Make your own free website on
Home | Surfacing | Dispatches | Sheer Vanity
Better late than never . . .
Dispatch #13

Now its Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Hagia Sophia

The next morning, we stopped back at the jewelry store to pick up our rings, and found that there were new pieces on display.  More shopping followed.  The owner must have been really happy that he ran into us. 
Afterwards, we went to the Hagia Sophia, the imposing basilica-turned-mosque-turned-museum that was built in the Byzantine period (when Istanbul was Constantinople) by the Emperor Justinian.  Unlike the Blue Mosque, which I found more impressive outside than in, the magic of Hagia Sophia began when I stepped through its doors, from the brilliant morning sunlight and bustle of tour groups, to the vast interior, where the age and size of the structure diffuses and softens the light and sound within. 


The Hagia Sophia is a fascinating commixture of Christian and Islamic motifs, from the minarets that were added to the body of the church in the 16th century, to the Arabic inscriptions that loom large over the floor of the sanctuary, overlooked by a softly shining mosaic of Mary, seated on a throne haloed in gold, holding Jesus on her lap. 
I find it hard to describe the feeling of richness, depth, and great age that I experienced in the Hagia Sophia.  The entrance antechamber reminded me of some of the old Macedonian churches I've visited, with high, domed ceilings of exposed brick.  This simplicity gives way to the glow of golden mosaics in the body of the church, which warm the cool, dark interior.  The stone lintels of the doors have been worn into watery ripples by the passage of millions of feet over more than one thousand years.  Even with herds of tourists moving through it, there is a sense of reverence and wonder within the Hagia Sophia.

We emerged from the quiet inside to the clamor outside, and crossed the street to visit the cisterns, which were also built by Justinian.  Initially, we weren't impressed.  At first glimpse, the cisterns look like a large, poorly drained basement with an awful lot of columns.  The lighting at the entrance is prosaic, and the water is still, and only a few inches deep.  But as we wound our way back along a walkway that twists through the columns, the lighting dimmed, and the chatter of tour groups was swallowed by the sound of dripping water.  Colored lights at the bases of several clusters of columns created a sense of drama - and inevitably evoked references to "Phantom of the Opera."

We exited the cisterns into sunlight and the inevitable gift shop, and ambled up a steep cobblestone street, where we were waylaid by a shopkeeper.  When we asked him the way to Topkapi Palace, he told us it was too late in the day to go there, and somehow this bit of information turned into a discussion of the psychology of salesmanship and the nature of Turkish men.  "The Mediterranean sun, it affects our genetics.  All women are beautiful to us, and all women feel beautiful in Turkey."  (Hmm, harassed = beautiful?)  And then Thea started shopping. 
When we finally detached ourselves from the store, we had a drink at a nearby café and headed back to the Grand Bazaar.  I can't remember when I've done so much shopping over the course of a few days.

A medusa head used in constructing the cisterns

Our last day, we went to Topkapi Palace.  The weather was glorious, and the Palace is stunning.  Graceful buildings and green spaces and views of the sea and the city.  We toured the harem section of the palace, which is decorated with gorgeous, intricate tiles and inlaid wood.  Despite the lack of furniture and other decoration in most of the rooms, it was easy to imagine how opulent it would've been when the Ottoman Empire was at the height of its powers. 
We took the rest of the day at a leisurely pace, and still managed to make one last stop at the bazaar.  On our way out of the bazaar, we met the man himself, Uncle Mustafa, legend among carpet sellers.  It wasn't hard to pick him out - a rather wild-eyed older man lurking in the doorway of a carpet shop.  No sooner did we say hello, then he started to talk a mile a minute, relating stories of his famous visit to New York ("I was at the Plaza Hotel for 3 months -- $350 a night, no breakfast, no woman"), trying to lure us into his shop ("I love you.  I love you.  Just come inside for a minute.") and finally, as we extricated ourselves, asked us to send him "stupid customers."  "Love the women, hate the men."

Page 1     Page 2     Page 3
Recommended Reading:
Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place by Mary Lee Settle