Tuesday, January 23, 2007



Sunday in Istanbul, and another wonderfully sunny day. A culture day (many shops are shut!). Off to the Hagia Sofia (or Agya Sofya) which was made a museum by Ataturk in 1935, probably a good move at the time (at the same time Stalin was blowing up Christian cathedrals in Moscow). The Hagia Sofia, as we will all remember from our school days, is one of the oldest churches in the world, particularly noteworthy for its original architecture (it promptly burned down). The current version, which has been standing for a good 10 or 15 centuries, has had both Christian and Muslim tenants, and you find a mosaic of the Mother of God next to a Muslim shield. The mosaics, consisting of thousands of stones, have been plastered over and opened up on a regular basis in the last 100 or 200 years. (Pure coincidence that on the photo the Mother of God is floating on a sunbeam!). A very impressive building indeed.

After that off to the Topkapi which I mostly know thanks to that film with David Niven, the only sleek cat in Turkey in his black poloneck playing a cat burglar. When I went into the treasury all I could think of was, where is the diamond, and which window did he climb in through. Funny how the big big diamonds, of some 80+ carats, looked so much plainer than the million-faceted reflection of the geegaws, gadgets, bowls, vessels, caskets, sword handles, medals, studded with little precious stones. Interesting also the tulip symbols on many of the gowns. Tulips come from Turkey (and associated countries) of course, not from Amsterdam, despite what the song says.

Had a look round the harem - it was only accessible via guided tour, where the young tourleader giggled a lot and lost herself in a confusion of translation. Apparently this is the place which Mozart's 'Seraglio' is based on (how did he know?). It was very stony, virtually no soft furnishings, some open fires in some rooms, no access to a blade of grass, the concubines were kept separate from the wives, for good reasons no doubt. It seemed that the Sultan slept on a platform bed (or was that another translation issue?). In front of his bedroom were a couple of rooms with padded benches and I wondered if at night all his wives/concubines would assemble there and he would say...'hmmm, it's you tonight'.
Tried to get some of the Seraglio tunes into my head, but succeeded only with the Magic Flute.

In the afternoon wandered down to the ferry port to have one of the legendary fish sandwiches (quite good) and then popped onto a ferry to a place called Kadikoy (there should be an umlaut 'o'). Sunk deeply into my book and got of at Kadikoy - another very busy place. Found a lovely cafe above a bookshop just by the harbour. A building that looked like a former market hall seemed to be part of the Istanbul Conservatoire of Music. Very small, I thought. As I was leaving the place on the return ferry I suddenly thought - this looks like the Asian shore (I was convinced I had just popped round the corner at Beyoglu), and some hasty rifling through my guide book confirmed that I had been in Asian Istanbul, complete with the railway station donated to Istanbul by Kaiser Bill. If only I had realised sooner!


Lotus Reads said...

I have enjoyed reading your Istanbul diary, thank you! I visited this fascinating city in 1997 (can't believe it's been 10 years already) and reading your posts here bring back some wonderful memories.