Saturday, August 20, 2011

Topkapi Palace & The Hagia Sophia

Not quite time adjusted, I woke up on Day 1 very early and very hungry... and quickly found out that not much happens in Istanbul before 8AM. I took a brief stroll through the same crowded streets we were on the night before only to find them empty and a few people sleeping on couches inside the cafes.

Thankfully, a bakery resided just around the corner from our hostel and I popped in to get some bread. It kind of looked like a soft pretzel, but was much better and was coated in sesame seeds. Yum!

Finally others started rousing and we enjoyed some breakfast where me met a very sweet gal from England, Emily. She was waiting her for her boyfriend to arrive later that day so she joined Julianne and I for our morning exploration... Topkapi Palace was our first stop.

I don't pretend to know much about the significance of this place, but I can tell you that it is very popular (as you can see by the mass of people walking through the gate). Some pretty important people lived here at some point.

We liked to imagine how it would have been as children running through these large gardens with your very own breathtaking view of the Bosphorus each day...

Just outside the palace walls we found the famous Hagia Sophia. Now, this was one of my favorite 'museums' that we explored... let me explain why. 

1) IT WAS HUGE!! -- really it was built to be the largest church cathedral by (can't remember) in I think the 6th century.

2) IT OOZED RELIGIOUS TENSION: I will explain this in the next few pictures.

3) IT WAS THE FIRST SITE WE WENT IN: After seeing a bunch of different buildings and mosques, my interest level waned a bit.

When the Hagia Sophia was in its Christian hay day there were magnificent frescoes artfully covering the walls. These frescoes all included Jesus, some with the Virgin Mary and others with some of the Apostles. This particular one has the emperor (I believe) bowing down to Jesus' feet. To me, this is a beautiful expression of humility and how we are meant to worship the Lord.

However, in the 13th/14th century a new Muslim empire conquered Constantine and took over the Hagia Sophia as their place of worship and power. These frescoes were covered over and almost lost completely. Gaining control was a sign to them that God was with them and was fulfilling some of the prophesies they believed in. (I can't remember exactly what it was, but it had something to do with the sun and the view of the world... which is perfect from this location).

 **On a lighter note, there were cats EVERYWHERE in Turkey and the Hagia Sophia was no exception. President Obama apparently pet his particular cat when he visited Turkey.

Now the building is more of a museum than a mosque, a palace or a cathedral, but it contains elements of all of these things and they are all right on top of each other... this was quite striking.

This seat was for the emperor... I place of power and some people have considered emperors gods themselves. Behind this seat, you can see the Arabic writing on the black paint, which I have no idea what it says, but there were large black paintings similar to these strategically placed around the ceiling of the building.

*And, you can see another cat!

We walked about 20 feet and found this gate that signifies the direction of Mecca. When the building was a mosque the people would say their prayers facing in this direction.

However, the fresco revealed above it is of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. It was almost as if Jesus was watching the mix of power, Islam and Christianity... it was comforting, powerful, and a bit eerie.

We walked throughout the rest of the structure taking in the history and art before heading out to explore some more of Istanbul. Quite a full morning.


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