Tuesday, June 05, 2007

June 5 - Istanbul - Ten Times Older

How can an American whose country is not even 250 years old relate to a country so momentous, glorious, exotic, and chaotic that is ten times its senior?

Ethan had arranged for us to have a personal tour of the Dolmabache Palace constructed in the late 19th century. Fourteen tons of gold, 6 tons of silver, and countless tons of crystal opulently adorned the 285 rooms that spanned nearly 1/2 mile. One of the crystal chandeliers, the largest in Europe, weighs 4 1/2 tons!

Ethem also arranged for us to have a personal lunch and guided tour by the President of the Topkapi Palace, now a museum, but formally the residence for Sultans and the administrative seat of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years. The Treasury (gallery of jewels) was home to an 86 carat diamond and many emeralds of similar dimensions. Do you have insurance, we asked? "No. Their value is priceless." Wonder if that's where Kodak invented its tag line?

We had just under an hour to try to absorb the awe of the Ayasofya, Hagia Sophia, or St. Sophia(how you call her depends if you prefer the Turkish, Greek, or English moniker). St. Sophia was completed in 537 A.D. after only 5 1/4 years. She was a Christian church until the 16th century, at which time it became a Mosque, the most prominent church in the world that has been a house of worship to both religions. Ayasofya's dome is so tall (184 feet, 15 stories) that the Statue of Liberty could stand under her dome and not put out her flame!

Huge mosaics of Christian motif adorn many of the walls. I can't imagine what it would take to create 9 x 12 or 20 x 20 foot mosaics using tile the size of a new born baby's thumb nail!

We had enough time to briefly visit the Blue Mosque, so named for its predominantly blue tiles used inside. This is still an active house of worship packed out, especially on Fridays at the 1:15 prayer service. Had to leave our shoes at the door and I wore my first Muslim head covering. Seemed the right thing to do, a way of showing respect.

Along with Barcelona, Istanbul and Turkey are places we hope we can return to in the next few years.

Be sure to check out the Istanbul pictures when they are up on my Shurtterfly account,which won't be till after I get home.

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