Bomb in Istanbul’s old city center

I had this morning off and slept in for the first day in almost a month, which was really nice. My lie-in was interrupted by the refrigerator repair guy, unfortunately, so I’m not quite caught up yet. He was here 10 minutes, unplugged the fridge, so that now we don’t even have a freezer!  He said he’ll be back tomorrow. Since he didn’t show yesterday as agreed, I’m doubting he will come on time tomorrow, either. We’ve been without a fridge for five days, so, as you can imagine, I’m not having the best day ever.

And then I found out that a bomb went off in the center of the old city this morning and my problems seem ever so silly, trivial and manageable.

At least 10 are dead, more wounded. Some are foreigners, as this is the heart of the tourist district. If the map is correct, the bomb was beside Sultan Ahmet Camii, better known to us as The Blue Mosque. It’s right in the middle of a park, formerly the old hippodrome (horse racing park) of ancient Constantinople. There are priceless treasures in the spina of this park, so it’s doubly horrible. I don’t live near this area (who could afford it?) so I’m OK, but it’s frightening and sad beyond words.

Did I mention I was ready to move on?

Here is a link to a website about the blast.

This is from the U.S. Consulate General Istanbul

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Explosion in the Sultan Ahmet area of Istanbul

January 12, 2016

U.S. Consulate General Istanbul, Turkey would like to inform U.S. citizens that Turkish news is reporting an explosion near the Sultan Ahmet area in Istanbul at approximately 10:15 a.m. this morning.   U.S. Mission Turkey is working to obtain more information.

We advise U.S. citizens to avoid that area and to exercise caution if you are in the vicinity. 

We strongly encourage U.S. citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster your personal security.

Milion Marker

 

All the Tulips have just bloomed, so it is glorious in Istanbul. There's a Tulip Festival coming up, too. Not sure what the brick structure is beside this marker. Anyone?
All the Tulips have just bloomed, so it is glorious in Istanbul. There’s a Tulip Festival coming up, too. Not sure what the brick structure is beside this marker. One guidebook refers to it as an Ottoman water tower.

Sometimes there is just a tiny bit of history here in Istanbul. It’s so easy to just walk by. Trudy and I stumbled across the Milion mile marker yesterday while strolling through a misty, rainy Sultanahmet area. I’ve walked by it a few times already, but was looking for it this trip. This stone is located in the Hagia Sophia square, just around the corner from the entrance to the Basilica Cistern. There’s the remains of a large masonry structure beside it, but it doesn’t seem to be connected.

This marker was located in the Hippodrome (the chariot racing stadium) area. It is all that remains of a Byzantine triumphal arch. All road distances to the far corners of the empire were once measured from this stone. Now there’s a cute sign post with distances and directions to major cities.

According to Wikipedia“The domed building of the Milion rested on 4 large arches, and it was expanded and decorated with several statues and paintings. It had survived intact, following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453), for about the next 50 years, but disappeared at the start of the 16th century. During excavations in the 1960s, some partial fragments of it were discovered under houses in the area.”

This is the Milion marker, or at least what is left of it. It was raining, so I got really wet, then there was a power outage and so we walked a mile to a bus station in the rain to find a way back. Welcome to Turkey.
This is the Milion marker, or at least what is left of it. It was raining, so I got really wet, then there was a power outage and so we walked a mile to a bus station in the rain to find a way back. Welcome to Turkey.

Istanbul, 033115, 12

 

Hippodrome of Constantinople

Current day Sultan Ahmet Square--the former "spine" of the Roman Hippodrome.
Current day Sultan Ahmet Square–the former “spine” of the Roman Hippodrome.

Only part of the spine (spina) of the old Roman Hippodrome remains in Istanbul. It was in disrepair when the Ottoman Turks invaded the city in 1452, and allowed to fall into ruins after,  though there are a few painting showing the Ottomans using the structure. The Hippodrome was the “circus,” a gigantic stadium for chariot racing and other sporting events. It was also the center of society in Constantinople. Originally laid out by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus, in the 3rd century, it was enlarged by Constantine to hold 100,000 people.

What remains is now called the Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) and is a park. In fact, much of the hippodrome was destroyed, along with the palaces of some Ottoman dignitaries, in the 17th century to build the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, better known to tourist as The Blue Mosque. The road ringing this elongated park follows the path the chariots took during a race.

My guidebook add: “Conspicuous by its absence is the column which once stood on the spot where the tourist information office is now located. This was topped by four bronze horses which were pillaged during the Fourth Crusades…and taken to St. Mark’s in Venice.”  I managed to see these when I was in Venice!

Below are some of the treasures located on the square. Most were moved here (i.e stolen) from other locations.

From Wikipedia: The German Fountain ("The Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain"), an octagonal domed fountain in neo-Byzantine style, which was constructed by the German government in 1900 to mark the German Emperor Wilhelm II's visit to Istanbul in 1898, is located at the northern entrance to the Hippodrome area, right in front of the Blue Mosque.
Here’s a piece that wasn’t stolen, but build here. From Wikipedia: The German Fountain (“The Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain”), an octagonal domed fountain in neo-Byzantine style, which was constructed by the German government in 1900 to mark the German Emperor Wilhelm II’s visit to Istanbul in 1898, is located at the northern entrance to the Hippodrome area, right in front of the Blue Mosque.
Mosaics for the dome of the fountain.
Mosaics under the dome of the fountain. I saw a few guys drinking from the fountain, but it is really for washing before prayers. Besides, all the guidebooks say don’t drink the water here. I’ve stuck with bottled water, so far.

Hippodrome, Istanbul, Mar 5, 2015, 3

Obelisk of Theodosius is part of an Egyptian obelisk. From Wikipedia: Another emperor to adorn the Hippodrome was Theodosius the Great, who in 390[5] brought an obelisk from Egypt and erected it inside the racing track. Carved from pink granite, it was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor during the reign of Thutmose III in about 1490 BC. Theodosius had the obelisk cut into three pieces and brought to Constantinople. The top section survives, and it stands today where Theodosius placed it, on a marble pedestal. The obelisk has survived nearly 3,500 years in astonishingly good condition.
Obelisk of Theodosius is part of a much larger Egyptian obelisk. From Wikipedia: Another emperor to adorn the Hippodrome was Theodosius the Great, who in 390 brought an obelisk from Egypt and erected it inside the racing track. Carved from pink granite, it was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor during the reign of Thutmose III in about 1490 BC. Theodosius had the obelisk cut into three pieces and brought to Constantinople. The top section survives, and it stands today where Theodosius placed it, on a marble pedestal. The obelisk has survived nearly 3,500 years in astonishingly good condition.
Hippodrome, Istanbul, Mar 5, 2015, 9

The base of the Egyptian Obelisk shows Emperor Theodosius as he offers a laurel wreath to the winner of the games in the Hippodrome.
The base of the Egyptian Obelisk shows Emperor Theodosius as he offers a laurel wreath to the winner of the games in the Hippodrome. The bases of these old monuments were covered with dirt as the ground level rose over the years. All of them now sit in pits, dug out so you can see the base.
Hippodrome, Istanbul, Mar 5, 2015, 12
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There isn't much of the Serpent column left. From Wikipedia: To raise the image of his new capital, Constantine and his successors, especially Theodosius the Great, brought works of art from all over the empire to adorn it. The monuments were set up in the middle of the Hippodrome, the spina. Among these was the Tripod of Plataea, now known as the Serpent Column, cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. Constantine ordered the Tripod to be moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and set in middle of the Hippodrome. The top was adorned with a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. The bowl was destroyed or stolen during the Fourth Crusade. The serpent heads were destroyed as late as the end of the 17th Century, as many Ottoman miniatures show they were intact in the early centuries following the Turkish conquest of the city.[4] Parts of the heads were recovered and are displayed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. All that remains of the Delphi Tripod today is the base, known as the "Serpentine Column".
There isn’t much of the Serpent Column left. You can see The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) in the background. From Wikipedia: To raise the image of his new capital, Constantine and his successors, especially Theodosius the Great, brought works of art from all over the empire to adorn it. The monuments were set up in the middle of the Hippodrome, the spina. Among these was the Tripod of Plataea, now known as the Serpent Column, cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. Constantine ordered the Tripod to be moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and set in middle of the Hippodrome. The top was adorned with a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. The bowl was destroyed or stolen during the Fourth Crusade. The serpent heads were destroyed as late as the end of the 17th Century, as many Ottoman miniatures show they were intact in the early centuries following the Turkish conquest of the city. Parts of the heads were recovered and are displayed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. All that remains of the Delphi Tripod today is the base, known as the “Serpentine Column”.
The Archaeology museum is located nearby. I plan to visit very soon!

Hippodrome, Istanbul, Mar 5, 2015, 14

 

The walled column. From Wikipedia: In the 10th century the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus built another obelisk at the other end of the Hippodrome. It was originally covered with gilded bronze plaques, but they were sacked by Latin troops in the Fourth Crusade. The stone core of this monument also survives, known as the Walled Obelisk.
The Walled Column/Obelisk. From Wikipedia: In the 10th century the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus built another obelisk at the other end of the Hippodrome. It was originally covered with gilded bronze plaques, but they were sacked by Latin troops in the Fourth Crusade. The stone core of this monument also survives, known as the Walled Obelisk.

 

There's lots of new (to me) wildlife. Not sure what this bird is called, but he was large, about the size of a large raven.
There’s lots of new (to me) wildlife. Not sure what this bird is called, but he was big, about the size of a large raven.
Lots of street vendors. This one is selling roasted chestnuts and corn for 2Turkish Lira--a bit less than 1US dollar.
Lots of street vendors. This one is selling roasted chestnuts (stacked on the left) and ears of roasted corn for 2 Turkish Lira–a bit less than 1US dollar.

 

The Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, Mar 5, 2015, 2

I’m trying to see all the great sites while I’m here in Istanbul. You simply cannot believe all the history, architecture, museums and fascinating places inside this great city. I feel lucky to be here.

Today, I’m sharing the photos from a recent trip to the Cistern Basilica, a large holding tank for water for the city. In Turkish it is called Yerebatan Sarnıcı – “Sunken Cistern.”  The entrance is near The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. It was build during the Byzantine Period, roughly 532AD, and was filled with water from the Belgrade forest, about 25km (15miles) away. It was used until the 16th Century.

There are very few water sources inside the old city of Istanbul (previously known as Byzantium, New Rome and Constantinople). When the city was attacked, the strong walls would keep them safe, but they could run out of water, This underground reservoir is the largest of several built to supply the city with fresh water. The water came from many miles away through the Valens aqueduct, part of which still stands today.
There are very few water sources inside the old city of Istanbul (previously known as Byzantium, New Rome and Constantinople, among others). When the city was attacked, the strong walls would keep the population safe, but they were at risk of running out of water! This underground reservoir is the largest of several built to supply the city with fresh water. The water came from many miles away through the Valens aqueduct, part of which still stands today.
Same photo, but with flash. This shows the arched brickwork of the ceiling a bit better.
Same photo, but with flash. This shows the arched brickwork of the ceiling a bit better.
It's pretty dark inside, so some of these photos were difficult to get. You can't use a tripod, so you have to steady the camera against something. Originally, the water might have gone to the ceiling. Now, it's just a few feet deep with carp swimming in it and platforms you can walk on over the water.
It’s pretty dark inside, so some of these photos were difficult to get. You can’t use a tripod, so you have to steady the camera against something. I had to hold most photos for 3-5 second. Originally, the water might have gone to the ceiling. Now, it’s just a few feet deep with carp swimming in it and platforms you can walk on over the water.

 

This is one of two Medusa heads used as the base for a column. This one is on its side. All the columns were "recycled" from the ruins of other buildings--many ruined during the Nika Riots of 532. There is a combination of different columns--Ionic, Doric and Corinthian.
This is one of two Medusa heads used as the base for a column. This one is on its side. All the columns were “recycled” from the ruins of other buildings–many destroyed during the Nika Riots of 532. There is a combination of different column capitals–Ionic, Doric and Corinthian.
Here is another Medusa head, this one upside down. Tradition has it that the blocks are oriented sideways or upside-down in order to reduce their power.
Here is another Medusa head, this one upside down. Tradition has it that the blocks are oriented sideways or upside-down in order to reduce their power.

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, Mar 5, 2015, 6

The cistern was used as a location for the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love. In the film, it is referred to as being constructed by the Emperor Constantine, which is only partly true. Constantine had a cistern built on this site, but it was enlarged and rebuild later under Justinian.  This is the structure we see today. Despite the name, it was never used as a church, though it may have been build beneath the site of a church and it is certainly large enough to be one!
The cistern was used as one location for the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love. In the film, it is referred to as being constructed by the Emperor Constantine, which is only partly true. Constantine had a cistern built on this site, but it was enlarged and rebuild under Emperor Justinian. This is the structure we see today. Despite the name, it was never used as a church, though it may have been build beneath the site of a church and it is certainly large enough to be one!
This would be a perfect place to go on a hot summer day--very cool. But it is also wet and slippery. While I'm glad I saw it, it was a bit pricy at 20 Turkish Lira and another 20 for the audio tour. If you go, skip the audio.
This would be a perfect place to go on a hot summer day–very cool. But it is also wet and slippery. While I’m glad I saw it, it was a bit pricy at 20 Turkish Lira and another 20 for the audio tour. If you go, skip the audio.

Istanbul: Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar

I’m sure I will come back to see these many more times while I’m in Istanbul, but I had a chance to take a quick view of two of the amazing sites here in this great city. It is my second visit to both the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofia in Turkish) and the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı in Turkish), so I was able to sure as an impromptu tour guide to another new teacher.

The Haiga Sophia, originally a  Greek Orthodox Church (the third on this site) dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God. Later it became an imperial mosque. It has been a museum since 1935.
The Haiga Sophia, originally a Greek Orthodox Church (the third on this site) dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God. Later it became an imperial mosque. It has been a museum since 1935.

Here is what Wikipedia says about the Hagia (EYE uh) Sophia (heavily edited):

Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, “Holy Wisdom”) is a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi) in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The building was a mosque from 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.

The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, its patronal feast taking place on 25 December, the commemoration of the birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ.  Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture[6] and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”.  It remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site.

In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered this main church of the Orthodox Christianity converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels and other relics were removed and the mosaics depicting Jesus, his Mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were also removed or plastered over. Islamic features – such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets – were added. It remained a mosque until 1931. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the Republic of Turkey. Haghia Sophia is currently (2014) the second-most visited museum in Turkey, attracting almost 3.3 million visitors annually.

This is on the taxi ride to the Ayasofia--from the window, we can see part of the original city wall. I'm not sure how old this would be, but people were living here in 1000BCE, and it was a Roman city by 400AD. This was part of the walls that the Ottoman Turks stormed in 1453 to take over Constantinople. So much to learn.
This is on the taxi ride to the Ayasofia–from the window, we can see part of the original city wall. I’m not sure how old this would be, but people were living here in 1000BCE, and it was a Roman city by 400AD. This was part of the walls that the Ottoman Turks stormed in 1453 to take over Constantinople. So much to learn.
The four minarets were added after the Ottoman's took over the city. This is the entrance. Much of the building is getting extensive renovation, so there's scaffolding everywhere. When I was here in 2008, We could see some structures from the previous church, but these are not available now.
The four minarets were added after the Ottoman’s took over the city. This is the entrance. Much of the building is getting extensive renovation, so there’s scaffolding everywhere. When I was here in 2008, We could see some structures from the previous church, but these are not available now.

 

The Christian altar was replaced by the mihrab (center) when it became a mosque in the 1400's, The mihrab shows the direction of prayer (facing Mecca).
The Christian altar was replaced by the mihrab (center) when it became a mosque in the 1400’s, The mihrab shows the direction of prayer (facing Mecca).
Many of the original mosaics were simply plastered over, not removed, when this became a mosque. The plaster has been removed, but many of the mosaics are in need of repair.  Muslims covered or removed all images because do not have them in a mosque (for fear that the images, and not God, would be worshiped). The large, round medallions have the names of God in calligraphy.
Many of the original mosaics were simply plastered over, not removed, when this became a mosque. The plaster has been removed, but many of the mosaics are in need of repair.
Muslims covered or removed all images because do not have them in a mosque (for fear that the images, and not God, would be worshiped). The large, round medallions have the names of God in calligraphy.
Mosaics.
Mosaics.
Fountain (Şadırvan) for ritual ablutions. This is to wash before entering the mosque.
Fountain (Şadırvan) for ritual ablutions. This is to wash before entering the mosque.

The Grand Bazaar is huge and a great place to see even if you aren’t much of a buyer. From Wikipedia: The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. In 2014, it is listed No.1 among world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors.  The Grand Bazaar is located inside the walled city of Istanbul, in the district of Fatih. The construction of the Grand Bazaar’s core started during the winter of 1455/56, shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Sultan Mehmet II had an edifice erected devoted to the trading of textiles.

Inside the Grand Bazaar.
Inside the Grand Bazaar.
Outside the Bazaar.
Outside the Bazaar.
Dried fruits, nuts, spices, jams and candies. YUM.
Dried fruits, nuts, spices, jams and candies. YUM.