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Istanbul is a big city full of big history. This is because it lies in a strategic spot. The old city lies at the confluence of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. The Bosphorus is the very narrow strait that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. This is how Russia, Georgia, the Ukraine and Romania were connected to the rest of the world. In the photo to the left, the Bosphorus is located above Tasha's head. The Sea of Marmara is quite large - not the sort of lake that you can easily see across - and it flows into the Aegean Sea , which is part of the Mediterranean, through the Dardanelles Strait. Along with the Bosphorus it separates the Asian side of Turkey from the European side, though why the continental boundaries are there isn't clear to us at the moment. The Asia side is the land mass on Tasha's left side, so on the right in the photo. The Sea of Marmara is what Tasha is standing in front of. The Golden Horn is a natural harbor, which the rulers of Istanbul in it's earliest incarnations as Byzantium, New Rome and Constantinople, used well. The harbor was enclosed and protected. The Golden Horn goes off to the top left in the picture. The old city is just to the left of Tasha's right shoulder. This is where the Hagia Sophia stands, as well as the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar and the Tokapi Palace. It was once enclosed by great and mighty walls, many of which are still standing.
Here we have another piece of subway art - though from a different station, also depicting the old city. The mosque on the top left is the Blue Mosque - 6 minarets is the give away! The Hagia Sophia, first commissioned as a Christian church when Constantine came to town in the 300's, is the building on the far left with four minarets. (Yes, the church was used for centuries as a mosque.)
One of the first things that Tasha noticed when we arrived in Turkey were the license plates, which are all set up and ready for EU membership, which sounds like it is far from assured based on the politics we hear about over here.
The Hagia Sophia
The current Hagia Sophia was completed in the 537. It was the largest cathedral in the world for over a thousand years! In particular, the dome is meant to be amazing. Unfortunately, there is scaffolding in the center of the dome at the moment, so it was not clearly visible. In the 1400s Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and Sultan Mehmed II ordered the Hagia Sophia to be converted into a mosque. It stood for the next 500 years as a model of a beautiful mosque.
We were told that if you know the right guard it is still possible to get a few pieces from one of these old great mosaics. This probably explains their current state. They were once rather well preserved, as they were hidden from view when this church was used as a mosque.
The Blue Mosque
The Blue mosque is one of many modeled after the Hagia Sophia. It is easily identified by its six minarets. It is the landmark of Istanbul. Unlike in Morocco where admission to mosques was forbidden to non-Muslims (probably a sensible rule), in Istanbul it was possible to step inside the mosque (barefooted, of course) provided it you do so outside of the time for prayers.
The Dolmabahce Palace
This is a late period palace, being only 150 years old. It was built in the model of the great European palaces, with one major difference. It had to accommodate the sultans harem. As men and women in the Ottoman times did not mingle outside of families, there are parts of the palace that were used for running the Ottoman Empire, and there were parts that were used for entertaining visiting men, and their were the parts used by the family. Some of the rooms in this palace are huge, one of them contains a chandelier that weighs more than 4 tonnes!
A beautifully inlaid table.
A gift from an African dignitary, one of a pair of chandeliers made using matching elephant tusks.
We stayed in Şişli, which is across the Golden Horn from the old city, but is right in the heart of modern Istanbul. Just a few blocks from our apartment was Cevahir Shopping Center. It is said to be the largest shopping center in Europe, and has inside several amusement rides inside, as well as a multiplex.
From Istanbul we flew to Athens.
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