Istanbul’s Pleasant Surprises

 Istanbul’s Pleasant Surprises
Topkopi Palace, miniature (4" x 6") acrylics on postcard stock
Topkopi Palace, miniature (4″ x 6″) acrylics on postcard stock

October 1, 2015

Our two weeks in Turkey was filled with surprises. I wasn’t so surprised by the Hagia Sophia, built around 550 on same site as two previous churches- my rendition below (on postcard stock). But I was by how un-religious the people are. There are five calls to prayer per day- and they are loud and difficult to ignore. But there’s hardly a rush to the Mosque. I did a bit of research on the topic (blog entry ‘Religion in Turkey).

Another surprise was the cuisine. It is very complex, sophisticated and exquisite. The pastries! I was stunned. Now the coffee, you can have it. Stick to the tea.

The other pleasant surprise – Istanbul Modern. I’ve posted here some photos. Their modern art collection is excellent, not so far out it makes no sense, but experimental enough to hold your attention.

The other pleasant surprise – Istanbul Modern. I’ve posted some photos in another entry. Their modern art collection is excellent, not so far out it makes no sense, but experimental enough to hold your attention.

On the less surprising but very pleasant side of things, The Bosphorus, the strait that divides Turkey between the “European” side and the “Asian” side, is always busy with ferries and ships, making a lovely backdrop for countless numbers, for the city is built on hills.

The main sites  include the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.  The former is not all that impressive, other than its size and airy feeling, unless you are a fan of their mosaics. They can be beautiful but they seemed overwhelmed by the size of the place. The Hagia is much more interesting not only for the structure but also the lovely (and sufficiently large) mosaics.  You’d be surprised by its age and beauty, but I’d been there before.  Here’s my rendition:

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

Being unrestricted by Islamic rules governing art, they can show the human figure. It’s well worn themes, but some are beautifully executed.  I was not so surprised as a bit more appreciative than the last time, not that I fell asleep in here then.

Mosaic from Hagia Sophia
Mosaic from Hagia Sophia

I visited the Archaeological Museum, near the Topkapi Palace (it too, but it was so crowded we left before seeing very much of it, although the view alone is almost worth it).  I had no idea that there would be some excellent Roman era sculptures, notably Alexander the Great and Sappho. I felt honored to be able to stand and sketch them in my little notebook.

There is an excellent overview of the history of the city, to the dawn of its history, its establishment as the capitol of the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire by Constantine, its sacking by the Crusaders (they thought it was a Muslim city, but it was Christian at that time), and its conquest by the Ottoman Turks. The explanations are in excellent English, here and in fact everywhere we went in Istanbul (a very pleasant surprise). This museum is worth another visit as I did not finish this section and there are two more buildings.

With more time I would try to visit more of the palaces and archaeological sites I learned about at the museum. The palaces you can see along the Bosphorus are both immense and stunningly beautiful (at least from outside).

The old wall is largely gone, but here’s a rendition of it.

Istanbul's old walls
Istanbul’s old walls

If you’ve never visited, I suggest you put this city, nay, country (i’ve been elsewhere and it’s fabulous in differing ways) on your list.

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