Istanbul not Constantinople (or Byzantium)

This city is so full of history, it is amazing. And this post is going to be kinda nerdy. That’s what happens when a world history teacher goes to a city that served as capitol of three different major empires and sat at the intersection of the eastern and western worlds, directly along the Silk Road 🙂

Yesterday we went to Topkapi Palace, which was one of the twenty gates to the ancient walled city of Istanbul. It now houses artifacts from past sultans that are extremely elaborate. From emerald pencil boxes to ivory water pitchers, from Sultan Mehmed II’s dressing gown to Sultan Suleyman’s jeweled throne (with over 900 gems!). There was even a 82 carat diamond. Wow. We weren’t able to take pictures in most of that museum, but below is a picture of the Hagia Sophia that we continue to walk by daily.

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This morning we went to the Blue Mosque first thing and marveled in the expansiveness of it. The whole inside is covered in mosaics and part of the experience is covering our heads and removing our shoes. It was actually quite peaceful for a huge tourist attraction and we were free to wander at our leisure. The outside courtyard was just as large and the grounds surrounding that were even larger. There were guides explaining Islamic practices and really everyone just seemed to be respectful and interested in learning about this aspect of Turkish culture.

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When we exited we were in the Hippodrome, which was the large, oval race track. All the remains are a few of the distance markers and the endpoint where horses or chariots would turn around. One was donated by the Egyptians, and another was erected during the rule of Diocletian (he split the Roman Empire). They are shown below (notice it was actually sunny for a change!) but this is only one end of the Hippodrome. The rest of the surface of the former track is now a large pedestrian square right near the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. The calls to worship echo throughout this whole area daily, which is really neat.

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Then we descended into the Basilica Cisterns, which are pretty much an underground city. It was really cool and I enjoyed identifying the different capitols on the columns (Corinthian, Ionic, Doric). At the far corner are two columns with faces of Medusa, one upside down and one on its side. There were varying theories as to why, but one is shown below regardless. Then we set off on a long, winding journey through the city. We had a destination in mind, but scratched it after being led astray. An amazing fish sandwich for lunch under the Galata Bridge gave us enough energy to venture into the spice bazaar again for some things we missed. Our favorite vendors recognized us, gave us free tea and Turkish delight, and discounts on more goods 🙂

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This evening we tried a new neighborhood for a nice dinner of pide (a brick oven flatbread) at a cute restaurant with ska for seats. Then it was up to a rooftop restaurant for drinks and a panorama of the city, including the major bridges which are lit up with changing, colorful lights. Tomorrow, finally, is Asia! This will be my fourth continent and I’m excited, then we are venturing into a Turkish bath which should be… An experience. Stay tuned my friends!

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