Suleymaniye Mosque, Chora Church, Spice Bazaar, Mosaic Museum, Arasta Market, Turkish Bath
09.22.2013 - 09.22.2013
We awake from our new digs at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet refreshed and ready to enjoy our last day of sight-seeing in Istanbul. Metin meets us at 9 am and Josef drives us all to Suleymaniye Mosque, our first stop of the day.
This mosque is known as much for its famed Ottoman architect, Sinan, as it is for its builder, Sultan Suleyman I the Magnificent. Completed in 1557, this imperial mosque, was also a charitable foundation that at its peak fed over 1,000 of the city's poor - of all denominations - every day at its soup kitchen. The complex also included a hospital, schools, caravanserai and a bath house.
At left is shown the water supply and benches where practicing Muslims perform ablutions prior to entering the Mosque for prayers. For more information on this practice, see Wiki description of Wudu.
This mosque is much less ornate than the Blue Mosque but very striking in its simplicity. The low hanging chandeliers were originally oil lamps, but they have been converted to electric. Ostrich eggs hang amidst the bulbs, supposedly to keep spiders away. I can't say whether they actually work for their intended purpose but I didn't see any cobwebs!
As is the custom in mosques, women pray in segregated areas off to the side, such as behind the brass grill (shown in one of the photos), or in the back of the mosque.
Exiting the mosque, Josef picks us up to transport us to our next site, "Chora Church", which is a little off the beaten tourist track - too bad - their loss.
Church of the Holy Savior in Chora or Kariye Muzesi
The "Chora Church" is widely accepted as one of the must-see museums in the world and as the top Byzantine monument in Istanbul, after the Hagia Sophia. The word "chora" means "countryside" in Greek and refers to the fact that the building was outside of the city walls. It was originally part of a much larger monastery complex dating back to somewhere between the 4th and 8th centuries, but the present church is all that remains. Like other churches, it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453, but in 1948 it was converted into a museum and all Islamic elements, other than one minaret and the mihrap, were removed. It is comprised of four main parts: an outer narthex, an inner narthex, a nave and a parecclesion, or funerary chapel.
Metin correctly predicts it, and "OH MY GOD!" are the first words out of my mouth upon walking into Chora Church. I have heard reports of how breath-taking the mosaics inside are, but nothing prepares me for the richness and beauty of them. They are everywhere, but mostly on the ceilings, where they are the best preserved. Metin walks around and quietly explains to us what is depicted in each of the scenes.
The Coming of the Magi
(Hmm...not sure who they are but the gold simply glows...)
Massacre of the Innocents
Jesus healing a paralytic
John the Baptist bearing testimony to Christ
Jesus turning water into wine at the Cana wedding
The feeding of 5,000
The temptation of Christ
Jesus healing various ailments
The genealogy of Christ
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Frescoes in the parecclesion
The second coming of Christ
Mary and Jesus surrounded by 12 angels
We could easily spend more time in here, but trying to adhere to a schedule, we climb back in the car and Josef drives us to Eminonu. In route, we again spy a piece of the city's ancient past, part of the Roman aqueduct.
Eminonu and Spice Bazaar
Shortly after, we arrive near the Old Town side of the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn to walk around the food stalls lining the waterway. First we try some of the brightly colored Turkish pickles:
They're not bad, but I won't go out of my way to buy them again. They're very salty and sour; Frank likes them more than I do. There are food stalls selling all sorts of things from roasted corn on the cob, to simit (a ring-shaped roll crusted in sesame seeds - a Turkish favorite street food), to floating fish restaurants.
While we're tempted to have lunch there, we decide to make a quick detour through the Spice Bazaar before heading to our planned late lunch at Hamdi, one of Istanbul's oldest kebab restaurants.
The Spice Bazaar
Almost as old as the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar was originally built in 1597. Its construction was financed
by duties paid on goods imported from Egypt, so it was popularly called the Egyptian Market.
Today's Spice Bazaar is a mishmash of shops selling various things from spices, to Turkish Delight candy (lokum), basketry, jewelry, to trashy Asian imports. Not being in need of any spices or bric-a-brac, we take a quick stroll through just to see what is there and exit from the building.
I actually find the area outside of the Spice Bazaar to be a little more interesting than inside, because the vendors seem to be selling foodstuffs that locals actually purchase and use.
Lunch at Hamdi
Local restaurant, Hamdi, is well known for three things: its spectacular view over the Golden Horn, many types of tasty kebabs, and their baklava, which some claim is the best in Istanbul. After eating there, I'm not going to dispute any of their claims. And for once, Metin doesn't chide me for leaving any food uneaten on my plate.
After our late lunch Josef drives us back to the Four Seasons Sultanahmet and we say our good-byes to both Josef and Metin. A different driver and escort will be taking us to the airport tomorrow for our flight to Cappadocia. This afternoon we have a little down time to digest our lunch before having our first Turkish Bath experience. I only hope my swollen belly from our enormous lunch is somewhat reduced before then! Meting has suggested that after he leaves that we walk over to the nearby Arasta Market to take a look around, and also tour the Mosaic Museum that is located there.
Great Palace Mosaic Museum
This turns out to be a little gem of a museum. In the 1950's archeologists were digging around the back of the Blue Mosque (and site of the current day Arasta Market) and discovered an epic-sized mosaic pavement dating back to early Byzantine days. It is thought that it was originally part of Justinian's Great Palace. The mosaic floor incorporates an elaborate ribbon-style border and the interior features bucolic imagery and hunting and mythological scenes. The entire mosaic area was originally estimated to occupy close to 40,000 square feet, but only a 2,700 sq. ft. section has been recovered and preserved here. It's incredibly beautiful and I'm glad we came to see it.
The Arasta Market is simply an upscale, down-sized version of the shops that typically occupy the Grand Bazaar. Some say the prices are higher here and haggling is less the norm, but for my money, it would be worth it to avoid the "hassle factor" of the Grand Bazaar. To each his own. Anyway, we're not shopping for anything, but we enjoy browsing the shops, looking a beautiful ceramics and tiles, and fingering deliciously thick Turkish towels. And one little feral cat seems to have found it a comfy place to hang out too!
And just when you hoped there would be photos, there are none. Drat!
Well, sorry. They don't permit them inside, for obvious reasons.
When we told our travel agent, Karen, that we wanted an authentic Turkish bath experience, she suggested the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan. It is conveniently located close to the Four Seasons Sultanhamet and adjacent to the park between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. This multi-million dollar hamam (Turkish bath) was recently constructed on the site where Roxelana, wife of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, had a hamam designed by renowned architect, Sinan. Karen stressed that this particular hamam is extremely clean and hygenic, has separate identical facilities for men and women, and is stunningly beautiful inside. As usual, she is right on all counts.
Several different treatments are available, but Frank and I both opt for the 75 minute "Zevk-i Sefa" or Extravagant Pleasures treatment, which incorporates a full body clay mask, the traditional bath/scrub experience, a massage afterwards, and a few other bells and whistles.
I'm not normally a particularly modest person, but I have to admit to some degree of apprehension as I enter the facility. Geez, will I feel awkward or embarrassed being buck naked in front of total strangers? Or even worse, being bathed by one? Hmm....my heart starts beating faster and my blood pressure starts going up. Deciding to throw caution to the wind (and reminding myself I will never see these people again in my life) I enter the hamam.
I am given a pestemal, a large traditional woven cloth which I wrap around myself at times during the "process," as well as a key to a locker where I will leave my clothes, and I am directed to a changing area near the check-in desk. Several women are lounging around in the reception area, all looking comfortable and confident. I wish I could be. After changing, I'm met by my attendant "Newton". That's not really her name, but that's the closest sounding name (phonetically) that I can muster and she says it's "OK". I discover her English is about as good as my Turkish, which is to say non-existent, so it's clear that from here on we're going to communicate by gesturing, demonstrating and grunting.
Newton leads me back through a door to the main baths. I am immediately hit by a wall of hot air. Then I start taking in the surroundings: gorgeous gray/white marble that is lining every single surface in front of me. We go through one room that has a series of gold faucets and marble basins lining the wall, and she takes me to a large room with a huge slab in the center and several niches and side rooms off of it, that also seem to have marble basins and gold faucets. We go to one and she gestures for me to take off my pestemal (uh-oh) and she starts to spill water all over me using a brass bowl to scoop water from a basin that we're seated next to. After she gestures that I'm to continue doing this myself, she leaves. For an hour.
OK, ok. Maybe it wasn't really an hour. Maybe it was only 10 or 15 minutes. But it felt like an hour.
Hey, I'm sitting there all by myself, and after, what, 4 minutes max., I'm totally wet. So I sit. And I sit. Hmmm. It sure is hot in here. Hmmm. It's getting hard to breathe. Hmmm. It's getting really hot in here. Hmmm. It seems like it's getting really hard to breathe. I wonder if passing out is considered poor form? Ok. Focus on something other than passing out. Hmmm. I wonder if the heat is really doing this to me, or if I'm just nervous. Ok. Relax, relax, I think to myself.
I'm temporarily distracted by two other women who come in and sit directly across from me. Oh, but wait. Umm. I can't look at them because THEY'RE NAKED. Forgetting temporarily that I'm naked too, I pretend to be deeply engrossed in a spot on the wall across from me, and then at my big toe. Anything to keep me from looking directly across from me at them. These two women sit chatting for a few minutes, get themselves totally wet, and then leave. I start all over again, getting myself wet.
WHERE THE HELL IS NEWTON?!
Just when I think I'm going to have to throw on my pestemal and march back out to the reception area in search of her, she reappears.
From that point on, it is pretty smooth sailing scrubbing. She leads me to another room, where she proceeds to give me a full body scrub, the likes of which I have never had. She uses a slightly gritty mitt (which I take home afterwards) and rubs until little rolls of dead skin appear on the surface, and are rinsed away. This process is followed by a full body clay mask, which sounds icky, but isn't. A full body scrubbing and bubble-bath on the marble platform in the middle of the room get me all clean again. After a thorough rinsing, my skin is glowing pink and I am cleaner than the day I was born.
I'm escorted back to the reception area where I'm given a delicious pomegranate drink, and told to relax for a few minutes. After resting there for about 10 minutes my female masseuse comes for me and we head upstairs to her private area. There I receive a nice full body massage. It's not the best I've ever had, but certainly adequate. This is followed by a change back into my street clothes, check-out, and a very quick walk back to the Four Seasons.
Frank has arrived a few minutes before me and when we compare notes, find that our experiences were virtually identical. We are both so thoroughly relaxed but oddly tired by our experiences, and still full from our late lunch, that we cancel our reservations for dinner, call it a day, and enjoy a peaceful night's sleep.