Days 4, 5, & 6 of our Mediterranean Cruise
The Blue Mosque
The ship docked for two days in Istanbul and we needed both days to really enjoy the city. From the dock we walked up to the sites on the opposite hill, but for the less hardy there are buses, trams, and taxis. Istanbul has five must see sites- Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar, and the Blue Mosque.
We spent our first day at Topkapi Palace. While the crowds weren't horrible, we did have to wait in line to enter and then in another line to get tickets and then again to see the treasures of the palace. It was well worth it. The vast treasury includes the famous Spoonmakers Diamond, the fourth largest diamond of its kind, as well as many other unique jewel encrusted items owned by the different sultans. Our day was cold and drizzly so I can't imagine what the crowds must be like during the peak season. Sorry, no pictures were allowed of the treasure.
We finished off day one with a stop at the Spice Bazaar where we picked up some Turkish towels and a few matching scarfs. On the way back to the ship (we walked) a shoe shiner walked by and "dropped" his brush. Eric picked it up, flagged him down and returned it. The man offered a shoe shine to his new friend. When the two minute shine was complete he announced the price was 18 Lira. Eric paid him five. Be careful.
Feeling a little less adventurous on day two, we took a taxi from the port. Our first stop was the Hagia Sophia, the worlds largest cathedral for 1000 years. Dedicated in 360 AD it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral until 1453. At that time it became a mosque. In 1931 it was secularized becoming a museum in 1935. Famous for its massive dome it was said to have inspired a change in architecture. The sheer size of the dome (180 feet) is quite impressive. The chandeliers hang about 10-12 feet off the ground but the height of the dome gives the illusion that you could simply reach up and touch them. Sadly, much of the original ornamentation has been lost but what remains is stunning.
A short walk from the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque. We headed that way only to discover that it was prayer time so the mosque was closed to the public for a short time. No matter, the cisterns were close enough so we decided to explore them and return to the mosque when it reopened. The cisterns, surprisingly, provided a great place to escape the cold and drizzle of the day. Oddly enough, this underground, cathedral sized chamber was my favorite site. Today the cistern has only a few feet of water in the bottom (and a few large fish) but it has the capability of holding an amazing 100,000 tons of water. Platforms allow visitors to wonder through the chamber taking in the impressive forest of 336 marble columns that hold the weight of the city above. Don't miss the two stone Medusa heads that form the base of two of the columns in the far corner. After a nice warm up it was time to head back to the Blue Mosque.
The Blue Mosque is almost surreal looking against the skyline. While most mosques have one, two, or four minarets, the Blue Mosque has an impressive six. The six minarets caused quite a scandal as the only other mosque to have so many was the Haram Mosque in Mecca. To solve the problem the Sultan sent his architect to Mecca to add a seventh minaret. As striking as the minarets are the domes that rise and fall around the huge center dome add to the wonder of the edifice. The inside is as beautiful as the outside. 20,000 blue tiles in the ceiling lend the name Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque is the actual name). The interior is lit with seemingly low hanging chandeliers and 260 windows. The walls and ceiling are decorated in the Muslim style with intricate designs and calligraphy. Just another of the breathtaking sites to see in Istanbul.
The Grand Bazaar offers a great place to barter and buy. Souvenirs abound. Turkish towels, rugs, pottery, glass, clothes, bags, scarfs, evil eyes, the goofy things tourist like to buy and other wares. A shoppers paradise. Not far below, the Spice Bazaar provides many of the same things on a smaller scale but also spices, dried fruits, and candy. We enjoyed spending time helping Teri pick out the perfect rug for the perfect price. Her first selection came with a very high price tag but after visiting several shops she found exactly what she wanted for significantly less. Be a savvy shopper.
We were sad to leave but grateful for the time we had in turkey. Back on the ship we had dinner, enjoyed a competitive game of shuffleboard and stayed up late playing cards. I am pretty sure that card playing was Sammi's favorite activity.