Following a tremendously satisfying, if not short, sleep I woke dreaming of more sleep. Unfortunately, my body was telling me it was 10pm and I was done with my nap. Such is life. Enjoyed a relaxing morning and great breakfast of cheese, pastries, fresh squeezed orange juice, and toast with rose jam. Rose jam was a new one for me. Historically roses were loved by the Roman and Islamic culture, among others. In her seduction of Mark Anthony, Cleopatra coated the floor of her room with a mass rose petals two feet deep. At a party Nero once showered his guests with so many petals a guest was actually smothered to death under the weight. Think of that on the next Valentine’s Day… It was delicious and I will be bringing some home.
After breakfast I hopped on a bus for a tour of a few places. First stop was to go back to Aya Sofia, but this time with a guide. For anyone visiting I highly recommend a tour, as it was recommended to Aya Sofia on a sunny dayme. Your average certified guide has four years of classes and an extremely difficult exam under his belt – essentially the equivalent of a college degree in regional history and archeology. What I learned today was that Aya Sofia did not just contain elements of two major religions but many earlier religions as well. These religions were not practiced in this building, but rather Aya Sofia contains many remnants of previous temples. Essentially, the builders recycled components of older buildings. When Christianity became the principal religion of the Roman empire pagan temples were sacked and destroyed. Some completely destroyed, some had their components repurposed. For example, two of the massive pillars in the back of Aya Sofia were from a 4th century BC temple of Artimus, the twin of Apollo in Greek mythology. Two bronze plaques featuring dolphins and tritons on the rear wall were taken from a temple of Poseidon, the god of the sea who when offended would strike his triton down and shake the earth (a fitting image for a city prone towards earthquakes). During the Islamic Ottoman period, two large marble jars were removed from the Delphi temple of Apollo and brought into Aya Sofia first for first storing the oil used in the lamps and eventually for the practice of wadhu (abolution), or the ritualistic washing of one’s self before prayer or ceremony. In fact, Aya Sofia was the only mosque in which one would wash inside rather than outside. There is quite an irony involved with the recycling the relics in a temple setting.
After leaving Aya Sofia, we moved to the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii Blue Mosquein Turkish). From a distance the building gives a light blue hue from the grey building material, but the real reason for the name is what you see inside. Built in seven years starting in1609, the commissioning sultan, Ahmed spared no expense in its construction. Well, in its décor at least. In another fine exampling of recycling buildings, or really “freecycling” materials, the bulk of the structure was pulled from what was the 4th century Roman hippodrome next door. Thats right, a large portion of the mosque was built from the remains of where Ben Hur-type figures woInside Aya Sofiauld race to the death for the emperor’s pleasure. All that remains of the hippodrome today are the central pillars and markers (one in particular is a massive 16th century BC Egyptian column brought to Istanbul also in the 4th century). Removing my shoes I entered the mosque and attempted to take in the size and scale of the building. Starting from the floors, the marble I had become accustomed to was replaced with a beautiful red carpet. Instead of the thin, early Ottoman style pillars, there were four massive pillars, referred to as elephants feet. The most impressive part of the building was the tile work. There is a part of Turkey just south of the Asian side of Istanbul called Iznik. For hundreds of years now the city has been known for their tile work. The tiles used on on the Blue Mosque are hand painted on quartz (not ceramic) and number over 22,000. I think of the process needed to create each of the dyes used on each tile, the time it took to cut out each piece of quartz and the skill necessary to draw each and every line or flower. Truly an amazing site.
I have been thinking about texture all day – both visual and physical. Throughout today I touched many things – many hundred to many thousand year old artifacts. Beyond the sites I tasted delicious apple tea and felt how smooth it was compared to black tea. I visited a carpet shop and walked around on hand made rugs in my socks per the owners suggestion. I listened to the rhythmic beat and musical flow of arabesque music that is heard in almost every shop. The sensation of texture is so very dynamic. What made me think of this was from looking at the entry way to Aya Sofia. The marble entry way had been walked on so many times over the last 1500 years the middle was inches lower than the sides. It was so smooth. I thought about the difference between the thick yogurt at home and the runny yogurt here. When eating a delicious grilled kebab tonight I could feel how searing the heat must have been to take soft minced meat and convert it into a crisp exterior. The texture of a painted glazed quartz tile was unusual. It was cold and smooth in a way I can only compare to a visual such as crystal clear glass. Miniature bumps are created by the paint used and visually the unusual flower is only a representation of what the artist must have seen through the flower the painting represented. Really, I am amazed at the level of human ingenuity. What are the criteria involved with cultures creating their own textures and patterns? This, of course, is a rhetorical question. It just amazes me how similar we all are at birth yet how the different outcomes of thousands of years of cultural development can create such astonishingly different results.
Egyptian Spice BazaarI continue to digress… After a simple lunch of meze and kabob I took a cruise down the Bosphorus this afternoon. Saw a few beautiful houses and some great views of the city. Met a few fellow tourists along the way. Followed the Bosphorus cruise with a trip to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar with the other tourists and were greated with hundreds of smells and flavors. It had its touristy moments, but luckily we were able to find the local side of the bazaar. Stalls lined with fish, produce, honey combs and tomato paste (mixed with spices and served on meat) were attending a growing crowd as the sun went down. And as I and a traveler from Spain were not yet hungry, we made our way to the Grand Bazaar for a quick look around before dinner.
The Grand Bazaar is the original indoor mall. I mean that literally. Constructed in the 15th century, this closed building covers what was once 58 streets, contains 5,000 shops, and has over 250,000 visitors a day. This is a great place to get high quality gold and diamonds, as well as the best watch knockoffs I have ever seen. But more on this at another time.
Headed to Taksim Square on the northern side of town for dinner and snacked from street carts on a crowded street closed off for pedestrians only. I started with a street vendor sporting a line of eager customers. Where the locals go so shall I follow. The small plate of fresh mussels stuffed with rice flavored with cinnamon and lemon followed by a kabob of fried mussels topped with garlic creme were over the top. Followed that up at other shops with a delicious order of lamb kofta, a fragrant tomato and pepper salad, rice, and a pint of Effes, the local pilsner.
My stomach and mind are happy.