Day 2 - Istanbul - October 13

The first stop today as a group was the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayı - "Sunken Palace"), built during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justian I in the 6th century. There is still water down there but only a few inches. People pitch in coins and fish swim around. Below you can see some coins and a blur of fish.
Constantine I was the first to build some kind of structure for a cistern. He's the guy who transformed Byzantium into Constantinople. And he was the first Christian Roman Emperor. He and his mother, Helena, are saints in the eyes of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine rite. We'll here more about both of them later when we visit the Göreme Open Air Museum.

This place could hold 2,800,00 cubic feet of water when it was in use. Where did the water come from? Belgrade Woods, about 12 miles north of Istanbul. How did it get to the city? Aquaducts, of course. The Romans were just crazy about aquaducts.

This column caught my eye. I really liked the design. Few of the columns are "decorated" but most of the capitals are either Ionic or Corinthian. Check out the Medusa heads. The shots I took of it were all blurry. I should have checked my Medusas before walking away.
Outside the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), in the courtyard, is this big stone base of some lost piece. But I'll guess it's from the time of Theodosius, the guy who dragged over the Obelisk of Tuthmosis III, remember?
OK, where to begin with Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom)? It's big. It's just big. In fact, it was the world's largest cathedral for a thousand years. This isn't the original church that stood on this spot, the Magna Ecclesia. That church is long gone. And the current building is the third Church of the Holy Wisdom. This church was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian between 532-537. video

This was the focal point for the Eastern Orthodox Church until the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453. It was then converted into a mosque. It was a mosque until 1935 when it was converted into a museum. The Christian mosaics, which were plastered over, have been restored. At the same time, the building's history as a mosque has been retained.

These giant medallions were designed by Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspere and Giuseppe Fossati in the mid-nineteenth century during a period of restoration. Click on any photo to enlarge.
You enter through the Imperial Gate and are standing immediately under the massive dome. The main dome is under semi-perpetual restoration. This is the enormous scaffolding structure which stands right in the center of the building. You can see the highly stylized Arabic calligraphy circling the center of the dome. At the same time, you can see two giant seraphim surrounded in blue.
There are wonderful stained glass windows with Arabic script.
Peeking through this small corridor lined with Iznik tiles, you can see part of the minbar, that structure with the cone on the top, from where the imam presents the sermon.
In the upper gallery are columns with highly decorated capitals and Byzantine designs painted on the ceiling. video
This is the famous Deësis mosaic, dating probably from either 1185 - 1204 or from after 1261 when the Byzantines ousted the Latin Invaders and took back their capital. A wonderful site describing the restoration of this mosaic can be found by clicking here.

In this mosaic we see Mary on the left, Jesus in the center, and St. John the Baptist on the right. You can just make out the Greek letters ΜΡ - ΘΥ on either side of Mary's head. This is an approximation or abbreviation of the letters Mu and Rho and Theta and Upsilon for Mary Theou, or Theotokos, Mother of God. We saw these letters over and over again whenever we saw images of Mary. Click on any photo to enlarge. video
A close-up of Jesus. The combination of letters on either side of Jesus is a Christogram, a combination of letters forming an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. In this case, the Greek letters are ΙΣ and ΧΣ, Iota Sigma and Chi Sigma, from the words ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ - Iēsous Khristos. Sigma (Σ), however, was often written as C in Medieval times.

Latin Crusaders and earthquakes were not the only means of destruction perpetrated on this mosaic. Mother Nature and the elements had their way too. There is a big window just to Mary's right. For decades at a time, wind and rain blasted through the window. You can see in the first picture in this series how much of the lower half of this piece is missing as a result.
Other domes of the Hagia Sophia.
Here is Mary again flanked on either side by Emperor John II Comnenus on her right and Empress Irene on her left.



Below is another image of Jesus, this one from the Empress Zoë mosaic. I do have shots of the full mosaic but there was a fair amount of glare from the nearby window.

The mosaic below Jesus, featuring Mary again, is one of the apse mosaics. This one is in the half-dome in the apse. It dates from 867 but the background is the original from the 6th century.

Here we are back at the Comnenus mosaic. This is Alexius Comnenus, son of Emperor Comnenus and Empress Irene.
This pie shape we will see again. It's one of several early Christian symbols. Often, the symbols were composed of Greek letters spelling out Jesus or perhaps just the first letters of a longer Christian phrase. The letters would be stacked every which way to create a symbol.
Here we have quite a variety of patterns and colors. We have paint, stone relief, and marble.
Sally spotted this graffiti carved into a marble railing in the upper gallery. The letters are certainly Greek. We think the middle reads "1565" but that's as far as our knowledge got us.

You might miss this mosaic if you weren't paying attention. It's at the southwestern entrance which is an exit for tourists. So it's behind you as you walk out. However, a mirror sits above the exit (entrance) so the image catches your eye and you orientate quickly and spin around and look up. This mosaic is very well preserved. It dates from 944. It was rediscovered by those Fossati brothers when they worked on general restorations to the Hagia Sophia from 1847-49 when it was a mosque. On Mary's right is Justinian I and on her left is Constantine. Again we see the ΜΡ - ΘΥ on either side of Mary's head.
A quick snack was had for 2 TL from the simit vendor in the square outside Hagia Sophia. Simit were available everywhere we went. Think of it as somewhere between a pretzel and bagel. One variety is thinner and covered in sesame seeds. The other is flakier and has a thin water or egg white wash.
Inside the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art (Turk-Islam Eserleri Muzesi). There is a large section depicting nomadic cultures. I love yurts so this reconstructed yurt caught my eye.
I really like the relief work on the following pieces. Here is a dragon breathing fire.
These two structures are cenotaphs, monuments or tombs representing folks whose remains are elsewhere.
Here are a couple of warriors from the 12th century.


The blue tiles in this 12th century mosaic lit up the room. This piece is sizable. The measurements were not listed on the identification card but it had to be four feet tall and almost 3 feet wide.
















Not quite sure how comfortable these slippers would be but they sure are pretty.
It wouldn't be a museum of Islamic art without rugs. This giant room held some exquisite examples.
We saw Mother of Pearl used in several pieces while we were in Istanbul. This is a koran box dating from late 16th early 17th century.


Just two days before, I was reading about this place in the Magic Bus book I mentioned in the post from our first day in Istanbul. This was THE hippie hang out back in the day. The Pudding Shop is a nickname given to Lale Restaurant, opened in 1957 by brothers Idris and Namik Çolpan. Travelers would stop here to meet other travelers, check the bulletin board, eat, hang out, on their overland route from Europe to all parts of Asia.
The food was pretty good. Quite the selection.
Check out the old photos.
OK, Sally had a stuffed zucchini and rice. I had stuffed mushrooms and rice. And bread, plenty of bread. You can see two varieties in this shot. The light country loaf and the flat bread style with the delicious char marks from the oven.

On to Chora Church or, more specifically, Church of St. Savior in Chora. East meets West. On the left a minaret, on the right, the main part of the church. Most of the current church dates from 1077-1181. The church isn't that big but it hold some of the most spectacular Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. It's just packed to the gills. It was also packed with people so we didn't linger. I took dozens of photos and I've selected the ones I think best illustrate the types of works we saw. For plenty of photos and information, visit the Chora Museum web siteRafet, our driver, handled that bus like a dream. I can't tell you all of the tight squeezes he sailed through. He is but one quick example from the alley leading to a back entrance to the grounds of Chora Church.
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Click on any photo to enlarge.
Here is a shot to give you some perspective on the scale. Much smaller than Hagia Sophia.

This Jesus and Mary in another deësis (not shown is St. John the Baptist).
I liked this image. Just the face remains but we can see where the hundreds of tesserae once sat.

Above, the Anastasis fresco, the resurrection.
An up-close shot so you can see the individual tessara. You can also see the indentations where tesserae once sat in the plaster.
These two guys were quite the characters. I met them outside the Chora Church where we all mingled and shopped and relaxed. They loved having their picture taken. Look at those faces, huh? How adorable are they?
I see Val, Bonnie, Sally, Karen, then four strangers, then Patty and Glenda.
Dinner with Karen and Nell at Sofa Restaurant just a a couple blocks form the hotel. Very good food. And the cats of the neighborhood were respectful. This guy just hung out next to Sally the whole time.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos of the Hagia Sophia; good catch on the graffiti (I missed it). Nicely done, Victoria; from "that other Victoria."

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