Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Sultanahmet Camii (‘C’ is pronounced like ‘j’ in ‘jockey’), better known as the Blue Mosque after its intricate blue-tiled decorations, is the first and the last place I visited in Istanbul. (The airport doesn’t count, no. They usually don’t.)

The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I (hence the name Sultanahmet Camii), and on the site of the palace of Byzantine emperors and the hippodrome, facing Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish).

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Silent Blue

This is one of my favourite photos, if not the favourite from the great Mosque.

Amazing inside

 

Mosque lights series DSC_0069

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Mosque carpets. Not the expensive, hand-woven kind, I imagine, though I’m not an expert, but still wonderfully soft on our bare feet.

Multitudes of visitors inside the mosque

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   This is the space for prayers, from the other side of the barrier for visitors. The space for women was yet on the other side, towards the back of the mosque.

Men praying

Detail of decoration inside the Mosque

 

 

The Mosque at night

These were taken from the terrace of our hotel, which was very close to the Blue Mosque. So close that our room resounded with the call to prayer, or so it felt when we were in it. I grew to like the mesmerising sounds.

According to Wikipedia, until recently the muezzin had to climb a narrow spiral minaret staircase five times a day to announce the call to prayer. Today, a sound system is used.

 

Yet another view of the Mosque, this time from behind, i.e. not from the little streets behind the mosque. This was taken on a very cloudy day, from a restaurante terrace.

 

Leaving the Mosque. Note the people sitting on the grass in the right hand corner. That was a common sight, people having a picnic in Hippodrome, the great Byzantine square near the mosque, or like here around the mosque, in the gardens towards Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace.

Looking back at the Mosque from Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish), our next destination.

 

To be continued…

 

 

In Istanbul

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Sultan’s window, Topkapi Palace

 

Welcome!

Please come in. Pull up your chair. Yes, sit here beside us. What can I offer you? Coffee? DSC_0041

Tea?

 

Do come in, help yourself to the baklava.

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Of course you can have the walnut cake, too, Roo! I promise I’m not hiding it; I just thought you’d prefer baklava with a Turkish story. Though this is not necessarily a sweet story.

When I go places, I try not to think about how it will be in advance, and conjure an idea of a place before I’m even there. I try to leave my mind open and get to know a place the way it really is, discover its ways and let it surprise me. I could not do this with Istanbul.

Ist- an-bul. Etc. How musical and magical it sounds. She’s always captured my imagination; I’ve always felt drawn to her. My grandmother’s stories featured Ottoman Turks. Books, stories I’ve read as a child also. ‘Carigrad’ – the Emperor’s city, in Croatian.

Lamp, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art

 

When I finally got to go, my excitement was immense.

We arrived in Istanbul one late afternoon in early July 2010. I saw its concrete towers and elegant minarets through the haze of the afternoon sun. This haze seemed never to lift. It was always somewhere in the distance, except on the days when the rain cleared it. Like one would wipe a window glass clean with a moist cloth.

We boarded a light railway at the airport, and then changed to the tram, cool, new, air-conditioned, which took us to our destination in the city, meandering through many suburbs, through streets, under road bridges, amongst tall buildings and shops. Rivers of humanity spilling in and out of vehicle – decanting from train to street and vice versa. The tram was slightly crowded, but not unpleasant.

I needn’t have worried about bringing sensible, sombre clothes. There were girls in shorter skirts than any that I owned. To be fair, they looked better in them, too. One of them tall with narrow shoulders and long limbs, a laptop bag across her chest. She had long dark wavy hair and large eyes. White T-shirt and light orange mini skirt. Not what everyone would call a beauty, but certainly attractive, calmly confident and with an air of intelligence. She was standing next to a bald man with a moustache, of about 50 to 60 years of age; a woman was sitting in next to them. They were talking with familiarity, though not intimacy. Hard to say whether they really were, but I imagined they might be related. I’m not sure why I remember them. Perhaps because they looked at the girl with interest, and perhaps a hint of admiration. She certainly looked like a girl one might admire. An epitome of youth, clever. Not showy, but perhaps knowing her worth.

I remember we passed shops, schools, mosques, ruins of the old city walls. More shops, cafes, restaurants, and then we were at our destination – Sultanahmet. The Old City, the centre of the old imperial Istanbul.

View of Sultanahment from Uskudar, in Asian Istanbul

 

To be continued…

  

 

A wonder of water and light

Istanbul – I’ve seen and experienced so many things that I’m wondering where to start?

Let take you underground first. This is where my favourite place in Istanbul is.

Perhaps the most impressive wonder of Istanbul is the 6th century Basilica Cistern – Yerebatan Sarayı ‘Sunken Palace’, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı ‘Sunken Cistern’ in Turkish. Built in the 4th century by Constintine, and finished and enlarged by Justinian in the 6th century, this is a Byzantine cistern, with a capacity to store 100,000 tons of water. It is a spacious underground chamber, its ceiling supported by 336 columns brought over from all corners of the Byzantine empire. However prosaic it may sounds, this incredible structure is a thing of true beauty. Today it stands as a wonder of light and darkness, of water and stone.

Like in many places in Istanbul, I do wish I’d had a tripod with me.

Yes, you may say it’s left quite an impression on me. 🙂

Water in flames

Back home

I’m back. Sorting through my photos and my memories. Will be back soon.

 

M

In Belfast

I went out on a Friday night, alone, and in an unknown city. Shrugging off the niggling feeling of panic, I descended the steps of a pub, and as I was entering its dark interior, my heart skipped. I was in. Defence against any lecherous advances ready should I need to use it: polite, but firm. I really am fine on my own. By far happier than in certain company, in any case. So I ordered my Guinness at the bar, and found my place in the pub, close to the small stage at the far end of the room. The music started, and I settled into my solitude, like slipping in a pair of old comfortable shoes before going for a long walk by the sea. Breathing in the fresh air already. Metaphorically in this case, of course.

I’m in Belfast for a couple of days, on my own. One of the things I’ve wanted to do here is go out, preferably to a pub, drink Guinness and listen to some live music. But I’m travelling alone, and I don’t always feel safest on my own. I sometimes think this is easier for blokes. I feel vulnerable, preyed upon at times. And I hate feeling that, and  being restricted in that way. I feel silly for feeling that way. Also, it’s a bit paranoid, I know. So this time I decided go for it anyway. I did, and it felt oh so good!

I loved comfortable darkness of the pub, the shady red lights reflecting on the red wall paper, making it look magic. A velvet curtain dripping a red warm glow in the same light, the light that gave its drab folds life it doesn’t possess in the daylight. I missed my camera which was left in my hotel room. And I relished the taste of just poured Guinness in my mouth.

The pub was called the Empire, and the music was fantastic! Just a guy with a guitar, playing away. One of the songs that seemed to particularly resonate both within the singer and the audience went like this: 

 

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution

Take a bow for the new revolution

Smile and grin at the change all around

Pick up my guitar and play

Just like yesterday

Then I’ll get on my knees and pray

We don’t get fooled again

No, no!

 

I wonder whether by singing this powerful song by the Who (see also the lyrics for Won’t Get Fooled Again) the singer was thinking about the recent events in this region. 5 February 2010 was an important Friday for Northern Ireland, as the agreement was reached that the responsibility for policing and justice will be devolved from Westminster to the Northern Ireland Assembly, i.e. giving Northern Ireland the control of its police and justice system. In any case, I hope this seals the peace in this land.

I return home with the determination to travel alone again. Soon. And to learn how to make potato bread and wheathen bread, to which I’ve become addicted. If you know a good recipe, drop me a line, and especially if you have any tips for women travelling alone. Cheers!

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