days of dimmed side lights. The effect of the stunning tile-work inside is spoilt by electrical cables hanging from the ceiling, with chandeliers suspended from the cables.
The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, was built after a war with Persia to appease God. It has six minarets rather than the usual four, and eight secondary domes to support the massive main dome.
I entered the grounds of the Blue Mosque on a Friday just after noon. Of course the building was still closed for tourists because of Friday prayers, but I was happy to wait outside. A lovely young man spotted me and offered to take me to the entrance of the mosque. I tried to explain that I would find my way, thank you, but he would have none of it. All he wanted in return was to show me his carpets after my visit. It was broad daylight and there were many other tourists, so I finally agreed and followed him. We literally walked round the building to the other side, where the entrance was clearly marked. He left me there with a promise to wait for me at the gate after my visit, after which he would take me to his carpet shop.
After he had left, I decided to surreptitiously join a tour group that had a guide with them. It turned out that the guide was a snake oil salesman who was charming the tourists for tips. No problem - I saw another escape route with a side exit from the grounds. I would see the inside, and then use the side exit. Problem solved.
I underestimated the carpet salesman. As I was putting my shoes back on outside the mosque, mister surfaced right next to me with a massive smile, putting on his shoes as well. Now what do I do? So I followed him, taking my time to take more photographs and keep a distance between us. He was not fazed. He waited whenever I paused, like a good host. We walked through a market and crossed a street, into a shop that I had already passed a number of times walking around. There he ceremoniously introduced me to his "uncle" who offered me tea and wanted me to make myself at home. I knew that my role was to graciously accept the offer of tea and then look at as many carpets as they wanted to show me before buying at least three carpets.
However, I also knew that I did not have a lot of time, I had no need for a carpet, and there was a lot more that I wanted to see. I sincerely promised to return the next day when I had more time. That did not go down well at all. I was not escorted out of the shop. I became invisible and they got on with their business of staring at the carpets while I walked out as quickly as I could.
The Topkapi palace is a short walk from the Blue Mosque. I was pleased that I actually started my day there, and I could walk around unhurried. It is beautiful. The audio tour was worth the money and quite informative. My heart went out to the poor souls that had to carry the food quite a distance from the kitchens to the side of the palace to where the inhabitants would have their meals. Apparently the smell of cooking was not to be encouraged, hence the kitchens outside the palace. But at the same time they wanted hot food.
The other part that I found quite disturbing was the harem. No, nothing to do with women's rights and so on - those women chose their destiny just like I have chosen mine. The harem was quite small considering the number of women that was allegedly living there. I cannot imagine how they could look like talented, floating flowers for the entertainment of the sultan when their quartets were cramped and dull. They were also far from home with n hope of evern seeing their families again. I managed to escape, however.
There is a stunning collection of clocks - and apparently there is an even bigger collection in another palace that I did not have time to visit - next time ...
There is also a circumcision room - dedicated to the circumcision of the Sultan's sons. Yes.
Another spectacular sight is the Basilica Cistern, literally across the road from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia (I will get to that one later - or not ...). This is an underground chamber of over 9000 square meters. The entrance is not imposing, and it was dwarfed by a group (a large group) of school children who, like any school children everywhere in the world, were twittering and shoving and giggling - more intent on their friends than on any sights that there were to see. I managed to get past them once inside, and saw a stunning sight.
First there were fishes that my cousins would die for - massive, massive, and looking for the bread crumbs that the children and other tourists were feeding them.
But this is what took my breath away:
Apparently around 7000 slaves were involved in building the cistern, a water filtration system that has been providing water to the Topkapi Palace since before the 1500s.
Next time I will tell you about that boat trip ...