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The Aya Sofya
Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, “Holy Wisdom”; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya) is the former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later converted to imperial mosque, and now a museum. Constructed in 537, it served as the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople until 1453 (although between 1204 and 1261 it served as Roman Catholic cathedral) when it was converted to a mosque. In 1931 it was secularized and opened as a museum on 1935.
Ongoing restoration efforts are bringing to light byzantine mosaics of incredible interest and beauty.
The Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of many ancient cisterns that lie underground on the first hill of Istanbul. The cistern, capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres of water, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It is an engineering wonder with exquisite architectural details which include two Medusa heads placed at the base of two colums in inverted positions.
The Kariye Muzesi
The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is one of the most beautiful surviving examples of a Byzantine church. During the Ottoman era the church was converted into a mosque and it became a museum in 1948. The interior of the building is covered with fine mosaics and frescoes.
The original church was built in the early 5th century (it stood outside of the 4th century walls of Constantine but it became incorporated within the city’s defences when Theodosius II built the new walls in 413. The majority of the structure of the current building dates from around 1077. Early in the 12th century the church collapsed partially and was later repaired and endowed with amazing mosaics and frescos (about 1315). The mosaic-work is the finest example of the Palaeologian Renaissance. The conversion to a mosque (when the mosaics and frescoes were covered behind a layer of plaster) started in late 1400.
In 1948, an American sponsored programme of restoration brought to light many of the old frescoes and mosaics and in 1958 it was opened to the public as a museum, the Kariye Müzesi.
The Topkapi Palace and Archeological Museum
Topkapi was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465–1856). At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, and covered a large area with a long shoreline. Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople. The Palace was the seat of government as well as the imperial residence and it functioned as an autonomous entity, a city within a city.
The very large palace ground is divided in four gated courtyards containing a myriad of structures set in beautiful gardens.
The first courtyard (the largest, known as the Court of the Janissaries) is surrounded by high walls and it functioned as an outer precinct. It housed the former Imperial Mint, the church of Hagia Irene and fountains.
The imperial carriages, kitchens, stables, the Tower of Justice and the Imperial Treasury and Council are located in the second courtyard.
The third courtyard housed the Audience Chamber, the Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force and of the Royal Pages, the Conqueror’s Pavilion, the Imperial Treasury, Library, Mosque, the Privy Chamber and it provides access to the harem (seraglio).
The Harem, an enclosed structure with more than 400 rooms, developed around the Courtyards of the Eunuchs, of the Queen Mother, of the Sultan’s Consorts and the Concubines and housed the Apartments of the Queen Mother, the Baths of the Sultan and the Queen Mother, the Imperial Hall, the Privy Chambers, the Twin Kiosk / Apartments of the Crown Prince and the Courtyard of the Favourites.
The fourth courtyard housed the following buildings: the Circumcision Room, the Revan, Baghdad, Iftar and Terrace Kiosks, the Tower of the Head Tutor, the Chamber of the Chief Physician, the Stone throne and the Terrace Mosque.
Surrounding the whole complex of the First to the Fourth Courtyard are the outer palace gardens in which a few building have been converted to museums. The Archeology Museum hosts an impressive collection of Ancient Orient, Greek, Roman and Byzantine antiquities as well as Islamic art.
The Topkapi Palace is truly an amazing structure (perhaps somewhat visualized by the lengthy description above) but its sense of architectural grand standing is lost when moving from one tourist line-up to another on its ground. I personally enjoyed the visit to the harem more than the viewing of the crown gold and jewels for which Topkapi is renowned.
The Suleymaniye Camii
The Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul’s largest mosque, is an Ottoman imperial mosque located on the third hill. It was built in 1558 by Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. It combines tall, slender minarets with large domed buildings supported by half domes in the style of the Byzantine church Hagia Sophia. The mosque was ravaged by a fire in 1660; the restored building was rebuilt after collapsing in the 1766 earthquake. Damaged by fire during WWI, it was repaired in 1956.
The Yeni Camii
The Yeni Camii (New Mosque) construction began in 1597 and after apartial reconstruction was completed around 1665. It is an Ottoman imperial mosque located in the Eminönü quarter, situated on the Golden Horn, at the southern end of the Galata Bridge. The exterior of the mosque shows 66 domes and semi domes in a pyramidal arrangement and two minarets. The main dome (36 meters high) is supported by four flanking semi-domes.
The Ortakoy Camii
The Ortaköy Mosque (Ortaköy Camii) was built in the 18th century in Beşiktaş at the waterside of the Ortaköy pier square, a popular locations on the Bosphorus. The current mosque was erected in 1856 by the Ottoman sultan Abdülmecid. Its architects were Armenian father and son, Garabet Amira and Nigoğayos Balyan, who designed it in an interesting the Neo-Baroque style.
The Blue Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. The mosque has one main dome, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. The design represents the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development by incorporating Byzantine elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture. It aims for overwhelming size, majesty and splendour and is considered the last great mosque of the classical period.