Posted by: David Stewart | June 5, 2013

Istanbul and the Hagia Sophia Mosque / Church / Museum

These are some notes I took on our Spring 2013 travel. Watch this site for more posts.

Istanbul - Aya Sophia Mosque

Hagia Sophia or Aya Sohpia

Saturday, April 13

We flew on United from Portland to Newark and then direct to Istanbul. April is a wonderful time to visit Turkey with flowers blooming. But the weather can turn unpredictable. The day we arrived in Istanbul, the sun was out and the sky was blue, but the rest of the time it was either rainy or windy and quite chilly. But that first day was beautiful. We arrived by a car arranged by the Side hotel (pronounced “see-day”)  which fortunately was not “seedy”. The hotel was just a block from the plaza in front of the Aya Sofia and a bank of ATMs which dispensed Turkish Lira, US dollars and Euros.

The Side had reasonably priced rooms, private baths, reasonably good wireless and breakfast on the roof lounge with views of the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque. It is run by a couple of brothers with college-age children who were very sociable.

Istanbul - Dinner first night

Turkish mezza

There was a simple Turkish restaurant in the block next to the hotel, whose proprietor was “Tony” and who had great English. Mezza, kabobs and salads were the staples of Turkish food we enjoyed there and many times thereafter.

Late that night, my sister and her husband arrived from Greece. The night desk clerk was a pretty surly type who was not very helpful to them and was pretty unpleasant to deal with, so their experience was unfortunately not very good there. Susan said that she would probably not recommend the hotel based on this experience – unfortunate!


Susan and Court at the Aya Sophia

Sunday, April 14

Our first full day in Istanbul dawned overcast and cold! We paid our respects to the Aya Sophia, also called the Hagia Sophia. This was a church built by Justinian, one of the early emperors of Constantinople around 500AD and was the largest church in the world for many years until Saint Peter’s was built in Rome. The massive floating dome and Christian mosaics were wonders at the time. When the Ottomans invaded in 1200, they converted the huge church into a Mosque. This involved putting up minarets and painting over the mosaics. Then when the modern Turkish nation was founded in 1937 by Ataturk, he converted the building into a museum. The mosaics were again revealed but most of the Islamic symbols remained, such as the large circular calligraphic medallions which are apparently too big to fit through the door of the building.
The whole scale of the building is tremendous and given its age and prominent position in the city, it is an incredible landmark.


Tulips at Topkapi

The old area of Istanbul where the Aya Sophia is located is called the Sultanameht. The Byzantium emperors had a massive palace, but it is now totally destroyed except for some mosaics which were preserved. Just next to the Aya Sophia is the Topkapi Palace, which was where the later sultans of the Ottomans lived and held court. Much like other palaces of the east, such as the Forbidden City in Beijing or the Korean royal palace, Topkapi is not some single imposing edifice but a collection of interconnected buildings inside walls. There are a number of treasures on display in the palace, such as clothing, gold pitchers, thrones and jewelry. There were some excellent views out over the Golden Horn waterway.

We arrived in Turkey during the tulip festival and the palace grounds have extensive plantings of tulips which were quite impressive. It was a bit disappointing that people were trampling them to get their picture taken within them. And once the weather turned windy and rainy, they started drooping.

Our dinner that night was at a place near the Aya Sophia which had a special clay pot chicken dinner. They brought in the pot engulfed in flame and then they cracked open the pot and poured out the dish. Quite spectacular!


Aya Sophia mosaics

I was very impressed with the number of cats in Istanbul and all around Turkey. Here as in many other meals, we were joined by a cat who reclined at our feet through part of the meal.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: