Wordless Wednesday: Doors and Windows of Istanbul

Some Doors and Windows found all over Istanbul, Turkey.

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Istanbul’s tranquil Süleymaniye Mosque

A couple of years ago I got to travel through Turkey and was fascinated by all the beautiful mosques of Istanbul. I went on a mosque hunt through the city and got to see some amazing mosques. The Süleymaniye Mosque is the largest mosque in Istanbul, and definitely one of the best-known sights of Istanbul. I got there late the afternoon and by the time I got outside it was too dark to take any photos of its exterior. I hope that I will be able to come back someday and photograph the beautiful outside as well.

Istanbul's tranquil Süleymaniye Mosque
Me inside the mosque

I had to cover my head and shoulders upon entering the mosque, and luckily there wasn’t a service on so I could take some photos inside. I always feel awkward taking photos inside churches and mosques and always refrain from doing so if there are people praying, as a show of respect. I feel that I would not like if of people took photos of me praying, so try and return the favour.

This beautiful mosque, built in 1558, blended Islamic and Byzantine architectural elements.. The main dome is 53 meters high and has a diameter of 27.25 meters. I just loved the huge chandelier of the Süleymaniye Mosque that was nearly as wide as this beautiful dome. The blue and white tiles along with the chandeliers create a very tranquil atmosphere in which I would love to spend some time. 

Istanbul's tranquil Süleymaniye Mosque
The beautiful Chandelier!

At the time it was built, the dome was the highest in the Ottoman Empire, when measured from sea level, but still lower from its base and smaller in diameter than that of Hagia Sophia. I got to visit both mosque’s and still cant decide which one I like the most.

Which one would you choose, Hagia Sophia or Süleymaniye?

The number ONE way to experience Cappadocia

Cappadocia in Turkey
A Hot Air Balloon adventure in Cappadocia, Turkey

I am absolutely terrified of heights and looking over the edge of a mountain scares me to no end. But I do believe that, once a year, I should do something that scares the hell out of me. When I read about taking a hot-air balloon and drifting across the beautiful landscape of Cappadocia in Turkey, I decided that this would be my brave thing for the year. I am so glad that I did not let my fear keep me from this amazing experience as it ended up being one of my most memorable travel moments ever!

Hot Air Ballooon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey
Just after sunrise

That morning after getting up early I got to glide above the unique rocks and valleys of Cappadocia as the sun came up and lit up the valleys below. The sky was filled with colourful balloons, all with 10-28 passengers per basket. Although there were hundreds op people on this morning adventure it felt very serene and peaceful.

Cappadocia in Turkey
The fairy chimneys of Cappadocia

After a while of drifting I dared to look over the side of the basket and admit that it wasn’t as scary as looking over the side of a very high bridge. I did not dare move around and stood there clinging to the basket but also enjoying one of the most beautiful views I had ever seen. It took me a couple of minutes to work up the courage to let go one hand so that I could take photos. But once I got to see the valleys through the lens of camera I had all the courage needed to capture it on film.

Cappadocia in Turkey
I missed sunrise as I was still frozen to one spot and too afraid to move

Propelled by the breeze, we drifted over the valleys and iconic fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. I got to enjoy breathtaking panoramic vistas and at times we made descents that almost allowed me to touch the rocks!

Cappadocia in Turkey
High up in the sky and looking down over the beautiful valleys

We floated above the valleys for nearly an hour until wind and fire floated us gently back to earth. I for one was very glad to be out of the floating basket and have my feet firmly on the earth again. My legs were shaking but the views made this scary experience amazing and one I would actually go and do again.

Cappadocia in Turkey
What an amzing experience!

The largest outdoor theater of the Ancient World

The Great Theater,
The Great Theater in the distance

Ephesus which was established as a port, used to be the most important commercial or trade centre of the ancient world due to its very fertile valley and its strategic location. It was definitely a magnificent city during its prime and was filled with many important structures.

The ruins to the east of the Basilica belong to the bath of Varius, dating to the Roman period.
The ruins to the east of the Basilica belong to the bath of Varius, dating to the Roman period.

The city was not only famed for the Temple of Artemis or the Library of Celsus but also for its theater which was capable of holding 25,000 spectators. This Theater is believed to be the largest outdoor theater of the ancient world. The Great Theater, is a dramatic and impressive sight.

It is the road starting form the great theatre to the Celsus Library, which is the portion of the sacred way that leads past Panayirdagi to the Temple of Artemis.
It is the road starting form the great theatre to the Celsus Library, which is the portion of the sacred way that leads past Panayirdagi to the Temple of Artemis.
The agora on the southern part of the Basilica is the State Agora, and was built in the Roman Period in the first century B.C. This agora was used not for commerce but for business, it played an important role as a meeting place for the governmental discussions.
The agora on the southern part of the Basilica is the State Agora, and was built in the Roman Period in the first century B.C. This agora was used not for commerce but for business, it played an important role as a meeting place for the governmental discussions.

This Outdoor Theater, built on the slopes of Mount Panayir, was constructed during the reign of Lysimachos. Like all the other ancient theatres, the theatre consisted of three main sections: the skene (stage building) , the orchestra ( place of action for the actors) and the cavea (auditorium) where the audience sat. Of the skene, which was approximately 18 meters high, only pieces remain.

Water sprouts of Ephesus
Water sprouts of Ephesus

The theatrical productions in the classical period were performed by male actors who wore masks on their faces. These and other elements related to the social life in Ephesus during its period of greatest splendour have been inferred from the frescoes decorating several walls of the so-called Houses on the slope.

This Great Theater was used initially for drama performances, but during later Roman times gladiatorial combats were also held on its stage. The first archaeological evidence of a gladiator graveyard was found in May 2007. It must have been an amazing sight having around 25 000 people watching Gladiators fight to the death in this beautiful valley.

The largest outdoor theater of the Ancient World
The largest outdoor theater of the Ancient World

The auditorium is actually still used today for seating the public during the performances in this theatre. This Outdoor Theater is arranged in three large semi-circles broken-up by eleven wedges of steps separated by entrance staircases. The original theatre could seat about 25 000 and the auditorium originally rose for at least 30 meters over the orchestra, crowned at the summit by a porticoed structure which had the function of further improving the acoustics in the complex.

The largest outdoor theater of the Ancient World
I am in front of the largest outdoor theater of the Ancient World

There are magnificent views to be had from the top. Most of the marble paving and some lower elements of the backdrop remain on the stage.

This is the most magnificent structure in Ephesus ancient city. The Great Theatre is located on the slope of Panayir Hill, opposite the Harbor Street
This is the most magnificent structure in Ephesus ancient city. The Great Theatre is located on the slope of Panayir Hill, opposite the Harbor Street

The cavea has sixty six rows of seats, divided by two diazoma (walkway between seats) into three horizontal sections. There are three sections of seats. In the lower section, Marble pieces, used for restoration, and the Emperor’s Box were found. The seats with backs ,made of marble, were reserved for important people. The audience entered from the upper cavea.

It is one of the three main streets of Ephesus between The Hercules Gate till to the Celsus Library.
It is one of the three main streets of Ephesus between The Hercules Gate till to the Celsus Library.

Today, the theater is restored and is put to use every May during the Selçuk Ephesus Festival of Culture and Art.

The Marble Road leading to what once was the ocean
The Marble Road leading to what once was the ocean

The remains of the Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Hadrian
This is all that remains of the Temple of Hadrian

Another treasure to be found at Ephesus is the remains of the Temple of Hadrian. It is quite spectacular that any of this beautiful temple has survived through the destructive history of what once was a magnificent city.

Temple of Hadrian
It is one of the best preserved and most beautiful structures on Curetes Street.
Temple of Hadrian
Temple of Hadrian

An inscription shows that the Temple of Hadrian  was erected around 118 AD but underwent repairs in the 4th century and has been re-erected from surviving fragments. The facade of the temple has four Corinthian square columns supporting a curved arch.  It was during the course of restorations that the four decorative reliefs were added to the lintels of the interior of the porch. In the arch over the main portalon the the keystone is a carving of a half-nude woman surrounded by acanthus leaves. Some identify the figure as Medusa, symbolically keeping evil spirits away others say it is Tyche, goddess of victory.

 

Tyche, goddess of victory
Tyche, goddess of victory

The name “Temple of Hadrian” is not really accurate: it is more a monument than a temple, and was dedicated not only to Hadrian but also Artemis and the people of Ephesus. The temple was depicted on the reverse of the Turkish 20 million lira banknote of 2001–2005 and of the 20 new lira banknote of 2005–2009.

Temple of Hadrian
The pillars of the Temple of Hadrian

The interior of the monument is decorated with panels of reliefs along the top. The reliefs in the upper sections are casts, the originals now being exhibited in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum. A number of figures are depicted in the reliefs, including the emperor Theodosius I with his wife and eldest son.  It is said that Emperor Hadrian was one of the Five of Good Emperors. The Five Good Emperors is a term that refers to five consecutive emperors of the Roman Empire— Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

Temple of Hadrian
The interior reliefs of the Temple of Hadrian

Hadrian was active in the wars against the Dacians and reputedly won awards from Trajan for his successes. Due to an absence of military action in his reign, Hadrian’s military skill is not well attested, however his keen interest and knowledge of the army and his demonstrated skill of administration show possible strategic talent.

Hadrian appears to have been a man of mixed sexual interests. The Historia Augusta criticizes both his liking of goodlooking young men as well as his adulteries with married women.It is belived that he tried to poison his wife. When it comes to Hadrian’s homosexuality, then the accounts remain vague and unclear. Most of the attention centres on the young Antinous, whom Hadrian grew very fond of. Statues of Antinous have survived, showing that imperial patronage of this youth extended to having sculptures made of him. In AD 130 Antinous accompanied Hadrian to Egypt. It was on a trip on the Nile when Antinous met with an early and somewhat mysterious death. Officially, he fell from the boat and drowned.

Temple of Hadrian
Sad that this is all that is left of this temple

Hadrian died in 138 on the tenth day of July, in his villa at Baiae at age 62. However, the man who had spent so much of his life traveling had not yet reached his journey’s end. He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate which had once belonged to Cicero. Soon after, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia, close by the almost-complete mausoleum. Upon the completion of the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome in 139 by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138. Sounds like he is spending eternity with the woman he tried to poison.

 

 

 

The Library of Celsus in Ephesus

One of the most recognized and most famous buildings of the ancient city of Ephesis is the Library of Celsus. Before traveling to Turkey and reading up on the history of this ancient city I admit that I thought this Library was the most significant part of Ephesus. I quickly learned that it is the one structure that is most in tact although other buildings like the Temple of Artemis was actually what made Ephesus famous.

Library of Celsus in Ephesus
It was built in 117 A.D. It was a monumental tomb for Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, the governor of the province of Asia

Ephesus contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. As I walked through these ruins on the marble pathways and roads that have been restored I again marveled at the amazing structures there must have been. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated so far and so many treasures could still be unearthed. The ruins that are visible give some idea of the city’s original splendor but as so much has been destroyed or removed I think it is going to be hard to picture the full magnificence of what this city once was.

Library of Celsus in Ephesus
This library is one of the most beautiful structures in Ephesus.

As I walked down the column lined Harbor Street down towards where the the harbour used to be I was greeted by what is left of this magnificent Library of Celsus. All that is left of this world famous library is the façade which has been carefully reconstructed from all its original pieces.

Library of Celsus in Ephesus
The facade of the library has two-stories, with Corinthian style columns on the ground floor and three entrances to the building.

Designed with an exaggerated entrance the building faces east so that the reading rooms could make best use of the morning light.

Library of Celsus in Ephesus
The scrolls of the manuscripts were kept in cupboards in niches on the walls. There were double walls behind the bookcases to prevent the them from the extremes of temperature and humidity.

This Library was originally built c. 125 AD in memory of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, an Ancient Greek who served as governor of Roman Asia (105–107) in theRoman Empire. Celsus paid for the construction of the library with his own personal wealth and is buried in a sarcophagus beneath it. It is not clear of they have excavated this sarcophagus or if he still rests below his beloved library. The library once held nearly 12,000 scrolls, histories and legends that are now lost forever. Every now and again there are stories or legends about some of these scrolls that survived but they have never turned up anywhere.

Library of Celsus in Ephesus
The Gate of Mazeus and Mythridates.
The gate with three passage ways at the right of the Celsus Library was built in 40 A.D by the slaves Mazeus and Mythridates for their emperor, Augustus, who gave them their freedom.

Ephesus home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Ephesus
It is one of the three main streets of Ephesus between The Hercules Gate till to the Celsus Library.

When visiting Ephesus in Turkey I was greeted by the remains of a magnificent ancient culture and people of which today nearly nothing remains. Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, three kilometers southwest of present-day Selçuk. It was built in the 10th century BC on the site of the former  Arzawan capital by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists.

The Temples of Dea Roma and  Divus Julius Caesar
The Temples of Dea Roma and
Divus Julius Caesar

According to myth the founder of Ephesus was a prince of Athens named Androklos, who had to leave his country after the death of his father, King Kadros. According to the legend, he founded Ephesus on the place where the oracle of Delphi became reality (“A fish and a boar will show you the way”). Androklos was a successful warrior, and as a king he was able to join the twelve cities of Ionia together into the Ionian League. It was during his reign that the city began to prosper.

Behind the basilica is the Prytaneion, where religious ceremonies , official receptions and banquets were held. The sacred flame symbolizing the heart of Ephesus was kept constantly alight in the Prytaneion.
Behind the basilica is the Prytaneion, where religious ceremonies , official receptions and banquets were held. The sacred flame symbolizing the heart of Ephesus was kept constantly alight in the Prytaneion.
Nike
Nike

The city Ephesus had many amazing structures but it was famed for the Temple of Artemis which was completed around 550 BC. This Temple is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World although there is scarcely anything left todayThe Ephesians were surprisingly modern in their social relations back then. They allowed strangers to integrate, education was valued and through the cult of Artemis, the city became a bastion of women’s rights. Ephesus even had female artists which is unheard of in those days.

Memmius Monument
Memmius Monument. It was constructed during the reign of Augustus in the 1st century A.D by Memmius, the grand son of dictator Sulla.

When Alexander the Great defeated the Persian forces in 334 BC, the Greek cities of Asia Minor were liberated. Unfortunately in 356 BC the temple of Artemis was burned down by a lunatic called Herostratus. The inhabitants of Ephesus at once set about restoring the temple and even planned a larger and grander one than the original. The city flourished again after it came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC. According to estimates Ephesus had a population of 33,600 to 56,000 people in the Roman period, making it the third largest city of Roman Asia Minor.

The Pollio Fountain
The Pollio Fountain

In 268 AD, the Temple was damaged in a raid by the Goths. Emperor Constantine I rebuilt much of the city and its temples after 268 AD and even erected new public baths. Unfortunately, what remained of this amazing temple was destroyed in 401 AD by a mob led by St. John Chrysostom. And then the town was again partially destroyed by an earthquake in 614 AD.  There seems to be one disaster after the other where Ephesus is concerned. 

 Hercules gate
Located towards the end of the Curetes Street, it was called the Hercules gate because of the relief of Hercules on it.

The rest of the history of Ephesus is very vague untill in 1304 the city surrendered to Sasa Bey, a Turkish warlord. It is said that contrary to the terms of the surrender the Turks pillaged the church of Saint John and deported most of the local population to Thyrea, Greece and many of the remaining inhabitants were massacred. The city knew again a short period of prosperity during the 14th century under new Seljuk rulers who added important architectural works such as the İsa Bey Mosque, caravansaries and Turkish bathhouses (hamam).

The İsa Bey Mosque constructed in 1374–75, is one of the oldest and most impressive works of architectural art remaining from the Anatolian beyli
The İsa Bey Mosque constructed in 1374–75, is one of the oldest and most impressive works of architectural art remaining from the Anatolian beyli

Ephesians were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire for the first time in 1390. The Central Asian warlord Tamerlane defeated the Ottomans in Anatolia in 1402, and the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I died in captivity. The region was restored to the Anatolian beyliks. After a period of unrest, the region was again incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1425. Ephesus was completely abandoned by the 15th century and left to fall into ruins.

It is a typical Roman Basilica.
It is a typical Roman Basilica. It is 160 meters long, and located on the northern part of the state agora and has a nave and three-aisles.

The Temple of Artemis, is represented only by one inconspicuous column, revealed during an archaeological excavation by the British Museum in the 1870s. The Temple of Artemis, was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelations, proving how old and important this temple was.

Site of the Temple of Artemis in the town of Selçuk, near Ephesus.
Site of the Temple of Artemis in the town of Selçuk, near Ephesus.

If you look at the history of this amazing place it had to rise out of the ashes like a phoenix more than once but lost in the end.

Site of the Temple of Artemis in the town of Selçuk, near Ephesus.
Site of the Temple of Artemis in the town of Selçuk, near Ephesus.

Visiting the House of the Virgin Mary

The exterior view of the restored house, now serving as a chapel.
The exterior view of the restored house, now serving as a chapel.

The best way to start your adventure in Ephesus is with a little history on the area and by visiting the Church or House of the Virgin Mary. It is not just a religious site but also a big part of the history of the area and a very interesting and beautiful place to visit. The House of Virgin Mary is located on the top of Mt. Koressos, “Mount Nightingale” in Turkish, about 9 km from Ephesus. It is hidden in a lush green forest at the top of the mountain and is said to be the place where Mary may have spent her last days. That she came to the area with Saint John, who spent several years in the area to spread Christianity.

House of the Virgin Mary
Standing in line to enter: you can not take photos inside though

It is a typical Roman house, entirely made of square stones. In the 4th century AD, a church, combining her house and grave, has been built. The shrine itself is not extensively large, but may rather be described as a modest chapel. As I entered the chapel I was met by one single large room holding an altar with a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On the right side, a smaller room lies, traditionally associated with the actual room where the Virgin Mary is believed to have slept. Today this bedroom and praying room  is known as the Christian church area and a room with a fireplace is now a chapel for Muslims. Unfortunately only the central part and a room on the right of the altar were open to visitors.

House of the Virgin Mary
Beautiful view from up here

Paul VI was the first pope to visit this place in the 1960’s. Later, in the 1980’s, during his visit, Pope John-Paul II declared the Shrine of Virgin Mary as a pilgrimage place for Christians. Catholic pilgrims also visit the house based on the belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived there until her Assumption (according to Catholic doctrine) or Dormition (according to Orthodox belief). It is also visited by Muslims who recognize Mary as the mother of one of their prophets. Every year, on August 15th a ceremony is organized to commemorate Mary’s Assumption.

Another interesting place is the “Water of Mary”, a source to be found at the exit of the church area. This fountain has a rather salt water source and is said to hold curative properties. People stand in line to drink this water or to fill water bottles so that they can take this water home for friends or sick family members.  This water is also believed by some pilgrims to not only have miraculous powers of healing but also powers of fertility.

The wishing wall
The wishing wall, believed by some pilgrims to be miraculous.

Outside the shrine is a “wishing wall” which pilgrims have used by tying their personal intentions on paper or fabric. People add their wishes to this wall which is then believed to be blessed by the Virgin Mary. So remember to take a little piece of cloth or white paper along so that you can tie up your own wishes.

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys’ Church-turned-Mosque

Hagia Sophia
The Beautiful Hagia Sophia

Turkey is one of those countries which has changed identity and cultures so many times that it has turned into a unique country with a unique culture. Exploring this culture rich country has been one of my most amazing adventures.

Hagia Sophia
What a striking sight

The beautiful Hagia Sophia, Turkeys’ Church-turned-Mosque served as the principal mosque of Istanbul, then Constantinople, for almost 500 years.

Hagia Sophia
One of the most striking churches / mosques I have ever been in

If you ever get to visit Istanbul you have to make a point of exploring Hagia Sofia, one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture in Turkey. It is one of those places you will have to visit more than once as it is so overwhelming that you cant take everything in during your first visit.

Hagia Sophia
Busy restoring the amazing Hagia Sophia

I have already posted about my visit to this amazing building but had a couple of Sepia Photos of the mosque I wanted to share with you all. The mosque looks like it is something from a fairytale when viewed in Sepia.

Although scaffolding cluttered a part of the interior the thrill of  experiencing the extraordinary spaciousness of this famous church-turned-mosque is hard to overstate.

Holy Banners, courtyards and chambers of Topkapi Palace

The Gate of Felicity
The Gate of Felicity

Istanbul is filled with so many beautiful and amazing buildings and one of these fabulous buildings is the Topkapi royal palace. I entered the Inner Court of Topkapi Palace through the Gate of Felicity, but it looked more like a grand entrance than a gate. This Inner Courtyard holds the private and residential areas of the palace. In the past no one could have passed through this gate without the authority of the Sultan. Even the Grand Vizier was only granted authorisation on specified days and under specified conditions. So without authorisation I stepped through the gate to where a small, indented stone on the ground marks the place where the banner of Muhammad was unfurled. The Grand Vizier or the commander going to war was entrusted with this banner in a solemn ceremony.

Stone marker for the Holy Banner
Stone marker for the Holy Banner
Main entrance to the Audience Chamber, with the small fountain of Suleiman I to the right, and the large gifts window to the left
Main entrance to the Audience Chamber, with the small fountain of Suleiman I to the right, and the large gifts window to the left

The Audience Chamber is right behind the Gate of Felicity. This square building is an Ottoman kiosk, surrounded by a colonnade of 22 columns, supporting the large roof with hanging eaves. Inside is the main throne room which was unfortunately closed. And even though I tried I couldn’t really see anything through the grated windows.

Arz Odası, the Audience Chamber
Arz Odası, the Audience Chamber

Main entrance to the Audience Chamber, with the small fountain of Suleiman I to the right, and the large gifts window to the left

There is a small fountain at the entrance of the main palace which was used not only for refreshment, but also to prevent others from overhearing secret conversations in these rooms. It must have been quite noisy but today it is only used as a refreshment fountain.

The Conqueror's Pavillon (Fatih Köşkü) houses the Imperial Treasury
The Conqueror’s Pavillon (Fatih Köşkü) houses the Imperial Treasury
Hallway of the Conqueror's Pavillon
Hallway of the Conqueror’s Pavillon

Topkapi Palace  was the heart of the vast Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years. The ruler lived in Topkapı’s hundreds of rooms with hundreds of concubines, children, and servants. The Sultan and his entourage had a huge courtyard with extensive gardens just for their private use.

The Inner Court holding these beautifully kept gardens has a couple of benches where you can sit down and rest your tired feet after a day of exploring. The only thing lacking was a lovely ice-coffee as I sat down for a rest before exploring the rest of the palace.

Conqueror’s Pavilion
Conqueror’s Pavilion

The last building left to explore was the Conqueror’s Pavilion, and the arcade of the pavilion which is one of the oldest buildings inside the palace. It was built in 1460, when the palace was first constructed, and was also used to store works of art and treasure. Today it houses the Imperial Treasury which is quite a sight to behold.

 

Beautiful views over the Bosphorus in Turkey

Beautiful views over the Bosphorus in Turkey
I Loved my Turkey adventure!!

Last week a client asked me which country I would recommend for their first abroad adventure and the first place that came to mind was Turkey. It is the perfect mix between European and Asian with its unique culture and magnificent buildings. Istanbul is one of the best cities to get lost in, to explore and to spend a couple of days getting to know the people and the culture.

Beautiful views over the Bosphorus in Turkey
Beautiful views over the Bosphorus in Turkey

While helping my client plan her amazing Turkey adventure I couldn’t help but wish that I was planning this adventure for myself as I could picture all the places I was mentioning and recommending to her.

Beautiful views over the Bosphorus in Turkey
I would love to explore Istanbul again!

Going through my Turkey photos again I couldn’t wait to share them and my wonderful Turkey adventure with everyone.

Beautiful views over the Bosphorus in Turkey
Looking out over the Bosphorus

I spent a couple of days wondering the streets of Istanbul and found some of the most beautiful views over the Bosphorus at the Home of the Ottoman sultans. Topkapi Palace  was the heart of the vast Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years and from here the Sultan had some of the most amazing views over his empire.

The pavilion of the Palace has a terrace overlooking the Sea of Marmara, built at the top of a cliff and it is here that I spent my afternoon enjoying the magnificent views over the Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.

Beautiful views over the Bosphorus in Turkey
Beautiful views over the Bosphorus in Turkey

 

Wordless Wednesday Horse carriage

Horse carriage ride in Turkey
Horse carriage ride in Turkey

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday.

Sparkling White Terraced Hot Springs of Turkey

Pamukkale
The Sparkling white terraces of Pamukkale

Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades is not only an unusual natural and historical site of Turkey, but is also unique in the world. No wonder this place is on nearly every tourists must-see list while exploring Turkey. I couldn’t wait to see these sparkling terraces for myself when I finally arrived in Pamukkale after a long overnight bus ride from Izmir. The bus ride was actually not too bad and as the bus was quite empty we got to flatten our seats and I got some sleep so I arrived ready for my hot-spring adventure. After locking up my backpack at the bus station, and unfortunately my swimming costume with it, I headed out to Pamukkale National Park.

Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
I am at Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades

Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, contains hot springs and dazzling white terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water. These white castles are formed by limestone-laden thermal springs, creating the unbelievable formation of potholes and terraces.

Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
These sparkling terraces with its bright blue water is amazing
Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
To think it is all formed naturally!?

There are 17 hot water springs in Pamukkale of which the ranges from 35 °C  to 100 °C . The water that emerges from the springs is transported 320 metres to the head of the terraces and here deposits calcium carbonate as the water reaches the surface. These calcium deposits have created an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins. Making Pamukkale a must-see fairytale destination.

Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
Standing at the top and looking out over the valley below

The water is quite hot all year round and ideal to swim in. Unfortunately as I had safely stowed away my swimming costume for the day I only got to walk through the warm terraces. I do regret not being able to swim and enjoy these unique hot springs, but it gives me a reason to return someday.

Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
What an amazing sight!

People have bathed in these pools for thousands of years as the water of Pamukkale is famous for its health benefits. It said to be very beneficial to the eyes and skin and is said to have curing properties for illnesses such as asthma and rheumatism. It is the ideal place to soak travel weary bodies and after soaking my tired feet for a while I was ready to explore these amazing terraces.

Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
It looks like something out of a fairytale!
Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
Next time I will definitely be swimming in one of these terraces

The highest travertine terraces have 20 m high cliffs and waterfalls, and situated along on the foothills of the Cokelez Mountains. The terrace is about 200 m above the Curuksu plain and extends some 6 km between the villages of Pamukkale and Karahayit.

Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
Everybody following the path down into the valley

Access to all the terraces were not allowed and I had to follow the main pathway leading from the top of the terraces to the bottom. They say that access is prohibited in order to sustain the water flow and to maintain the colour and structure of the travertine terraces.

Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
Access denied!

Semi-circular pools occur in a step-like arrangement down the upper third of the slope. I followed the pathway down through these warm pools stopping every couple of feet to admire my surroundings and to try and capture these sparkling white castles on film.

Pamukkale with its sparkling white castle -like cascades
Looking back after walking into the valley

Marble, Golden balls and Towers of Justice at Topkapi Palace

When I hear “Palace” the picture of a Victorian building comes to mind, a grand building with gilded gold, surrounded by turrets and lots of grandeur. The Topkapi Palace of Istanbul did not disappoint.

Topkapi Palace
Aproaching the Imperial Gate of Topkapi Palace

You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the Topkapi Palace, home to generations of sultans and their wives, who were closeted in the famous harem. The secretive harem – really just the family quarters – is a warren of lushly-tiled rooms wrapped round a gem of a Turkish bath. It was very crowded so I couldn’t get any good photos but there was the rest of the palace to explore so this wasn’t to big of a disappointment.

At its peak, the palace, built in 1459, was home to as many as 4,000 people, and contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint.Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Topkapı Palace was transformed into a museum of the imperial era.

The Imperial Gate (Bâb-ı Hümâyûn)
The Imperial Gate (Bâb-ı Hümâyûn)

The sultan would enter the palace through the marble Imperial Gate, so I did get to feel a bit like royalty as I walked through this decorated structure. Gilded Ottoman calligraphy adorns the structure at the top, with verses from the Qur’an and tughras of the sultans. This Gate is the main entrance into the four courtyards, each more exclusive than the previoius one, leading to the Fourth Courtyard, which was the sultan’s private courtyard.

The Imperial Mint (Darphane-i Âmire)
The Imperial Mint (Darphane-i Âmire)

I found the former Imperial Mint constructed in 1727, in the first courtyard as I walked through the beautiful gardens. To think these gardens all belonged to the sultan and his family and that they could close it off and have it all to themselves.

The sultan and his family could enjoy a maximum of privacy and discretion, as the Palace is filled with grilled windows and secret passageways. I would have loved to explore one of these pasageways but only the most important rooms and chambers are accessible to the public today.

Walking through this garden I entered the Second Courtyard of the palace where I was greeted by the first of many amazing Palace buildings. The Topkapi Palace is definitely filled with guilded gold and even the grilled windows shine with gold.

The Imperial Council building is the chamber in which the ministers of state, and other leading officials of the Ottoman state, held meetings. It is also called Kubbealtı, which means “under the dome”, in reference to the dome in the council main hall. These intricately decorated domes are in each of the buildings main rooms.

View into the Kubbealtı, with the Golden Window visible on the right
View into the Kubbealtı,

The small gilded ball that hangs from the ceiling represents the earth. It is placed in front of the sultan’s window and symbolises him dispensing justice to the world, as well as keeping the powers of his viziers in check. It reminded me of the fairytale where a princes plays outside with her golden ball which she then looses in a pond. In return of a kiss the golden ball is then retreived by a frog, who turns into a prince after receiving this kiss from the princess.

The small gilded ball that hangs from the ceiling represents the earth.
The small gilded ball that hangs from the ceiling represents the earth

The porch consists of multiple marble and porphyry pillars, with an ornate green and white-coloured wooden ceiling, all decorated with gold. Personally I think they overdid the gold a bit, but I do like the grilled windows that give light as well as privacy.

Porch outside the Imperial Divan
Porch outside the Imperial Divan
The Tower of Justice next to the Imperial Council hall
The Tower of Justice next to the Imperial Council hall

The Tower of Justice is located between the Imperial Council and the Harem. The tower is several stories high and the tallest structure in the palace. The tower symbolizes the eternal vigilance of the sultan against injustice. Unfortunately the tower is closed to visitors, but there are countless rooms to explore in this huge Palace.

I saw both Europe and Asia from the Bosphorus

 Bosphorus river cruise
I am on a Bosphorus river cruise and get to see Asia and Europe both at once

Walking through Istanbul I got to experience it in detail but to see the city as a whole I definitely recommend doing the Bosphorus river cruise.

 Bosphorus river cruise
I got to see all Istanbuls’s famous mosques

It is true that excursions along the shoreline of this magnificent city best reveal the city’s grandeur and other attractions hidden from street view. 

 Bosphorus river cruise
The beautiful city of Istanbul!!

A cruise on the Bosphorus is probably the most overlooked Istanbul tourist attraction. This is quite understandable, with such an abundance of historical sightseeing spots in Istanbul and too little time to squeeze them all into your short holiday. But take my advice and set a few hours aside to take an unforgettable Bosphorus tour. This was one of the highlights of my Turkey adventure.

 Bosphorus river cruise
The Asia side of Istanbul is extemely colourful

The Bosphorus is the strait that lies between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, and separating Europe and Asia. It is definitely unique in that while sailing you have Asia on one side and Europe on the other and both is still Istanbul.

 Bosphorus river cruise
Loving this Bosphorus river cruise
 Bosphorus river cruise
What a great way to see Istanbul

Where else can you board a ferryboat in Europe at Eminönü, and within 30minutes be in Asia?

 Bosphorus river cruise
Hallo Istanbul!!

I got to cruise the 32 km long strait from Eminönü all the way to the Black Sea, and back. Each way took about 90 minutes since the ferry made 5 short stops to let people on and off.

 Bosphorus river cruise
You dont get to see the city in this much detail while walking through it

Along the riverbanks are a number of neighborhoods, each with a different character (possibly due to the fact that they all started as separate fishing villages) and palaces of the late Ottoman period.

 Bosphorus river cruise
Cruising past beautiful castles

I got to see the domes and minarets of Old Istanbul standing out between all the colourful houses and apartments of Istanbul.  We cruised past  the magnificent façade of Dolmabahçe Palace, and the sweep of the Bosphorus to the north and the Sea of Marmara to the south.

Dolmabahçe palace one of the many palaces on the Bosphorus shores.
Dolmabahçe palace one of the many palaces on the Bosphorus shores.
 Bosphorus river cruise
The contrast of the new behind the old

I got some lovely views of the Fatih Bridge about half-way up the Bosphorus and loads of other interesting sights along the way. It was quite interesting to see how the Asia and the Europe side of Istanbul differs from each other. And it was quite exciting to be able to enter Europe without having a schengen visa.

 Bosphorus river cruise
The Europe side of Istanbul
 Bosphorus river cruise
Europe on my left!!!
 Bosphorus river cruise
While cruising back the mist moved in over the Bosphorus

The Blue Mosque isn’t Blue?

The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is actually grey

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, facing Aya Sofya and mirroring its domed silhouette,  is popularly known as the Blue Mosque. It is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. This huge mosque was build to calm God after the unfavorable result of the war with Persia. The mosque was built from 1609 to 1616 on the site of the palace of the Byzantine emperors, so big parts of the mosque rest on the foundations or the vaults of the old Grand Palace.

I must admit that I do have a lot of blonde moments in my travels and having only read about this mosque and never actually having properly looked at pictures of it, I did expect a bluish mosque. So I was quite disappointed when I was told that this huge great mosque in front if me is the Blue Mosque. It was only once I stepped inside that there was any sign of colour.

Although the mosque is known for the blue iznik tiles adorning the walls of its interior the overwhelming colour is white and red. Well , still it is not noticeably blue, because the blue tiles are mostly on the inaccessible upper floors.

The Blue Mosque
Capturing all six minarettes in one shot is extremely difficult
The Blue Mosque
One of the minarettes of the Blue Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is first in Turkey that has six minarets. And to add to my frustration of the day I just couldnt get all six into one photo. Well, it is said that when the number of minarets were revealed, the Sultan was criticized for being presumptuous, since this was the same number of the Haram Mosque in Mecca (the holiest in the world). In the end, the sultan solved the problem by sending his architect to Mecca to add a seventh minaret. I would have thought that removing one from the Blue mosque would be way more cost effective.

In the past the muezzin or prayer caller had to climb a narrow spiral staircase up a minaret five times a day to announce the call to prayer. Today, a public announcement system is being used, and the call can be heard across the old part of the city, echoed by other mosques in the vicinity.

The Blue Mosque
Greeted by thousands of Iznik tiles and hundreds of lights

Inside the mosque is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, made at Iznik (the ancient Nicaea) in more than fifty different tulip designs. The decorations include verses from the Qur’an.

The Blue Mosque
One of the beautifully tiled domes

There are more than 200 stained glass windows with intricate designs which admit natural light. These windows were once filled with 17th-century stained glass. Sadly, this has been lost and replaced with inferior replicas.  The many windows do create a spacious impression.

The Blue Mosque
The stained glass windows are so beautiful

The mosque has some of the most beautiful chandeliers, giving off a soft and calming light.  The many lamps inside the mosque were once covered with gold and gems. Among the glass bowls one could find ostrich eggs and crystal balls. Sadly all these decorations have been removed or pillaged for museums.

The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is breathtakingly beautiful

When visiting keep the following into mind:

The Blue Mosque
One of the Blue Mosque domes

1) Because of the intense crowds, and the fact that the Sultan Ahmet is a working mosque, you must plan your visit carefully. Prayer happens five times a day and the mosque closes for 90 minutes at each pray time. It is also closed all morning on Fridays (until 14:30/2:30pm).

2) Before you step in to Mosque you take off your shoes and put them in a plastic bags provided at the entrance(so wear shoes that are not a hassle to take off).

3) If you are a women bring with a scarf or shawl as a head covering when you enter the Mosque. Don’t worry if you forget there are head coverings available at the Blue Mosque entrance for free. They actually tell you not to cover your face as the covering is meant to hide your hair only. 

The Blue Mosque
Looking up into the domes some are predominantly blue

Wordless Wednesday camels

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday.

Exploring the interior of Hagia Sophia, Turkeys’ Church-turned-Mosque

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys' Church-turned-Mosque
Hagia Sophia, Turkeys’ Church-turned-Mosque

If you ever get to visit Istanbul you have to make a point of exploring Hagia Sofia, the church-turned-mosque. Not only is it unique in this aspect it is also one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture in Turkey. It is one of those places you will have to visit more than once as it is so overwhelming that you cant take everything in during your first visit.

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys' Church-turned-Mosque
Entering Hagia Sophia for the first time!

Although scaffolding cluttered a part of the interior the thrill of  experiencing the extraordinary spaciousness of this famous church-turned-mosque-turned museum is hard to overstate. As I walked in I was greeted by the marble pillars and huge decorated domes.

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys' Church-turned-Mosque
Part of the central dome that was without scaffolding

The central dome (which was unfortunately filled with scaffolding) has a diameter of 31 m, which is just slightly smaller than that of the Pantheon in Rome. The dome looks like it is floating upon four great arches which are decorated with seraphim or six-winged angels and other decorative mosaics. 

Interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements on the top of the main dome.
Interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements on the top of the main dome.

I read that Hagia Sophia is famous for the light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, as its is very bright inside without the need for electric lights. This effect was achieved by inserting forty windows around the base of the original structure.

Most of the interior surfaces are covered with marble, even the floor that you walk on. It is a lovely contrast against the walls which are green and yellow with gold mosaics. Huge parts of Hagia Sophia is decorated in a purely decorative geometric pattern mosaics.

The huge Islamic calligraphic roundels suspended from the main dome also make for a fascinating religious contrast with the uncovered Christian mosaics on the upper part of Hagia Sophia. These gigantic circular-framed disks or medallions are inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain.

A long ramp from the northern part leads up to the upper gallery.
A long ramp from the northern part leads up to the upper gallery.

As I walked through Hagia Sophia I could see that most of the sights date from the Islamic period. A beautiful marble structure in the apse is the mihrab, a niche found in all mosques that indicates the direction of Mecca

Looking up from this area there is a splendid apse mosaic depicting the Virgin and Child.
Looking up from this area there is a splendid apse mosaic depicting the Virgin and Child.
The mihrab located in the apse where the altar used to stand, pointing towards Mecca
The mihrab located in the apse where the altar used to stand, pointing towards Mecca

I just love these beautiful pendant chandeliers that fill the huge interior. Although they are hardly needed for light during the day as light seeps through the countless windows.

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys' Church-turned-Mosque
The whole place is filled with beautiful chandeliers

The gallery of this magnificent place provides a commanding view of the nave from all sides. It definitely gives the best vantage point from which to view and experience the vastness of this church-mosque.

The Byzantine mosaics are being gradually uncovered, but only those on the higher gallery levels, which can be accessed by stairways. This means that Muslims do not have to confront much Christian imagery in the main chamber of the building, which was a mosque for nearly 500 years and retains all the equipment of a mosque. Unfortunately this part of the gallery was closed due to restoration that day.

Because of its long history as both a church and a mosque, a particular challenge arises in the restoration process. Christian iconographic mosaics can be uncovered, but often at the expense of important and historic Islamic art. Restorers have attempted to maintain a balance between both Christian and Islamic cultures. In particular, much controversy rests upon whether the Islamic calligraphy on the dome of the cathedral should be removed, in order to permit the underlying mosaic of Christ as Master of the World, to be exhibited (assuming the mosaic still exists).

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys’ Church-turned-Mosque

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys' Church-turned-Mosque
Hagia Sophia, Turkeys’ Church-turned-Mosque

Turkey is one of those countries which has changed identity and cultures so many times that it has turned into a unique country with a unique culture. I couldn’t wait to explore this culture rich country and there is no better place to start than in Istanbul, once named Constantinople.

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys' Church-turned-Mosque
I couldnt wait to get closer to the Hagia Sophia

After checking into my hotel in the old quarter I immediately found my way over to the Byzantine masterpiece, Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys' Church-turned-Mosque
While standing in line to get in this was my glimpse if the inside

It is quite sad that nothing remains of the original Hagia Sophia which was built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great. It was burned down in 532 and then rebuilt between 532 and 537. For over 900 years this Cathedral was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople until it was ruthlessly attacked, desecrated and plundered by the Crusaders in 1204. Despite this violent setback, Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 29, 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered the city of Constantinople and converted it into his imperial mosque.

 

Pieces of what remains of the Cathedral decoration can be found in the courtyard of the Hagia Sofia as well as the Islamic fountain for ritual ablutions.

Stone remains of the basilica ordered by Theodosius II, showing the Lamb of God

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys' Church-turned-Mosque
The Lamb of God
Hagia Sophia, Turkeys' Church-turned-Mosque
Exploring all the nooks and crannies before going in

Hagia Sophia then served as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years. At some point, all the faces depicted in the church’s mosaics were covered in plaster due to the Islamic prohibition of figurative imagery. These mosaics were discovered during restoration between 1847-49. They straightened columns, revised the decorations and also added the huge calligraphic roundels.

In 1934 the prayer rugs were removed and Hagia Sofia was turned into the Ayasofya Museum. After walking around the building I couldn’t wait to enter and explore the interior.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Golden Hour

Meeting the rising sun over the valleys and vineyards of Cappadocia
Meeting the rising sun over the valleys and vineyards of Cappadocia

The Golden Hour. In photography, the “golden hour” is the first and last hour of sunlight of the day. Photographers venture out on sunrise hikes or sunset treks to capture a magical shot, due to the quality of the light during that time of day. My most memorable “golden hour” moment was while floating in a hot air balloon over the unique rock formations of Cappadocia meeting the rising sun over the valleys and vineyards. The balloon ride provided a privileged platform from which to observe the splendor that is Cappadocia. Drifting effortlessly in the hot air balloon, there was no sense of motion as we passes the tens of other balloons also gracing the morning sky.

Cappadocia during the “golden hour” ,the first  hour of sunlight of the day.
Cappadocia during the “golden hour” ,the first hour of sunlight of the day.

Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia in Turkey with exceptional natural wonders, in particular the fairy chimneys that fill the valleys.

These are sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and streams and ignimbrite deposits that erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago. The rocks of Cappadocia eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms that today are called Fairy Chimneys. 

Drifting effortlessly in the hot air balloon over the spectaculat landscape of Cappadocia
Drifting effortlessly in the hot air balloon over the spectacular landscape of Cappadocia

Seeing the valley lit up by the morning sunlight while drifting over this dramatic volcanic landscape that formed the region over two million years ago was definitely an unforgettable experience!

Travel theme: Pale Ruins

This week’s travel theme from Ailsa is PALE and what is paler than sun bleached ruins? I explored Ephesus while traveling through Turkey a couple of years ago, it was amazing!!

The library of Celsus stands at the end of a long paved walkway
The library of Celsus stands at the end of a long paved walkway

The library of Celsus is definitely the most recognizable  ancient Roman building in Ephesus, Turkey. It was built in honor of the Roman Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus  in 177 AD.

Only the facade survived after the devastating earthquake that struck the city in 262.
Only the facade survived after the devastating earthquake that struck the city in 262.

The library was built to store 12,000 scrolls and to serve as a monumental tomb for Celsus. Celsus is buried in a sarcophagus beneath the library, in the main entrance.  It was unusual to be buried within a library or even within city limits, so this was a special honor for Celsus. The interior of the library and all its books were destroyed by fire in the devastating earthquake that struck the city in 262. Only the facade survived, which is quite sad. I think it might have been a magnificent building as a whole.

This building must have been magnificent once.
This building must have been magnificent once.

The building is important as one of the few remaining examples of an ancient Roman-influenced library. It also shows that public libraries were built not only in Rome itself but throughout the Roman Empire.

The building’s facade was depicted on the reverse of the Turkish 20 million lira banknote of 2001-2005 and of the 20 new lira banknote of 2005-2009.

Walking along the paved walkway between all these thousands of years old ruins was magnificent.