Posted by: David Stewart | June 7, 2013

Istanbul: Bazaars, Churches, Mosques and Cisterns

This is part of a series of posts about our Spring 2013 trip.

Monday, April 15

After breakfast we caught a tram outside the Aya Sohia, transferred to a second tram and arrived in the neighborhood of the Chora church. This old church was called “Chora” or “outside” because it was located outside the walls of the old city. The city walls in Istanbul are quite impressive and seem to go on for miles. Unlike cites which tore down their walls of convenience, Istanbul kept theirs and it is quite impressive.


Jesus pulling Adam and Eve from the grave


Chora Church

The Chora was a bit difficult to find in the winding streets but we managed to locate it. Like the other Byzantine churches,  it was turned into a mosque by the Ottomans and then into a museum by Ataturk. The mosaics in this place are extensive and very impressive. One great example is Jesus at the resurrection who is pulling Adam and Eve out of their tombs by the wrist. Not only is the main worship area filled with mosaics but the various entry halls and gathering spaces have them as well. Well worth the effort to get to the Chora.

From there, we decided to walk to the Saint George Patriarche, the main church of the Greek Orthodox church. This required a walk of a couple of kilometers through twisty and windy streets. We set off following Google Maps and eventually dropped us into a street which seemed very representative of common life in Istanbul. We stopped in a small local restaurant for soup and bread and kept walking.


Bakery window. Round simits were a staple for our trip

We eventually did find the Saint George, which has a number of ornate icons of Christ. The orthodox believers kiss the various icons as a part of their worship, and some of them certainly showed their love.


Blue Mosque, Istanbul

We then hiked up a hill to a local school building which had an impressive view over the city but was not open. Then we decided to hop a taxi back to the area of our hotel rather than try to find a public transit option.

Across from the Aya Sophia is the Blue Mosque, which was designed to be as impressive on the outside as the Aya Sophia. It’s called the Blue Mosque because of the many blue tiles in its interior. We visited the Mosque, but as there is not much to see in the interior, we didn’t spend much time there.


The Byzantine Cistern

We then walked through the Byzantine Cistern. This was a massive underground water storage reservoir, built in the days of Justinian. It’s a really immense and dark space, like a sunken palace. Columns supporting the ceiling were reportedly recycled from a number of former temples. There are a couple of medusa heads in one corner of the cistern, one placed sideways and the other is upside down.  The cistern still has water in it and carp are swimming around in the water. Visitors walk through the restored cistern on platforms over the water.

After this, we ate at the Seven Hills Restaurant, which was just across the street from the Side hotel. The prices here were a bit high, but the Sea Breem is a local delicacy and was fantastic. We also had Red Mullet, which I never had heard of before, but it was quite good as well.

Grand Bazaar, Istabul

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Grand Bazaar, Istabul

Lamp store, Grand Bazaar

Bookseller's Market, Istanbul

Bookseller’s Market, Istanbul

Tuesday, April 16

We walked from our hotel to the Grand Bazaar, a massive covered market within walking distance of our hotel. Although there were a number of interesting shops, we didn’t end up doing much commerce there. I suppose it was all a bit overwhelming and not clear that there was much that we wanted. I liked the lamps but I wasn’t convinced I liked them well enough to buy one.

There is also an old book bazaar outside the Grand Bazaar. We looked through one shop there with a number of old miniatures and pages from books. The prices were soaringly high there – not a good bargain.

From the Grand Bizarre we walked through many streets with various kinds of shops to the Spice Bazaar. Smaller than the Grand, this one focuses on soaps, teas, spices, and Turkish delight. We were persuaded to stop for a coffee after smelling the odors wafting from a custom roasting house with a massive line outside it for people to buy beans.

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Palace Mosaic Museum, Istanbul

Palace Museum mosaic, Istanbul

We then hiked back over to the Blue Mosque where there is a display called the Palace Mosaic Museum. Here are a few of the mosaics from the Byzantine Palace of Justinian which is now destroyed. These were quite interesting and not a little bit quirky, showing everything from kids playing with wheels and sticks to mythical beasts.

Little Aya Sofia

Little Aya Sofia Mosque

From there we walked over to the Little Aya Sofia, a mosque built on a similar plan to its elder brethren, but it didn’t start out as a church. Mosques have a special place in the front which is aligned with Mecca. This was a functional place of worship, and we left just as the call to prayer went out and people streamed in to pray.

In the neighborhood is the last remaining stones from the hippodrome. This was a vast chariot racing venue which is now destroyed.

Across from these stones is the Koska carpet shop, which has its own cistern restored underneath, which we walked through. After walking through the basement, Deb and Susan stayed behind to get a sales pitch from a high-end carpet salesman. Then they went to a Hamam (bathhouse) for a pampering while Court and I rested. (I would later get my own exposure to both carpet selling and Turkish baths)

After the bath, the ladies joined us again for a simple dinner at Tony’s place.


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