Day 2 in Turkey -- Istanbul ( NOT Constantinople ;) )

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Please listen to this song as you read my blog:

Istanbul Not Constantinople by The Four Lads

The first thing Nazim discussed on the bus was the prophecy of a "fortune teller" to the future king of what is now Istanbul, Byzas. The Oracle of Delphi told him to build a city where there were "blind people," and Byzas thought it meant a physical condition until he saw where the Marmara Sea meets the Golden Horn as well as the Bosphorus and realized that the people there did not see the potential of the land they had settled on for power in 633 BCE. The city of Constantinople was conquered by the Turks in 1453, and that is when the Topkapi Palace was built by Sultan Mehmed II.

We then traveled to Topkapi Palace where we saw the Gülhane Park, or the public gardens in the Palace. It was first constructed in 1883 and then again in 1905. The entrance into it is the Imperial Gate/Gate of the Sultan (Bâb-ı Hümâyûn or Porta Augusta/ Saltanat Kapısı).

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After entering the First Courtyard (I. Avlu/Alay Meydani) through the Gate of Salutation (Bâb-üs Selâm or Orta Kapı, we were covered from the sun by many trees growing there. To our left was the Hagia Irene/Eirene, a former Byzantine church and Ottoman arsenal that now serves as a concert hall. It was the first church built by Constantine in the 4th Century CE/AD, but was rebuilt 548 CE by Justinian I after a Nike raid. The Hagia Irene was finished in 537 CE, but had repairs done on it due to earthquakes in the 8th Century.  It requires special permission for entrance, but is usually open to the public during concerts. 

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Our second site was the Fountain of the Executioner (Cellat Çeşmesi). According to lore, it was where the executioner would wash off his bloody blade after an execution in the fountain, giving the site its name and scaring any rebellious people to obey the Ottomans.

Executioner's Fountain Tower.JPG

The Second Courtyard (II. Avlu) or Divan Square (Divan Meydani) holds the Tower of Justice, the Imperial Treasury, the entrance to the Byzantine cistern, and the Palace Kitchens, to name a few things we saw. 

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We then entered the police-guarded entrance in order to gain access to the Third Courtyard (III. Avlu). To the left was the kitchen for the 1,000 public officials and the food house for the 3,500 poor who showed up for alms. With the population of servants, eunuchs, and the harem, the total population of the Palace was around 5,000.

The Third Courtyard houses the Saray Cedide, or New Palace. Istanbul University is on the site of the Old Palace, but the new one was built in the 1460s by Sultan Mehmed II. The left passage was for the Harem, which housed the many concubines and wives of the sultan. Access was restricted to all men but eunuchs and the sultan. The head of the harem was the Valide Padisha, or the Old Lady, who was the mother of the current sultan as well as the true ruler of the palace. She controlled who married her son and ran much of the palace's inner workings. The harem women were usually gifts to the sultan from lands such as Italy, Poland, and Russia. They were 6-12 years old and had to change everything about themselves - religion, language, habits, etc. - and learn how to make coffee, how to dance, how to bath according to the Koran, how to read the Koran and the Ottoman language (a mixture of Turkish, Arabic, and Farsi) in order to have any hope of marrying the sultan. The chosen woman would go through a ceremony of bathing, anointed with perfumes and oils, and would be dressed in silks before being presented to the sultan. The sultan picked the women he wanted to have sexual relations with as well as marry (all with permission from his mother). If the woman had a boy child - the chezade-- her position upgraded to the "godet" or terrace position. If she had 2 or 3 of the sultan's children, she became his wife. 

Harem.JPG

The Chamber of Petitions was the meeting room for the sultan and his advisors and ambassadors. Near here was the sultan's view over the Golden Horn as well as the Bosporus and Marmara.

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After the palace we visited the Hagia Sophia ("Holy Wisdom"). We learned that it was a pagan site and then a Christian Church built in 420 CE from parts of the pagan site, and was reformed into a mosque in 1453 by Muhmed II until being turned into a museum by Ataturk in 1935. It is 1 building that houses 2 religions, with the first floor used for practicing and the second as an art gallery. Jo told us about the 4 main mosaics that were put up during the Christian period that Muhmed II had covered up with Islamic images. The sultan had his own balcony to pray at.

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Sultan's Box.JPG


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At the Hippodrom/ Sultanment Square, we learned that sports were once played out here. The coliseum was from Byzantine times;, with the seats where the outer walls of the Blue Mosque are now the fountain with 10 surrounding fountains on it was a gift from the Germans; the Egyptian Obelisk taken from Carnak in the 3rd Century AD; the serpanter that celebrates a victory of the Greeks over the Persians; and the Byzantine silver obelisk whose silver was melted down by Latins (Crusaders).

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At the Blue Mosque, Kelly told us that it was built from 1609-1616 by Sultan Ahmed I as an apology to the people for all of his lousy wars even though he was using the money of the people to pay for it. It was created by Muhmet Aga and is considered a national treasure with 6 minarets and 10 balconies on each, not gold minarets as he wanted. It was a complex that supported all forms of daily life from shopping to alms.

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If today was a definition of what the rest of the trip is to bring, then bring it on. :)

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