The sites of Istanbul

by Jourdan Fairchild in


I have a confession to make: after only the first full day in Turkey, I was a little homesick. Do you ever feel that way when you're in a new place, and things aren't so comfortable and easy? We had spent the day wandering around our neighborhood, but we were feeling a little jet lagged so we had little energy to do much. The street names were so difficult to pronounce, and signs were tough to find, and our little guidebook wasn't as helpful as we'd hoped. If only we could've used Google maps (total first world problem, I know)! The experience was frustrating and we were tired. But as we lay in bed that night, we promised each other that we'd make the most of the rest of our time. On day two, things were looking up. And by day three, when we visited many of the city's historic sites, we felt inspired to extend our trip. In the Bascilla Cistern, built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian, we rented those dorky headsets so that we'd at least have some clue about what we were looking at. The underground space, which used to hold water for the palace, is absolutely colossal, and the ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns arranged in 12 rows of 28, each spaced 16 ft apart. Can you even imagine the process of building such a place in the 6th century, in the dark? These days, the columns are lit by lanterns, which give them an eerie glow. In the back corner, two of the columns are supported by blocks carved to look like Medusa, the ancient goddess who could turn people into stone.We waited to get into Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofia) for about an hour, but boy was it worth it. Also built in the 6th century, this former church turned mosque turned museum is a site that's hard to capture on film. It's a massive structure (it was the largest cathedral in the world for a 1,000 or so years), and the ceilings and walls feature beautiful mosaics and inscriptions.  Last but certainly not least, we waited another hour to get into The Blue Mosque. Completed in 1616, this mosque still functions as a place for prayer. And in order to enter, you must be fully covered. Since my dress was longer in the back, I thought it might work (nope) and wrapping a Turkish towel around my head would suffice (nope again). Instead, I was given a full-length, bed-sheet-like cloth to wear. All of us tourists packed into the mosque like sardines and shuffled around each other to gaze at the gorgeous tiles above. It's easy to see where the Turks get their inspiration for their patterned dishes, and to say it was impressive would be an understatement. I'll just let the photos speak for themselves. 

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