Istanbul – Day 1

I had been meaning to visit Turkey for a long long time. Since my days as an architecture student, I was gripped by Byzantine architecture and of course, the Hagia Sofia! The structure is almost 1500 years old and tells such an amazing story of architecture and history. So this April, I decided to pack ’em bags and go visit the place. A week long vacation, four beautiful cities and a whole bunch of amazing memories.

Day 1: Istanbul

We reached Istanbul and took a cab down to where we were put up. We (my friends and I) decided to rent some apartments in Taksim Square, so we can soak up the culture, explore the city, have easy access to transport and satisfy ’em hunger pangs without having to run/roam around too much figuring things out. So we settled into our cozy apartments at night, dumped our luggage and took off to walk around the Taksim square and get something to eat.

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Taksim Square, bustling with activity at 12am in the night

The next morning, our tour guide Berrin first led us to the Hippodrome, which was a circus, that was built by the Byzantines. 1476 feet long and 427 feet wide, in those days, it could accommodate about 100,000 people!  Then, we headed onto the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, which was built in 1616 by Mimar Sinan’s disciple Sedefkar Agha. It’s also popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue Iznik tiles that adorn its interiors.

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Next stop was the Hagia Sofia. I was really excited for this one. I was expecting to be blown away by its massiveness, etc. but I think having seen Mimar Sinan’s Blue Mosque, I was not that blown away. I guess one needs to really know the history of the structure to understand the Hagia Sofia’s beauty. The Hagia Sofia was one of the first colossal structures to use the spherical triangular pendentives, and is one of the most structurally altered building, that teaches every architect of this age, how important it is to pay attention to load engineering when constructing a massive structure. I also feel its architecture is what paved way for the domes and other elements we see in Islamic architecture. The most interesting part of the space was the mosaic artwork in gold. The structure was once a church, which was later converted into a mosque and all the mosaics were plastered upon and covered up because Islam doesn’t believe is representing imagery. The original artwork is currently being restored and now, beneath plasters, you can see the original gold mosaic work, that depicts the dexterity of the artists of those days. Another very interesting fact is that the Hagia Sofia sits upon an earthquake fault. The structure was badly damaged by three quakes during its early history, and it required extensive repair, but the entire structure never really collapsed. People call it an example of divinity, but I’m guessing its mostly the materials used for construction.

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After the Hagia Sofia, we went on to see the Underground Cisterns, after which, we walked up to the grand bazaar for some shopping fun. I remember seeing some old episode of the Bachelor where the guy arranges a dinner table kind of a thing for one of those bachelorettes (nut-cases, to be precise) in the underground cistern. I was kinda’ hoping to maybe see something like that, but it was just a regular ol’ underground cistern 😉
Built sometime in the 6th Century, this cistern was a means to filter water that was supplied to the Palace of Constantinople and surrounding buildings. Later on, after the various invasions/conquests and what not, this place provided water to the Topkapi Palace. Whats interesting about this place are the columns. You’ll find all the three roman column styles here, namely, the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Apparently, the columns were not constructed on-site, but were carried from other parts of the empire. The Basilica Cistern is one of the earliest forms of construction that saw the re-use of material (in this case, already-built columns) and I think, is a very good example of early sustainable architecture.
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What struck me the most this day was how vibrant the city’s culture is. I loved the calm, relaxed vibe I felt in the blue mosque and other placeswhen at the cisterns. Each place instantly transports you back in time.420584_493972844001590_1818196499_n
The Grand Bazaar was a perfect end to a bustling day. Colorful artwork on the pathways and the roof, this place was a cornucopia of activity.

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In a nutshell, Day 1 in Istanbul was nothing short of awesome. The city vibe is amazing, and you’re in heaven if you love a smoke. Food-wise, the options are slightly limited for the vegetarian, but amazing amazing stuff for the meat lovers. Lets see what tomorrow has in store.

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