opposite of the Aya Sofya. The Hippodrome was the center of life during the Byzantine and Ottoman times with chariot races and political riots decorating its history.
The Obelisk of Theodosius
The Obelisk of Theodosius is situated here and was brought here by Emperor Theodosius I from Egypt. The original height was 27 meters but now it stands at a mere 17 meters. Whatever happened to the missing lower part is a mystery. It was built to celebrate the victories of Pharaoh Thutmose III.
The Constantine Column and the Spiral Column
Another column is the Constantine Column, the first column we saw when we approach the Hippodrome from our hotel. It stands at 32 meters and was erected by its namesake, Constantine the Great. It was covered in bronze plates which were ripped off later during the Fourth crusade. There is another strange column, the Spiral or Serpentine Column. It once had three serpents' heads at the top and was built to commmemorate the victory of the Greek cities over Persia. Two of the serpents head were found, one housed in Istanbul Archeological Museum and the other in the British Museum.
The Kaiser Wilhelm's Fountain
Towards the northend of the Hippodrome, there is a beautiful fountain which was a present from the German emperor to Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II.
Cay sellers in front of the Aya Sofya
We walked towards the main entrance of the Blue Mosque or also known as the Sultan Ahmet Camii. Bear in mind though that the entrance fee to any touristical place in Turkey is not cheap. The Blue Mosque faces the Aya Sofya. Two excellent buildings within sight.
Sultan Ahmet wanted to build a monument that would outrival the grand Aya Sofya and commisioned Mehmet Ağa to build the Blue Mosque. It is certainly impressive at first sight and more so when lighted up at night. It has six minarets and is beautiful in its proportions.
Dondurma sellers outside the Blue Mosque
It is an active mosque where worshippers will enter through the main door whereas the tourists can enter through the north door. Shoes must be taken off and proper attire is a must. However, if your clothes are deemed improper, you will be given a cloth to cover yourself.
In the courtyard
The decorative fountain in the middle of the marble courtyard
The courtyard was beautiful. Remember Yeni Cami? This was much grander and the symmetry was just perfect. The courtyard is made of marble (from the Isle of Marmara) and has the same size as the interior of the mosque.
The interior of the Blue Mosque
Interior, wide view
And then you enter the interior of the mosque. Gorgeous. The İZNİK tiles are the ones that give the Blue Mosque its name and they fill the interior of the mosque. The floor is carpeted for prayers and a section is closed off for the worshippers.
You hardly know where to look as every side of the hall shouts for your attention. And then you look up and see the beautifully decorated dome with the sunlight shining through.
The chandeliers and glass stained windows
Another impressive sight are the chandeliers and the glass stained windows. The mosque has 260 windows which were originally from Venice but was then later replaced.
The mosque is held by four huge columns, each 5m in diameter. The tomb of Sultan Ahmet is situated in a separate building on the north side. He died a year after the mosque was completed at age 27.
The Aya Sofya
We left the Blue Mosque and headed opposite to the Aya Sofya. For me, the Aya Sofya was simply majestic. Blue Mosque may have the exterior advantage but the interior of Aya Sofya was simply breath taking. A tip to remember : No tripods are allowed inside the grounds. I had to leave mine with the officers.
Doors inside the Aya Sofya
Aya Sofya is also known as Haghia Sophia in Greek, Sancta Sophia (St Sophia) in Latin and the Church of the Divine Wisdom. Aya Sofya was built first during Emperor Theodosius time but then it was burnt down during the Nika Revolt. Emperor Justinian later ordered a new basilica to be built (architects were Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus) and it became the greatest church of its time until Mehmet the Conqueror overtook it and converted it into a mosque in 1453.
The Inner Narthex hallway and the Imperial Door
Atatürk proclaimed it a museum in 1935 and currently, restoration work is going on. During the Turkish period, several reconstruction work had been carried out and as a result, this World Heritage building is a stunning legacy from both religions. A bit distracting to see the scaffoldings in the middle of the great dome hall but still...superb!
The side pillars in the great dome hall
The dome was partially obstructed by the scaffoldings and so I could not take any good pictures of it. It was slightly darker inside when compared to the Blue Mosque and without the tripod, taking pictures of the interior proved to be a little bit difficult.
The side pillars
The current dome is not the original dome, the previous two domes had collasped. It is supported by 40 frame timbers and 107 pillars.
West wall where the library of Mahmut I is situated
First floor. View of one of the medallions
Looking around, you will see four large medallions written in Arabic by calligrapher Mustafa İzzet Efendi representing the names of Allah, Mohammed and caliphs Ali and Abu Bakr.
First floor gallery
The decoration on the ceiling
View from the upper floor
The upper floor houses the gallery of the excellent mosaics that are found throughout the interior of Aya Sofya. While we were there, there was also an exhibition on İZNİK tiles.
Mosaic of Mary with Chirst the child, Emperor John Comnenus II and Empress Eirene
Another mosaic of Empress Zoë with her third husband, Constantine IX Monomachus and Christ in the middle
Mosaic of Mary with Christ Child, Constantine the Great offering her the city of Constantinople and Emperor Justinian offering the Aya Sofya
The magnificent Deesis Mosaic (The Last Judgement). Christ with Mary and St John the Baptist. Early 14th century
The mosaics were/are beautiful. Remember to look up or you might miss some of the mosaics. The mosaics were plastered over by Süleyman I, who deemed them inappopriate for a mosque but which were later restored by archaeologists.
The view of the Blue Mosque from Aya Sofya
After gawking at Aya Sofya, we left the building and headed towards the Basilica Cistern which is also situated nearby. And that will be in Part 2.