Istanbul not Constantinople

After not posting a blog in several months, with Kiran breathing down my neck, and having already returned to Southern California, I suppose it’s time to resume our posts.

Istanbul: We visited (occupied) Istanbul at the end of our Turkey adventure sometime in mid-June. As you may know, Istanbul was renamed from Constantinople once it was finally conquered by Mehmed II in 1453 after hundreds of years of attacks on the city, marking the end of the Roman Empire and the start of the rise of Istanbul and much of the Muslim world as we know it today. Kiran and I spent a week there several months ago, and it certainly met and exceeded our expectations. We should say that we think you probably shouldn’t go to Turkey without going to Istanbul; however, Kiran and I think the rest of Turkey was as incredible or even more incredible than Istanbul itself, so definitely see more of Turkey than Istanbul if you ever visit the country (and see our former posts for pictures/insights) and if you’re thinking about going to Turkey THEN GO!!!

The Blue Mosque was built in the 1600s (1609-1616), and Kiran and I would invariably visit it several times per day in some form shape or another, as it lies in the center of the Old City.
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It’s as beautiful at night as it is at day
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Inside and out
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We’d even see the Blue Mosque from our near-daily rooftop lunch perch at Doy-Doy restaurant (which we highly recommend).

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The Blue Mosque was designed using Hagia Sophia as a template, the Greek Orthodox church on which construction was first started in 537 A.D. The architectural similarities between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Moque are obvious, but Kiran and I think Hagia Sophia is even just a little bit more beautiful than the Blue Mosque, especially considering it is so old (and under repair).

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Most of the interior has been re-made over the years, since Hagia Sophia is nearly 1500 years old and it was converted from a church into a mosque many centuries ago.

There are so many different layers to the church/mosque. Here you can some of the older Christian iconography under the arches to the left. Under the right arch represents the Muslim “cover-up” of Christian artwork.

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But even much of the current Islamic decor is merely a shoddy modern paint job meant to represent what the beautiful original Islamic artwork/tile work looked like underneath. For example:

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And again, below the Islamic tile work you see the Christian artwork. Here’s a mosaic of Jesus dating back to 1261. Hagia Sophia is certainly an interesting religious mash-up.
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Hagia Sophia was built by Justinian I, who, along with 7,000 slaves, also built the Basilica Cistern, an ancient Roman structure that provided water to Istanbul nearly 1500 years ago. The cistern still stands today, and in writing this blog entry, I learned that it was used in the filming of the 1963 James Bond film “From Russia with Love.”

IMG_4022 I stole the photo below from WIKI to better show it

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We visited the Istanbul Mosaic Museum, also built around the same time period.

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Switching gears, we’re from Los Angeles where ALL the buildings are less than 100 years and everyone loves to shop. Old habits die hard, so we eventually had to do some shopping too – here’s the Spice Bazaar.
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And we went to the Grand Bazaar four or fives times, I think we lost count. This is one of the 18 gates.

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And when they say ‘Grand’ they really mean it. Over 550 years old, the Bazaar consists of 67 covered roads, over 3000 shops, and it employs nearly 30,000 people. Somehow, there are still no toilet facilities for tourists!?!

We especially liked the lamps, but since we have to carry around for months anything we buy, the only thing we purchased was cologne, which turned out to be fake, and I’ve since thrown it away.
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The inner Bazaar is closed on Sundays, but we went anyway as we had a secret mission. Kiran sweet-talked one of the shop owners on the perimeter to let us onto the roof so she could see where a chase scene was filmed for a more recent James Bond flick.
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If you’ve seen the movie then this should look familiar. And we consider ourselves pretty lucky since tourists generally don’t get to see this view of the Bazaar.

Another unique/non-touristy activity we enjoyed was having dinner with one of the legends in my fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI). Say what you want about fraternities, but it’s pretty cool to be halfway around the world and get invited to dinner by some guy who has no idea who you are but knows only that you lived in the same house 20 years apart.
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Earlier in the week, we were in Taksim Square, home to some of the violent rioting and killing that occurred just a week or two before we arrived.
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We were there when most of the people had dispersed and only a few people where standing in silent protest.
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So I did some protesting of my own.
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I heard there was a ‘peaceful’ protest planned one Friday night so of course I dragged Kiran there. It started on Istiklal Avenue
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And emptied into Taksim Square. By the time we arrived the place was packed!
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It got a little crazy actually. People had some posters that blamed the problems in Turkey on the US and the CIA and it’s support of Prime Minister Erdogan.
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We eventually ‘bugged out,’ and I saw on the news later that night that the government brought out the water cannons and tear gas about an hour after we left.

Perhaps our favorite part of Istanbul started on our first night as Kiran was enjoying her favorite new drink, a mojito WITH a sparkler. Um, non-alcoholic of course.

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Some guy walked up to us and and asked Kiran if he had ever worked with her in Pakistan. She of course said no, and we found out the guy worked for the State Department. He’s worked in every place you would never want to go, and we and his now fiance eventually became friends and spent most of our time in Instanbul together.

See, even diplomats can be silly and have fun.

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Lastly, we loved seeing our new favorite international meteorologist Mari Ramos on TV in Turkey. But Mari, you gotta mix up the outfits once in a while!

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One response to “Istanbul not Constantinople”

  1. Nancy Everson says :

    Definitely worth the wait, Scott and Kiran. Looking forward to the next one!

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