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  • Shelley Dark

8. Where I meet Alexander the Great

Hello darling travellers

It's actually tomorrow as I wrote this last night but was a little too tired to finish it: (Does that sound Irish???)

Another largish day today - I'm sure you are as exhausted as I am. 😉

We were back at the hotel by 9 tonight to debrief over a wine. It makes such a nice full-stop to the day. Speaking of punctuation marks, I’m quite fancying myself as a writer - here I am, sitting at my desk, looking at a very nice marble fireplace, a second wine beside me, flexing my fingers and my literary muscles, imagining myself as a female Hemingway or equally feminine Jan Morris.

Today was spent in the old section of the city, Sultanahmet.

The Archaeology Museum is really very good. Excellent in fact. It covers from the stone age to the end of the Ottoman Empire.

I don't know if you know, but John and I were in New York in December and visited the Met. I’m a history lover and found so much of interest there. The presentation and content were very sophisticated - yet I felt quite removed from the race of people (us!) whom the museum represented.

I mention that because there’s something totally charming and intimate about Istanbul that New York doesn’t have. Its museums and mosques have frescoes, mosaics, Roman statues, right there, in front of you, accessible, on a plinth or on a wall, with no barriers, no glass except for the tiny and precious. Occasionally a ribbon barrier. There are pieces of antiquity - pieces of Roman columns for instance, lying in the streets. Somehow things come to life startlingly, providing a really physical connection with the past.

The photo below is Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt and wild animals (the Romans called her Diana). Doesn't she look relaxed and self-possessed. Pretty much a don't-mess-with-me girl.

By the way, don’t you think Alexander the Great (below) was a good looking fellow?

Here is the Emperor Constantine's engagement ring to his fiancé Irene. Wouldn't be out of place in a jewellery window today!

This one was found in a sarcophagus dating from the 4th century. A fairly primitive setting, but very appealing don't you think?

Look at this hydraulic piping made by the Romans. Isn't it phenomenal? Stone pipes interlocking. No wonder they've lasted so long!

There's a barley twist green stone column in the actual Hippodrome, originally with two snakes heads on top. This is one of them.

And can you believe the delicacy of this glassware? Roman, 1st or 2nd century AD. Don't you just love it?

The Golden Horn, an inlet off the Bosphorus which divides the old city from what is now called the European part. It is a natural harbor and was used as a marina for the navy over the centuries, so of great strategic importance. From the Byzantine period, a chain was attached from shore to shore to prevent enemy ships from entering. This is part of the chain with an artistic representation.

Gold coins from the Ottoman period during the 1700's. - what delicate workmanship.

A gass goblet and incense burner from 6th century.

To be frank, I hate crowds. The cruise ships are in - 5 of them, each with thousands of people. And the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia are both on their list. They were crowded with people jostling in long queues and no space inside the exhibits. Despite the utterly stupendous treasures of Topkapi, I didn’t enjoy it. I found myself thinking I’d rather buy a book and sit comfortably at home to read about these, than suffer this crush of humanity. Having said that, the jewels! The religious relics! The decorative swords, guns, bows and arrows, helmets! Truly an utterly amazing treasure trove. There’s no photography inside, so the Topkapi dagger below is the replica in the museum shop.

And the famous Spoonmaker diamond, an 86 carat pear-shaped diamond considered the pride of the exhibition and its most valuable single exhibit. It's really very impressive isn't it?

Armour plate for a soldier's horse. Cally and I cynically agreed that it was probably as much out of concern for the mounted soldier's own safety as love of his horse!

And again, that fabulous view of the Bosphorus - this time a different mood of blue water and misty skies.

The Mosaic Museum features mosaic tableaux from the Imperial Palace. It’s small, laid out simply and well. Driven by hunger we navigated our way through it quickly. I loved this mosaic art - the glass and stone pieces are much tinier than I ever suspected. Differently coloured tiles show shading and contouring. Each piece is coloured glass or stone, or glass with precious metals in it.

Our lunch 4 floors up at a restaurant whose name I forget, overlooked the Blue Mosque. It was a little chilly today, so we shut the window looking out. We had expressed a wish for something a little spicier than yesterday, and Ottoman Cousine filled the bill nicely. It was hot, wholesome, tasty but not too spicy. I had Turkish wine - an inexpensive drinkable 2013 unwooded chardonnay/emir/sultanye grape blend called Casaba by Yazgan Winery. The Emir is grown in the eastern half of Turkey, in the high-altitude Cappadocia region. The Sultaniye is grown in Denizli, about a hundred miles from the Aegean coast. No one spoke about the chardonnay part of the wine, so I suspect it’s imported.

The Hagia Sophia is a fabulously over-scaled building, not only full of tourists but with huge scaffolding inside. The chandeliers, I'd imagine at least a hundred, with one outsize version, are to die for. I took a photo of Glee the cross-eyed cat who lives inside the mosque. He was made famous when Barack Obama patted him. He’s quite the film star, and poses unashamedly, or dozes carelessly as the camera shutters click.

This photo will give you some idea of the scale of the Hagia Sophia.

And a chandelier.

The Hagia Sophia was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian and his courtesan wife Theodora. She seems to have been the power behind the throne, and a fairly nasty piece of work. This ramp leading to the mezzanine floor was so that the slaves could carry her on a litter.

Serdar bought us dessert at another restaurant later and asked us to guess what the ingredients were - a white slab. It was very fibrous and stretchy, and hard to cut with a spoon. Neither Cally or I guessed correctly.

It's tavuk gogusu. It was made from chicken!!!!

Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar. Suffice to say, don’t bother. It’s just as you might imagine. Difficult not to be engaged in conversation with every shopkeeper along the way and you wonder how many shops can make a living selling exactly the same rubbish. The Arasta Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar are both much smaller and offer a superior experience.

By 5.30 pm, feet and backs complaining a little, we walked another couple of kilometres back to the theatre to see the Whirling Dervishes. They were so impressive that I’m going to give them their own post. I expected Hollywood. I was so wrong.

Bye for now my fellow travellers.

shelley dark, writer 

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