After the successful completion of our big, fat Greek adventure, we boarded an evening flight (which turned into a late night flight after delays in the Athens airport) and headed to our last big adventure: Istanbul, Turkey. I must say, my heart has become attached to Turkey after living here for over a year and I felt a little as if I was "coming home" when I caught a glimpse of the minaret-dotted skyline from our airplane.
We caught an aiport shuttle bus to our hotel (I don't even want to guess how fast the driver was speeding!) and landed at the doorstep of our hotel around midnight. Phew! The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed, quickly sipped some Turkish cay (tea) and hopped on the tour bus for a day tour of the city.
I was immediately struck by Istanbul's unique charm. The history of this city is incredible. Originally a series of Greek colonies, this city was later crowned "Constantinople," the capital of the entire Roman Empire, in 330 AD. After the empire's split, the city served as the Eastern Roman Empire's (the Byzantine Empire) capital, then shortly served as the center of the Latin Catholic Empire after the Fourth Crusade. The city finally fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 AD and the Turks have held it ever since. When the Republic of Turkey was established less than 100 years ago, it became known as Istanbul. This city, which has been constantly redefined throughout the centuries, has an alluring effect on its visitors. One can't help but fall in love with its beautiful minaret-lined skyline, the mysterious blue Bosphorus Sea, and the charming, colorful streets just dripping with culture. In fact, the European Union named Istanbul a Capital of Culture in 2010. Additionally, Istanbul is the only city in the world that inhabits two continents: Europe and Asia. This city has a truly unique identity.
Here are a few snapshots of our city tour of Istanbul:
Our first stop was the Blue Mosque, famous for its blue tiles from Iznik (modern day Nicea).
Inside of the Blue Mosque
After we left the Blue Mosque, we found ourselves in a large city park. This park used to be Constantinople's "Hippodrome" where chariot races were held. Nothing remains of the stands, but the path where the chariots raced is still here. In addition to this, 3 ancient columns placed here by Constantine remain. Charioteers would race around these columns! The column in this picture is an obelisk that Constantine had transported from Luxor, Egypt!
Another column had some special significance for us. After the Persians defeated the Greeks at Thermopylae, they captured Athens and then kept marching. They then met a huge army of Greeks at Plataea and were defeated, thus ending the Persian invasion. After defeating the Persians at Plataea, the Greeks melted down the Persian weapons and made a triumphal column of three snakes wound together to show that Greeks were dangerous when united.
This column was placed at Delphi next to the Temple of Apollo! (we had visited this earlier in our trip!) Constantine later had the column brought to Constantinople where it remains on display today. Unfortunately, the heads of the snakes were broken off by a drunk in the 1700s...
Our next stop was the Hagia Sophia Church. Hagia Sophia means "Holy Wisdom."
Originally, this structure was a chruch built in the 500s and was the largest Christian Chruch on earth. When the Turks captured Constantinople from the Greeks in 1453, it was converted into a mosque.
In the early 1900s, it was converted into a museum and many of the beautiful Christian mosiacs that were covered up were rediscovered. Very amazing that this building has been standing for 1500 years!!!
Inside of the Hagia Sofia! In the front and center, you can find a Greek mosaic of Mary and Jesus in between two arabic seals. The Hagia Sofia has the fourth largest dome in the world behind those of St. Peter's Basilica, the Duomo of Florence, and St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
We stopped at one more mosque on our tour. Peter is putting his shoes on a shoe holder inside of a mosque...you cannot wear shoes inside a mosque.
Ladies also have to cover their heads in mosques. Peter decided to join us.
We next visited the Topkapi Palace...this palace was used as a residence for Ottoman Turkish sultans for around 400 years!
It is now a museum filled with artifacts from the life of sultans including many riches, and items holy to Muslims such as the Prophet Mohammed's swords and pieces of his beard!
From the palace you can see the Bosphorus Strait which separates the European side of Istanbul from the Asian side.
After touring the palace, we went back to our hotel, went out and introduced Dan's Family and Kevin and Lauri to Turkish food, and then went to bed in our cozy hotel in the Sultanahmet District. It was an awesome but tiring day!