Istanbul – Day One

Entrance to the Sacred Trusts - Topkapı Palace
Entrance to the Sacred Trusts in the Topkapı Palace showing the tughra of Sultan Mehmet II, Conqueror of Constantinople
 Hippodrome and Blue Mosque:
We began our tour of Istanbul on October 14th, 2011. Collected from the Elite World Hotel by our guide, Omür, our tour bus first took us to Istanbul’s ancient Hippodrome, once the site of chariot races and games. Several landmarks, such as the Blue Mosque, are nearby. A major feature of the Hippodrome is the obelisk of Thutmose III of 15th Century BC Egypt, taken by the Romans from Karnak in 357 AD to Alexandria, then moved in 390 to Istanbul and tragically modified by Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. Reduced, that is, to an inglorious one third its original height and plonked onto a base glorifying Theodosius:
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 Hagia Sofia:
Our next stop was the Hagia Sophia, once the largest cathedral in the Byzantine Empire, then converted to a mosque after Constaninople was captured by the Ottomans and later made into a museum by Mustafa Kamel Atatürk, who changed Turkey into a modern republic in 1923.
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Then we visited the Istanbul Handicrafts Centre where the special types of Turkish carpet were explained and demonstrated. Anita and I bought a small, 3′ by 5′ wool carpet. Walking over it in (clean) bare feet feels like gentle, foot-massage heaven. We found a bite to eat and then took a quick tour of the Grand bazaar before busing to the Topkapı Palace.
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Topkapı Palace:
This palace was used by the sultans before they decided it was nicer to live on the water by the Bosphorus. It has many buildings and hugely valuable items that a powerful empire captures or is given in tribute by solicitous allies. The size of the emeralds and rubies blew my mind. Many were uncut. In the building that held the treasures was the famous Topkapı Dagger. Photos were not allowed here but I took one with my camcorder casually held closed in my hand. Not worth it, as you can see below, but OK as a memento. Photos were forbidden in the sacred trusts (relics) building and I respected those rules. The sacred trusts include hair from the beard of Muhammad (peace be upon him), his mantle and, rather less credibly, relics from major biblical patriarchs like Abraham’s pot, Joseph’s turban, and even the staff of Moses. Pretty classy, civilized and modern items as relics go, however.  Not the lurid sort to which I was exposed during my Catholic upbringing. Please also examine the photo of the Sacred Trust doorway. The blue Iznik tiles on this exquisite facade are especially beautiful, as is the tughra, or imperial signature of Sultan Mehmet II, revered as the conqueror of Constantinople in the spring of 1453. Impressive stuff.
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The last thing we did was to go to an included dinner as a group. It was good to get to know some of the great people with whom we were touring a little. We would be with them here and on a ship in the Aegean for another eight days.
That’s days three and one of our trip finally done. Day two – the archaeological museum and our Bosphorus cruise – is next.  Thanks for checking in.
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Süleymaniye Mosque – Istanbul

Suleymaniye Mosque - Dome
Süleymaniye Mosque – Dome
October 16, 2011 was our last day in Istanbul.  On the evening of October 13 at the tour Welcome Meeting our Istanbul guide had casually announced that we were not going to the iconic Süleymaniye Mosque even though it was on our itinerary. No reason was offered when I asked “Why?”
Determined (I, at least) to see it, Anita and I set off early on the 16th to take bus or subway across the Golden Horn from Taksim Square near our hotel. Our ship, the Louis Cristal, was scheduled to depart that afternoon and sail overnight through the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles Strait for the Greek island of Mykonos. We were to be picked up by bus at our hotel at 2 PM and taken to the Port.
This was the day of the 33rd Asia to Europe marathon – the only marathon spanning two continents. We expected limited services due to this important event, but not a total absence of any public transport or automobiles going near the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn. Confusion for about 40 minutes.  Mixed opinions from locals – perhaps because the route has had three different versions during the contest’s history. Anita decided to go back to the hotel. I decided to walk – in the rain – the third rainy day.
Asia-Europe Marathoners Head for the Galata Bridge
Asia-Europe Marathoners Head for the Galata Bridge
 I had chosen several things to see at or near the Mosque. The walk was about 4 km – an easy 50 minutes one way.  Four hours to get there, tour and return seemed plenty of time…

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