Sunday, June 14, 2009

İstanbul, Turkey

We took a road trip to see Istanbul. It was a 13 hour bus ride from Bodrum where we left Toboggan, but the sights were well worth it.

We visited Aya Sofya (Church of Holy Wisdom) built in 532 AD by Emperor Justinian. It was eventually captured by the Ottomans and converted into a mosque but for over 1000 years it was the largest place of worship in the Christian world.

1000 years later, the Blue Mosque was built by Sultan Ahmet I in an attempt to surpass the beauty and grandeur of the nearby Aya Sofya. It is called the Blue Mosque because of the luminous blue glow created by the tiled walls and painted dome of the interior. In front of the mosque is the Hippodrome where chariot races and the Byzantine riots took place.

We visited the Topkapi Sarayi which was the Palace of the sultans from 1462 until the 19th century. It is a massive collection of courtyards, houses and libraries. Our favourite part was the 400 room harem and the collection of jewels that were worth billions and billions of dollars.

We waited until the heat of the afternoon to descend to the cool depths of the Basilica Cistern which was built by Constantine underground to hold 100,000 tons of water for the palace. The ceiling of the cistern is 9 metres high supported by 336 columns which creates a magical atmosphere.

We visited the Grand Bazaar with is a medieval labyrinth of over 4500 shops and tried several varieties of Turkish Delight (none of which I found delightful). And of course we couldn’t leave Istanbul without seeing some Whirling Dervishes who spun gracefully for many minutes to mesmerizing Sufi music.

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