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Friday, August 20, 2010

Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul

Aya Sofia from the Blue Mosque

Istanbul is the ancient Greek City of Byzantion, Romanized to Byzantium, renamed Constantinople as the head of the Byzantine Empire and then Ottoman Caliphate, again renamed Istanbul in the 1930s with the establishment of modern secular Turkey. It is also currently an intriguing interface and melting pot between Western and Middle-Eastern Muslim culture, having stood at the gateway between the continents ever since human culture emerged.

We have already described finding our pension in Istanbul right under the walls of the Topkapi Palace. The next day was entertaining and reasonably relaxing. In the morning we visited the Aya Sofia the famous Byzantine church pioneering the dome architecture converted into a mosque and since the 1930's a museum with a stiff entrance fee of 20 Turkish lira each.

This is a reversal of the Mesquita at Cordoba where a mosque has been turned into a church with hybrid architecture unifying the two into one architectural composition. The Aya or Haggia Sofia was founded in AD 360 and is famous for its large dome which is said to have changed the history of architecture. Historically it is dedicated to the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, but its reference to Sophia haunts the structure with four winged angelic figures, one on each column of the central dome, only one of which has a real face, as if the other three have been intentionally obliterated. There is also a Byzantine Orthodox Christian mosaic remaining in the entrance way.

Vertical panorama inside

This feathered Sophia in the central dome is the only one of the four with a face

A Byzantine mosaic remains in the entrance

Two Byzantine relics: Hadrian's obelisk and the Hippodrome

After that we walked up to the Topkapi palace whose outer walls our little backpacker penthouse room lay directly beside. In the event I went through and photographed everything including some sweeping panoramas of the Bosphorus. There was also a profligate indulgent collection of extreme crown jewels which no one was allowed to photograph including the fabulous Topkapi diamond, which I have included a small selection of internet images of including the famous diamond.

Inner gate to the Topkapi Palace

Palace gardens and buildings

Inner gateway

The floor is warn from centuries of use

Panorama of the Bosphorus from the Palace

Ceremonial cape in the throne room

Three of the items in the treasury, including the Topkapi diamond

Ornamentation and tile work in a reception room

Three dancers

Later we both went to the Blue Mosque, which is a more open and cosmopolitan affair than many of the Muslim shrines from the Dome of the Rock to many of those in Middle Eastern countries, but however still emits the contradicti0ns of sexual separation that haunt Islam, with the women segregated in the rear and balcony of the mosque.

Blue Mosque from the gardens in front of the Aya Sofia

Vertical panorama of the interior

Women worshiping in a separate enclosure

Taps provided for the men to wash their feet outside

Conservative Muslims walking towards the Blue mosque

Later I wandered some of the neighbourhoods nearby, filming some of the derelict houses, and other Byzantine relics from the Hippodrome, which was the centre of Byzantium's life for 1200 years and Ottoman life for another 400, to Hadrian's pillar and obelisk.

A shrine and below a derelict house in Kadirga-Kumapi

Scenes from our neighbourhood: An ice cream maker at the entrance to the Palace walls

Turkish miniatures of dancing girls

A pita maker working hard all day in a restaurant

Sweet meats

Expensive carpet and porcelain shops

Night scenes at the entrance to our street

One thing I found interesting was the women's hijab fashions. Istanbul meets East and West in a very complex and relatively tolerant mix, with some women scantily clad and a few others covered in Burqas, but currently in Turkey and especially in the district we were in, where people are going out dressed to kill, quite a few fashionable women in the street are currently following a trend of wearing hijabs. One can see this has deeper roots than the current pro-Islamic government and the struggle with the secular view of Turkey founded by Ataturk.

In Turkey the hijab is a kind of expression of the complete woman but, rather than drab repression, they do it covered in shining colours mixed up with very daring dresses and tops that say two conflicting things. 1. I am asserting my own creative independence in full colour. 2: I am a "good" girl who knows how keep my man to myself. This is the best female investment strategy under these cultural circumstances although its a profound conflict of values!

Forms of hijab fashion. Some others I missed were really provocative

A Muslim graveyard in a secluded garden over the road

Next morning I also toured the Grand Bazaar a few stops back on the smooth city tram lines, before we both took off for the airport on foot to the tram, then changing smoothly to the fast rail connection to the airport.

A series of images of the Grand Bazaar and its stalls

The old city wall heading west in the tram

Two views of western neighbourhoods. Many were bristling with satellite TV bowls.

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