Wisdom, holy or otherwise

by arianambrand

The Hagia Sophia is a spectacular conglomeration of church, mosque, and buttresses that sits like a massive tortoise opposite the blue mosque. Inside, many of the original decorations need restoration, but the grandeur of the site is undeniable.

You can see in this photo how huge the center of the building is:

I really loved the filigree marble of the capitals, which I believe predate the current building by quite a long time.

The six-winged golden spheres are Seraphim, from the church, and the Arabic medallions and the lovely chandeliers were added by the Muslims when the building became a mosque.

I also went to see the Basilica Cistern, a massive cavern where water from the Belgrade Forest was stored by the Romans after they brought it into the city via aqueduct. Many of the pillars are borrowed from earlier buildings, resulting in a weird conglomeration of different materials and shapes.

There are giant grey catfish in the water, too, stirring in the mud whenever tourists pass over them on the slippery walkways. It’s quite a dark, strange place, made weirder by the fact that for centuries, the Ottomans didn’t even know it was there. They just dug holes in their backyards and lowered buckets into the dark, coming up with fish and clean water until someone thought to see what was down there.

Galen and I met up at the Grand Bazaar, and we got ourselves thoroughly lost among the covered passageways and near-identical storefronts. I bought a couple of scarves, and then we got hungry and found a tiny kebab restaurant full of Turks in a side alley near the Bazaar. It was good food. At least, Galen approved:

We walked across the Horn and up the hill to Taksim square, where we caught a bus north up the Bosphorus toward the University. It’s built on a steep hillside overlooking the Bosphorus Bridge and the Egyptian Consolate, a former yalı along the waterfront.

That photograph was taken seconds before a massive rainstorm rolled in, forcing us to take cover in a student coffee shop for tea and scones. I love how tea is served there in clear glasses. It makes the whole thing much more elegant.

When the rain had (apparently) passed over, we walked down the steep hill to the waterfront to see the second bridge. The Bosphorus is a flooded river valley, and is deep enough to let massive container ships pass, headed for the Black Sea where they fill up on oil and coal. The bridges have to be tall enough to let the big boats by, but that results in suspension bridges stretched like rubber bands across the gap, and they have to be closed occasionally to prevent the wind from knocking cars off into the water. Ferryboats seem like a better way to get around (aw yes, that’s foreshadowing, people).

We had planned to go climb around the Fortress of Europe (a ruin visible to the left of the photograph above), but the rain came back in force and we had to make a run for it. To no avail, of course–we gave up on the umbrella and just got drenched. Luckily, the restaurant we picked for dinner was warm and dry, but even so, I had to wring out my sweater when I got home that evening. Springtime in southern Europe, I guess.

More photos here.