We loved our first hotel in Istanbul. The owners were friendly and so accommodating. They were sensitive to our tired brains and seemed to know when we needed help before we did. The hotel was in a great location within an easy walk to the Blue Mosque and Hippodrome and great restaurants. A tram stop was also nearby. The breakfast buffet was lavish and omelets were made to order. We left a large suitcase with them full of cruise clothes and will retrieve it from them when we return to town.
We were a bit sad when we left to go to the hotel where we met up with our tour group, but our new hotel is much nicer than what we usually afford ourselves with the exception of slow internet. The room is huge and the hotel is also in a great location near the Spice Market. We met our eight fellow travelers who just arrived yesterday and our guide. Three of the couples have been friends for many years and a single man and single woman round out the group. After a first day of touring the group seems congenial and a nice size. The guide is always available for questions and we do not have to wait for one another as we move from place to place.
Today we toured some of the more ancient sights of istanbul. We have always know that it was an old city, but recent excavations as part of the metro extension found a skull that carbon dated at 7500 BC. Amazing!
The first stop was Topkapi Palace where the sultans lived and procreated for about 600 years. As with many monarchies, the sultanate always passed to sons, not daughters. The sultan observed his sons as they grew up, especially as regards their military proclivities, and chose the son that he wanted as their successor, not necessarily the first born. As you might imagine this caused lots of jealousy and palace intrigue. Many of these sons were born to concubines whose future would change drastically if their son was chosen #1. Infants were killed in their cradles. There was one thirteen year period were five sons duked it out, killing one another until finally only one was left. The sultans always ate from special porcelain imported from China that changed color if the food had been poisoned. Over 5,000 people lived in the complex, but most ate on regular ceramic dishes.
The palace is a huge complex of residential and government buildings. It also had a huge treasures collection including a 86 carat diamond surrounded by smaller diamonds and a highly jeweled sword that became wold famous in the jewel heist film Topkapi. Lavish collections of weaponry and armor were also on display. It all reminded me a bit of touring the Tower of London.
Then we went to Haiga Sofia, a place of worship that rivals St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. The first church was built in 400BC when the Romans accepted Christianity and stopped serving Christians to the lions. It was destroyed in 532BC by a mob of 30,000 upset sports fans who were angry at the emperor for endorsing the wrong chariot in a race. The next day he locked them in the Hipppodrome and had them all killed. The second version built on the site was occupied by the crusaders who looted all the metal they could find to melt down for money and arms. The third version was built as a mosque and rivaled the great European cathedrals in size. It is about 18 stories tall and lavishly decorated in the Muslim manner. In 1934 local Christians wanted their church back and rather than offend either side, the government turned it into a museum. We’ve seen a lot of great places of worship, and Haiga Sofia is near the top of the list for opulence and size.
Our final historical stop was the Blue Mosque, built during the Renaissance. It is still a place of worship so we heathens were barricaded along one side, shoes off of course. It also is a huge building and tough to photograph. It was really named after a Muslim big shot, but tourists called it the Blue Mosque because of the blue light streaming through the stained glass windows and the name stuck. Both these mosques were so huge they were a challenge to photograph.
Considering the fact that there were no cruise ships in port today and it is the shoulder season, we were amazed at how crowded these major antiquities were. Because our guide had things prearranged, we got in everywhere easily, walking past long lines, but there was still lots of waiting inside smaller spots like the treasure chamber. Istanbul could be loved to death.