Sultanahmet sights and inspiration
During our first days in Istanbul we had the chance to take the kids to Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, and the Basillica Cistern, and to pop into the newly semi-reopened Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. The weather was great, but the city was sadly devoid of the tons of tourists that are usually crowding the streets this time of year. While we had the sights much more to our selves than usual, there were still small groups of guide-led day trippers off the few cruise boats still parked in the ports.
Buying a three day pass to many of the biggest-hits tourist attractions makes the admission price of all a bit more affordable (with the exception of the Cistern.) Our oldest has been to most of these attractions before, but one of the benefits of being a truly young tourist is that it is all new to you on each trip!
The Hagia Sophia, originally built in 537 AD, and used as a church for 900 years, was later converted into a mosque in 1453, and finally opened as a museum in 1935. It remains a seminal structure in the history of architecture, and is absolutely one of the most awe inspiring buildings I have ever been inside. The idea of people over 2000 years ago stepping into that vast open space under the largest dome the world had yet seen... it must truly have made one feel in the presence of God. That humble humans could construct such an hitherto unseen structure much have felt like truly divine intervention. It is no wonder that it remained an important mosque for an additional near 500 years before being converted into a showpiece for the newly created Turkish state by orders of none other than Ataturk himself.
Every time we've been there it has been under some kind of restoration - and this trip was no exception. Somehow even with the scaffolding, the space is still astonishing. The shot below is taken under one of the massive chandeliers next to a scaffold erected to work on the main dome.
Below, our oldest with a couple of the giant (7.5 meter across) calligraphic panels hanging inside the main dome. Created in the 19th century, they name Allah, Mohammed, the four caliphs, and grandsons of Mohammed.
We had a chance to spend a couple of hours at Topkapi Palace as well and it was such a treat. The last time we visited it was freezing, snow drifting down, and we had to rush from sight to sight huddled in our coats. This trip, with a beautiful mild summer day was just right for slowly wandering from tile lined halls in the harem, to the giant jewels from the sultans' vast treasuries, to the incredible views of the Bosphorus and the Asian side of Istanbul. Built in 1478 Topkapi was an active palace for nearly 500 years before being converted into the first museum of the Republic of Turkey.
The Iznik and Kuthaya tiles in the harem are amazing - many dating to the 16th century. Every inch of the interior spaces is stunning.
The Basillica Cistern is a magic underground space built between the 3rd and 4th century and provided water for the surrounding city for centuries. It is great place to pop in and have a quiet respite from the bustling city above. Piped in music and the dripping water make for an enchanted escape, especially on a hot day.
Our whole crew had a great day playing tourist, even our resident guide and new BFF Lale.
We ended up at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum on the Hiddodrome. Last December when we were here the museum was closed for renovation, and while it is reopened now, I miss the old anthropological exhibits of yurts, and village clothes and things from before the closure. One docent told us there are more renovations in process and the building will be fully opened "soon," but we didn't see any official information about this. There are still a lot of great things to see here - but we came just a few minutes before closing, and were honestly exhausted after jet laggedly sightseeing all day.
More to come on Cappadocia, Konya, and Kas soon!