September 9, 2012
A Visit to Sultanahmet...
|The Blue Mosque from the ferry in the morning - notice the six minarets|
|The Blue Mosque looking from in front of Hagia Sofia|
This post is a little long but we crammed in a lot, because on this day we decided that we would go over to the European side and see the touristy area of Sultanahmet. This is the area where the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and the Topkapi Palace are located. This is also the area where you will get bombarded by carpet salesmen. At first they will speak to you in English and tell you things that are helpful about the mosque or Hagia Sofia. They speak to you like you are a friend and walk with you towards your destination. Once you thank them for all of their helpful information then they all end with the same line, " I'm not a tour guide". Well then, " let me guess, you're a carpet salesman?". We caught on quickly to that line.
|Hagia Sofia from the ferry in the morning|
|Hagia Sofia from across the gardens at the Blue Mosque|
On the Asian side where we stay there isn't a lot of hassling because it isn't where all the tourists are. In this area it is everywhere and if you show the slightest interest they are very difficult to get away from. In the line to Hagia Sophia we must have had ten different men ask if we wanted a tour guide. The same guys would walk back and forth in the line and show you there official tour guide cards several times. People are also selling things and I mistakenly showed a little interest in one item. If I had really wanted it I could have bargained very well this way because even though I said no again and again he kept coming back with lower prices. Ignoring the situation is the best as they finally get the picture.
Even though I have been to Istanbul three times I had never been to any of the places that we went on this day. I remember standing in between Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque in the square watching the horse drawn carriages and the throngs of people milling about but that is it. You really have to have a plan when you go over to this area since you have to travel all the way from the hotel via taxi, train, and ferry to Eminonu. We did a lot of research and most of what we needed on www.LetsgoIstanbul.com.
We learned that there is a tram system that would take us to Sultanahmet and that we needed to get off on the third stop. Once we got off of the ferry we looked around and had to ask how to get to the tram. If you are going to the Spice Bazaar you go underground and back up. If you want to catch the tram you must go left off the boat at Eminonu and take a passage which leads to the other side of the bridge. Keep asking people for the tram and they will help you. The advantage of this side of Istanbul is that a lot more people speak English. You can use the Istanbulkart transportation card for the tram as well and once you find the station and get on the T1 line, Sirkeci is first stop, then Gulhane, then Sultanahmet.
|T1 Tram Line|
This puts you near the Blue Mosque, but you have to walk through a nice park to get there. You will see a stage area in the park just keep walking. The entrance is on the side NOT the front which is closest to Hagia Sophia. It closes at noon for prayer and we weren't sure if we would get in because the line was long, but it went quickly. You must either bring a scarf to cover your shoulders or borrow one from the mosque, and you have to take your shoes off and place them in a bag. It is also a good idea to wear long pants for both men and women, although I saw men in shorts. It is free to get in and pictures are allowed. We didn't spend much time there but it was nice. The tiles that the nickname Blue Mosque comes from weren't that blue but impressive nonetheless. The stained glass windows were beautiful as well.
|One of the many tiled walls in the Blue Mosque|
After leaving there and heading towards Hagia Sophia there is a garden with rows and rows of benches. You will find locals and tourists alike enjoying a doner kebap or sipping tea and visiting with each other. We stopped at an outdoor cafe and split a sandwich before going on the Hagia Sophia. I meant to mention this before but if you need to use the bathroom anytime while you are out look for a sign that says WC(Water Closet). You have to pay 1 TL but there is a decent one across from Hagia Sofia next to an outdoor restaurant in front of the hammam.
Hagia Sofia or Ayasofya or Saint Sophia as you might see it, was first a Byzantine Church and then a mosque and now a museum. It costs 25 TL to get in and in most areas you can use a camera with a flash. Where the mosaics are you can't use a flash but can still take photos. It really is a beautiful structure and it is amazing how old it is. The first church on the site was finished in 360 AD. The current church at the site was dedicated in 537 AD. It was the third built after the first two burned down. There is a lot to see in this church and probably my favorite part was going upstairs to take photos looking down into the sanctuary. There is a steep cobblestone path inside the museum that leads you upstairs. The whole day was a lot of walking and really could have been spread out. Especially the palace which I will discuss next.
|Can you see the influence of the Christian Church as well as Islam? Look up to the far right.|
|Couldn't for the life of me get a decent photo but this is the Virgin Mary and Child|
|Where Byzantine emperors were coronated|
|One of the many mosaics in the upper gallery|
|The walkway along the wall of the palace|
|The entrance to Topkapi Palace|
The palace is huge and we barely got to see any of it. We read that the harem, where all the concubines lived, is a must so we waited in line and paid for the regular tickets and then had to buy a ticket to get into the harem. It costs 25 TL to get into the palace courtyard and all the buildings except the the harem area which is an additional 15 TL. We went to the harem first because it was already 2:45 pm and it closes at 4pm. The rest of the palace is open until later. It really is impressive inside the harem with the painted tiles and beautiful fireplaces. We learned that the concubines were rarely allowed to leave the palace, about the hierarchy of the woman, and saw the sultan and prince's quarters. The harem has cobblestone streets, tiled walls, and areas lined with marble columns and floors. One of the most impressive things are the windows.
|Tiled walls in the harem of Topkapi Palace|
|Cobblestone walkway inside harem|
|Inside harem of Tokapi Palace|
|Sitting area inside harem|
|Bed chambers inside harem - sultan chambers|
|One of the beautiful windows with a view of Istanbul|
|One of the many mosaic glass windows in the harem|
|My wonderful mother outside the harem of Topkapi Palace|
By the time that we came out of the harem our feet, backs and legs hurt so bad that we didn't go see much else. We took some photos overlooking the Bosphorus and went in a few more buildings and then made our way out. We saw a few couples with their wedding attire on taking pictures before we left the palace walls. There were also a lot of people laying in the grass soaking up the sun. Overall it was a good trip and I am really glad I finally got to see it after my third trip to Istanbul.
|Overlooking the Bosphorus from Topkapi Palace|