Sunday, April 28, 2013

The visit to the archeological museum and a trip on the Bosphorus

We took a brief walk through the massive Grand Bazaar first thing this morning. The labyrinth of streets is lined with thousands of little shops. It is the ultimate shopping mall dating back to the 1400s.

Outside the archeological museum, marveling at the ancient columns and statues we were sitting among, we had our coffee gazing across at the purple porphyry sarcophagi. Some of these are thought to hold bodies of the early Byzantine emperors. The museum's  collection of antiquities was begun in the nineteenth century and today it has one of the richest collections of classical artifacts. It was deemed then that no artifacts could leave Turkey. This legacy means that today Turkey does not have to pry or buy its artifacts back from other countries.

Perhaps the highlight of the museum is the Alexander Sarcophagus, a fabulously carved marble tomb from the 4th century BC thought to have been built for a King of Sidon. It gets it's name because Alexander the Great is depicted on it, winning a victory over the Persians.

The tablet with the inscription of the world's earliest surviving peace treaty, the Treaty of Kadesh, between the Egyptians and the Hittites in 1269 BC is on display. One of the clauses provides for the return of political refugees. After a visit to the museum of the Orient and the beautiful displays in the museum of tiles and ceramics, we left the archeological complex to board a tram for the waterfront.

I can truly say that I have never been so glad to get off a mode of public transit as I was to get off that tram, with mainly standing room only. For me it is a bit of a stretch to a strap but the crush was so bad this time that I couldn't even find a strap. This along with the sour smell of under arm odor from people raising their arms and tourist's complete disregard of the fact that they were wearing backpacks to add to the crush made the journey a silent hell. The trams are always full to bursting so you can only imagine what it is like when the city is really busy.

The good news is that we were at the spot where the Bosphorus cruises begin. Now we could view the city's landmarks from the water sitting outside on the upper deck of the boat. Much of what we passed was almost mundane, because of its modernity, not quite what I was expecting. However, we did pass some magnificent buildings such as the 19th century Dolmabahce Palace, a symbol of Ottoman grandeur. There were several other impressive 19th century houses. At the narrowest point of the Bosphorus was the imposing Fortress of Europe. The Galata Tower at 60 metres high was easily recognizable from the water. In the past it was used to monitor shipping before becoming a prison and naval depot.

On the return trip we passed the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia museum. In fact the skyline was dotted with the many huge mosques in the city. By this time I was very thankful when one of the crew brought around some hot tea. It was very cold and windy and threatening rain. If you stood in the centre of the boat outside you could almost get out of the wind. Finally back in the Sea of Marmara, there were more boats than ever, not only the many tour boats but container ships coming to the port as well as many anchored ships. It was an incredibly busy spot.

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