Today we woke up and again headed to breakfast in the dining hall (and again I was yelled at for taking too much food….) After breakfast we were off on a longer bus ride; today we were being tourists all day.
Our first stop was the Basilica Cistern. This was a remarkable underground structure/creation that at one time (i.e. centuries ago) held water for the city of Istanbul. Essentially, you walk down about 60 stairs, and you’re in an underground area with about 100 pillars, spaced evenly apart. These pillars are in a foot of water and there were actually fish in the water. Soothing classical music was playing all around the space (which was probably a bit bigger than an American football field) and it was a bit eerie, yet calming at the same time.
After the cistern, we went to Hagia Sophia. This enormous structure was at one point an Orthodox church and later converted to a mosque (and now is currently a museum). Unfortunately its magnificent inside was under quite a bit of scaffolding, but even with the scaffolding, it was an incredible sight.
As cliché as it may sound, I live for the moments, especially while traveling, that take my breath away, and walking into the Hagia Sophia was one of those moments. I think it was the combination between its height, expansive floorplan and multiple chandeliers, as well as the mix between Christian and Muslim influences that made it so spectacular.
Hagia Sofia reminded me a lot of the Catedral de Sevilla (aka one of my favorite places in world – it’s the world’s largest cathedral, located in Sevilla, where I studied abroad last semester). The Catedral de Sevilla was also a mosque and a church during its “lifetime.” Another similarity was the way in which you climb to other levels of the building – both in Sevilla and in the Hagia Sofia, instead of stairs, there are ramps that go around in a square to get you to the next level. The views inside the Hagia Sofia were even more amazing from the second floor, and I got to hear the call to prayer (from another mosque) when I looked out one of the windows of the Hagia Sofia.
After Hagia Sofia we headed to Topkapi Palace. This palace was lovely, but it was hard to compare to the palace we saw yesterday (and it also wasn’t waterfront). After strolling around for a bit, we were all getting quite hungry, so we left for lunch, which was greasy (but delicious) Turkish “meatballs” (and no, they don’t eat them with spaghetti, but they do eat them with a lot of bread!)
After lunch we went to the Blue Mosque. Since this (unlike the Hagia Sofia, which is currently a museum) was an active house of worship, I was required to cover my head before entering. This mosque was absolutely spectacular – huge, but unlike the Hagia Sofia, its walls and ceilings were freshly painted and decorated with intricate patterns. The big chandelier in the middle was also very attention-grabbing. We had to leave a bit early because prayer time was starting.
Next we were off to the Grand Bazaar. This is a covered marketplace, where essentially anything and everything is sold. It was a bit overwhelming, but Chris, Juan and I stayed with Oz (a student at Bogizici University), who was able to help us get around, speak in Turkish to the stall-owners and provide advice on what to buy.
The hour we had in the Bazaar flew by and soon we were off to an early dinner. Dinner was a delicious soup (which was fine since we had such a late lunch!) and reminded me of the food that Antonia (my host mom) cooked for me in Spain.
After dinner we headed to our last mosque of the day – Süleymaniye Mosque. Sancack (another one of the students at Bogizici University) had arranged for us to watch the prayer time, and a tour guide actually gave us a private question-and-answer session soon thereafter right in the mosque. I had never been in a mosque at night nor during prayer time, and it made for a uniquely beautiful experience.
We then walked back to the bus and went back to our hotel after an exhausting day being tourists in Istanbul.
TGT: 1) Hagia Sofia 2) Blue Mosque 3) Walking through the cistern
Until next time,