I arrived at my hotel at 1 am this morning, and in my decaffeinated daze, I wandered up to 6th floor to discover this view(see above). I gawked and stared at two of my most treasured historical sites, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. There's nothing like seeing what you have studied in textbooks come into focus right before your eyes.
I wandered up and down alley ways all morning, which inevitably ended up with me getting lost. I saw monuments scattered across what was once the Hippodrome. The Hippodrome was the Byzantine equivalent of the Roman Circus Maximus. At it's height thousands would crowd into this outdoor amphitheater to watch battles and other amusements of the time; this was the center of Constantinople's social life. Even Justinian and Theodora would make their way to the Hippodrome through a secret passage from their palace to admire the public attractions.
Today, the Hippodrome is almost completely gone and only a few ruins remain. These monuments and came from all across the Mediterranean and include a sculpture from the ancient Greek sanctuary at Delphi and even an Egyptian obelisk dating back thousands of years!
However, I was in awe of one place in particular, the Blue Mosque. I donned the appropriate apparel. (Women have to cover the heads with a scarf) I even washed my hands and feet in the ablution fountain, as many of the worshipers do. As soon as you entered, you could feel that it was hallowed, sacred ground, and when I raised my head to look up, I was surrounded by swirling arabesque designs, hanging lights and immense and grand domed ceilings.
When Ahmet constructed the mosque in 1617, he financed it in an non-traditional fashion. Most sultans of the time created these wondrous mosques using money that they acquired from military conquests. He, however, commissioned the construction of the Blue Mosque using money from taxes. Standing at the crossroads between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque brought to life the rivalry between these two grand and beautiful buildings. You see, Ahmet wanted to create something beautiful that challenged old ideas of beauty, and somehow seeing both of them side by side perfectly brought together the ideas of old and new.
The Hagia Sophia or church of "Holy Wisdom" was constructed in 537 AD, and later with the conquest of Mehmet II, it was converted in a mosque. The Blue Mosque, the finest achievement of Sultan Ahmet, was completed in the 17th century. Years apart from one other, the two holy shrines represent the glory, majesty and splendor of Istanbul's changed past.
This quote rings especially true today, even despite the jet lag. I won't soon forget today.
"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent in the ideas of living."
Miriam Beard b. 1901
If you have a great traveling story to tell. I encourage you to comment and share it below.