Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Basilica Cistern

We hadn't been able to visit the Blue Mosque on Friday morning because of religious prayers so we made it our first stop in the afternoon. It takes it's name from the the blue Iznik tile-work decorating the interior. The Blue Mosque is one of the most famous religious buildings in the world. The outside courtyard, where we had to wait in line, was an area the same size as the prayer hall. Around the courtyard were banners with various common sense and pacifistic sayings of Mohammed in English and Turkish. Once again there were taps outside the building for the ritual ablutions before prayer. Most impressive were the designs painted into the mosque's domes. It was vast inside the mosque and very busy with people at prayer and fellow tourists.

Our next visit of the afternoon was the Haghia Sophia, which is more than 1400 years old. The original church was built by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD. In the 15th century the Ottomans converted it into a mosque: the minarets, tombs and fountains date from this time. The fascinating thing to me was all the images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in the mosque, since Moslems do not have any images of people in their mosques at all. However, Jesus is considered to be the last Muslim prophet and his likenesses remained in the mosque. There was a beautiful mosaic of Jesus flanked by Emperor Constantine. The original baptistery now serves as the tomb of two sultans. The nave is covered by a huge dome 56 metres high.

A ramp led us from the ground floor to the galleries above. It was very impressive looking down on the vast floor below. The apse was dominated by a large and striking mosaic showing the Virgin with an infant Jesus on her lap. There were mosaics of saints and seraphim. It all seemed incongruous with what we have seen in mosques so far.

The Basilica Cistern was our last stop of the day. This vast underground water system measuring 70 by 140 metres was laid out under Justinian in 532 AD, mainly to satisfy the demands of the Great Palace by pumping water from 19 kilometres away. For a century after the Ottoman conquest they didn't know of it's existence until people were found to be collecting water, and even fish, by lowering buckets through holes in their basements.

It is quite lovely treading the walkways listening to classical music and dripping water. The cistern's roof is held up by 336 columns, each over 8 metres high. It is quite spectacular looking down the rows of columns. In one corner two columns rest on Medusa head bases, which are thought to mark a shrine to the water nymph.

Dinner started out much like a Monty Python sketch. When we ordered pides, Turkish style pizza,from the menu, they didn't have them. I asked what they had and they responded everything else on the menu. But sure enough, the next thing we attempted to order wasn't available either. It was time to abort. A good decision as we ended up in a lovely little restaurant where I had a salad and shrimps, while Seamus had a lamb dish with apricots and raisins. The flat bread they served was all hot and puffed up and served with cucumber tzatziki. Delicious.

We had a lovely after dinner walk through the square outside the Blue Mosque at its most magical floodlit at night. Having walked enough for the day we decided to take the tram back to the hotel. This gives a whole new meaning to being squashed in like sardines. It took my ribs a few minutes to expand back to where they should be, when we got off the tram.

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