This was the first photo I took in Istanbul. A throwaway by almost any
measure, but I display it prominently because this blurry snapshot of
the Marmara Sea taken out of a taxicab window on the night of
Valentine's Day after 13 hours of airplane travel seems to effectively
capture my mood at the time.
Istanbul: Lovely, ancient, seething, cosmopolitan metropolis.
Straddling two continents; cheerfully blending past and present.
I knew I would like the place the moment I arrived. In the airport
bathroom there is a sign that reads, “Help us save water, flush twice”
I got to my hotel, flang my bags in the room and headed out. It
is Valentine's Day and I have a date with a city.
For me Istanbul was to be an elegant set of bookends. I flew into here
as a launch point for a journey south, into Syria and Jordan. A day and
a half in the city before, a day and a half after. These photos are a
mixture of the two bookends. It is funny how the city took on two
distinctly different aspects on the two visits. On the first visit the
city seemed so exotic; on the second it seemed so organized.
These are merely lenses though, and by any definition Istanbul is a
fantastic place. I spent the majority of my time in the central part of
town, in the Sultanahmet area. This is right in the thick of the
historical district, with amazing things around every corner.
Ever since High School I have had a fascination with Istanbul, and in
particular, the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. From textbook
pages these building jumped out at me, with their soap-bubbly domes and
minarets. From the roof of my hotel you can see both of these
buildings. They are right together, bang in the middle of the
Sultanahmet. Squared off and facing each other like sumo wrestlers
across a park.
There's the Blue Mosque at night. Built in the early 1600s, the
sheer beauty of this building raised eyebrows and was considered
sacrilegious as it rivalled the beauty of Mecca itself.
And this is the Hagia Sofia, the lovely old creature. More than a
thousand years older than the Blue Mosque, and definitely a bit
chunkier in its appearance. Long before architects and engineers
were able to use steel and glass to create a sense of weightlessness in
their buildings, the Hagia Sofia did so with stone and masonry.
Built 537 A.D. (yes, that is a 3 digit number) Much to my
chagrin, none of the photos I tried to take of the interior are worth
looking at. But in a way that is good as no photo could really do it
justice. It is amazing. The central nave is a huge, soaring
space. It is somewhat mind-boggling that such an enormous space could
be contained within walls. And this was one of the first
buildings to do this, to create this sort of vast interior architecture.
This mosaic presents a nice distillation of Byzantine Constantinople.
In the center are the Virgin and the baby Jesus, on the right is the
emperor Justinian presenting the Hagia Sofia and on the left is
Constantine presenting the city of Constantinople.