Thursday, August 04, 2011

Turkey Travelogue: May 25th

After the whirlwind sightseeing tour the day before, we really needed to slow things down for the kid's sakes as well as our own. So we did what any red-blooded American family would do with two small kids, we went to McDonalds. Two happy meals, and two quarter-pounders with cheese and two coca lights "buzlu" (that's Turkish for with ice or icy.)

Yes, the golden arches beckoned and we succumbed. Truth be told, we would have probably darkened the door of a McDonald's even had we not been traveling with kids. Let's face it, our track record proves it since we have visited a McDonald's in every foreign country we've ever been in - well almost - Tunisia didn't have one, and we didn't visit a Peruvian McDonald's (we found a Chili's instead), but the Columbian airport where we switched flights did. The McDonald's in Costa Rica served eggs with rice and beans for breakfast, the one in Ecuador had hot sauce on the condiment bar, and the one in London was just more expensive. When you're tired, a long way from home and longing for the familiar, there is nothing like a little Mickie D's comfort food.


So now that I've paid homage to the the wondrous marketing accomplishments of McDonald's, let's move on....

We walked the few blocks necessary toward the Hagia Sophia - noting the location of the Starbucks for future reference. I didn't exactly know much about the history of this grand edifice except that it had a lot of history - the details of which were quite vague in my mind and still are since it's been around for nearly 1,500 years!

It turns out that construction of the current building was initially completed in 537 AD by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian after previous buildings were destroyed in riots. The church itself was dedicated to the second person in the Holy Trinity - the word of God sent to earth in flesh as Jesus Christ. The Latin phonetic translation of the Greek word logos is Sophia and Hagia means holy - thus the meaning "Holy Word." And here I mistakenly thought it was named after a Saint Sophia, who I felt sorry for due to the phonetic similarity between the word Hagia and the English word hag. Alas, Saint Sophia is saved from such a negative connotation.

Constantinople (now Istanbul) was conquered in 1453 by the Ottomans and the Hagia Sophia was subsequently converted to a mosque. One of the most striking aspects of the Hagia Sophia besides its immensity and grandeur is the beautiful artwork that it has housed over the years including golden mosaics many of which have been plastered over throughout the centuries. Some have now been uncovered and restored.

The size is hard to capture on camera

De√ęsis mosaic
Comnenus mosaic
One of the grand columns with elaborate capitals
Here you can see layers of plaster

Arabic Calligraphy at the center of the dome

There has been some debate as to how much more restoration should take place. For the moment, there is a balance of art from both the church and mosque periods. Regardless, it is a grand site and I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit. 

What a treasure trove of history is Istanbul and in fact all of Turkey!  I hope to go back sometime - Insha Allah (God willing).  There is just so much more to see and explore.

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