Paula Gilhooley….Istanbul

A number of years ago a friend and I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey during the Christmas Holidays.  Our Hotel was the Hotel AlZer located on At Meydani in Sultanahmet.  This small hotel is the only one on the Hippodrome in the center of ancient Istanbul and the area contains many of the important “can’t miss” sights in Istanbul including:  The Blue Mosque (Sultan AhmetI Camii); Haghia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basillica Cistern and the Archaelogical Museum (the former Palace of Ibraham Pasha).  The Hotel is still at the same location today but it has now been upgraded and remodeled .  Our room was at the front of the hotel which was right in front of the Blue Mosque across the Hippodrome.  The call to prayer in the morning was a very effective alarm clock wakinIMG_1322g us up at dawn.

The Hippodrome is the heart of historic Istanbul and was constructed between AD200 by Emperor Septimius Severus when he rebuilt Byzantium.  It is said that the structure could seat between 30,000 and 100,000 people and was used for sporting and political events.  It is 480m long and 117mwide and the spina down the central axis contains obelisks and columns, three of which still stand today including:  The Egyptian Obelisk which was originally commissioned by Pharaoh Thutmose III (It was broken in transit so only the upper third survived to be erected in the Hippodrome.  The second surviving artifact is the Serpentine Column from the Temple of Appollo in Delphi c479 BC;  and the third is the Colossus, often compared to the Colossus of Rhodes.

Sultanahmet Square around the Hippodrome is occupied on one side by the palace of Ibrahim Pasha and today houses the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art.  Directly across from the hotel is the Blue Mosque, Sultan AhmIMG_1319et I Camii which is the most prominent landmark in Istanbul with its six minarets.  Founded and built by Sultan Ahmet I between 1609 and 1616.  The interior is decorated with Iznik tiles in predominately blue and green hues using lily, carnation, tulip and rose motifs.

At the NE end of the Hippodrome is Haghia Sophia, one of the most extraordinary buildings in the history of architecture.  This is the third church built on this site and was built by Justinian and completed in 537AD. It remained a Christian Church unIMG_1318til 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Turks led by Sultan Mehmet II  after which it became the Mosque of Haghia Sophia.  All of the interior mosaics were white washed over and it wasn’t until 1932 when the Byzantine Institute began the restoration of the mosaics.  The Building was reopened as a museum in 1934 and the restoration of the mosaics was not completed until 1964 when the galleries were opened to the public.

A short walk from Haghia Sophia is the huge complex of Topkapi Palace, which for four centuries was the imperial residence of the Ottoman Sultans.  In addition to the interesting architectural structures the area contains collections of porcelains, armor, fabrics, jewelry, miniatures, calligraphy, and many works of art once belonging to the sultans and their court.  The entire area is surrounded by gardens that extend from the palace walls to the Marmara and the Golden Horn.  In the gardens in fIMG_1316ront of the palace is Haghia Eirene, the second largest Medieval Christian church in the city.

Also in the same general area you can find Cinlli Kosku (Museum of Turkish Tiles), this is the oldest secular building in Istanbul.  Haman Roxelana is between the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia and the Basillica Cistern (Yerebatan Saray) an underground cistern dating from Roman times built by Justinian used to store water for the Palace and later for the gardens of Topkapi Palace.

With all of these wonderful sights in the general area of our Hotel it took us over four days to venture further into the city.

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