September 13, 2004

Exploring Old Instanbul

Today we checked out Sultanahmet, the heart of Old Istanbul -- about as quaint a place as two travel-weary backpackers could hope to find. First we toured Topkapi Palace, home to the Ottoman Empire's Sultans from 1462 AD until the 18th Century and while this palatial puppy was no where near as old as what we'd seen days before in Egypt (younger by a good 3,400 years or so) it was still mighty cool. The grounds were tree-lined, landscaped wonders that stirred a bit of nostalgia given that we had not walked down tree-lined streets since South Africa.

Gorgeous Greenery

The Palace -- as one might expect of the home of Sultans for 300 years -- is incredibly opulent in terms of scenery (above), location (on a peninsula overlooking the Sea of Marmara) architecture (below) and accoutrements (the royal treasury features such obnoxiously ostentatious jewelry as an 86 caret diamond ring!).

Topkapi from the outside...

...And from the inside

We rounded out the morning with a tour of the Sultan's Harem. These guys were men after my own heart: 300 or so women at his disposal housed in a special section of the palace reserved for him and his concubines alone (along with a few Eunuch guards).

The Sultan (hoping in vain that "these walls could talk" and concubine #1

After a deliciously long lunch we headed to the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I, AKA the Blue Mosque due to the visual effect of thousands of blue-tinted mosaic ceiling tiles within dome of the main chamber. The Mosque can house more than 5,000 concurrent worshippers (though women, as in all the mosques we've visited, are relegated to the back and second floors). The Blue Mosque is said to be the finest in Turkey and it was certainly impressive, both inside and out:

Who is that Mosqued Woman?

Blue Hue

Post Blue Mosque we ventured underground to the 400 year-old Basillica Cistern which still supplies Istanbul with water carried by aqueducts over 20 km. While a big water tank doesn't sound too thrilling, the 300+ ionic columns bathed in a trippy/eerie red light was pretty sweet (though the wet flooring was not so nice, nearly causing 3 separate wipeouts for my eternally flip-flop clad wife):

Under Old Instanbul

As if we hadn't seen enough sights, we decided to head to the largest and oldest covered market on the planet, the Grand Bazaar. I was a little concerned that after a long day of adventuring my shopping-loving wife would be simply overwhelmed by 4,500 shops under one roof. However, we tempted fate (and the wallet) and cruised in. As you can see from the digital evidence below, Janet did, indeed, go off the deep end:

Elated Shopper, aisle no. 1,296

While the GB is certainly a tourist trap, it's still quite cool to get lost among the labyrinthine corridors that house infinite amounts of rug merchants, hookah pipe salesmen, jewelers and the occasional shoe vendor (see previous post!):

Blue Light Special Heaven

Post shopping we managed to stagger to one of the many reasonably priced and ridiculously yummy restaurants in Old Istanbul for some kebabs and Turkish pizza. This country is pretty damn amazing!

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