Greece and Turkey 2012


Istanbul - Day One       10-6-12

We disembarked around 8 a.m. from the Seabourn Odyssey and were picked up and driven to our hotel on a scenic route along a portion of Istanbul's waterfront. We are at the Four Seasons - Bosperous. We checked in and arranged to meet the guide in the early afternoon.

We began serious sightseeing as soon as we got back in the van. Istambul is huge, interesting, and both foreign and familiar at the same time. Our first stop was the Hagia Sophia. It was originally a catholic church and was later converted to a mosque. Today it is a museum and no longer used for religious services of any kind. It's a truly massive structure. For a long time it sported the largest dome in the world.

IstanbulWhat's really interesting is that the internal decorations are a mix of Christian representational imagery and Islamic geometry. Our guide pointed out that close to the ceiling (about 100 feet up) there was a large painting of Mary and the Christ child. On both sides of this painting were huge round discs, easily 20 feet in diameter, painted black with gold Arabic script on them. The gold script on the right side of the Jesus/Mary painting said "Allah" and the one on the left said "Muhammed". That was a pretty good example of what recent Turkish leaders have been saying: Turkey respects all religions.Istanbul

We next visited Yarabatan Sarnici. It is pretty eerie. It's a cavernous, 1,500 year old water cistern that is supported by numerous pillars. There are carp in the water and up-lighting for effect. It didn't even smell moldy or musty. Our guide told us that there are music concerts down here. It's hard to imagine what all that rock and water do to sound.

As we left the area we got a glimpse of the Blue Mosque. The guide suggested we not visit the mosque because we'd seen Hagia Sophia. She Istanbulsaid that mosques are much the same and that the Blue Mosque was very crowded. Ottoman sultans built their mosques with four towers and naturally didn't allow anyone else to do that. Even their chief underlings, the pashas, could only build with one tower. In the past, the mosque was not only a center for prayer but Istanbula center for education, welfare, and health care.

Finally, we went to the Kariye Museum, a former Byzantine church.. The mosaics and frescoes in this particular church are focused almost entirely on the story of Mary, which is unusual in church iconography. In addition, the guide pointed out that the various Biblical scenes were artistically portrayed in a real-life way, not static and frozen.

IstanbulWe returned to the hotel amid a late Saturday afternoon traffic jam. There are only so many roads that can be built in this part of Istanbul so there is great reliance on ferries to cross the Bosphorus from the Asian to the European side as well as very modern looking trams in various sections of the city. With gas in Turkey around $10 per gallon, our guide said that people were increasingly seeing the wisdom of using public transportation.

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