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Churches, Mosques, and Museums in Istanbul

Our first taste of what the world outside of Europe is like, and the first stop on our latest adventure.

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View Semester Break, pt. 1 on kmclean's travel map.

We started our most recent adventure in Istanbul. The semesters in Germany are arranged more like high school in Canada than university, giving us a very convenient 2 month break during the low season. It’s our first step outside of Europe, and I think Istanbul is my new favourite city. I wish we had come here last instead of first, but either way it’s an amazing city to have seen. The day we arrived we just dropped our stuff off and then headed out to see some of the nearby sites on the “historical peninsula” of Istanbul; Sultanahmet. We spent our first day in the old city on a tour, seeing most of the historical buildings and sites. Our hotel was right in the centre of the old city, so we spent a lot time at the beginning and ends of days in and around it seeing the sites. It’s an unbelievably cool city with such a dynamic and LONG history.

The historical centre of Istanbul was the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and it really is the place where Europe met and clashed with the Middle East and Asia. Any churches built before 1453 were converted into Mosques (except for one in the Topkapɪ Palace) and some were then turned into Museums after the secularisation of Turkey. I had never seen a Mosque before, and I have to say they’re all really impressive. The insides are really bright and well lit, and because of the way Muslims pray they’re always really warm with beautiful, clean carpets. They seem more peaceful and welcoming than cathedrals, which are usually cold and dark. Also there are no torture scenes or brutal battle depictions on the walls and no images or sculptures of people being tortured to death, because in a Mosque there can’t be any pictures of people or animals. The walls are only decorated with patterns and in the fancier mosques thousands and thousands of beautiful tiles. I know these are some of the most extravagant and beautiful mosques in the world, but they were really beautiful. Also really interesting was that they were built extremely quickly, even by today’s standards.

They Blue Mosque was built in only 7 years. It was funded by the Sultan so that partly explains why it was so quick. Also there were no wars interrupting its construction. It’s still unbelievable though, considering most cathedrals in Europe took literally hundreds of years to build, and most are under construction or restoration still today. The Frauen Kirche in Munich was built in 20 years and that’s still considered extremely quick by European standards, and it’s not nearly as extravagant as the Blue Mosque, inside or out. Even more impressive than the Blue Mosque, though, is the Hagia Sophia. It took only 5 years to build in the year 532! Mostly because they recycled materials from other conquered temples, but most buildings today are barely finished in 5 years. We could really take some advice from the Turks. The building that’s there today is actually the 3rd reconstruction – the first Hagia Sophia stood on that site in 360 and was destroyed by rioters. The second one was also destroyed, but the third and current one has been there for nearly 1500 years now. It’s unbelievable. Luckily it’s a museum now and under the protection (and funding) of UNESCO, so it’s still having restoration work done. After Istanbul was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453 it was converted into a Mosque. Minarets were added and since Mosques can’t have any depictions of people or animals, the frescoes and mosaics were plastered over. Today they’re working on removing the plaster to reveal thousand year old mosaics, it’s an unbelievable project.

On our tour of the city we also saw the Chora Church Museum, another former Byzantine church-turned-mosque. The “museum” part is the artwork on the walls themselves. It was built in the early 5th century as a Byzantine church, but most of the artwork inside was done around 1300. After Istanbul was conquered it was also converted into a mosque, meaning all of the mosaics and frescoes were plastered over, and the faces of some of the people were even carved out before that. A lot of restoration work has been done since then, and the plaster has been safely removed in many places so you can see some of the artwork.

Istanbul is full of churches, museums, and mosques like those ones. We saw the New Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque as well, both were amazing. The Topkapɪ Palace was really neat, too. We spent a lot of time in and around the old city seeing all these sites, but luckily got to see a few other parts of the city, too.

Posted by kmclean 12:52 Archived in Turkey Tagged cities turkey istanbul

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