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Saturday, 25 April 2015

Basilica Cistern Istanbul

Basilica Arches

It is weird to visit a place that you have seen before.  The Basilica Cistern was used as a location for the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love.  As we descended the stairs, there were naves of romantically lit columns, hence a basilica. 

In fact, our word for a major church comes from the Ancient Roman architectural form; however, they used it for many different secular purposes from stock exchanges to legal courts. 

Basilica Cistern Map

The maps and signs in Turkish will call it Yerebatan Sarayı or “Sunken Palace”.  It was never a palace but it was the site of a Roman basilica used for commercial and legal purposes.  The cistern is located 290 m east of the Sultanahmet tram stop and just on the other side of Divan Yolu Caddesi (the tram street) from Hagia Sophia.  Unfortunately, the Basilica Cistern (open 09:00 to 18:30 hrs, TRY 10) is not included in the Istanbul Museum Card, which is not recommended.  

Golden Milestone

Milion Milestone
The Milliarium Aureum (Golden Milestone) in the Roman Forum marked the centre point for the Roman Empire.  It is from here that all distances were measured and it was the basis for the expression “all roads lead to Rome”.  

In a pit on the north side of Divan Yolu is a non-descript, single stele.  Most tourists just pass it by.  It does not look very impressive.  Like the name of the city (Nova Roma), Constantine based the Milion on the Golden Milestone in Rome.  It marked the centre point for the new Roman Empire (it was only called Byzantine Empire in the 16th century). 

Afrodisias Tetrapylon
But all roads really did lead to Nova Roma, i.e. Constantinople, because it was the financial capital of the Roman Empire; it was the terminus of the Silk Routes, both by land and by sea.  Now imagine that the Milion was a double triumphal arch surmounted by a dome.  You have to visit Afrodisias to see what a tetrapylon (four arches) looks like.  Now image the arches on the right in Istanbul supporting a dome and that it had survived until the 15th century.  

Basilica Cistern Purpose

Ottoman Dress-Up
The Basilica Cistern is a Byzantine underground water reservoir built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.  Several kilometres north of here you can still see a small portion of the Valens Aqueduct that carried water to here.  The cistern provided water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill (of the Seven Hills of Constantinople).  It provided water to the Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest in 1453.  After descending the stairs there is a small shop. One concession provides colourful Ottoman costumes you can put and have your picture taken. 
Basilica Columns

Basilica Cistern Columns

The dimly lit cavern is a cathedral of 336 columns, arranged in 12 rows of 28 evenly spaced marble columns. The capitals of the columns towering above you have diverse styles, which suggest that these columns came from other buildings. 
Ionic Columns Holding Up a Mountain
The Greek Ionic style actually originated in Turkey.  What?  As discussed in How is Priene connected to Architecture?, the Greek League of Ionia was located on the Turquoise Coast between Priene and Didyma. 
Drowning Medusa
There are very few paths through the cistern maze but make sure you visit the furthest northwest point from the entry stairs.  The bases of two columns reuse blocks that already had images of Medusa.  She thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world and was constantly looking at her reflection.
Unfortunately, on her visit to the Parthenon, Medusa said she was more beautiful than the statue of Athena, the goddess of beauty and wisdom. 

Don't Look at Medusa
Athena suddenly appeared and turned Medusa's hair into a nest of snakes, made her face ugly, and empowered her eyes to turn anyone who looked at her to stone.  For the same reason, Medusa could no longer look on her face in a mirror!  A famous statue by Cellini in Florence depicts Perseus after he cut off Medusa's head with his sword.   
It is hard to believe that Medusa's gaze could turn you into stone but the Ancients were a very superstitious lot.  Our expression “getting up the wrong side of the bed” originates in Ancient Rome when it was considered bad luck to get up on the left side of the bed!  The Latin word for left is sinistra, the origin of our word sinister!  It is no wonder that left-handed people were deemed evil.  
Alexander GR8 & Medusa
So they placed the Medusa images sideways or upside down thinking that this would neutralize the power of the Gorgon's gaze. Didn't they realize that this would not affect the magic of Medusa? 
The symbolism of Medusa was used throughout society.  In this photo taken in Napoli (Naples), we see Alexander the Great wearing an image of Medusa on his breast armour. 

From Gloom to Bloom

Sultanahmet Tulips
Well from gloom we went to bloom. The Basilica Cistern did not take long so we went around the Sultanahmet Park and the Hippodrome (coming to a post near you) to take photos in the sunshine.  
It finally turned warmer today.  The tulips were in full bloom.   The word tulip is derived from the Persian word ‘tulipan’ which means turban.  Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent introduced the Central Asian tulip to Europeans.  It is a symbol of life and fertility and is a popular motif on pottery and tiles. 
Sultanahmet School Kids

Sultanahmet Park is a great place for people watching - there is a mixture of locals and tourists. 

It is also a great place for views of historic Hagia Sophia.


Hagia Sophia

This is the third church on this site.  While there have been many earthquakes that have damaged the building, the first two churches were destroyed by rebellions during the Byzantine era, which will be discussed in the Hippodrome post.
Hagia Sophia
The current Hagia Sophia was the world's largest cathedral with the largest dome built since the Pantheon in Rome and until the dome erected by Brunelleschi at the beginning of the Renaissance to complete the Duomo in Florence, Italy.

After 1453 the Ottomans quickly transformed the city from a bastion of Christianity to a symbol of Islamic culture.  So the Church of Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque complete with minarets. 
However, the Greek influence in Turkish history is palpable. Constantinople was originally simply called Istimbolin by the Greek residents meaning “(in) The City”, which was in turn was derived from the Greek word polis (city).  Today the name has changed back to Istimbolin, now spelled Istanbul

Next Post: Hippodrome – Off to the Races

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Grand Bazaar Istanbul

Grand Bazaar – Gigantic!

Covered Bazaar
In Turkish the Grand Bazaar is called Kapalı Çarşı, which means “Covered or Closed Bazaar”.  It is not the oldest bazaar in the world – a better claim would belong to Tabriz, Persia, a major stop on the ancient Silk Road. Even though Constantinople was the main terminus of the Silk Trade Routes (see the Silk Routes Map), the Grand Bazaar was only started in 1455, just after the Ottoman conquest of Byzantium. Of course, there were commercial “forums” before then but the Grand Bazaar was covered. Perhaps we can say this was the oldest indoor shopping centre. 


Books on the Grand Bazaar

Sirkeci Mansion

It’s hard to believe we are back in Istanbul for our second four-day sojourn. Eight days may seem like a lot of time but in some ways it feels like we are just scratching the surface. For maps and travel advice we would recommend the book Rick Steve's Istanbul and the free Quick Guide Istanbul (author Serif Yenen), which I believe we got at our fabulous hotel, Sirkeci Mansion. The Quick Guide is a set of cardboard brochures including a glossy map and info on the Grand Bazaar.

Tram from Sultanahmet

Getting to the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar west side can be reached by tram at the Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşı stop. For the east side, we hopped on the modern electric tram to the earlier Çemberlitaş stop.

Çemberlitaş Column

The first thing we saw was the Çemberlitaş column. It was constructed by Emperor Constantine in 330 CE to celebrate the town Byzantium being renamed Nova Roma and becoming the capital of the Roman Empire. However, the people called it Constantinople (city of Constantine) and that name stuck.

As discussed in the Amazing Ancient Rome Walk, the Roman Empire did NOT fall in AD 476.  Rome the city fell.  The rest of the territory was still called the Roman Empire. The term Byzantine Empire is a 16th century German invention: it never existed.
Ottoman Artifacts
The Çemberlitaş column was so damaged by an earthquake in 416 CE that it is on life support with iron hoops holding it together.  The top of the column used to support a statue of Constantine that lasted until it was toppled by a storm in 1106.  The column is ugly but it’s the last remnant from Constantine, who put Istanbul and Christianity on the map and thus changed world history.  In fact, the column marked the centre of the forum, Constantinople's main square.

The Seven Hills of Nova Roma

Interestingly, Constantinople was situated on seven hills just like Rome!  The comparison was intentional since it was originally called Nova Roma.

Hagia Sophia
The first hill contains Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  The Grand Bazaar is on the second hill on the site of a former palace and the Forum of Constantine.  The third hill houses the Süleymaniye Mosque.

At its peak in 200 CE, it is estimated that Rome had 1,000,000 people. This decreased dramatically due to various plagues brought in via the Silk Routes and then the fall of Rome.  Constantinople then became the largest and wealthiest city of Europe up until its zenith in the 12th century with a population of around 600,000 people (600 CE). 

Venice was both a trade partner and adversary of the Byzantine Empire, sacking Constantinople in 1204, seizing many of its Mediterranean territories, and carting off many treasures, including the metal decorations around the Çemberlitaş column.  Venice was one of the three largest cities in Europe in 1171 with a population of a mere 66,000 people. 

Nuruosmaniye Gate
Nuruosmaniye Gate 
Nuruosmaniye Walking north towards the Nuruosmaniye Mosque (1755), we entered the oldest gate, Nuruosmaniye, near the Nuruosmaniye Köftecisi (meatball shop).  Nuruosmaniye means sacred light of Osman, the name of the family that became known as the Ottomans.  The gate leads to the main east-west street, Kalpakcilar Caddesi or Hat Maker Street. Today this is jewelry alley.
Explore Side Streets
The Ottoman Empire not only controlled a vast area across three continents, but had complete monopoly of the former Silk Routes.  As the hub for Mediterranean trade, it is logical that this led to an enormous shopping mall (47,600 sq. m.) covering 61 streets.  Each street was dedicated to a particular trade or bedesten.  Because the Grand Bazaar was a caravansary, there used to be places to house the camels and the people.  To ensure security, the bazaar was closed at night. 

Zincirli Han

Zincirli Han
There are many hans, multi-storey buildings surrounding an inner courtyard.  The lower floor would be for animals.  In the middle of the coral-coloured Zincirli Han is a courtyard with a marble fountain for washing.  This han specialized used to specialize in chains, zincir. Today it houses down-to-earth jewelry shops and we did not get hassled while in this han.


Elegant Boutique

The Grand Bazaar is an overwhelming patchwork of 3,000+ simple shops and elegantly decorated boutiques.  We generally followed the self-guided tour in Rick Steve's book.  There are some signs hanging from the arched roof above you at major intersections but it’s good to get off the main streets.  Make sure you go off the main streets into the side alleys and courtyards. There were amazing things to see – glinting gold, shiny silver, and suave silks.  I cannot see any Turkish woman wearily such slinky dresses, at least not in public. 

Colourful Lights

The photos show three of our favourite shops. The classic multi-coloured lamps made of glass can be seen throughout Turkey. In fact, many hotels and restaurants use them for decorative lighting.  Because Islam forbade images in the mosques, artists excelled in calligraphy and geometric motifs.
Exquisite Pottery

There is a lot of overpriced pottery for the tourists.  One store in the north part of the bazaar was spectacular. While the prices were high - especially for the large vases and other pieces – the quality was very high as well.  
Ottoman Dress
Another shop had incredible Ottoman clothing, supposedly antique. We were skeptical until the owner said the display robes were not for sale. Nevertheless, it was hard to believe that the displayed clothes were that old, given their great condition. 
Ottoman Clothing

In 2014, it was the most-visited tourist attraction in the world with 91,250,000 visitors – that’s an average of 250,000 shoppers each day!

Last Post: İncekaya High

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Incekaya Aqueduct

İncekaya High

Incekaya Aqueduct

Sweet Safranbolu

Its time to bid farewell to Sweet Safranbolu and return to Istanbul.  As its also time to give up the rental car you dont want to drive in an 18 million person city what could we do to take advantage of having a car today? 

Iznik Tiles, Harem, Topkapi Palace
Iznik Tiles, Topkapi Palace
One possibility was to visit İznik with its famous historical tiles.  It’s the only city that is still enclosed by 5 km of 10 m high, original Roman wall.  But it is a considerable distance west of Safranbolu as well as south off the main highway.  Moreover, it probably needed more time than we had.  So we opted for the İncekaya area close by our guest house

Raşitler Bağ Evi

Breakfast Nook

What better way to start the morning than to spend a relaxing time eating a great breakfast at our Raşitler Bağ Evi pension. 

We talked about the changes in Turkey over the last 30 years; the conflict of values between the young urbanites and their conservative countrymen; the contrast of clothes between jeans and niqabs. 

Bağlar Bounty

All the while, we enjoyed an omelet with yummy olives, scrumptious white cheese, tomatoes, and toast topped with delicious homemade jams and addicting Turkish coffee.    

İncekaya Aqueduct

Bağlar Beauty

After breakfast we got lost by heading northwest along the edge of the mountain.  There were pleasant views but eventually the road came to an end.  On the other hand there were Ottoman houses to see along the way. 

Incekaya Aqueduct

 We doubled back and figured we had to head northeast (left) once we got to İncekaya Caddesi – that makes sense, follow the road with the same name. 
After passing through the village of İncekaya, we ignored the first sign for pay parking and were able to drive right up to the viewpoint (no charge).  This may be because it is low season. 
Incekaya Aqueduct
Suddenly there are dramatic views from the overhanging platform of 60 m high, arched aqueduct.  It looks as good as new but dates from Byzantine times.  Okay, it was restored in the 1790s by İzzet Mehmet Paşa, who was grand vizier (prime minister). 
Tokatlı Canyon
There is no public transport to the aqueduct (7 km from the centre of town) so without your own car you will either have to arrange a tour or taxi from Safranbolu.  One possibility is to hike back to Safranbolu. 

Looking down the stairs is 2 km hiking trail through Tokatlı Canyon.  We had the place all to ourselves.  After a short walk in this natural park since it was time to hit the road to Istanbul. 
Next Post: Grand Bazaar – Gigantic!