The Hagia Sophia

Not the Hagia Sophia
Originally uploaded by apes_abroad.

Day 2.

Alright, time to see one of the seven wonders of the world!

The Hagia Sophia is pretty amazing. It’s one of the few structures in the world I have any particular interest in seeing. I mean there is steeped in history and there is _steeped in history_. Is the Hagia Sophia is the most interesting buiding in the most interesting city in the world? Might be. Plus it still looks awesome. That shit looks contemporary. If someone built that today it would be all over the architecture magazines. No wonder it had such a massive influence on architecture the world over. Every mosque in the city (and there are a lot of mosques in Istanbul) looks like a mini Hagia Sophia.

We got up early and had a great breakfast at a local coffe place. Sarah and I split a classic Turkish breakfast. Which was crazy good. It’s got all kinds of stuff in it. I’m just going to link you to a site with a good description. Suffice to say great bread + great butter-cream-stuff + great honey = really great. We wiled the morning away eating, drinking, chatting, and watching cabs blow past eachother on what should really be a one way street.

Morning meal dispatched we picked up some essentials for the apartment (pomagranites!) and wandered down to catch a tram across the golden horn. Our first experience with public transit in Istanbul was with MUNI-like trains running on sometimes their own lane and sometimes in traffic. They are really nice. Cheap, clean, and they run often. We enjoyed the view as we crossed the Galata bridge which seperates the old city from the rest of Istanbul. The bridge crosses the Golden Horn near the point that the Byzantines strung a massive chain across the estuary to stop anyone from messing with their port. Twice invading armies were so stymied by this chain that they actually lugged their boats overland to drop them in the Horn on the other side. No chain today, but it’s very pretty, and very busy as it is Parliment/Children’s day! The holiday celebrates the first sitting of parliment (thank you Ataturk) by replacing all the members of parliment with children for a day. on the docet? Presumably free icecream and less math classes.

Anyway things were pretty busy down at the Hagia Sophia which is also across from the Blue Mosque. Luckily as we were staring at the line in dismay we were aproached by Ibrahim Yerli. He claimed his status as a tour guide would get us through the line without having to wait. Of course we’d have to hire him as a guide first. Usually this kind of thing is bad news. It’s going to be some kind of scam. But Ibrahim, an energetic man in his 50s, seemed trustworthy. We also genuinely liked the idea of having a guide, he didn’t want any money until after the tour, and the line was really long so we agreed. Well shit, right decision!

Ibrahim was an amazing guide! He used to be a teacher and it showed. He was enging, energetic, and knew his history. With something like the Hagia Sophia it’s great to have a guide. It has so much history layered over itself you just wouldn’t know what was going on and how things had changed without a knowledgable guide. The high point for both Sarah and I was spotting the changes made when the Hagia Sophia went from being a church to being a mosque. Churches have a lot of crosses. Mosques? Not so much. Every cross in the whole place had to be removed, remodeled, or covered up. Which made for a great game of spot the cross. The best one, which Ibrahim pointed out, was on a set of giant bronze doors. The giant bronze doors had previously had giant bronze crosses on them. Simple solution to that problem: Smash off the two arms of the cross and leave the long stick behind as a decorative feature. Worked great! You’d never notice it used to be a cross if someone didn’t point it out.

Other high points? The deep wells worn in the marble floors by guards standing beside the emperor’s entrance, the magnificent columns stolen from all over the ancient world to speed up construction, and the sheer magnificence of being inside the Hagia Sophia. What an amazing building to be inside. It is just breath-taking.

Anyway, I highly recomend Ibrahim yerli as a Hagia Sophia tour guide if you are ever in need.

From there we did some lunch (which was nothing to write home about, so I won’t) and the cistern. The cistern is pretty neat too. But I’m growing sleepy and the hagia Sophia really stole the day. Tomorrow the plan is to check out the Grand Bazaar (which always makes me think of the Tea Party again).

Oh wait, I did want to mention this egyptian obylisk. An emperor several hundred years ago pilfered the top third of a massive obylisk built by the egyptians several thousand years ago. They plopped it down on top of a base exalting the emperor and the games he ran at the Hippodrome. To the side there was also a monument to how hard it was to raise the obylisk. Which seems a bit much. Considering the egyptians built and raised it when it was three times as big.

But what really stood out to me was the graphic design. We spent all day walking around third century Byzantian architectural and graphic design. When we saw this bit of egyptian design from 1400 BC it was like being ripped thousands of years into the future. It’s design is so clean where Byzantian architecure is ornate and so crisp where Byzantean is shaded. It is so single minded and made of such single minded elements. It was like finding a 60’s design magazine in ancient Rome. I have some understanding of why the world went nuts for the stuff back in the 20’s.

Alright. Now I really am off to bed. Tomorrow the Bazaar and hopefully the bizarre.


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