Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Grand Bazaar

After Topkapi Palace we started looking for the Grand Bazaar, a fabled, huge, covered shopping area of small shops. The labyrinth interior of passageways are famous for getting lost within. It's one of the largest and oldest indoor markets in the world.

The Grand Bazaar opened in 1461 and contains over 4,000 shops. There are 22 entrances, which is not enough when you're trying to find your way out. Fortunately I had a GPS Istanbul app on my iPhone. When we started trying to find our way out, we ended up on the opposite corner that we needed to be on to get back to our hotel. The only way we knew that was by checking our location with GPS on the iPhone Istanbul app. Inside we asked a policeman for directions to the Blue Mosque. He pointed and said "Exit 5, then left." Exit 5 was farther away than I thought it would be, but we eventually got there and headed toward the Best Point Hotel to meet Jay for dinner.

There are 58 "streets" in the Grand Bazaar. And lots or ornate decoration.

A salesman asks us "What are you looking for?" I say "Nothing." He says "What do you want?" I say "Photographs."

Hmm. Were we here a few minutes ago?

One of the many Grand Bazaar entrances.

Looking for a way out, we run into a dead end courtyard.

Going back the other way, back into the Bazaar.

Jay (right) steps outside for a cigarette break at Gallista Cafe, just one block from our hotel. Excellent food and a great farewell visit with Jay.

Grab a few photos before we go outside to hail a taxi for Jay's trip back to Taksim. 

Packed and waiting for our 5 am airport car, enjoying one last view of the Blue Mosque. Sadly, we'll miss tomorrow morning's call to prayer because we leave so early for the airport. Maybe not tooo sadly.

Topkapi Palace

From the Cistern and the ceramics shop we continued on in the rain to Topkapi Palace, a former palace and now a museum. I remembered it from the 1964 movie, Topkapi, starring Maximilian Schell and Peter Ustinov.

Topkapi was the primary palace of the Ottoman Sultans for about 400 years of their 624-year reign. There were normally 2000 residents living there full-time to run the palace. At times that number grew to 4000 residents. 

Eventually, Sultans built newer palaces along the Bosphorous, spending less time here. I was able to get just a few photos before I was informed by a guard that photography is not allowed inside the buildings. Since I've seen the movie Midnight Express, I didn't want to risk going to a Turkish prison, so I stopped taking photos.

We passed what remains of a column that the Romans used as the starting point for measuring all distances from Istanbul.

The Hooped Column, or the Column of Constantine. It commemorates the declaration of Byzantium (now known as Istanbul) as the new capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD. In 1106 a strong wind causes the statue on top and three of the stone cylinders to fall. Some years later a cross was put on top and the metal hoops were added to make it stable. The joints were covered with bronze wreaths. The wreaths must have looked nice... crusaders who looted the city in 1204 took them, along with gobs of other stuff. Be glad you weren't there.

A solitary figure stands in the rain near the Blue Mosque. She looks familiar.

Sultans had elaborate tastes and over-the-top interior decorators.

This room is where the sultan would greet ambassadors and important people.

The palace walls contain a huge courtyard.

Robin is trying not to think about the killing that's represented by the ancient weapons of war in this exhibit. I was excited to get lots of photos of the weapons in this room when a guard said something in Turkish that sounded like "Did you see the movie Midnight Express?"

We wandered over to the harem section. There was an extra entrance fee to go in the harem, but I'd decided it would be worth it, perhaps the last chance I'll have to hang out in a harem. And maybe the only chance I'll have to see Robin in a harem. Zounds! The harem closed just before we got there. The harem quest continues, and the odds of a future trip to Istanbul suddenly improve.

There's Just Something About Us . . .

. . . something that makes us look like we need to buy expensive Turkish carpets and ceramic pottery. 

It's partly our fault. We occasionally make the mistake of pausing as we walk. That's bad. Don't do that. Because when you pause, you also look around to see where you are, and that's the same as a baby gazelle that starts to limp at a jaguar convention. It's only a matter of time before a carpet salesmen catches your scent. 

As we walked toward the Basilica Cistern in the rain, we paused, and Kiret approached us. 

"Hello, can I help you? I'm not a guide, I'm not going to charge you money. I just want to help you because I like helping people. Where are you from? You are going to the Cistern? I will show you the way, then I will wait for you outside, then when you come out I can show you my family's stores where they sell the finest ceramic pottery and carpets. No obligation. I just enjoy helping people. I'm going to New York in April for three months to study English grammar because my English is not good. What? You think my English is good? You are too kind. There is the entrance to the Cistern. I will wait here. No obligation." 

Helpful, no-obligation Kiret.

Rifat shows us some beautiful ceramic pottery.

Rifat is a 3rd generation ceramicist and he studied ceramics at the university. This is his family business. This is really high-quality stuff. You might wonder how I know it's high-quality stuff. Rifat told us it is.

Lots of options.

Will these fit in the overhead luggage bin?

A relatively small purchase makes all parties happy and we escape - I mean leave - our helpful, no-obligation friends. 

Does he look like he just bagged a gazelle, or what?

The Basilica Cistern

There are several hundred ancient underground cisterns in Istanbul that were used to provide a stable water supply. The Basilica Cistern is the largest. 

One of the other cisterns, "discovered" recently - in the 1600s - was well known by some local residents. Some people in a certain part of town were known to go fishing through a hole in their basement floor. A researcher who was looking for evidence of a rumored cistern stumbled upon a local who said something like "Oh yeah, that's under my house." Then the local guy took him down to his basement, got in a boat and toured the huge cistern and its columns as the local guy fished from the boat.

The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century under the Byzantium reign of Emperor Justinian. The cistern was originally a Basilica, a Roman public building, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries. It was used as a commercial, legal, and artistic center. There are 336 columns supporting the ceiling, each column is 30 feet tall. The cistern was capable of storing 2,800,000 cubic feet of water.

One of the columns is engraved with tears. Ancient texts suggest the tears pay tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died building the cistern. Also according to ancient texts, 7000 slaves were used for this project which supplied water to the palace and other buildings in this part of town. The cistern continued to supply water for many centuries, into modern times.

Walkways for visitors weave through the columns.

Moist stone floors.

Amazing what can be done when you have 7000 slaves working for you.

In the far back corner of the cistern, two columns have a base made of Medussa's head. The head is turned upside down on one column (above) and sideways on the other. No one knows for sure why. The sideways head might have been placed that way to adjust the height of the column. The upside-down head might have been a superstitious decision. According to one popular theory, it was to negate the power of the Gorgon's gaze, which can turn you into stone. Medussa is one of three Gorgon sisters.