Aya Sofya, Istanbul Archaeology Museums, Topkapi

Trip Start Sep 15, 2009
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Trip End Oct 17, 2009


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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We started our morning with the Aya Sofya - wow. Wow, wow, wow. You really can't say much more than that. The building seems somehow larger from the inside, and its unsupported dome roof is very impressive. Unfortunately, some restoration work going on at the moment requires extensive scaffolding of almost half of the main floor, and it blocked our views of some of the more intact and attractive mosaics, but there were still a few to see. The Mary-with-child-Jesus in the semidome above the apse was beautiful, if impossible to photograph, and on the way out there was a mosaic of Justinian and his wife offering the Aya Sofya and the city of Constantinople to Jesus. It was spectacular! There's actually a mirror as you exit the church that shows you this mosque, as it is above the exit door and otherwise you might miss it.

After this, Scott and I headed to Topkapi Palace to see the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, while Simon went across to Galata to visit the Military Museum.

The first museum that Scott and I entered in the Archaeology Museum's complex was the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and it alone was well worth the price of admission. It had artifacts from cultures dating back to 2700 BCE! Egyptian figurines, Hittite statues, Assyrian carvings, tile decorations from the Gates of Babylon (!), cuneiform tablets, the world's oldest love poem, fragments of the Treaty of Kardesh - absolutely amazing. Hands down the best museum I have ever been in.

Next we entered the Tiled Kiosk, a pavilion - decorated in Iznik tiles - built during the Seljuk rule. It now houses a selection of Turkish ceramics and pottery. This might have been very cool if we'd seen it before the Museum of the Ancient Orient, but nothing can really compare to what we'd just seen, so the tiles were just moderately interesting.

Just outside the Tiled Kiosk was a lovely courtyard with a statue garden full of ancient columns. Kind of over columns, we had a brief look, but didn't stay too long. We then entered the main Archaeological museum complex to see the "Istanbul through the Ages" exhibit, which was disappointingly, single-mindedly Byzantine. Upstairs, though, the Syria-Palestine display was a lot more interesting. And the extremely ornate sarcophagi were, admittedly, impressive, but overall this part of the museum was just more-of-the-same. So a hint to future travellers to Turkey: save the Museum of the Ancient Orient for last! :)

We then met up with Simon to check out Topkapi Palace proper. Since we were all very tired, we opted to see just the Fourth Court, the Treasury, and the Harem. The Fourth Court offered excellent views over the Bosphorus and a few nice buildings. The Treasury was incredible, but we weren't allowed to take any photos inside. There were so many ornate, ostentatious, opulent objects! Highlights were: an ebony and mother-of-pearl throne, a beautiful black and gold flask, the 86-carat diamond, and a sword engraved with Arabic script. But there were maybe 200 items, all ridiculously conspicuous (like the gold plate armor encrusted with diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds -- who would even wear that?!). It was like a guided tour through conspicuous consumption ... and I have to say, the Ottomans did it in style. I'd way rather have a gold suit of armour than a gold-coloured Hummer!

The Harem was a different kind of opulence - a sprawling living area for the Sultan and his family and concubines, almost entirely decorated in tiles, with marble appearing only in the bathing rooms. Gold fixtures everywhere! I quite enjoyed all of Topkapi Palace for the break from classical and early medieval Roman style.

We headed back to our hotel for a nap, then out to a nearby Koftecisi for a cheap, excellent meal. Afterwards we started packing - we depart back for Australia tomorrow. In one sense, I am excited to get back home, to my comfy bed with its comfy pillows, and my reliable shower, and no more living out of suitcases - but Turkey has really left an impression in my heart and I know I'll miss it.
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