It’s been way too long since I posted last — I’ve got a lot of catching up to do! My next destination after Santorini was… Istanbul (not Constantinople), Turkey!
Istanbul is an amazing city, huge and sprawling, filled with a plethora of aromas, from roasting nuts and meat to cloth smells and other undefinable odors. Also, it just simply has style. In the same way that Chicago has style. Everything there is elegantly designed, from the buildings to the furniture to the bathroom fixtures. The difference is Chicago’s style is all Art Deco Jazz-Era Industrial, whereas Istanbul’s style is ancient, stretching back thousands of years, feeling wise and polished with age – it’s all about stained carved wood, brass, and of course Persian rugs.
I spent most of the week doing touristy things, starting with the famous Blue Mosque and even more famous Hagia Sofia. Of the two I found the Blue Mosque the most beautiful. Most reckon the Hagia Sofia to be better, but I found it to be kind of a mishmash, not surprising since it has been rebuilt and reconfigured several times, as the prevailing religion changed. Here are some shots of the Blue Mosque. From the nearby fountain:
I wish I had a better one of inside, but it was hard to capture a steady enough shot in the dim light.
I can’t say exactly what it was about the inside of the mosque that so impressed me. Perhaps it’s because the overall proportions and color scheme of the Blue Mosque were so harmonious and unified. Also, the intricate patterning on all the walls and ceiling was very beautiful.
Here’s a shot from inside the Hagia Sofia. Like I said, I wasn’t terribly impressed with it, although it’s cool to learn its history.
The most interesting place I visited was the Basilica Cistern, a large underground cavern filled with columns that rise from a vast pool of water that continually drips from the ceiling.
The best thing for me about the cistern was the air – if you know me well you probably know what a fan I am of negative ions – an excess of electrons in air that is caused by large bodies of moving water such as waterfalls, thunderstorms or the ocean. These ions both clean the air and give it a natural euphoric quality – which is why people often get excited and giddy during hurricaines, and enjoy the ocean so much (one of the reasons 🙂 ) Anyway, this chamber was just brimming with negative ions, from the constant dripping from the barrel-vaulted ceilings. After I’d toured the place I didn’t want to leave! The odd thing about the columns here is that they are all different – apparently they were brought to this place from many old temples and other ruins. One of the more striking columns is known as the Column of Tears because of the patterning on its sides (again I apologize for blurriness, it was quite dark):
The most intriguing place in the Cistern is the Medusas. Two giant sculptural heads of Medusas serve as bases for columns in the northwest corner of the cistern. Of course, as soon as I saw the sign “this way to Medusa” I knew to be on my guard. I didn’t have a shiny shield like Perseus did to use as a mirror, but I did have my digital camera – so the entire time I was near the Medusas, I was careful to view everything through that. Many other visitors, whether by luck or forethought, were equally clever. A couple people in the group, as you can see, did not plan ahead:
Here’s head itself, which should be safe to view over the web:
I don’t know why the builders of the cistern decided to place the head upside down (the second head is on its side). I belive it’s a mystery to this day.
Some other things: I’m not sure what mosque this is, but it is rather large and impressive. I quite like the modern-vs-ancient interplay caused by the scaffolding that rises around several of the towers.
Also, I was amused by this signage, which appears on the tram in Istanbul:
I believe it means “Reserved for Pregnant Women, Woman with Infants, Radioactive Snake Charmers, and Steampunk Dirigible Pilots.”
That is all. My final day in Istanbul I spent hanging out with my good friend Caglayan from my hometown in Brattleboro — a post on that soon!