Friday, April 4, 2008

Istanbul, Turkey (Part 2)

On Saturday, Necla took us out to see the city of Istanbul, which is Europe's 4th most populous city. It is located on the Bosphorus Strait and is the only city in the world to sit on 2 continents (Europe and Asia). I think that is so cool (and probably have said it a million times)! Istanbul is often referred to as the "City on Seven Hills"; however, I refer to it as the "City on Seven Thousand Hills" because of all the steps we climbed. I think I got my exercise in for the next few months!!!

We first visited the Hagia Sophia (or Ayasofya in Turkish). It is a former patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum. Famous in particular for its massive dome (which has been under renovation for over 20 years!). It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Medieval Seville Cathedral in 1520.

What amazed me the most about the Hagia Sophia was the age of this building. It was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 AD. Yes, I did say that....532 AD. I am in awe every time I visit places that are old. I just do not understand how they could build something so massive without the equipment and technology we have today. There are still mosaics left from 532 AD that are incredible.

The pictures do not do it justice.

This is one of the mosaics that has been in place since 532 AD.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (or Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) is one of several mosques known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built between 1609 and 1616. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice.

To me, the Blue Mosque was the more impressive, especially on the inside due to all the color. As a sign of respect, we had to take off our shoes and cover our hair before entering.

We also visited the Basilica Cistern, also called the Yerebatan Sarayı or Yerebatan Sarnıcı. It is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that still lie beneath the city of Istanbul. I have to be honest and say I am still not exactly sure of the purpose of this Cistern. I believe is was basically a huge water well that held water for the city. I will have to do more research on this.

This cathedral-sized cistern is an underground chamber of 143 by 65 meters, capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water. The large space is broken up by a forest of 336 marble columns each 9 meters high. The columns are arranged in 12 rows each consisting of 28 columns.

However, I did find this interesting...The bases of two of the column blocks were carved with the head of a Medusa. The origin of the two heads is unknown, though it is rumoured that the heads were brought to the cistern after being removed from an antique building of the late Roman period. Another mystery is why one of the heads is upside down, while the other is tilted to one side. It is commonly accepted by scientists that they were placed that way deliberately to scare off evil spirits!

There is still more to stay tuned!

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