Although under warnings from the government not to travel to Turkey we set off this morning to meet our tour guide Evarim. We travelled by tram into town from the port. She pointed out that as we crossed the river that the best and cheapest seafood restaurants could be found under the bridge.
First stop - the Hippodrome. The ancient site of chariot races. There is very little left of the once centre of sporting and social life in Constantinople. The u shaped track was 450 metres long and 130 metres wide. At one time there were many statues and columns in the middle as well as 4 copper horses. When Constaninople was defeated in the fourth crusade the hippodrome was looted and the 4 horses were taken to St Mark's square in Venice.
There remains an obelisk which was moved from Luxor in 390 and the Serpentine column which once bore three serpent heads. One detached head survives and is in a museum in Istanbul.
The Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque - so called because of the blue tiles from Isnik that cover the internal walls. The dome in the mosque is 43 metres high and 23.5 metres
in diameter. The main prayer hall can accomodate 10000 worshippers at a time. It is a very large building with a large number of outbuildings typical of mosques built by the Ottaman Turks such as a primary school, library, soup kitchen, a market and a tomb for members of the Royal family. The buildings are still there but used for different purposes today.
Hagia Sofia - often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world - once a church, then a mosque and now a museum. You can see evidence of them all. Built in the 6th century AD. There is a huge dome with 40 windows below. Which let in lots of light. It was built as a cathedral with a nave and there were many mosaics and icons on the walls. When it became a mosque many mosaics were hidden either under paint or plaster and the pulpit moved to the left to face Mecca. Islamic signs were also added.
We were then taken to a Ceramic store and given a demonstration of the typical Turkish pottery making and viewed some beautiful examples at a shop. Beautiful hand painted bowls and other implements including a
Carpet in the blue mosque
Tulip design is symbol of Islam
jug for wine that you put your arm through to pour.
The Basilica cisterns - this subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian in 532. The largest surviving structure of its type there were 336 columns many taken from ruined temples so they are beautifully carved. It is amazing place and a must see. It was cleaned and renovated in 1985 and is now one of the most popular attractions.
We had lunch at the Pudding Club restaurant
Grand Bazaar - because of the downturn in tourism numbers the Grand Bazaar can now offer some competitive pricing but we had no need for leather jackets or rugs so we just wandered through the maze of streets and stalls. Evarim took us for Turkish coffee at a coffee shop and the owner also gave us some cinnamon tea.
A great day in Istanbul. We felt very safe but I know things can change in an instant . Many thanks to our guide Evarim from The Best of Ephesus Tours.
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