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Touristic Istanbul

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When Jen came to visit Istanbul – over a month ago, as hard as that is to believe – she had one major goal for what she wanted to see in the city: the Aya Sofya. Although Istanbul is a magnificent city worth much more than it’s well known tourist draws, Jen was right to have that be her goal. One should not go to there and not bother seeing the Aya Sofya and the old city where Constantinople, and Byzantion before that, once stood. So, on Jen’s last day in the city, we set out to see the touristic Istanbul.

Outside the Aya Sofya
Outside the Aya Sofya

Pressed for time – we had to leave for the airport for a flight back to Malatya that night – we immediately headed to the Aya Sofya and were, stupidly, shocked by the length of the line to get in. Luckily, it moved fairly quickly and we were in before we knew it. Although the waiting may have set us back more than expected in our schedule, it was well worth it for the lighting once we were inside the old church turned mosque turned museum. From the upper gallery of the building, you could see beams of golden light filtering through the hundreds of small windows at the base of the dome.

It’s interesting to think that when mosques were first built, they were usually more simple square buildings with a single minaret. It was not until the Arabs conquered Jerusalem did they build the al-Aqsa mosque with it’s massive dome as a way of architecturally challenging the perceived Byzantine-Christian cultural strength. Standing inside the Aya Sofya, one could easily understand why a dome is such a powerful architectural achievement – it simply floats above you, with no visible supports.

Touristic Istanbul

Across from the Aya Sofya stands Sultan Ahmet Camii, or the Blue Mosque, which was constructed under orders from Sultan Ahmet. Although truly a beautiful building in it’s own right, and definitely an amazing piece of craftsmanship, I find it harder to become excited about the Blue Mosque than the Aya Sofya. Whereas the Aya Sofya seems to have a grandeur around it won with time, Sultan Ahmet seems almost pompous; having said that, it is still a must see.

The final stop on our tour was the Basilica Cistern, or the Yerebatan Sarnıcı. The largest of the old Byzantine cisterns built throughout Constantinople, the Basilica Cistern sits only a few hundred feet away from the entrance to the Aya Sofya. Although full of tourists with gaudy music piped in through the loud speakers, the cistern still maintained an atmosphere of dank wonder. This amazement was only compounded by two Medusa heads used in the way back of the cistern as basis for the supporting pillars – it remains a mystery as to why they were placed there, especially since one is upside down and the other sideways.

All in all, a touristic tour of Istanbul was not the worst way to end our time in the city.

For more photos, see Jen’s posts about the Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern.

Penny for your thoughts