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Author Topic: Mayerling's Travels  (Read 2868 times)

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Offline Lord MayerlingTopic starter

Mayerling's Travels
« on: May 06, 2014, 12:22:41 PM »
Welcome to Mayerling’s Travels, a blog about my various travels.

I really enjoy travelling, and I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places with really cool people. I’ve even had some really cool trips with fellow Elliquians. I thought I’d share some of my experiences with the community. Feel free to comment or ask questions about where I’ve been and what I was doing or thought beyond what I post, but please don’t ask questions like “Have you ever been to _____ ?” as it will just clog up the blog with needless chatter.

While I’ve been to several locations in my life, I’m only going to cover places I’ve been starting with my most recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey. As an adult I’ve travelled to England, Italy, Bavaria, three of the big national parks in the Colorado River Plateau (Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon), Chincoteague, and Montreal twice, both with family and with a fellow Elliquian exploring its fantastic adult playground nightlife. If you want to know anything about these trips, PM me and I’ll be happy to discuss them with you, and share a few pictures if I have them.

When I travel I have a few philosophies: I try to get the most out of every dollar and every day. This means I look for value over solely inexpensive options. That said, I also like to splurge from time-to-time when I travel, and I generally don’t worry about how much I’m spending when the monetary difference between alternatives is minimal (time is money). Remember, you’ve spent a lot of money to visit a place and immerse yourself in its culture. Avoid things that put a barrier between yourself and the culture you’ve invested in visiting. When traveling overseas, try to be like a temporary local. Obviously, these things are easier said than done, but planning and researching are invaluable to having a memorable trip. Memories generally aren’t based on the money you spend, but the investment you make as a traveler experiencing what a place has to offer. Money spent for the sake of experience is generally a good value.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2014, 12:38:06 PM by Lord Mayerling »

Offline Lord MayerlingTopic starter

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2014, 01:10:57 PM »
Istanbul, Turkey. April 28-May 5, 2014.

Looking across the Golden Horn to Sultanahmet, Old Town Istanbul. Center: Hagia Sofia, Center Right: Blue Mosque, Center Left: Divan Tower, Topkapi Palace with the Princes' Islands behind in the Sea of Marmara. Far Right foreground: Galata Bridge, Far Left: Asian Istanbul
Why Istanbul?
Istanbul has long since been one of my top places to visit. The city has a history stretching back 3,000 years when it was part of the Hellenist Empire. It became Roman, then Byzantine, then Ottoman, and is now the largest city in the modern Republic of Turkey (though not its capital). It has always served as a crossroads of civilization, a gateway from East to West. It was a major stop on the Silk Road, it served as the capital of four different Empires, it was the birthplace of Orthodox Christianity. The city still shows this division between East and West markedly through its physical division by waterways, the Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn. The depth and breadth of history of Istanbul is virtually unmatched anywhere else on Earth.

Modern Istanbul, and all of Turkey for that matter, is an Asian city that leans West. It's one of the few Muslim countries that is not hostile towards Western Countries. It's a member of NATO (providing more soldiers than any other nation), and continuously applies to enter the European Union. Its politics under democracy are commonly criticized by the West; it does not have a great history concerning political liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly. In fact, a violent riot broke out while we were there on May 1st regarding a ban on political protest in Taksim Square, the figurative center of political life in the city. It still bears the ideological scars of a controversial event involving the forced relocation of Christian Armenians within Turkey at the end of WWI. Many outside Turkey consider the act genocide, while the Turks (and the governments of its NATO allies) have denied the act was sanctioned genocide, or have remained delicately silent on the issue. None of these factors or events played any role whatsoever in our visit.

Beyond its wealth in history and access to moderate Islamic culture, Istanbul is also a relatively inexpensive place to visit in Europe. A roundtrip direct ticket from New York to Istanbul was just $700. That's cheaper than to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, or Frankfurt, let alone places further east. Turkey's currency, the Turkish Lira, is unstable by Western standards which makes the exchange rate more favorable to Western visitors. The US Dollar was trading at 1:2, and the Euro was trading at 1:3. Because the Lira is so unstable, many merchants will accept hard cash dollars or euro instead of lira. In fact, our hotel only quoted rates in Euro, and we were charged in Euro, not Lira. As a result, we were able to book a room with two beds in the touristy historic core of Istanbul for about $75 each per night, including a free transfer from the airport to our hotel, and including free breakfast every day. This is significantly less expensive than other cities in Europe. All told, we spent about $1500-$1600 per person for a week in Istanbul including airfare: an excellent value. The high season in Istanbul is mid-April to mid-June, so it would be even cheaper during other times of the year, although the weather is worse.

I keep saying "we". I don't travel alone, and on this trip I was accompanied by none other than fellow Elliquian Remiel. I'm hoping he'll add some of his comments and stories to the blog as well, including some of his pictures (we both took a ton, and of different things).

Istanbul at a Glance
Factual information on this Istanbul travel blog is paraphrased from Rick Steves’ Istanbul, 6th Ed. by Lale Surmen Aran and Tankut Aran, edited by Rick Steves, published by Avalon Travel. This book was an excellent resource for planning our trip, as well as adding a lot of insight into what we were seeing and experiencing.

Istanbul is the crossroads of civilizations, where Europe meets Asia, where West meets East. Truly one of the world’s great historic cities, Istanbul was once called Byzantium by the Greeks, and Constantinople, named for the 4th-century Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Over the centuries, the city has been the capital of two great empires. The Byzantine Empire was born here in the 4th century and lasted until the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire conquered the city in 1453 and ruled until the end of WWI (technically until 1923). Even though Turkey isn’t governed from Istanbul, the city remains the historical, cultural, and financial center of the country.

Istanbul, with around 15 million people, sprawls over an enormous area on both banks of the Bosphorus Strait. The Bosphorus runs north to south from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara through the middle of Istanbul, splitting the city in half causing it to straddle two continents, Europe and Asia. Asian Istanbul is mostly residential, while European Istanbul is densely urban and contains virtually all of the city’s main attractions. Two suspension bridges span the Bosphorus Strait, and public ferries also link the two banks, carrying millions of commuters each day.

A tapering inlet of the Bosphorus called the Golden Horn runs roughly east to west, cutting the European side of Istanbul in two. South of the Golden Horn is Old Town, the 3,000 year old historic core of the city, still surrounded by fragments of the original walls of the city. The tip of this peninsula is called Sultanahmet, home to many of Istanbul’s most famous historic sights, and also many hotels, including the one in which we stayed. To the North of the Golden Horn, Istanbul feels much more like a 21st-century European city centered around Taksim Square. Connecting these areas of the city is a complex but very efficient public transit system of metros, tramways, light rail, buses, and ferries. The tramway seems especially made for tourists, and easily took us everywhere we wanted to go.

Day 1. Arrival and First Impressions.

Day 2. Hagia Sofia, Istanbul's greatest monument.

More Day 2. Byzantine Monuments, Aggressive Merchants, and Flying Carpets

All pictures posted by me on this blog are my own.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2014, 10:59:45 AM by Lord Mayerling »

Offline Lord MayerlingTopic starter

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2014, 04:12:25 PM »
Day 1.

The flight to Istanbul from New York is a long one: most of 10 hours. In our case, it took a little more than 11 hours because we were delayed for more than an hour. Most unfortunately, I sat next to the only person on the flight larger than myself. I'm not a small person by any stretch of description, but this woman was definitely more spherical and heavier. She also decided to rub against me quite a lot during the flight, and initially refused to get up when I needed to get up and walk around. Perhaps worst of all, she had chicken wings when eating. She crashed me into the boards a few times during the flight. The whole flight was kind of crazy. It was loaded with Orthodox Jews going to Israel. Halfway into the flight, they all got up to pray together. It was easily 50-60 people in the aisles and by the doors. Eventually the flight crew got them under control and seated again, but I found so many people standing up on a plane near doors post 9/11 quite off-putting. I ended up standing myself for almost 2 hours of the flight, but eventually I was able to sit and sleep. By leaving New York in the evening and arriving in Istanbul the next morning, the flight schedule is designed to help fight jet lag. For me, this works pretty well. For Remiel, not so much. He didn't sleep at all on the flight.

Our hotel arranged a pickup from the airport for transfer to the hotel. All things considered this worked out pretty well. It probably took us an hour to get through customs, and then another hour to get the car organized and actually drive to the hotel. Immediately I noticed the lack of a language barrier. Every Turk we spoke to understood English, and could be understood as well. I think the first bit of culture shock hit at the hotel. We were staying at a small hotel in the historic core of Sultanahmet. It was Remiel's first time out of the country, and when we first saw the room he was shocked at how small the room was (12ft x 12ft, plus a bathroom). European hotel rooms are much smaller than they are in North America, and I think Remiel was genuinely concerned. However, one flight of stairs up was a rooftop terrace with unobstructed views of the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia, the southern end of the Bosphorus. Seriously, it was probably the best view I've had at a hotel ever. The hotel won us over at that point. Indeed, where it mattered, the hotel really came through: the beds were very comfy, the water pressure in the shower was awesome, and the included breakfast was expansive, varied, and quite delicious. It was called the Amiral Palace, and it was an excellent value. The only cons were that it was at the bottom of a steep hill leading up to the main sights and the tramway stop.

Our first meal was at a large restaurant with open outdoor seating facing the Bosphorus. It was almost right on the water, with only a large street between the restaurant and the water. I had my first of many glasses of Turkish tea. It's simple black tea that can optionally be sweetened with sugar. Turks don't add milk to tea or coffee, it seems. For an entree I had chicken schnitzel served with french fries and rice, and Remiel had a whole fresh sea bass. The sea bass was served whole with bones, which made it kind of a project to eat. For desert we had künefe, shredded phyllo dough soaked in syrup, fried into a disc with a layer of cheese inside, and topped with crushed pistachio.

After a late lunch we decided to hike up the hill from the hotel into the Historic Core of Old Town, defined by the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia.

The Hippodrome
Built in the 4th century, the Hippodrome was Constantinople's primary venue for chariot races, but it became the place where the people of the city gathered, and this racetrack has also been the scene of social and religious disputes, political clashes, and violent uprisings. Chariot races were at the most popular events in Constantinople, appealing to people from all walks of life. Winning teams became least until the next race. Between races, the masses were entertained by dancers, cheerleaders, musicians, acrobats, and performing animals. The courtyard of the Blue Mosque marks the former site of the Hippodrome's kathisma (royal lodge). Supported by gorgeous marble columns, this grandstand was where the emperor and his family watched the races unfold. The lodge was connected to the Great Palace (on the site of today's Blue Mosque) for an easy escape in case the crowd got out of control.

Constantinople's social classes were identified by colors--Greens, Blues, Reds, and Whites--each with its favorite chariot team. Spectators at Hippodrome races, put on edge by social and economic gripes, often came to blows. Relations between the ruling and poor classes hit a low point in January of 532, when the Nika Revolt erupted at a chariot race. Emperor Justinian called in the Imperial Guard, who massacred some 30,000 protesters. As big as today's giant stadiums, the Hippodrome could seat 100,000 spectators, but when the races went out of vogue, the once-proud structure became a makeshift quarry for builders scavenging pre-cut stones.

The Hippodrome was in ruins long before the Turks arrived. The Ottomans named it Atmeydani, horsetrack, and used it for horseback riding and archery training. Through the years, dirt dug up to make way for foundations of surrounding buildings was dumped here, so today's ground level is significantly higher than during Byzantine times. The last remaining stones of the Hippodrome's bleachers were used to build the Blue Mosque. Today, none of the original seating survives, and the ancient racetrack has been replaced by a modern road.

German Fountain
This pavilion--which seems a little out of place surrounded by obelisks and minarets--would be more at home in Berlin. The fountain was a gift from the German government to commemorate Kaiser Wilhelm II's visit to Istanbul in 1898. It was constructed in pieces in Germany, then shipped to Istanbul in 1901 and reassembled on this location.

Egyptian Obelisk
This ancient, pointy pillar was carved about 1500 years BCE to honor the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III; its inscribed hieroglyphs commemorate his military achievements. The obelisk was brought here from the Temple of Karnak on the Upper Nile some time in the 4th century. What you see today is only the upper third of the massive stone block. The most interesting part of the obelisk is its Byzantine base, which was cut out of local white marble and stands on four bronze feet. Reliefs on all four sides of the base depict Emperor Theodosius the Great and his family at the royal lodge, watching the races. On the side facing the Blue Mosque, the emperor gives an olive wreath to the winner, while his servant hands out a sack of coins. On the opposite side, envoys bow down before Theodosius in homage.

Column of Constantine
Like the Egyptian Obelisk, this column went up in the 4th century, but unlike its Egyptian sister it was constructed here. In the early 10th century, Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus sheeted the column with bronze panels, but as the city was looted during the Fourth Crusade (in the early 13th century) the panels were pulled down to make weapons. You can still see the holes where the panels were attached to the column.

The Blue Mosque

This famous and gorgeous mosque is one of the world's finest. It was built in just seven years, completed in 1616, by the architect Mehmet Aga, who also rebuilt Kaaba (the holiest shrine of Islam--the giant black cube at the center of the mosque in the holy city of Mecca). Locals call it the Sultan Ahmet Mosque for the ruler who financed it, but travelers know it as the Blue Mosque because of the rich blue color of the handmade ceramic tiles that dominate the interior.

Aside from its impressive scale and opulent interior, the Blue Mosque is unique because of its six minarets. A single minaret was adequate for its straightforward function (the call to prayer), but mosques financed by sultans often wanted to show off with more. In all likelihood, Ahmet probably requested the six minarets to flaunt his wealth, but at the time, the central mosque in the holy city of Mecca also had six. The clergy at Mecca feared that Ahmet's new mosque would upstage theirs, so the sultan built a seventh minaret at Mecca.

The huge dome, reaching a height of 141 feet and a diameter of 110 feet, is modeled after the one in Hagia Sophia, which was the first building to use pillars to support a giant central dome. As Turkish engineers improved on this concept over the years, they were able to create vast indoor spaces covered by cascading domes. The same fundamentals are still used today in many contemporary mosques. Near the corners of the vast room there are giant pillars with fluted marble panels. These "elephant feet" support the arches, dome, semi-domes, and cupolas. Since the weight is transferred mainly to these four pillars, thick, bulky walls aren't necessary. Like flying buttresses in a Gothic cathedral, this technique allowed the architect to fill the walls with decorative windows. Compare the Blue Mosque with its 260 windows with the gloomy interior of the much older and bulkier Hagia Sophia. The low-hanging chandeliers were designed for oil lamps with floating wicks; they were designed to be raised and lowered to tend to the lamps, although now they hold electric bulbs. Along with the painted floral and geometric patterns, more than 20,000 ceramic tiles were used extensively to decorate the mosque. 

The Blue Mosque represents the pinnacle of Ottoman architecture, and marks the beginning of the empire's decline. After its construction the treasury was exhausted and the Ottoman Empire entered a period of stagnation that eventually led to its collapse. Never again could the empire afford a building of such splendor.

Hagia Sophia (exterior)
I will be describing the Hagia Sophia in detail on Day 2, but here are some pictures of the exterior that were taken day 1.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2014, 08:00:21 PM by Lord Mayerling »

Offline Remiel

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2014, 06:42:11 PM »
Hold up, LM.  Before we get started, I'd like to say a little bit about New York.  Having never been to New York before, it was quite an experience for this L.A. native.  Being from L.A., I simply could not comprehend it when you said that you don't have a car.   In L.A., if you don't have a car, you're like a beached whale.  You can flip and flap all you like, but you're not going anywhere.

Having seen the New York subway system, however, it makes a lot more sense.  Those subway tunnels get everywhere.   And I'd also like to say that the stereotype about rude New Yorkers isn't true: most of those whom I encountered were actually quite polite.  However, there is one stereotype that is absolutely true--if you're in front of a New York cabbie, and you hesitate even a fraction of a second when you have space to go, you'll get a liberal dose of horn.   All the drivers honking their horns makes for a kind of orchestra, really, scored in the key of F U.

The World Trade Center

The new World Trade Center, next to some building I've forgotten.  You can kind of see it in the pic, but they were still assembling one face.

George Washington Courthouse

Some kind of courthouse.  Where apparently George Washington gave a speech, rallying the American colonists to war, or something like that.   I'd make an excellent tour guide!

New York Stock Exchange

The New York Stock Exchange.  It was closed when I was there (on a Saturday).  Too bad, because I wanted to shout, "SELL! SELL! SELL!" and see if I could start a panic.

Wall Street Bull

The famous Bull of Wall Street.  Apparently it's anatomically correct, which is quite a draw for tourists.  The girl on the left there is posing next to the bull's balls.  I'm not kidding.

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge.  I bet if some of the Turkish con men had tried to sell it to us, Mayerling would have ended up buying it (just kidding, LM!)

Coast Guard cutter, as seen from the Staten Island Ferry

A coast guard boat, as seen from the Staten Island Ferry.  These guys basically had to follow the ferry back and forth, back and forth, all day, in case some terrorists tried to attack it or something.  And you think your job sucks.

Another view of the World Trade Center

Another view of the rebuilt World Trade Center.

Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty.  Fun fact:  apparently it is not actually on Ellis Island, as I was led to believe.  It is actually on Liberty Island.  If, y'know, you ever end up on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

some buildings

I found this shot very fascinating.  I don't know why.  It was like someone had built some buildings on top of some other buildings.  And it made me want to play Minecraft.

Offline Remiel

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2014, 07:31:13 PM »
The second day I was there, we toured Midtown Manhattan.  I was a lot more impressed with Midtown than I was with Lower Manhattan.  Simply, I suspect, because everything was so big.  It was like the commercial center that every other commercial center in the world aspires to be when it grows up.  It's like that one block in your Sim City game that is all high-rise towers.  Mucho impressive.

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center.  That's right, people were ice skating in late April.

Rockefeller Center

A street view of the flags above Rockefeller Center.

Times Square

Times Square.  I know Mayerling will disagree with me on this, but I found Times Square absolutely fascinating, and a must-see if you're ever in New York.  I think it, more than anything, typifies what New York is all about.  It's got a kind of permanent carnival atmosphere.

Times Square

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station was way more impressive than I'd imagined it.  Honestly, the movies really don't do it justice.  I mean, the place is freakin' huge.  It's like some sort of modern-day palace.

the fresco on the ceiling of Grand Central Station

another shot of Grand Central Station

Chinese Pork Buns

While I was there, I managed to meet up with Esoteric Myobi in Flushing.  No, I never did find out why it was called Flushing.  But we went to a Chinese Dim Sum restaurant, and enjoyed some very tasty cuisine, including the pork buns pictured above.  I completely spaced out and forgot to take a picture of her, but let me tell you, boys and girls, that she is every bit as charming and hawt in person as she is online.

Offline Remiel

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2014, 08:56:09 PM »
Here's a video I was able to take with my camera the first night we were there.  From our hotel roof you could get a good view of the Blue Mosque (or the Sultan Ahmet Mosque for the sultan who financed it), and the Bosphorus Strait in the other direction.  I thought this was really cool, and completely made up for how small the room was.

Offline Remiel

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2014, 02:55:35 PM »
Lord Mayerling did a fine job of providing the historical context for each of the places we visited, so I won't bother.  Here are some more photos, if you care.

Amiral Palace, the hotel where we stayed

I did bitch about the room size, but honestly, I commend Mayerling's choice of hotel.  For the view it offered from the roof patio, I think we really got a good value for our money.  We got hot water in our shower, the beds were very comfortable (although I did not, unfortunately, get much use out of them), and the free breakfast the hotel offered every morning really put American hotels to shame.  I mean we got deli meats, a wide selection of cheeses, several kinds of olives, a couple of different kinds of pastry, and usually deviled eggs.  The olive paste was salty, though. 

Oh, and the Turkish TV we had in our room only featured one channel in English.  It was funny seeing American programs (like Dexter, Ellen, or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) with Turkish subtitles.

The Hippodrome wasn't quite what I had expected.  I had expected a kind of Roman coliseum or atreum; it had instead been basically converted into an oval-shaped street.   Still, it was fun to walk around and imagine being in the center of Byzantine city life.

the German Fountain, a gift to the Ottomans from Kaiser Wilhelm

the base of the Egyptian obelisk

The Byzantine base of the Egyptian obelisk, depicting the emperor Theodisius the Great and his family at the  Hippodrome.

the Egyptian obelisk

This is only the top third of the original obelisk.

the Column of Constantine

The Column of Constantine, erected in the 4th century A.D. (Or fourth century CE, depending on which designation you prefer)

the Blue Mosque 1

Inside the Blue Mosque.  I don't know why I didn't take any pictures of the outside, but you can see it in my YouTube video above.

the Blue Mosque 2

Here you can see an example of my amazing camera work.  Please ignore the blurriness.   The Blue Mosque is an active mosque, meaning it is still used today.   Muslims went in one side of the building, while tourists and guests went in the other.  The faithful would pray to Mecca while an imam, or cleric, chanted.   It was pretty cool.

the Blue Mosque 3

This is probably the best view of the scope of the inside of the mosque.  The visual detail was breathtaking.  Unlike in Christian cathedrals, there are no artistic renderings of people;  apparently this is a big no-no in Islam (as, I think, it distracts from the worship of Allah).  So Islamic architecture favors intricate patterns and Arabic calligraphy instead.

the Blue Mosque 4

Another view, in which you can see the stained glass windows.  The imam is in the middle of the picture, in what is called an apse, while toward the right you can see the mimber, or pulpit.  Both point south-east to Mecca.

a minaret

One of the Minarets outside the Blue Mosque.  If you look closely, you can see speakers, from which come the warbling, haunting call to prayer that happens five times a day, every day.  The story goes that the sultan Ahmet I wanted to upstage the Hagia Sophia with its four minarets--so he built the Blue Mosque with six.  Kind of a "my mosque has more minarets than yours" kind of thing.

Offline Lord MayerlingTopic starter

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #7 on: May 11, 2014, 11:54:41 AM »
Day 2.

Our first full day started as a rainy one, and we had our first contact with aggressive Turkish merchants. Little did we know they would define our first day in Istanbul, if not the whole trip. Our hotel was down the hill from the historic core, and when we reached it, a man selling cheap umbrellas approached the easy target Remiel. I say easy because Remiel was dressed for southern California weather, where clearly it never rains. The man asked 15TL ($7.50) for one of these umbrellas, and the financially astute Remiel bargained the hawker down to 10TL for the umbrella. The deal was done. I was wearing a raincoat, and thus did not need an umbrella. However, my turn to be borked would come, and it would be much harder...

We started the day by buying an Istanbul Museum Pass for each of us. This card is 85TL, and gives you free access to a bunch of museums in Istanbul over a 72 hour period. On the surface, it's not a very good deal. Unless you whirl around all the eligible museums within its 3-day validity, you aren't likely to save money over the entrance fees of the museums individually. However, in my view, where the pass pays off is that it allows you to bypass the ticket line at all the sights, like a Line Pass at Disney World. Considering how long the lines were at all the sights we went to, I felt like this was a great deal for us.

The line for the Hagia Sophia was packed when we arrived. It was just before it opened, and a long line of tour buses had unloaded, causing a huge jam. Easily there were several hundred people waiting to get in. It's Istanbul's top sight, afterall, and it was also a major selling point on Remiel and I choosing to go there in the first place. However, instead of wasting time in that line waiting for the Hagia Sofia to open, we walked across the street to the Underground Cistern, which by comparison was abandoned. We got right in and started exploring. More on that later.

We also went to the Archaeological Museum that afternoon. It's part of the vast Tokapi Palace, the old seat of government for the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, from 1453 until the 19th Century when the government moved to Dolmabache Palace in the newer part of the city, across the Golden Horn. More on the Archaeological Museum later as well.

I'm skipping all this stuff now so we can get right to the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul's top sight, and the best and biggest exhibit of Byzantine architecture anywhere. Both Remiel and I have tons of pictures of the Hagia Sophia, so this post is just for it. Since hell, we know you're here for the pictures and not my drivel.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia was built over the remains of at least two earlier churches. After the second of these churches was destroyed in the Nika riots in 532, Emperor Justinian I wasted no time, immediately putting his plan for Hagia Sophia into action. He asked for the near-impossible: a church with unbelievably grand proportions, a monument that would last for centuries and keep his name alive for future generations. Justinian appointed two geomatricians to do the job: Anthemius, from the Aegean town of Tralles, and his assistant, Isidore of Miletus. Both knew from the start that this would be a risky project. Making Justinian's vision a reality would involve enormous challenges, but they courageously went forward, creating a masterpiece unlike anything seen before.

More than 5,000 architects, stonemasons, bricklayers, plasterers, sculptors, painters, and mosaic artists worked around the clock for five years to complete Hagia Sophia, and drain the treasury, faster than even the emperor had anticipated. In December 537, the Great Church of Constantinople held its first service in the presence of Emperor Justinian and the Patriarch of Constantinople. The church was a huge success story for Justinian, who was justifiably satisfied with his achievement. As the story goes, when he stepped inside the church he exclaimed, "Soloman, I have surpassed you!" In the long history of the empire, the Byzantines would never again construct such a grand edifice, but its design would influence architects for centuries. Hagia Sophia was a legend even before it was completed. People came from all over to watch the great dome slowly rise above the landscape of the city. It was the first thing that merchants saw from approaching ships and caravans. Hagia Sophia soon became a landmark, and it continues to hold a special place in the mystical skyline of Istanbul. The structure served as a church for nearly a millennium. For a thousand years it stood as the greatest dome in the world, until the Renaissance, when Brunelleschi built his famous dome in Florence. Paris' Notre Dame would fit within Hagia Sophia's great dome, and New York's Statue of Liberty could do jumping jacks inside.

The day the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Most of the functional elements that decorated the church were removed, and its figurative mosaics were plastered over in accordance with Islamic custom. Today the interior holds elements mostly from the time when Hagia Sophia was used as a mosque, from 1453 until 1934, when it became a museum.

Emperor Justinian appointed two great scholars of geometry to design his Great Church: Anthemius of Tralles and his assistant, Isidore of Miletus. Anthemius' title was actually "mechanikos" -- engineer, not "architect." The mission given to Anthemius was to "apply geometry to solid matter." Hagia Sophia's architectural unity is a testament to Anthemius' ability and genius. He knew how to create and integrate spaces within the confines of an architectural style. In Byzantine architecture, a building's interior was more important than its exterior. The exterior was just a mask, but the interior aimed to impress and overwhelm the visitor with a specific message. Hagia Sophia's message was that the emperor--who created the sacred monument--was backed up by divine power. So in a way the church was a very expensive propaganda tool.

Byzantines, like the Romans before them, mastered the use of the arch to bear weight. Anthemius wanted to create the feeling that the church's dome was hanging down from the heavens on gold chains. To achieve this, he designed a dome bigger and higher than anything built before, and placed a row of clear glass windows around its base. When you look up at the light streaming through these windows, you'll squint at the brightness--making the columns between the windows nearly disappear and creating the illusion that the dome is floating on air. Anthemius is considered the greatest architect in Byzantine history, but after designing Hagia Sophia he continued his career as a scholar, living a modest life in a small residence in Constantinople.

Hagia Sophia was designed as a classical basilica covered by a vast central dome. By definition, a "basilica" is characterized by a large, central open space, called a nave, flanked by rows of columns and narrow side aisles. It sounds simple, but even the two geomatricians Justinian chose to build Hagia Sophia had doubts about whether the plan would work. Every so often, Anthemius would go to the emperor and tell him about potential risks, and every time he got the same response, "have faith in God." Anthemius was right to have worried. Despite his mastery of geometry, he made some miscalculations: a few decades after Hagia Sophia was completed, part of the gigantic dome collapsed. The dome was repaired using steeper angles than the original; even so, it would collapse and be rebuilt again in the sixth and tenth centuries.

The main dome, 185 feet high and roughly 105 feet in diameter, appears to float on four great arches. The secret is the clear glass windows at the base of the dome. The triangular pendentives in the corners gracefully connect the round dome to the rectangular building below, and the arches pass the dome's weight on to the massive piers at the corners. Semi-domes at the ends extend the open space. Over 100 columns provide further support to the upper parts of the building. Many of these columns were brought here from other, even more ancient monuments and temples.

Hagia Sophia was a worthy attempt to create vast indoor space independent of the walls, but in practice quite a bit of the dome's great weight is held up by the walls, which is why there aren't very many windows. The Byzantines built additional arches inside the walls to further help distribute the weight. These "hidden arches" are visible here and there where the stucco layers have worn away. The church apse originally faced Jerusalem. When the church was converted into a mosque, a small, off-center niche was added in the apse's circular wall. Called the mihrab, this niche shows the precise direction to face during prayers, toward the holy city of Mecca, south of Jerusalem. The stately columns flanking the mihrab are actually huge candles, standard fixtures in royal mosques.

For next time:

Sights: Underground Cistern, Archaeological Museum

Turkish Dishes: Pide, some other stuff.

Mayerling buys a Turkish Carpet.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2014, 05:56:30 AM by Lord Mayerling »

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Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2014, 12:39:46 PM »
Great pictures so far guys! I'm happy to see the ones you took of New York as well Remiel since I've not been there myself yet.

I love the picture you took of the outside of the Blue Mosque, LM, and the view from the hotel roof in the video is really lovely.

Thank you for sharing all the images and information so far <3

Offline Remiel

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2014, 12:57:29 PM »
The man asked 15TL ($7.50) for one of these umbrellas, and the financially astute Remiel bargained the hawker down to 10TL for the umbrella.

I swear to God, it stopped raining 5 minutes after I bought that thing.  I kept bringing it with me on subsequent days, determined to get some value out of my money, but it never did end up raining...

Offline Remiel

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #10 on: May 13, 2014, 11:35:58 AM »
So, yeah.  The Hagia Sophia (Hah-yah so-FEE-yah, apparently the "g" is silent in Turkish).

One of my goals for the trip (more on that later) was to tour the Hagia Sophia.  It is, after all, one of the World Wonders in Sid Meier's Civilization.  (In Civ 5, I think, building it gets you a free Temple and a free Great Prophet.)  It's been around since the time of Emperor Justinian, built in the 6th century A.D.   Considering that was over a thousand years before Europeans were even first setting foot in America, that's some pretty impressive history.  If you want the full lowdown on the Hagia Sophia, read Mayerling's synopsis above.  I'm just here to do the witty commentary and amaze you all with my amateur photography skillz.

the outside of the Hagia Sophia, from the square

From this shot you can get a sense of its scale.  According to the guidebook, the Statue of Liberty in its entirety can fit inside the main dome.

another exterior shot

Remiel in front of the Hagia Sophia

Yours truly.  Pay no attention to the Real Madrid shirt.  I actually support Barcelona.

Behold! The majesty!

Okay, this was a truly awesome amazing shot.  I like how I framed the sky at dusk.  It bespeaks to the majesty and grandeur of the Divine, juxtaposed against the artifice and ingenuity of man and yeaaaaaaah, I'm so full of shit.   I really should have cropped out the sign at the bottom, though.

Ahmet III fountain

This is the Fountain of Ahmet III, built during the early 18th century.  It was right outside the Hagia Sophia, which is why I'm including it here.

Feral Cats facing off

Everywhere we went, we saw feral cats.  And these critters were bold.  Seriously, they had no fear.  They would walk right up to you while you were eating, and stare at you expectantly until you gave them some food.  But I guess as Mayerling said, "better a cat problem than a rat problem."

Onward, to the inside of the Hagia Sophia...

the Vestibule of Guards

The Vestibule of Guards.  So named for the imperial guards who waited here for the emperor while he was attending church services.  The mosaic seen here dates from the 11th-century reign of Basil II.  It pictures Mary and the Christ child enthroned.  On the right, Constantine presents Mary with a model of his city (Constantinople), while Justinian, on the left, presents a model of the Hagia Sophia.

the Interior Narthex

The Interior Narthex.  Isn't Narthex a cool word? Narthex narthex narthex.  Er.  But essentially, it's the main hallway outside the nave, or main chamber.

the Nave

Avast, ye Nave! Hehehehehe.  The Nave is easily the biggest chamber in the Hagia Sophia, and occupies the space underneath the central dome.   The dome actually collapsed several times over the years; the first time was only a few decades after it was completed, and it collapsed again--and was repaired again--in the 6th and 10th centuries.

the Apse

The Apse, or niche, facing Mecca.  The two huge medallions on either side of the apse spell the names of Muhammad and Allah.  In the semi-dome above, you can see a mosaic of the virgin Mary and the Christ child.  Isn't it nice to see symbols of  Islam and Christianity in the same place?

facing upward, towards the West Gallery

A good example of Byzantine architecture.

the Omphalion

This was the place where the Eastern Roman emperors were crowned. 

the Imperial Gate

The Imperial Gate, separating the Interior Narthex from the Nave.  Above the gate, you can see a mosiac of Emperor Leo VI receiving a blessing from Jesus Christ.

nothing to see here, move along
Yours truly.

Next: the Underground Cistern.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2014, 09:30:50 PM by Beguile's Mistress »

Online RedPhoenix

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2014, 12:39:34 PM »
Wow, those are some beautiful pictures. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are really breathtaking. Thank you for posting them!

Offline Suspires

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2014, 08:34:05 PM »
Just wanted to echo other folks saying thanks to both of you for posting the pictures and commentary.  I know there's an internet full of pictures and information about Istanbul, but it's a lot more fun reading along with you guys.

Offline Lord MayerlingTopic starter

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #13 on: May 26, 2014, 09:56:08 AM »
Sorry for holding up the procession, folks. I've been busy with some other things, but with the holiday weekend this weekend, I've finally had some time to sit down and write more drivel for you to read about my trip to Istanbul with Remiel. Still on Day 2, we started at the Underground Cistern while the line at Hagia Sophia was still jammed up. We finally got in to the Hagia Sophia later that morning (see previous posts).

After the Hagia Sophia, it was getting to be time for lunch. Remiel and I approached Divan Yolu, a busy avenue lined with eateries popular with tourists, many of which were recommended by the guidebook we were using. It was at this point where I or we were caught in the great net of pushy Turkish mercantilism. A Turkish man approached us speaking excellent English (there is virtually no language barrier in Istanbul) and asked us where we were from and what we were doing. I think it was me who mentioned we were looking for somewhere to eat, and of course this man knew the perfect place for us. He mentioned the places along Divan Yolu were touristy, expensive, and not very good. When I'm traveling, I'm always willing to take eatery advice from a local, and generally this is a good practice. However, in this case is was the first step into an elaborate scheme to get us into his gallery later. Of course, none of the was mentioned up front, only friendly advice on a restaurant guaranteed to be tasty. He even said he would pay for it himself if he didn't like it. What did we have to lose?

The restaurant wasn't bad, if I'm honest. It was certainly overpriced, especially as we became more familiar with what was on offer in Istanbul restaurants, but the food was pretty good. Both Remiel and I had pide, which is probably best described as Turkish pizza. Remiel had a cheese one, and mine had chicken, peppers, and tomatoes and cheese. These ingredients top a flatbread that's cooked on stone in a wood-burning oven. See? It's pizza. We also came across a beer called Efes. This seems to be the national beer of Turkey (in fact it has 80% marketshare). For being brewed in a country where it's against the religion to drink alcohol, it was surprisingly good. It was a light, crisp pilsner, served cold. Four beers were consumed at this meal; two by each of us.

I'm convinced this merchant had a contact in the restaurant who called him when we were getting close to being finished with our meal, because he showed back up, sat down with us at table, and conversed with us about the finer points of the Istanbul club scene, and smoking marijuana through a nargile. He made sure we enjoyed our meal enough that we paid for it ourselves, which of course we did. It was the second most expensive meal we had in Istanbul, and in my opinion the one with the worst value.

Now, plied with food and two beers each, this merchant directed us across the street to his gallery. "Please come in, let me show you my wares. I sell the best handmade carpets in Turkey." Well, we went in, and indeed much stuff of Turkish origin were being sold there. Immediately we were brought back to a sitting room with a large open space in the middle. This was carpetstravaganza. The first merchant passed us off to an even more wily fellow. He was in his forties or fifties and wildly interesting to me. He was well-dressed and well-groomed, yet exotic. Of course he spoke perfect English with a mild accent. I'm always drawn in by people I perceive as experts in their field. He was a professional swindler salesman. Like all good salesmen, he was an expert on the product he was selling, and an excellent presenter.

First, we were introduced to knots. I'm not a textile expert, but I do know quite a bit about knots and thread construction. Turkish carpets are woven with Gordian knots, which is much more durable than the knotting used in Persian rugs. Traditional Turkish rugs are handmade, and come in wool-on-wool, cotton-on-wool, or silk. Suddenly, carpets of all sizes and materials were being flung, unrolled, and floated all around the room. They just kept coming. Twenty or more in quick succession, popping like a whip when they fully unfurled. Tea was served to us! It was definitely the most elaborate deal-making session I've ever had, and I actually do this for a living myself. The best part was that Remiel just sat there and watched it happen. Not only had this salesman put me into the mood to buy a carpet I didn't need or even intend on purchasing on the trip, he had also wowed Remiel into a silent stupor, selling him on the sales experience itself. I'm telling you, the man was brilliant.

At this point I still considered myself mostly sober (Remiel disputes this point), and I decided, yes, I would buy a Turkish carpet. Next, I had to decide how much I would pay for it. Again, I'm not a textile expert, but I know what Persian rugs go for, and I've bought some rugs in the past, know their composition, their size, and what I paid for them. I decided I would spend up to $2,000 US for what would be a long-lasting, awesome souvenir. Perhaps I had delusions of grandeur.

With what seemed like half the store rolled out in front of me, I chose the carpet I wanted. The others were rolled back up in a matter of seconds while my choice was praised, and I was well-informed of all the costs and qualities that come with handmade Turkish carpets with shipping to the United States included. I asked for an offer.

$3,600 US.

This was exceptionally high to me, especially for a carpet that was only 4' by 8'. In response I low-balled with a $1,000 counter-offer. I think Remiel had an expression of glee on his face at this point. It was like a train wreck from which he could not look away, but nor could he bring himself to intervene. Again the qualities of the wool and thread and weaving of the carpet were extolled. We went back and forth with offers and counter-offers for two more rounds. The wily salesman then praised my negotiating skills (I'm so fucking susceptible to flattery. Goddamned ego!). He asked me to shake hands. He would then make his best and final offer, and I could take it or leave it. I refused to shake hands, and this was probably rude of me, I realize. I just felt like with a transaction of this amount, and being the buyer, I had a right to conduct my business in the way I felt most comfortable, and I didn't feel appropriate shaking hands before a deal had been reached. This actually resulted in a short argument. I think I heard Remiel giggling.

Eventually my preference was agreed to (the man with the gold makes the rules, universally). An offer of $1,700 US was made, and I accepted. The deal was done, we shook hands, I filled out some paperwork to have the carpet shipped to the States, and my carpet-buying experience was over. For the remainder of the trip I had buyer's remorse. Remiel felt bad too, although none of it was really his fault. However, the carpet was delivered a few days after I got back, and I have to say I love it. The quality of the wool is awesome, the knotting is awesome, and there are just enough irregularities in the weave that it might actually be handmade. Leopold (my cat and mascot) likes it even more than I do. In any case, the carpet is now at the foot of my bed, and I feel like a sultan.

We still had a whole afternoon ahead of us, so we decided we'd head over to Topkapi Palace and visit the Archaeological Museum. Along the way, we met Murat, yet another Istanbul merchant. You'll notice I don't remember the names of the two gentlemen that sold me a carpet, but I do remember Murat. This should tell you something about Murat. Murat intercepted us on the main road leading to the main Palace gate, and asked about his skill in speaking English. He mentioned he represented a gallery, and would lead us there to buy a genuine Turkish carpet. We mentioned we had just left that party, and a conversation emerged about the details of the transaction. He said I had done well. Meanwhile, he was leading us back to where we had just come from. He was talking to us about getting engaged. How do you say that in English? Eventually he led us into an alley surrounded by his family's shops and galleries. Fortunately, Remiel had had enough and spoke up. He could see now I could be led down dangerous paths with significant fiduciary consequences, and this time decided to act. Thank you, sir.

Again we set off for Topkapi Palace. This time our guard was up. The museum, like Hagia Sophia, was covered by our museum pass, so we skipped the line and went right in. Overall, I was disappointed in the Museum. It has a LOT of stelle and sarcophagi from the Greek and Roman Empires, but it's not anywhere near as impressive as collections of the Rome Archaeology Museum nor the Vatican Museum. What it does have, though...

The Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great
Other than a few dents in the marble caused by careless movers, this 4th century BCE sarcophagus is in excellent condition. This artifact was brought to Istanbul in the 1880s from the royal necropolis of Sidon (in today's Lebanon, but then part of the Ottoman Empire). Discovered by accident by a villager who was digging a well, it's among the most important (and best preserved) classical works ever unearthed. While faded after two thousand years, some of the color remains, and the bas-reliefs that decorate the casket are impressive.

This side of the casket depicts Alexander's army battling the Persians in the Battle of Issus in 333 BCE. Alexander's victory in the battle paved the way for the Macedonians to conquer the Middle East. It's easy to tell who's who: Persian troops wear long pants, several layers of shirts, and turbans. The Macedonians are either naked or half-naked in short tunics. On the left, Alexander wears a lion's pelt as he attacks a Persian soldier from horseback. His arm is raised as he prepared to hurl a (missing) spear.

The museum also houses a selection of ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine sculpture, and an entire floor devoted to archaeological finds from the city of Troy (and its seven rebuildings). The Museum has a lot of Byzantine artifacts: water pipes carved from marble, a bit of the chain used to span the Golden Horn, preventing ships from being able to sail into the city proper; but overall I found the museum underwhelming. It has two other sections, a Tiled Kiosk that holds an impressive collection of Turkish ceramics, and a Museum of the Ancient Orient, which houses artifacts from the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. We didn't see either of these, and in retrospect I think I would have liked both of them more than the main museum. Next time!

The Underground Cistern

Right outside the Hagia Sophia, this vast underground reservoir dates back to Byzantine Emporer Justinian I's reign in the the 6th century. Because it was built on the site of an earlier basilica, it's often called the Basilica Cistern. This massive reservoir--larger by far than any other in Constantinople--was built to meet the needs of a fast-growing capital city and to provide precious water in the case of shortage. The cisterns covers an area about the size of two football fields, big enough to hold 27 million gallons of fresh water. A forest of 336 columns supports the brick ceiling. Most of these were recycled from earlier Roman ruins in and around the city.

Clay pipes and aqueducts carried water 12 miles miles to this cistern. Eventually the pipes became clogged and the cistern fell out of use. As time passed, neglect became ignorance, and people forgot it was even there. An Ottoman historian wrote that residents of the area were luckier than others, as they could easily drop a bucket into any garden well and collect apparently God-given water. They didn't realize they were dipping their buckets into a Byzantine masterpiece.

Turbe of Sultan Selim II
A Turbe is the Ottoman version of a mausoleum. It's where important political or religious figures are remembered/honored. Turbes of several Ottoman sultans are located on the grounds of Hagia Sophia in its garden. This one is the turbe of Sultan Selim II. It's octagonal, and beautifully decorated inside. This turbe is one of the most elaborately decorated in all of Istanbul, and it also happened to be the best picture I took the whole trip, so enjoy. Empty caskets representing the sultan and his family sit in the center of the room, roped off. It's a lot like a mosque: you must remove your shoes and women must be covered to go inside. Look at all the detail in the architecture and intricate, complex decoration; truly a beautiful place to spend the physical side of eternity.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2014, 04:25:27 PM by Lord Mayerling »

Offline Niferbelle

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #14 on: May 26, 2014, 10:38:12 AM »
I loved reading your tale of the carpet. It brought back memories though in my case it was a leather coat I had no intention of buying that I walked out with >.> Istanbul was really an easy city to travel in even for someone like me who had never been abroad before but the culture shock of the marketplace there can't be overstated!

Offline Remiel

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #15 on: May 26, 2014, 11:49:16 AM »
LM omitted one small but crucial detail.   After we had eaten, and had had two pints each (I swear, beer cuts right through me like a knife), I asked our suave friend (whom I believe was also named Murat) where I could find a bathroom.  He said something to the effect of "Well, there is one in the plaza upstairs, orrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr you can use the bathroom at my store."   That's how good he was.  He was an expert fisherman, playing out the line as needed, reeling us in when he could.

So thanking him for his generosity, I used the bathroom at his store.  After my business was done, I walked down to the main store proper, and saw LM sitting in a very comfortable chair with another gentleman rolling out rugs to show to him.

That was the moment, the precise moment, that I knew he had us.  The whole time up until now I had been thinking to myself "what's the catch?  what's the scam?"  and here, at last, it was. 

There was nothing I could do at that point.  I did not want to be rude (ah, that is how they get us.  They know that Americans have a mortal fear of seeming rude) so I simply sat mutely, watching in horror as events unfolded.  To my credit, I did ask LM--discreetly, of course--if he was sober, implying that alcohol might be impairing his judgment.  He asserted quite emphatically that yes, he was indeed sober, so what could I do?

But I am glad that you like your rug, Lord Mayerling.  I know I couldn't help giving you shit for it, but as I said repeatedly, it will always be one hell of a souvenir.

Offline Lord MayerlingTopic starter

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #16 on: May 26, 2014, 12:33:05 PM »
It was more than two pints each. It was a liter each. Metric system.

Online RedPhoenix

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #17 on: May 26, 2014, 02:57:35 PM »
Yay for the update! I love the pictures and history so interesting. :D

Offline Oniya

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #18 on: May 26, 2014, 03:22:52 PM »
What, no pictures of the famed carpet?

As a note, there is a certain significance to a piece of hand-work having imperfections.  It is said that only Allah is perfect, and therefore to try to make something without an imperfection is the height of hubris for a craftsman - which is therefore asking for misfortune.  Similar superstitions can be found in a number of other cultures.

Offline Lord MayerlingTopic starter

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #19 on: May 26, 2014, 07:43:31 PM »
The famed carpet

Front and back, with mascot

Offline Oniya

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #20 on: May 26, 2014, 09:03:40 PM »
Very nice - and if it is hand crafted, I can tell you that many hours went into creating it (one of the difficulties in fairly pricing that sort of thing).  If it's not, then it's still a fine addition to your decor.  Not to mention the stories you can tell about it for years to come!

Online RedPhoenix

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #21 on: May 26, 2014, 09:05:55 PM »
Now that rug really ties the room together! :D

Offline Kuroneko

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #22 on: May 27, 2014, 12:43:35 PM »
What a wonderful accounting of your trip.  I'm so glad you got your cat a souvenir ;)

Offline Remiel

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #23 on: May 30, 2014, 08:36:38 PM »
The Underground Cistern was really cool.  As LM said above, the Cistern was built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century A.D. to meet the needs of the growing Constantinople.  Over time, the aqueducts from which the water was fed became clogged, and the city's inhabitants eventually forgot that it was there.  An Ottoman historian wrote that residents of this area of the city could drop their buckets into any garden well, and collect apparently God-given water. They didn't realize they were dipping their buckets into a Byzantine masterpiece of engineering.

Underground Cistern 1

Underground Cistern 2

Underground Cistern 3

I found it really, really cool--both in the vernacular sense and, because it was underground and about, oh, knee-high with water, in the literal.  If the water had been any higher, it would have been easy to imagine the Phantom of the Opera rowing his boat between the Byzantine columns.

One of the pillars

one of the two famous Medusa heads

At the bases of two of the columns, there are two large Medusa heads, sculpted out of stone.  The story goes that the Medusa heads were relics of a pagan, or pre-Christian Rome--and that after Christianity became widespread, they were recycled as mere load-bearing base stones by the Cistern's architect.

the other Medusa head

Me, doing my best Steve Austin impression

Offline Remiel

Re: Mayerling's Travels
« Reply #24 on: May 30, 2014, 08:41:59 PM »
Also that day, we visited the Archeological Museum.  Although we both thought it paled in comparison to the Turkish Military Museum, which we would visit later (and the display placards literally read like a high school student's history notes, bullet points and all, I shit you not), it did have the actual sarcophagus of Alexander the Great which was sufficient to give me a history nerdgasm.


a closer view