All in a Day’s Work – Istanbul in a Rush

Day 2 – 11th April 2011

As per our travel agent’s plans, we were taking a half day tour of Istanbul today. We were actually supposed to take it on the 13th and it included a tour of the Hagia Sophia/Ayasofya. So we called the Travel Agency in Istanbul that was handling the tours we’d booked and got it interchanged. So the tour on 13th became the Tour on 11th because we’d already covered one of the items in the tour. (=The tours are flexible that way and always include a pick up and a drop)

Oh a thing i’d forgotten to mention, Our hotel stay included breakfast so we had to go to the breakfast room which was on the top of the hotel. It was a terrace with large windows. It was beautiful to go in the morning and see the Bosphorus and Istanbul looking sleepy with mist around.

Our breakfast was always some cereal, eggs in varieties, aubergine with potatoes and youghurt, cut vegetables, some noodles, bread, cold cuts, jams and preserves. There was the customary tea and coffee and canned juice. If you wanted fresh juice they would make it live (=in front of your eyes, give u a straw with decorations on it) but charge you 7 TL for it (=Rs 210 for some juice?? Ridiculous)

But the menu would remain same for all the days with slight variations in the yoghurt dishes (=with or without aubergine)

So, at about 8:30am our pick up van came to take us for our “Half Day Istanbul Tour”. There were a lot of people to be picked up from the adjoining hotels (=In the area where we stayed, there were many hotels in the by lanes)

Like wayward sheep, we were all collected and driven towards the Dolmabache Palace where people were again shepherded into different buses as per the tour they had opted for. But there was no problem for us we stayed in the same bus. Along with us were some people who were German and needed a German guide. The English people included us, some people who were from a cruise that was taking a halt at Istanbul and some people who had opted for the Full Day Tour.

Info Snippets:

Our Guide Aziz was telling us stories about

1. Our driver (=He thought driving in Istanbul was tough during the rush hours. Apparently he hasn’t heard of Bombay Oops Mumbai and its traffic!!)

2. The Aqueducts that used to bring water from the Belgrade Forest to Istanbul, built during the Roman Times

3. The fact how every Turkish Man has to serve a year in the Armed Forces in any capacity

4. How he had to pay 1300 Euros for his wife’s wedding gown(= She had to pay 250 Euros to which a passenger remarked that it was a fair bargain ūüėõ :P)

5. Hotel Paradise which was the first hotel in Istanbul (=Reportedly, they spent $220 million for its interior decoration last year- Here Agatha Christie had stayed with Prime Minister of Turkey)

6. How Tulips Originated from Turkey and when the people from the Netherlands came, they saw and they took to claim their own. (=However we heard that they say the Tulips came from somewhere else in Netherlands not mentioning Turkey from another traveler)

7.The Orient Express –

First Stop: Chora Church and Museum also called Kariye Muzessi

This Church happens to be situated in a place which needs the driver to drive through narrow lanes. Squiggling through the narrow lanes we reached the Church. The guide Aziz had already got us tickets.

The charges for the tour include (usually)

  • The entry tickets (=A fancy affair in themselves)
  • Lunch (=If opted for full day tour)
  • Transfer from one place to another, Pick up from Hotel and Drop Off to hotel/any other place desired which is within the route

Chora Church/ Kariye Muzesi/Kariye Camii was

1st- Greek Orthodox Church

2nd – A Neighborhood Mosque

3rd- A Museum


Fact: You can tell the Status of the Mosque by counting the number of Minarets that the Mosque has (=Status meaning, the type of visitors or purpose)

If the Mosque has 1 Minaret: Neighborhood Mosque : For the locals of the area

2 Minarets: Imperial Mosque : For the Clergy and Other Nobles

 >2 Minarets: Super Special, Huge, Famous Mosque used to Commemorate an occasion or for Crowning a New Emperor/ Marriage of the Emperor etc

Back to the Church eh Museum…

The Chora Church was originally built outside the walls of Constantinople, to the south of the Golden Horn. Literally translated, the church’s full name was the¬†Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country: (=Wikipedia ki Jai!!)

The Church is famous for its Frescos and Mosaics depicting the life of Virgin Mary and Christ. There are 4 parts of the Museum

  • Exonarthex (=North)
  • Esonarthex (=South)
  • Naos (=Main body of Church)
  • Parecclesion (=Side Chappel)

There were a lot of people from South Korea and Japan as well as from Germany because they had translators with them.

The church is beautifully decorated with frescos. The Museum Rules forbid a person from using flash while clicking pictures of the frescos lest they cause damage to the frescos. Some frescos were in a bad shape but that was done during the Iconoplastic Age when any painting/mosaic of a human was considered as a form of idol worship

The mosaics in this Church had 3 layers which we discovered when we saw a damaged mosaic of Christ. Also, the people during the Greek civilisation had used a technique to split up a piece of marble so that there was an exact mirror image in a tile. So there were 2 marble pieces which had the same pattern looking like a mirror image. It seemed that this technique took them 2-3months to do.

Charity with a Heart:

We found out that in these mosques, there was always a SOUP KITCHEN. In these kitchens, food was served to the poor and hungry.

But, but and but this place had NO WINDOWS which meant that people outside could not see who was getting free food inside. Thats really nice and thoughtful

Verdict for Chora Church:

Unless you are an art lover or a historian, this place can easily be skipped. Its a neighbourhood mosque that has been preserved extremely well. Every little bit of history has been kept intact and made it a place of tourist interest

(=Imagine having every small temple with its history and stories documented and properly preserved!!! How nice that would be but what a Mammoth task!!)

I’ll continue the rest in another note

Keep tuned in for : Roman Hippodrome- Chariot into the past, and blue..A mosque lies ahead, Kalins and Magical Carpets, Grand Bazaar, Galata Bridge, Galata Tower n Fishy Dinner all on Day 2


Apple Cai, A note late but nonetheless

Hagia Sophia – Musings in the Istanbul Rain

Day 1: 10th April 2011


After a sumptious lunch at Ozler, we retired to 203 because it had started raining. Spring as in all countries is marked by bare, leaf-less trees and newly blooming flowers. It is also marked by uncharacteristic rains and gloomy, cloudy skies. Travellers to London during the months of April and May will add that the gray skies (=How is it spelt again grAy or grEy..does it make a difference?) oh yea gray London skies add to the gloom.

Yes so we were in the room clicking pictures and waiting for the rains to stop. After a while we said, its going to rain for some time doesn’t mean we sit n twiddle our thumbs, we dont come to Turkey everyday (=As if!!! I wish we could, kya maze!!)

Yea so we went out on our own exploring Istanbul. Inquiries made at the reception yielded that the Topkapi Palace or Topkapi Sarayi is just 5 minutes from the hotel. So we headed out to explore.

But first things first. Thirsty explorers never make good writers or reporters. Water. From where but?? In a place with scant traces of English that too!!

Luckily for us there was a Convenience Store just opposite to our hotel (= I’m tellin you all good stuff was centred around our hotel and us!!!) So we picked up a bottle of water and also Turkish Delights which are sweets made with honey and dry fruits. My mum thought a white sweet with dry fruits resembled a sweet she used to eat from Armenia but it was not to be


Fact:  Turkish Delights or Lokum is a family of confections based on a gel of starch or sugar (=honey used mostly insetad of sugar). Premuim varieties consist of chopped dates, pistachio, hazelnuts or walnuts bound by gel. Now the shop we went to had Turkish Delights in flavours of Milk,Kiwi,Cherry+Pommegranate and Lemons (=Yummy!!)

Well we’d just landed in Turkey on a sunday so we were caught without any Turkish lira on hand. The people at the reception informed us that most change offices were closed on Sunday and it was better to get Euros changed there as compared to a bank because banks charge more commission.

So we didn’t have Lira to pay the Convenience Store lady. But she accepted euros and gave us change in Lira (=At a low exchange rate of 2TL per Euro). So we got our first Liras in hand.


Then we walked out to the main street where we saw tram lines and a tram station (=Gulhane Park). Also we could see that the skies had lifted. Right in front of us were the walls of the Topkapi Palace. It has been beautifully maintained because the Palace looks like its been cut out from another era. Also there were lot of pansies and tulips planted everywhere so the sidewalks were green and pretty.


We passed quite a few restaurants with their Menu’s displayed out and had a sales rep some out and try to bring us in.

But on learning that we were not going to eat there they left us with their menus.


The road to Hagia Sophia turns up the hill from the Topkapi Palace. On that way there were hotels, restaurants and shops selling leather items. My sister loved a goatskin jacket but its of no use in a place as hot and humid as Mumbai.

But we did have our first encounter with Turkish Kebabs (=Which are known as ‘Kebaps’). They don’t cook it the way we do in India. They have a whole load of meat on a skillet (=a stick…i love the fancy names) which keeps turning in circles. On one side is a coal-oven type thingie so the meat gets cooked in coal and gets a smoky flavour along with the juices and marinade which makes the whole thing way too tasty. When a side has browned enough, the Chef cuts pieces off (=just shaves the top layer off) and then it is served in different ways.


Also we found a change office that was open so we changed Euro to TL. There were more restaurants, shops selling tourist souvenirs, magnets, trinkelts etc etc. But we skipped all of that and came to the Sultanahmet Square where we entered the ‘Aya Sophia’.

There were two lines outside, one for people who already had a pass and for those who had to get a new pass. So we went in and charged the entry to the Credit Card. (=Aya Sophia Entrance Feesis 20TL per person quite a heavy sum)


Also there were audio guides available in a host of languages. The guy at the Audio Guide centre took one of our passports as some security (=duh what do we do with an audio guide??)

Now the Aya Sophia is a huge museum. It has a lower gallery and also an upper gallery. Plus it was a Church that was converted into a Museum in 1934. This is one of the best things that a country can do. Insteads of going into a dispute about whether it is a church or a mosque, open it to the public and preserve the heritage (=It would never work in India we’re too bothered about petty religion to see clearly)


So like our tourist brochure says, there are 50 points about which information is given in the audio guide. I’m not going to mention all the 50 we didnt see all either and the history behind it all overwhelms you especailly if you dont know much about it or you hate history. I’d prefer to settle for a guide. They know what they are talking about and often come cheaper. ūüėÄ


Giving a lot of information about the Aya Sophia is not necessary. So i’ll be detailing about the main things.


1.Historical Background

Aya Sophia was constructed as a Greek Orthodox Church in the year 360 during the rein of Emperor Constantinius. Due to riots in subsequent centuries, the church was burnt down twice. Also it had been destroyed by earthquakes, as a result of which many parts of domes were destroyed. The second church was commissioned by Emperor Theodosius II.


During the subsequent periods the walls were used to make Mosaics. During the Iconoplastic period, any Mosaic was supposed to be a form of idol worship. So Mosaics were destroyed or plastered over. In any case most of the Mosaics have stayed on for centuries pointing out to the artistic brilliance of those ages.


The Church was converted into a Mosque in 1453 when Sultan Mehmet II (=Also called Mehmet the Conqueror) laid siege to Istanbul then Constantinople and thus started an empire which would rule Turkey for decades (=Ottoman Empire)


2.Ottoman Calligraphy Plates:

After St. Sophia became ‘Ayasofya’ or a Mosque, there were gigantic circular framed disks or medallions inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain. (Photo 2)


3. Mihrab and its Chandeliers: (Photo 3)

A Mihrab is something that is seen in all Mosque-Museums in Turkey. Islam believes that when Muslims pray, they should pray in the direction of Mecca. So a Mihrab is constructed pointing out the direction of Mecca. The Mihrab is superbly decorated with calligraphic inscriptions.

In the 16th century the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520‚Äď1566) brought back two colossal candles from his conquest of Hungary. They are the two pillar like posts adorning the Mihrab.


4.Imperial Loggia (Photo 4)

In earlier times, the Sultans used to pray along with the common folks coming to the Mosque. But with the spread of territories and Islam, the number of followers increased thus necessitating a special chamber where the members of the Imperial Family could pray. The outer marble has been done up delicately with intricate carvings of metal which has been illuminated brilliantly by the Museum authorities.


5.Minbar (The golden door in Photo 5) 

The Minbar is a raised speaker’s stand where an Imam (=Leader of prayer or priest) stands to deliver sermons. It is also a symbol of authority.The Minbar is usually shaped like a small tower with a pointed roof and stairs leading up to it.


6.Deesis Mosaic

The Deesis Mosaic shows Christ along with Virgin Mary and John the Baptist on the¬†Judgement Dayshowing the pain and suffering of the humans. It is the most destroyed of the Byzantine Mosaics with 3/4th being heavily damaged but is significant for the expressions on Mary and John’s faces.


7.Other Mosaics

There are many mosaics of Virgin Mary and Christ especially one at the entrance. There are also Mosaics of the various Emperors and Empresses making donations to the Church. Significant among these is is the Mosaic of Empress Zoe because she had many marriages and thus the face of the husband in the Mosaic kept changing!! (=Talk of keeping up with the times).There are also Mosaics of various priests.


8.Other Significant Sights

  • The Hagia Sophia Library is a sight in itself. It is said to have held more than 20000 scrolls and writings.
  • Also the unique architecture is such that it allowed the Architects to put in forty windows around the base of the dome. Hagia Sophia is famous for the mystical quality of light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave.
  • There are also inscriptions from the Synod period dated 1166 as well as a Sarcophagus (=A funeral case for the corpse) of St Irene.
  • There are underground Cisterns that used to supply water when needed.
  • The Marble Water Jars date from the Hellenistic Period(=When the Greek influence was at its peak)
  • There is an Imperial Fountain where ceremonies used to take place. It is beautifully decorated.
  • There is a ‘Medresse’ or a religious school where children are trained to be Imams (=I hope i’m getting it right.

So after this hugely historical tour we photographed the tulips and rested our tired legs. Then we returned the audio guide (=We need our passports back!!) and made our way to the Basilica Cistern.


The Hagia Sophia looks red and majestic from the outside. It is a true spectacle of art surviving through the ages and

the brilliant tactical move of converting places of worship into centres of knowledge.


Coming Up: Yerebatin Cistern, Second Day Tour,Exploring Istanbul


(p.s i hope the background was informative)


The large dome


A view from the Upper Gallery Ottoman Plates in Green


Mihrab in all its splendour


The Imperial Loggia


The Minbar is the golden entrance in the pic


The Deesis Mosaic


Hagia Sophia from outside