Sunday, 5 May 2013

Istanbul – by numerous names

Over the years, Istanbul seems to have had more names than can be good for it including: Lygos; Byzantium; Antonina; New Rome; Constantinople; Kostantiniyye; İstanbul; Stamboul; Islambol. We are due to see quite a few of its names today

Instanbul City Wall

The visible city walls (the Theodosian Walls) are very impressive and date from the 4th and 5th Century

Istanbul Roman Wall 

although history indicates that walls existed much earlier than this. The majority of the clearly extent walls are to the west of the city and form a line stretching North to South with the Bosphorus on the other sides.

As you walk towards the centre of the city, you pass the remains of

Istanbul Theodosius Arch

the Theodosian Arch (last emperor of the Rome Empire) built in the 4th Century. It was one of the gates to the forum and having passed it we were heading into the centre of Antoninia (aka New Rome) and came to the Hippodrome.

Istanbul Hippodrome in 1450

Above is what it looked looked like in 1450AD

Istanbul Hippodrome Pillars Istanbul Hippodrome Obelisk 1

and it looks very similar today with the two Obelisks still standing. The most impressive is the Obelisk of Theodosius which was built by Tutmoses III around 1450BC. The engravings on it are still in very good condition

Istanbul Obelisk Theodosius frieze

and show (amongst other things), the original erection of the obelisk (which was originally three times its current height)

Istanbul Obelisk Theodosius Frieze-1

Another face shows Theodosius and his court.

Nearby In the centre of the Hippodrome is the remains of the “Tripod of Plataea”, also known as the “Serpent Column”, which was made to Istanbul Hippodrome Serpentcelebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. It was put there by Theodosian to demonstrate the culture of his rule. Over the years it has been damaged, and contrary to the official explanation, we were told that the original three serpent heads were knocked off the column by a drunken Polish diplomatic envoy in the 1700s. One of these was recovered and is on display in the Istanbul Museum.

Istanbul Snake Head of Fountain Istanbul Snake Head of Fountain-1

It is a remarkable piece of casting and clearly shows the advanced skills that existed in that period.

The Istanbul Museum is in fact a number of museums and we could have spent all day there rather than the two hours we had available. If you know what you are looking at, there is a lot to be learnt in the museum related to Troy. One rather dusty gallery quite clearly shows the evolution of pottery over the eons and how this can be used to date the city levels in Troy.

Sarcophagi were plentiful in the museum and

Istanbul Sarcophagus

as we admired them, little did we know how many of them we were to meet over the coming days. The carvings on them were superb

Istanbul Sarcophagos end-2Istanbul Sarcophagos side detail Istanbul Necropolis of SidonIstanbul Weeping Widows detail

and the sorrow evident in the faces on the Three Widows Sarcophagus is a example of a real work of art.

Istanbul Grave Stelli

This museum is full of artefacts, not all of the, obviously displayed. I particularly liked a painted Grave Stelle which was tucked away on the floor behind a door.

The Tile Museum is immediately adjacent and

Istanbul Tile Museum-1

does little to hide its purpose. Inside are numerous tiles and plates, some of exquisite beauty

Istanbul Tile Museum Plate Istanbul Tile Museum Plate-1 Istanbul TIle Museum Plate-2 

In one wall is a fountain dating from 1590 with Istanbul Tile Museum Fountain-1

a beautiful Peacock included in its wall painting. 

Istanbul Tile Museum Fountain Detail

The Ancient Orient Museum has within in part of a street from Babylon displaying Lions

Istanbul Lions from Babylon

and the Kadesh Treaty which is the earliest peace treaty known and dates from 1300 BC

Istanbul Kadesh Treaty

Its text has been translated as

“It is concluded that Reamasesa-Mai-amana  the Great King, the king with Hattusili, the Great King, the king of the land of Hatti, his brother, for the land of Egypt and the land of Hatti, in order to establish a good peace and a good fraternity forever among them……."

"If domestic or foreign enemies marches against one of these two countries and if they ask help from each other, both parties will send their troops and chariots in order to help. If a nobleman flees from Hatti and seeks refuge in Egypt, the king of Egypt will catch him and send back to his country.

If people flee from Egypt to Hatti or from Hatti to Egypt, those will be sent back. However, they will not be punished severely, they will not shed tears and their wives and children will not be punished in revenge."

The Great Cistern dates from 300AD and could if full, hold 80,000 m3 of water. To get into it, you descend a series of steps into a very large underground chamber 138 metres long and 64 metres wide.

Cistern length

Cistern reused pillar

Many of the columns which hold up the roof were salvaged from elsewhere in the city, such as this column which has the same carvings on it as those of the Arch of Theodosius.

The Cistern is most famous for the rather beautiful Medusa heads which form the base of a couple of columns in the back of the

Cistern Medusa-2

cistern. There are numerous fanciful theories as to why they are upside down, we were told is was likely to be for structural reasons.

Istanbul St Sophia Domes

Virtually all Istanbul tourists go to St Sophia which can be very crowded but truly impressive internally.

Istanbul St Sophia entrance crowdMuch of its external facade now appears in terracotta brick but it is likely to either have been clad in marble or rendered when it was first built. Because we were a tour group, we were given radio sets through which we could hear our guide.

Istanbul St Sophia Mosaic

Many of the internal mosaics were destroyed or plastered over during the historical period which was under the influence of the iconoclasts.

Istanbul Mosaic Panel

But sufficient remains (which looks superb through binoculars), such as this 12thCentiry remnant, to show what it looked like when built.

Istanbul St Sophia Dome View-1

The interior of the main dome is very impressive, as also is the way the dome and its attached semi domes have been Istanbul St Sophia Dome View

structurally designed and supported on four corner pillars

Istanbul Marble Door 

This is a picture of a rather grubby marble door. It is remarkable in that it is made of marble and also because the carving is of such quality that every aspect of a door including the hinges, lock, key etc are shown in the marble. The door is solid by the way and does not open!

The Blue Mosque is the building by which Istanbul is known and we last visited it 40 years ago.

Istanbul Blue Mosque-1

It is impressive, very popular, very crowded and very efficient in handling the large number of visitors.

Istanbul Blue Mosque

Entry is free but visitors are expected to dress appropriately which included no shorts Istanbul Blue Mosque Ladyfor men. Staff at the entrance enforce the rule and give head coverings and other items to the incorrectly attired.  Some visitors of course, arrive ready to enter with their own head coverings.

The reason it is called the Blue Mosque is

Istanbul Blue Mosque Dome inside

obvious when one looks up to the interior of the dome.

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