Today, we visited many mosques and monuments in Istanbul, Turkey.
On our way to the Blue Mosque we had a ton of trouble getting through traffic. We learned that in Istanbul there are 15 Million people living there, which is 20% of the country of Turkey’s population. Also in the city, there are four million cars driving around the city. We drove until we came to a small pavilion where we all got out and walked around the old Roman hippodrome, where the Romans would gather for events and chariot races. There were obelisks from ancient Egypt and art from all over the Roman Empire. There was a large Egyptian obelisk that dated back to 1500 BC. During the Roman Era, this pavilion was used as a chariot racing arena. In Istanbul, there are 3,270 Mosques. Also, Istanbul is one of the only cities that is on two continents. There is the Bosporus River that separates the Asian side from the European side. We walked through a set of gates and got in line to go to the Blue Mosque.
Our first destination was the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is called this because of the many floor and wall tiles around the inside, although it’s not actually that blue and other mosques are much more blue than the Blue Mosque. The whole floor was covered in carpets so we couldn’t see the blue tiles on the floor, but we could see the ones on the ceiling and second floor walls. The mosque had many chandeliers hanging down from the ceiling that illuminated the room brightly. On one side of the room, there was a monument with a small cushion under it. This monument was made facing Mecca, and it is where the Imam, or the preacher would sit and pray toward Mecca. When Muslims pray five times a day, they are always facing Mecca. Mecca is the most holy city in Islam. If you are Muslim, you must take the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life, which is called the Hajj. In the mosque, there were carpets that were mostly red, except they had lines of yellow where people would stand/sit and pray. We also learned that in a mosque, women have to cover their heads with a scarf, and they have to go up to the second floor or in the back to pray.
After looking at the Blue Mosque, we walked outside and came to a very large pavilion with many fountains, trees and shrubs of all shapes and sizes. Across the pavilion was the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia is amazing! We were going to go there right away, but the line was too long so we visited the Topkapi Palace first. Topkapi means cannon gate. This is probably because of the two cannons at the front gate of the palace. The palace was built for the sultan, who was the ancient leader during the period of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was called that because of the first sultan whose name was Osman, therefore creating the Ottoman Empire.
Inside the Topkapi palace, there were four courtyards, one for the soldiers, the second for the administrators, the third one for the gardens and the final one for the private home of the sultan.
On our way to the main building, we went into a gift shop and dressed up as sultans and had our picture taken. Also, with twisting a few arms, and our guide Cem telling them we were from the famous San Francisco Lacrosse Team, we got to do a lacrosse video in the sultan clothing.
We walked inside the main building of the palace and came to the kitchen. Now, the kitchen is a museum, with many pots and pans from the time that the kitchen was in use for the sultans. When the sultan lived there, there were 300 chefs, one private chef for the sultan, and a food taster to make sure nobody would poison the sultan. The kitchen had many long and tall chimneys to let all the smoke out. Inside of glass cases, there were pots, pans, plates and utensils of all shapes and sizes. After looking at the kitchen, we went and saw a room that had many gems and diamonds, kind of like the room under the Kremlin we saw in Moscow or like the Crown Jewels we saw years ago in London, except just a bit smaller. We walked out onto a patio where we could see the Bosphorus River that splits the European and Asian sides of the city. We decided to head back over to Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia was first built in 300 AD, then rebuilt in 400 AD, and the structure that still stands now was built from 532 to 537 AD. Hagia Sophia was burned down twice during the Nika Riots, so they rebuilt it twice. Hagia Sophia took only five years to construct, but it took 10,000 people to build (they used slaves, which our guide called volunteers). Hagia Sophia means Holy Wisdom. Hagia Sophia was first a Christian church, and then it was converted to a mosque after the Muslim Ottomans took over Constantinople.
In 1935, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum. While archeologists were working on cleaning it up, they found mosaics and murals behind layers of plaster. In the mosque, there is a monument dedicated to Mecca, just like all the other mosques in the world. In Hagia Sophia, there are eight large calligraphies on the walls. Each mosque has these eight calligraphies inside of them and they are the name of Allah (God), Mohammed, and the apostles. In Islam, you cannot worship a picture or a drawing of Mohammad or Allah. Instead, they just worship the idea of them, unlike Christianity where we have drawings and pictures and icons of Jesus and his disciples.Inside of Hagia Sophia, anything with a face is covered up or scratched off by the Muslims when they converted it to a mosque. Restorers are trying to repaint or reconstruct the faces. We went up to the second level, where we got a great view of the inside. The Hagia Sophia had one huge dome that was said to be “suspended from Heaven by a golden chain.” The dome actually isn’t a perfect circle, it is 32×33 meters wide and long. The Hagia Sophia was an amazing beautiful landmark that I enjoyed visiting. It is amazing what they could build in the 6th century!
Our last destination was the cistern. The cistern is where they stored all of the water for the city. There is still water there now, but it isn’t the city’s water storage anymore. The cistern was built in 532 AD, and it is all underground. We walked down some steps until we came to a huge underground cavern that was all carved out. There were many columns that held the roof up. There used to be 26 million gallons of water in the cistern, so you couldn’t get a great view of the entire cavern. However, now there is not much water left, so there are small footbridges all over the cistern so you can see all of it. There are also fish in the cistern that were put by the managers so it would be more touristy. Our pictures may not have come out great because it was so dark, but if you want to get a good view of it, watch From Russia With Love. Part of the James Bond movie was filmed inside of the cistern. When the movie was filmed, there was a lot of water so the Cistern was different from how it looks now.
We had a great day visiting the highlights of Istanbul!