Traveling Through the Ages
We vowed to not let the New Year’s Eve celebrations detract from sightseeing, and so we took the first day of 2013 by the horn and made the most of our time in Sultanahmet.
We started off with the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.
I heard this museum housed the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great. While there is a sarcophagus named Alexander at the museum, it didn’t, in fact, belong to Alexander the Great, although that was a common misconception because some of the figures on the side were of him. The sarcophagus actually belonged to the king of Sidon, the city where the sarcophagus was found (Sidon is in present-day Lebanon). It is very well preserved and the relief figures on the side were, indeed, very impressive.
Dating back to 4th century BC, it is considered to be the most important artifact in the museum, although there were other outstanding holdings as well, such as a chain that the Byzantines strung along the Golden Horn to prevent Ottoman ships from entering the strait during the siege of Constantinople during the 15th century. Another unique aspect of the museum was its Tiled Kiosk – a building once belonging to the Topkapi palace that was later annexed to the museum and now houses both tiles found at the site and excavated elsewhere.
–begin edit June 2017–
Another important treasure in this museum are the brick reliefs from the Ishtar Gate. Other museums have pieces of the processional way into Babylon, but this museum has pieces from the gate itself. The Ishtar gate was named after a Mesopotamian goddess of love and war and it was one of eight gateways that provided entry to the inner city of Babylon in the 6th century BC. The processional way leading up to gate was decorated with reliefs of lions, while the gate itself depicted bulls and dragons.
One thing I do have to admit is that I only realized I had seen pieces of the Ishtar gate in the Istanbul Archaeology museum when I re-visited this entry in June 2017. This was about 8 months after I had visited Berlin and seen the Ishtar gate in its entirety at the Pergamom there. As I was looking at the rest of the Istanbul photos while transferring this entry to WordPress, I was like, wait, these look like pieces from the Ishtar gate! Did I not realize this when I visited the Istanbul museum? Did I miss a sign that explained how important and awesome these pieces are? Whatever the case may be, I am just excited that I discovered this! I certainly did not realize this when I saw the Ishtar gate in Berlin, I had no recollection of the Istanbul pieces, and they didn’t make my original blog entry at all, so I just added them now, 5 years later.
And here are some of the photos that did originally make it in this blog entry, for reasons I can’t recall any more either. 🙂
–end edit June 2017–
Next, we visited Hagia Sophia. The current structure is the third church built at the site in the 6th century by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the previous two having been destroyed. It remained the largest cathedral for nearly 1000 years until the Seville cathedral was built in the early 16th century. Later converted to a mosque and now a museum, Hagia Sophia is one of the most easily recognizable Istanbul landmarks.
Nothing prepares you for the sheer grandeur of this church on the inside. I am not even try to describe it and will let the pictures speak for themselves, but I will just say that it almost rendered me speechless when I first entered it. I was sad to see some of beautiful mosaics on the second floor plastered over – evidence of the church’s conversion to a mosque when the Turks took over Constantinople.
By the time we were done at Hagia Sophia, it was just after 2 and we figured we’d catch a Bosphorus cruise while we still had a few daylight hours ahead of us. To do that, we took a tram for a couple of stops and got off at the Galata bridge stop, where many of the cruises and ferries along the Bosphorus and over to the Asian side start. We were lucky that by that time, the haze that covered Istanbul for much of the morning had lifted, and our Bosphorus cruise was basked in sunlight for most of the 2 hours we spent on the water. We got to see the Asian side, the Dolmabahce palace and the Rumelihisan fortress up close, and we also went under both Bosphorus bridges, which, I was surprised to find, were only built in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. A third bridge over the Bosphorus is under construction.
We ended our day with dinner at Anjelique, a hip restaurant/night club in the Ortakoy district of Istanbul, very close to the first Bosphorus bridge. We had made reservations there for NYE but our dinner before took so long that we didn’t dare risk spending NYE in a cab on the way there. Thanks to our hotel, we suspect, we got a table right by the window overlooking the Bosphorus, and I could see the Topkapi Palace and the minarets of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia from my seat. We had the restaurant to ourselves for a good hour, until a big group of Bulgarians came in and sat next to us. This was not a surprise to me. Istanbul is a popular destination for my countrymen, even more so for a holiday, and I had been hearing Bulgarian speech just about everywhere I went in Istanbul. The food was great and the cocktails were stiff, but, most importantly, I had great company.
From ancient sarcophagi to hip night clubs, today was a great way to end the first day of 2013!