15 Jun 2007 - Istanbul, Turkey
With two full days for my trip it was going to be a challenge to see everything I wanted but I was out of the hotel by 10AM and thanks to the recce performed the night before had a good idea of where I needed to go.
A lot of the historical stuff is based around the Sultanamet and is quite a compact area which is excellent. My first stop was the Hippodrome - the old Roman/Byzantine racing track much like the one in Rome. A number of ancient monuments are visible here and formed the axis of the race track. The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace (the Sultan's home) can all be easily accessed from here.
Visiting the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi palace can take a long time due to the size of the buildings and also because of the length it of time it takes to absorb the significance of what you are looking at. In the over priced cafe in the palace I enjoyed refreshments overlooking the Bosphorous towards asia. The position of the palace is such that I could also see the sea walls which kept invaders out for centuries (but not the soldiers of the 4th Crusade who sacked Constantinople in 1204) and to look across the much famed Golden Horn.
After this rest and I then marched back to the Hippodrome and then from here to try and find the remains of the Bucolean Palace, the former imperial palace gradually given up for that of the Blachernae palace in situated in the land walls to the West. I couldn't find it, got lost and ended up in some poor residential area but eventually found my way to the southern coastline along the Sea of Marmara and followed the road (4+ miles) all the way to the beginning of the land walls at the Marble Tower. Along the way I could see parts of the sea wall but the state of this was variable.
This was a long walk and my concern was that I wanted to walk the length of the entire Theodosian walls (3.4 miles) before nightfall as this leads through some very rough areas of Istanbul. The walls are impressive and in some places they are well restored. All along though you can see just how formidable they would have been, with their 3 walls, moat and plenty of towers. In some places I went along the walls on the reconstructed areas to gain an experience of what it would have been like for a defender.
I followed the entire wall where possible but in some areas I need to walk through the residential areas which as it was still daylight it allowed me to see how the residents of Istanbul live - at least in these poor areas anyway. Following warnings, I obviously kept on my guard but I didn't see any signs of trouble.
Towards the end you come to the Blachernae Palace, notable because it was the former imperial palace where some of the great Byzantine emperors ruled. All that remains now is the Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (Turkish: Tekfur Sarayui).
With the land walls now completed it was a relatively easy walk back as a busy road follows the Golden Horn to the Topkapi (4.3 miles). From here I got a taxi back to the hotel and typically got done over by the taxi driver who took me the very long route. I found out the next day I was only about a 20 minute walk from my hotel. However, by this point I had been exploring on foot for 11 hours, my legs were tired and I just wanted to rest.
In all, including the walls which I have the distances for, my total walking today must have come to about 13-14 miles. I don't think many tourists do this but I saw so much, tried some more kebabs(!) and meant that I would be able to see everything I planned to see the next day.
Istanbul - The Blue Mosque
Otherwise known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), the mosque is one of several mosques known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice.
Istanbul - The Blue Mosque fore court
The fore court is about as large as the mosque itself and is surrounded by a continuous, vaulted arcade. It has ablution facilities on both sides. The central hexagonal fountain is rather small in contrast with the dimensions of the courtyard
Istanbul - The Haghia Sophia
The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, and was in fact the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site (the previous two had both been destroyed by riots).
Istanbul - Inside the Haghia Sophia I
Interestingly, the Haghia Sophia holds the grave of Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice and commander of the Latin armies that invaded Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade.
Istanbul - Judgement day I
Judgement day. Jesus Christ enthroned between the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist. 12th century.
Istanbul - Judgement day II
A close up of the same mosaic. Byzantine mosaics were designed to be seen by lamplight. These conditions showed the workmanship as the flickering light reflected in pieces of glass or gold which had been embedded as minutely disparate angles to give an appearance of life and movement.
Istanbul - Christ flanked by an emperor and empress
The inscriptions over the heads of these mosaic figures in the Haghia Sophia read, 'Zoe, the most pious Ausgusta' and 'Constantine in Christ, the Lord Autocrat, faithful emperor of the Romans, Monomachus.
Istanbul - Blue Mosque seen from the Haghia Sophia
A window from the upper floor of the Haghia Sophia affords a view across to The Blue Mosque.
Istanbul - Virgin and child flanked by two emperors
The Virgin between Justinian and Constantine.
To the right: Constantine presenting a model of his new city Constantinople.
To the left: Justinianus presenting a model of his new church, Hagia Sophia. 10th Century
Istanbul - Entrance to the Topkapi Palace
The defensive gate and entrance to the first courtyard of the Ottoman imperial palace. Dated to1542 during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror, the towers were added by Sultan Suleyman I the Magnificent during the 16th century. Only the sultan was allowed to pass this gate on horseback.
Istanbul - The Church of the Divine Peace
Inside the first gate to the Topkapi Palace is this church, built to replace the one burnt down in the Nika riots of 532 AD.
Istanbul - The second courtyard of the Topkapi Palace
From the great garden entrance take can take the visitor to the Divan, Inner Treasury, the kitchens, servants area and the entrance to the Harem. Silence was always maintained here as people obeyed the rules of conduct imposed in the presence - actual or potential - of the sultan.
Istanbul - The Divan
The council buildings, this one has a metal grille in front and was called 'the Eye of the Sultan'. Through this the Sultan could observe the imperial councillors.
Istanbul - The Harem - The entrance
Harem means 'forbidden' in Arabic, in Turkish it means the residence where the head of the house lived with his wives and female slaves and children. Here, it lay between the Sultans private quarters and the quarters of the Chief Black Eunach.
Behind are the quarters of the eunuchs who were responsible for running the harem. They only entered during daylight.
Istanbul - Courtyard of the women of the harem
Built in the 16th century and restored after the 1665 fire, the porticoed courtyard is surrounded by baths, a laundry fountain, a laundry, dormitories and the apartments of the Sultan's chief consort overlooking the Golden Horn. At the entrance to the quarters of the Queen Mother are wall frescoes from the late 18th century depicting landscapes, reflect western influences.
Istanbul - Imperial Hall I
The hall served as the official reception hall of the Sultan as well as for the entertainment of the Harem. Here the Sultan received his confidants, guests, his mother, his first wife (Hasseki), consorts, and his children. Entertainments, paying of homage during religious festivals, and wedding ceremonies took place here in the presence of the members of the dynasty.
Istanbul - Imperial Hall II
In the hall there are gilded chairs which were present of Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, while the clocks are a gift of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. A pantry, where musical instruments are exhibited and certain other apartments, opens to the Imperial Hall which gives access into the Sultan's private apartments.
Istanbul - Apartments of the Crown Prince
Outside the two privy chambers built at different times in the 17th century. These chambers represent all the details of the classical style used in other parts of the palace.
Istanbul - Iftar Pavilion
The gilded Iftar Pavilion, also known as Iftar Kiosk or Iftar bower offers a view on the city and the harbour and is a magnet for tourists. The pool was the scene of the revels among Ibrahim I and the women of his harem.
Istanbul - Some old housing
Spotted on my wanderings as I became lost south of the Sultanahmet.
Istanbul - The legendary land walls of Constantinople
Part of the greatest and most complex fortification system ever built, the walls surrounded the new city on all sides. Some sections of the walls were less elaborate, but when well manned, they were almost impregnable for any medieval besieger, saving the city, and the Byzantine Empire. Only the advent of gunpowder siege cannons rendered the fortifications obsolete, resulting in the final siege and fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans on 29 May 1453.
Istanbul - The triple wall defences of Constantinople
With a moat in front of the first and lowest wall, the height of all three walls ensured that an attacker could be hit from any point on the walls.
Istanbul - Gate of Charisius or Adrianople Gate
The gate through which Sultan Mehmed II entered Constantinople. The inscription reads 'Tuesday morning on the 29 of May 1453, Fatihan army entered Istanbul'.
Istanbul - The Blachernae Palace
Combined with the defensive walls, this area was the weakest section and was the focus of the Latin and Ottoman sieges which both ended in the conquest of the city.