Thursday, September 24, 2015

Iconic Istanbul

Tuesday 15 Sept 2015 – “Iconic Istanbul” Tour

We met our guide, Yildiz (means STAR) in the lobby of the Radisson Blu Istanbul Pera Hotel just before 9 AM.  There were 17 participants in this excursion, including 6 from Chicago.  We headed from the hotel to the Rustum Pasha Mosque, which is adjacent to the famous Spice Bazaar (a/k/a Spice Market.) 
Things have gotten more conservative since I last visited Istanbul in 2007 (not just my opinion; this was commented upon independently and repeatedly by our tour guide.)  I knew I might need to wear a headscarf while visiting mosques; now I also had to don a floor length – elastic waist skirt before entering.   The mosque itself is beautiful and a good choice for an introduction to Islam, courtesy of Gulse.  While small, it has the typical mosque setup, with the bonus of eye-height Ismir Tiles which are gorgeous and date back to the 16th century.  We learned that some of the colors produced at that time are no longer possible to create, due to depletion of minerals used to create those colored glazes at the time.   We also learned that the color “turquoise” is (a) Turkey’s national color and (b) named after Turkey – TURQ Blue, or Turkish Blue. 
From this Mosque we took a quick walk down an alley, already redolent with fragrances from the spice market below, then around the corner.  Outside on the perimeter of the spice market is a fresh food market, with different stalls specializing in various items, e.g., fruit, fish, candy, meat, cheese, olives and grape leaves for dolmas.  Our tour guide kept emphasizing that at the time we were there (approximately 10:15 AM) it was NOT CROWDED.  Gulse shepherded us to one of her favorite stalls, where we sampled delicious LOKI (Turkish Delight) made with honey instead of sugar, and fresh honey roasted sesame covered pistachios.  We also sampled  a “BBQ spice” as well as saffron.  I was looking for a headscarf (which I forgot to bring with me) so I headed down the hall.  I found a stall with beautiful products.  A word here – the salesmen here (no saleswomen!) are very, very skilled at their job.  They have a preternatural way to create a rapport with one, which is quickly replaced with confusion/GUILT if you don’t buy anything.  Plus flattery!  We were on a schedule and I had a VERY difficult time extricating myself from a self-described former US Marine, who spoke perfect English,  Daoud (Call me Dave) at one stand…
From the Spice Market we headed to a spot that I had visited in 2007, and was delighted to return to, the Chora Church.   Istanbul had had many iterations, including Byzantinium, Constantinople, and finally Istanbul which we learned means “toward the city.”  This is the name adopted by the conquering Ottomans in the 17th Century.  The Chora Church, as with many other monuments in Istanbul, was originally a church, with GORGEOUS mosaic renderings of biblical scenes.  The artwork concerned Jesus Christ, but even more, his mother, Mary.  We learned that the Eastern Orthodox tradition gives Mary a backstory…I had visited this site in 2007 and continue to be impressed by the incredible artistry of those unknown artists who conceived of these images, and even more to the three tiers of craftsmen who made their artistic and spiritual visions come to life – Three tiers?  One group of artisans composed the mosaic backgrounds, while a second crafted the clothing and background images.  The third, most skilled group, created the faces of the various saints.
After the Chora Church, we headed back to Istanbul, almost across the street from the Spice Market, to a modern restaurant called SURPLUS.   This is located on the Bosphorus, on the roof of what once was a prison.  We enjoyed a “set menu” during which I sampled Manti, a traditional Turkish dish, for the first time.  It sounds odd to western tastes – but it’s yogurt thinned with stock and flavored with lots of garlic, in which are floated small stuffed ravioli-type noodles. 
After lunch, we headed to the Blue Mosque and then the Hagia Sofia, which continues to amaze me, as it was built 1000 years prior to the Duomo in Florence.   We had a quick walk through both of these monuments before driving back to the hotel. 
There was a dinner party on our schedule but we elected to stay in to continue catching up from our jet lag!!!
Interior of the Rustom Pasha Mosque, which is situated partially above the Spice Bazaar.


Rustom Pasha Mosque Interior

Detail of 16th Century Ismir Tiles

Date Stand outside of Spice Bazaar

Fresh Fish on display

Olives, and grape leaves for dolmas

Demonstration of Persian Saffron

Display of Sweets

More Sweets

Cupola with disciples - Chora Church

Peacock detail on Mosaic

View of Galata Tower from Surplus Restaurant

View of Bosphorus from Restaurant

Blue Mosque - Interior

Prayer in the Blue Mosque

Rich with Hagia Sofia in Background

Hagia Sofia Interior

Hagia Sofia Dome

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