I am Anthony E. Savvides. This is my blog.

Reflections & adventures of a writer at heart, a journalist by trade and a waiter by night.

Ιστανπουλ δεν είναι πια Κωνσταντινούπολη – Constantinople Ιstanbul değil

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First off, I have to share this video:

On my first morning at the Grand Yavuz Hotel, I went downstairs to the floor below the lobby, -1 in the elevator, where I ate breakfast with some of my peers.  The selection no longer consisted of hummus, sage, and pita bread.  Instead, there’s a giant glass bowl of Nutella, another filled with honey, corn flakes (among other cereal options), an entire table with baskets of bread, hard-boiled eggs and slices of pink grapefruit.  On another countertop sit four pots, two with coffee, one of tea and one of hot milk.  I ate two hard-boiled eggs and sipped a cup of tea before Denis came around to all of the tables to let us know that we would be assembling upstairs in the lobby for the tour.

We set off with Gokhan, our tour guide, up the hill to the main street.

The group marching up the street toward our first destination, Topkapi Palace.

A restaurant we walked by on the way, displaying a plethora of flags.

Our procession lead us first to Topkapi Palace that was the official and primary residence of the Ottoman Sultansfor approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign.  It was massive, and reminded me of the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris.  Apparently, if the Sultan decided he was tired, silence fell upon the entire domain.  I wish my house worked like that, but I’m not a Sultan with his own palace.  Wishful thinking…

Gokhan spoke to the group about Topkapi's history before we entered.

A view of Topkapi from the atrium.

The entrance to Topkapi.

After touring through the palace with Gokhan I was able to roam around on my own for 45 minutes.  The building has a massive atrium garden in the center, lined with flowerbeds, trees and broken columns and pottery scattered across the lawn.

    

    

Inside Topkapi Palace.

I took a stroll through an art gallery filled with portraits of all the Ottoman Sultans, and then moved on to a museum filled with Muslim artifacts, including Mohammed’s footprint and a lot of his swords.  Throughout this museum, a man’s voice was echoing through the speakers as he read passages of the Quran.  When I first walked in with my camera in hand, a security guard shook his head at me and waved his hand, motioning for me to leave.  So, I walked out and back in, this time with my camera on and at my side.  I took two illegal videos, which you can view here and here.

The Sultan's bed. Modest.

In stark contrast to all of the other doorways, this tiny one reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.

A view of the Bosphorus through one of the walls surrounding Topkapi.

Elaborate Islamic wall decorations in the palace.

The domes within Topkapi. Beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I quickly grew tired of Topkapi Palace, though, and spent the last 15 minutes of our allotted time hanging out with Cal and Carlene on the grass.  Slowly, everyone in the group gathered and we left the palace and walked down the cobble pathway to the Blue Mosque.  Since it was a Friday afternoon and prayer time, we didn’t get to go inside, but took a tour around the building.  I’ll have to go back, at some point over the next two weeks, and see it for myself.

 

A bird perched in the main entrance into the Blue Mosque.

Intricate stone work covers the exterior of the building. This is a small example.

A grand entrance leading into the Blue Mosque.

Men washed themselves before entering the Blue Mosque.

People were growing anxious, and we quickly departed and went to a restaurant nearby where we at lunch.  I had some lentil soup, lots of pita bread, and a lamb kebob.  The food was so fresh and bursting with flavor.  I’m excited about eating the local Turkish cuisine over the next 18 days.  Lunch was followed by two pieces of baklava, which was incredible, moist yet perfectly crunchy at the same time.  I know they say the Turks invented baklava and the Greeks perfected it, but now I’m not so sure.  I’ll have to visit the local ζαχαροπλαστείο(or zacharoplasteio, a Greek pastry shop) in Astoria when I get home.

After lunch, everyone assembled for the dreaded head count, and we headed to Hagia Sophia.  This visit did not disappoint.  Hagia Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία, meaning Holy Wisdom) is everything I ever thought it would be and more- the structural design, the incredibly intricate and massive mosaic icons, the sky-high ceiling and even higher domes- awe-inspiring.  Here are some photos, because words can’t do it justice.

The initial site upon entering Hagia Sophia. Unfortunately, none of the dome mosaics here survived.

The massive main entrance of Hagia Sophia.

  

    

      

  

Jess and I in front of the altar and the mihrab.

Looking at them now, neither can the photographs.  You all need to come visit Hagia Sophia to see it for yourselves.

From Hagia Sophia, the plan was to go back to the Blue Mosque now that prayers had ended and then to the Grand Bazaar, but I asked Carlene for permission to stay behind and spend more time at Hagia Sophia.  After my inquiry, it became clear that many in the group felt the same way.  So, Gokhan lead the bunch back to the hotel and everyone was allowed to split off instead.  I felt bad for ending the tour abruptly, but it wasn’t just me, so I don’t feel that bad.

As people dispersed and left Hagia Sophia, both in the group and individually, I reentered the former Byzantine Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, wandering through its many passageways.  It was incredible to be in a place of worship, which, over the years, has been shared by Muslims and Christians alike.  Why must we focus on our differences- God, Allah, Jesus, Mohammed, Bible, Quran- when the core beliefs are the same.  To love one another and be respectful of all life are virtues preached by both faiths.

Looking out from the mezzanine and seeing the Blessed Virgin with Arabic, Islamic features all around, that the world should function more seamlessly the way Hagia Sophia exists.  Maybe one day, we will learn to love one another, despite personal or religious differences.  We are all one living organism here on Earth, one human race, and should not be divided by political boundaries or national borders.

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Written by AESavvides

June 8, 2011 at 3:16 am

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