We are both sitting in our hotel room right now wondering if we have the energy to eat dinner – I think we wore ourselves out completely today! We woke to grey skies and gentle but persistent rain. Undeterred we headed out after breakfast to “do” the big sights – Hagia Sophia (pronounced Aya Sophia) and the Topkapi Palace. Those Sultans knew how to build them big!
Hagia Sophia was built as a church in the 5th century by the Emperor Justinian. It was the largest dome in the world for a thousand year, until Brunelleschi’s dome in Florence was constructed. The whole of Paris’s Notre Dame would fit inside Haga Sophia. It was converted into a mosque in 1453, and was ‘retired’ and became a museum in the 1930s. It is a marvel of Roman technology superimposed with beautiful islamic design. With our trusty Rick Steves self-guided tour we walked all over it, admiring the huge nave, the stunning decoration and the wonderful Byzantine mosaics that survived the years.
Already feeling a little weary we stopped at the first place we saw for some lunch. Apparently most people were only there for a drink (despite the extensive food menu) as they seemed quite put out by us wanting to order food! Eventually we persuaded them to sell us a sandwich, which was very good, even though it seemed they got it from another restaurant across the road! The rain came and went all day, but thankfully never got heavy. While we had lunch it was positively sunny.
The rest of the day was spent exploring the Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman Sultans for centuries. It’s not so much a palace as a complex of buildings and gardens that was quite vast but fascinating to see. Room after room encased in lovely tiles and ornate painted finishes, displays of intricately worked armour and weaponry, jaw-dropping jewel encrusted treasures with golf-ball-sized diamonds and emeralds. We were allowed into the inner sanctum of the Harem, which was an interesting insight into a hidden world.
Everywhere we went was quite crowded, and there were some long queues. There were people everywhere, and I don’t recall ever hearing so many different languages in one day before. Crowds are not my favourite thing but they go with the territory I guess. It was challenging to get the photos I wanted with the crowds!