Straight after arriving at the hotel (after avoiding touts who claimed there was no such hotel, it had closed etc, and taking the wrong turn after getting off the tram) and showering, I headed for Aya Sofya.
What follows is taken from my diary.
Sounds and sight of a helicopter formation flying overhead and screaming jets - it is the day(?) after the 75th anniversary of the republic parade and there are flags, slogans, and portraits of Ataturk everywhere, not to speak of flag and portrait pins on every second person; plain-clothes police everywhere (but no-one operating the X-ray machine at the entrance to Aya Sophia), walkie-talkies and mobile phones squawking.
The x-ray machine at the gate is turned off, but there are plenty of police standing around. There is a little booth next to the bank of phones, where there is a phone-card seller. He has his little tea-urn steaming away too.
I am still running on Melbourne time (3pm Istanbul, 3am Melbourne). Aya Sophia was every bit as stunning and overwhelming as I expected: size, the light, the mosaics (Zoe and her husband(s), Christ Pantokrator, and the Deisis (pictured here)
The interior is just huge! What did Justinian say, according to Procopius - "I have outdone thee, O Solomon" There is a steel framework going all the way up into the dome for reconstruction work, maybe 100 metres up. On its own, that is a great creation, and I just wonder how the building was built in antiquity - planks, rope, and plenty of cheap slave labour.
The narthex itself is worth a study - a huge, domed corridor, with panels of mosaics lying against the walls. The huge round medallions (levhas) with the names of the Mohammad's followers [from the 19th century? ] are hung against the grand huge piers that support the dome. Each must be 30' across. Freely in his guidebook says that they are 'obtrusive and regrettable' and maybe he is right - but they help to show just how enormous the place is.
The gallery upstairs is about 20 yards wide - again, the immensity is overwhelming. The great 14th century mosaic, of Christ Pantokrator, the 11th century Empress Zoe (pictured here) , are only a fragment of what originally covered the walls. The church of San Vitale in Ravenna gives a better idea of what the mosaics must have originally looked like. However, the fact that so little remains only gives a greater sense of focus on the beauty of the mosaics that are still there - and the forced aestheticism of blank walls and brick work around it.
In the Church itself, the mysterim tremendum is certainly there, and signs of the popular religion of antiquity are obvious: one pillar is bound in brass and there is a wopping hole in the column, where people wack in a digit and rub, for all sorts of cures. Hmmm. There is a big crowd of Turks and tourists around it, but as usual, I am too chicken to take a picture.
There is an archaeological garden next to the church, with all sorts of bits and pieces laid out, as well as a pit with the remains of an earlier church in it. Seeing an inscription of Theodosius outside and getting photo of me next to it was something I could not resist. There is a group of men who keep appearing at the same tourist spots in Istanbul during the days that I am there - porkpie hats, big pot bellies and enormous beards. They look like they belong to some Californian cult!
I begin to notice that on the streets, women appear invisible (either not there or scarved), and it is easy to miss the subtleties, and just see the headscarf/ full abaya. Yet a young man is holding hands with his scarved girlfriend, and she has her arm linked with her girlfriend). In fact, there are lots of people milling around, visiting these national monuments. I suspect that a lot of people have time off for the Nation Holiday (Kurds and other unwanted minorities excluded).
I see a group of kids down the end of Divan Yolu near the Theodosius Obelisk and the Egyptian Obelisk of Thutmose III, brought to the Hippodrome in the fourth century AD. They are singing away, accompanied by a drum and flute, patriotic songs, waving flags and slogans. I see the same thing with a group of little girls from 4-10 dancing folk songs, surrounding by a large group of Turkish families, with drum and oboe-type accompaniment. Husbands and wives are holding hands, head-scarves predominate.
I also went to the mosaics museum (it runs underneath the carpet salesmen's bazaar (Kabasakal Sogaki) in Sultanahmet, but it was about to close, and I did not want to rush myself. . The signage is hopeless (as usual), so it took me a while to find it. Instead, I am cornered by very aggressive carpet salesmen, and being so tired, can't resisted entering one spider's nest. What a performance..."Mr Gentlemen, how MUCH for this carpet.." Over and over and over, to wear me down.
Even when I say I have no money, he says that plastic is fine. They all do that, in English, German, French, and a lot know Japanese. too. I am sure the rugs (which are beautiful, are over-priced, but what is a true price In fact, I only got to visit the Mosaic Museum the next day, due to these diversions.
Later, I have a bowl of lovely lentil soup and thin yogurt drink. No pide, but French, Italian type bread. I then begin to notice how many Turkish men are dressed in French/Italian jackets with tie and sweater; even the taxi drivers.
I collapsed by 7pm at the latest, to be awaken, as every morning, by the amplified muezzin at about 5.30am.