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?

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

 

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

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.