We pulled into Istanbul about 8:00 am on Sunday, May 25th. We docked at the Salipazari Terminal, which is located next to the Istanbul Modern Arts Museum and the Nusretiye Mosque, and across the Golden Horn from the main tourist attractions. We did not have a chance to visit the Museum or the Mosque; but here is a picture of the Mosque I took from the deck of the ship.
Once we were allowed to debark, we stopped by an ATM to get some Turkish lira and then walked to the Tophane tram stop. We hopped on the tram and headed to Sultanahmet, the historic (tourist) section of Istanbul.
Our first stop for the day was the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofia), the “church of holy wisdom.”
The Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century A.D. on the site of two previous churches (one burned down and one was destroyed during the Nika revolts) by order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
This frieze with sheep is from the original church, which was dedicated in 415.
The Hagia Sophia is an architectural wonder. It had the biggest dome in the world until Brunelleschi built the Duomo dome in Florence in the 15th century (pictures of that dome in my previous Florence post).
As the Hagia Sofia was the Empire Church of the Byzantine Empire, it was the place where all of the emperors were crowned. This is the Omphalion, a decorative grouping of circular marble slabs in the nave floor, where the coronations were held.
Over time, elaborate mosaics were added to the Church.
The following is the “Sunu Mosaic,” which dates to the 10th century. It is located in the inner narthex above one of the doors. It shows the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus with Emperor Konstantinos I (Constantine) on the left and Emperor Justinian on the right.
This mosaic, the “Deisis Composition,” was thought to have been added in the 13th century. From left to right, it shows the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and John the Baptist.
When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Corresponding renovations were made to the structure (minarets, mihrabs, and a minbar were added) and the mosaics were plastered over. It remained a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum and opened to the public.
The altar and apse.
From the second floor.
In the nave, looking back at the entrance.
Second floor gallery.
A close up of some of the tiles by the altar.
I loved the design of the lamps.
This huge lamp hangs in the center of the nave.
We left the Hagia Sophia and walked across the square to the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii).
It is called the Blue Mosque because of the (mainly) blue tiles that decorate the interior. Visitors are allowed to go in to see the interior; provided it is not during one of the prayer times. Visitors are not allowed to wear shoes inside the Mosque; but, they provide you with a plastic bag to put your shoes in while you are walking around. Additionally, women must cover their hair and people of both sexes must have their knees/legs covered. They also had scarves for everyone to use, as needed.
The inside of the Mosque is beautiful. It was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I and built in the early 1600s.
After leaving the Mosque, we walked to the Hippodrome (it’s right next to the Mosque). The once majestic stadium, the site of chariot races and other events, is now a public garden/square with a few ancient pieces remaining in the middle. Four bronze horses used to be situated on the top of a column where the tourist information booth now sits. The horses were stolen during the 4th Crusade and taken to St. Mark’s in Venice. (Once I get to my Venice blog, you’ll be able to see a picture of them.)
This is the top 1/3 of an obelisk, originally built ~1500 B.C., taken from ancient Egypt in approximately the 4th century A.D. by Constantine and placed in the city. It sits on top of a Byzantine base made from local marble.
From the Hippodrome, we walked to Topkapi Palace. The Palace was built in the 1460s-1470s, by order of Sultan Mehmet II after his conquest of the city. Topkapi Palace served as the center of government for the Ottoman Empire and as the home for the sultans (and their harems) for almost 400 years until the mid 1800s when Sultan Abdul Mecit I moved to the Dolmabahce Palace. Topkapi Palace was turned into a museum after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.
We traded in our tickets (I had bought tickets online previously) and headed inside.
You walk through the Gate of Salutations to get inside the palace grounds.
Since the harem quarters close earlier than the rest of the Palace, we toured that section first. The harem was the living place for the sultan, the Queen Mother, the sultan’s women, children, brothers and sisters, servants, and the eunuchs (the protectors of the harem).
The harem in Topkapi Palace is covered with brightly covered tiles.
I’m not sure who the guy is in the picture below; but it looks like he was posing for me.
I think we need a couch like this. Our dog, Aggie, would love it. And, it would be perfect for napping.
After we left the harem, it started to rain off and on. And, in certain areas, pictures are not allowed. So, I didn’t get a lot of pictures from the rest of the Palace grounds.
The Grand Bazaar is not open on Sundays. So, once we finished our tour of the Palace we took the tram to the Spice Market. This was probably our least favorite stop of the cruise. Each stall/shop had men standing out front selling the wares. And, they were somewhat aggressive about trying to sell you something. Also, the market itself was packed full of people (tourists and locals).
We left the Spice Market and walked back to the tram stop (or so I thought). I bought two tokens with the last couple of lira I had left. Unfortunately, the tokens were for the ferry and not the tram. Oops. So, we walked across the Galata Bridge and back to the ship (which I wouldn’t recommend unless you’re located at the closer dock).
View from the cruise port side of the bridge back towards the Spice Market. Note all the people fishing off of the bridge.
The historic part of Istanbul was beautiful. We didn’t really explore off of the beaten path. But, Istanbul, in general, wasn’t one of my favorite stops of the cruise. It was extremely crowded (the tram, the traffic, the market, etc.). In the historic areas, we were constantly approached to buy things (carpets, tourist books, clothing, scarves, etc.) while walking around. And, in the market, the salesmen were pushy. I understand that some people may love the crowds and buzz of a big city. And, I’m not saying that anyone reading this shouldn’t visit Istanbul. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.