Part 11: Istanbul Day 3

Disclaimer: my camera finally stopped working for reasons I cannot ascertain, and so I don’t have my own pictures of any of the sites here. Photos will be credited to their original owners. Luckily, we saw plenty of famous/important sites that are well documented already. Now, on with the show!


Turkish and Islamic Art Museum:


Picture credit to flickr user docman

The original proprietor of this structure was one Ibrahim, the grand vizier of Suleyman the Magnificent––Suleyman the Lawgiver to Turks––whose was a Christian convert who became a long time friend of Sultan Suleyman. He met a grisly end in 1536 at the hands of his boyhood companion mostly due to the intrigues of the sultan’s wife Roxelana, who did not deign to share influence over the sultan with others. Since then, the building has had a more mundane history, and currently it serves as a museum for Islamic and Turkish art. Housed in this building is a beautiful collection of art form throughout the history of Islam and from many regions, ranging from early Arabic Qur’ans to Ottoman carpets. Arabic script lends itself to spectacular calligraphy, and there is a healthy serving of that kind of fare here. Additionally, there are woven covers for the Ka’aba, beautiful stone griffins from the Seljuk period, and even a whole section of preserved seating from the old Roman Hippodrome that used to neighbor the museum site.

Basilica Cistern:


Wikimedia Commons. Upside-down medusa head appropriated for a pillar base.

Constructed in the time of Justinian––6th century CE––this colossal underground cistern complex is one of the more haunting sites in Istanbul. Despite the presence of the truly surreal “Cistern Cafe” and a smattering of touristy junk at the beginning, not to mention the spine-tingling blind fish that swim in the water, it has a gravitas that is almost unmatched. Water below, and looming columns above. Of course, people treat the water like a fountain, meaning that the floors of many areas of the cistern are covered in coins of all nations. It’s an unconventional attraction, given that it’s chilly, below ground, and full of stagnant water, but it has a strange appeal to it, mostly in its atmosphere. It provided water to many notable buildings around the city, including the palace from last post, but now it’s mainly decorative.

Chora Church:

Wikimedia Commons. 12th century mosaic depiction of the census described in the Bible.

Wikimedia Commons. 12th century mosaic depiction of the census described in the Bible.

This former church, now a museum dedicated to the many icons, frescoes, and mosaics that line its walls––though its sanctuary was inaccessible due to reconstruction (surprise!)––is one of the most outwardly impressive sites we’ve seen so far. Its narrative mosaics recount the story of Mary’s birth and childhood as recorded in the apocryphal Gospel of James, rendering the scenes in brilliant colors and with a much sharper attention to naturalistic detail than Byzantine art did in the 5th or 6th centuries, at the peak of imperial power and glory. Despite the fact that the building was enclosed in a birdcage of metal supports, its interior glittered.

Reflections: Mass Transit

So far, we’ve taken several forms of public mass transit in Istanbul. I’ve personally been on a few trams, a subway line, a bus, and a funicular that pulls passengers to Taksim Square. Most of the infrastructure is relatively recent, especially the tram lines, and as such don’t have that patina of wear and tear you see on older systems like in Toronto or Chicago. Graffiti is relatively rare, and people tend to be quiet and reserved on trains, trams, and buses. Drivers of buses, on the other hand, are, like all drivers in Istanbul, fanatical aggressors in the lanes, making liberal use of the horn and jarring the standing passengers (yes, you can stand on the buses while hanging onto handles) with sudden turns or braking. It beats driving, but bus travel can also be a hazard to people who strain easily or who have weak arms. I vastly prefer the trams and trains, but there are many parts of the city that are difficult to reach just through the underground or above-ground trains, necessitating busing or taxis. The city, even just its oldest district, sprawl for untold numbers of blocks, so figuring out an efficient transportation schedule is a must for traveling here.


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