Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

October 2017

On the second day, we made a visit to Hagia Sophia. We are aware of the huge crowd it draws as we have seen so previously. As we have not bought tickets, we were at the entrance gate well before the 9 o’clock opening time. We can afford so, as the hotel we are staying, Star Holiday Hotel is a stone’s throw away. Already, a handful of visitors were at the gate waiting for the ticket counter to open. Should you wish to avoid the crowd, you can purchase e-tickets here.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia from the outside.

Hagia Sophia

Crowd lining up outside to enter Hagia Sophia.    Credit : reiendaa.blogspot.com

Hagia Sophia

Line building up at the ticket office after 9 am. We were the first few to enter.

From the date of its construction in 537 AD until 1453, Hagia Sophia was a Greek Orthodox Christian church. The building was later converted into an Ottoman mosque from 1453 till 1931. Later it was declared as a museum by Atatürk in 1935. Hagia Sophia is also called Church of the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom.

Hagia Sophia

Entrance to Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia floor plan.

Hagia Sophia

A more elaborate floor plan of Hagia Sophia. Credit:fajrin-thelionheart.blogspot

Hagia Sophia.

The main entrance into Hagia Sophia. Atop the 2nd door is a mosaic penal of Christ & Leo.

Hagia Sophia is famous for its massive dome and the innovative architectural design employed, is said to have changed the history of architecture. The dome, for example, is uniquely supported by four pendentives, the first building to use curving triangular vaults. Most of the 30 million mosaic tiles which covers the building’s interior, have recently been restored to the brilliance they were 1,500 years ago. Sadly, the interior is still filled with scaffolding from floor to ceiling as restoration works continue.

Hagia Sophia

The main dome of Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia

Floor-to-ceiling scaffolding obstructing views.

Hagia Sophia

Far end of Hagia Sophia opposite the entrance.

Hagia Sophia

Another view of a section of the dome.

Hagia Sophia

Chandelier hanging from the roof.

Hagia Sophia

The ‘mimbar’ or rostrum from which sermons are delivered. Mosaic panel of Madona & child on the dome.

Hagia Sophia

The Library of Mahmud I.

On the upper level, the ceiling are painted with designs with yellow background. Marble is extensively used in the building and at a particular section of the wall, you’ll see different shades and colors of marble used side-by-side. Much of the marble floor, due to it’s age, has noticeable cracks. Several sections are cordoned off due to the ongoing restoration works.

Hagia Sophia

Gallery or aisle on the upper level. Beautifully decorated ceiling.

Hagia Sophia

The intricate design of the ceiling.

Hagia Sophia

A pillar went wrong? Yes, it’s slanting.

Hagia Sophia

The intricate scaffolding spoiling the views.

Hagia Sophia

View from the upper level.

Hagia Sophia

Visitors starting to build up on the lower level.

Hagia Sophia

One of the aisle on the upper level with a serene mood. Notice the different colored marble slabs on the wall.

On the upper level of Hagia Sophia, there is a mysterious “Perspiring Column”, “Weeping Column“ or “Wishing Column” made of marble that stays moist. Legend says that this column has the power to cure illness. The column is one of 107 columns in the building. The pillar is partly covered in bronze, with a hole in the middle, and it is damp to the touch. The faithful who seek to heal their ailment would put their thumb into the hole and then rub it to the affected area of their body.

Hagia Sophia

The “Perspiring Column” or “Weeping Column“ or “Wishing Column” on the upper level.

Hagia Sophia

Deisis mosaic penal.

Hagia Sophia

Komnenos mosaic panel.

Hagia Sophia

Zoe mosaic panel.

Hagia Sophia

Sunu mosaic panel.

Below are pictures of objects seen inside Hagia Sophia. The pictures are captioned and if you require more information about it, do Google around. We went in on our own without guides, so we are deprived of further information about the objects we’ve seen.

Hagia Sophia

Synod Decision.

Hagia Sophia

Sarcophagus of the Empress.

Hagia Sophia

Porphyry Altar.

Hagia Sophia

Snake Patterned Pool (Libation Vessel).

Hagia Sophia

Tombstone of Commandant Enrico Dandolo.

Hagia Sophia

Marble Jars.

Hagia Sophia

Bell of Hagia Sophia.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

October 2017

Our first day out in Istanbul is a visit to Topkapi Palace which is less than 10 minutes walk from Star Holiday Hotel. On the way, you’ll walk through Sultanahmet Park and walk past the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The main entrance (Imperial Gate) by the side of Hagia Sophia fronting the non functioning Sultan Ahmet III fountain, will take you to the Palace first courtyard. No entrance ticket is required yet.

Topkapi Palace

The main entrance (Imperial Gate) as seen from Sultan Ahmet III fountain (right).

Topkapi Palace

A closer view of the main entrance (Imperial Gate).

Construction of the Topkapi Palace started in 1460 and completed in 1478. It became the administrative centre and residence of the imperial Ottoman court. About 30 Sultans ruled from the Topkapı Palace from 1478 to 1856. After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, Topkapi Palace, was transformed into a palace-museum in 1924. It is reputed for its architectural structures, antique collection and approximately 300,000 archive papers.

Once you pass the main entrance, you’ll be in the first courtyard. It is the largest of the courtyards. Hagia-Irene, formerly a church served as an armory during the Ottoman period and the other service buildings like the Mint, Oven and Hospital are located here as well.

Topkapi Palace

Hagia Irene or Saint Irene church, now a museum in the first courtyard.

The entrance fee to Topkapi Palace is 40₺. Tickets can be bought from the ticket office inside the first courtyard else, e-tickets are available here. You scan your ticket upon entering the second courtyard after security check. Topkapi Palace has four courtyards, each serving different purpose with passages connecting each other. It is surrounded with greens and gardens for which, the Gulhane Park, now open to public was once part of the palace grounds.

Topkapi Palace

The four courtyards represented graphically.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace map.    Credit : budgettraveltalk.com/2017/08/25/topkapi-palace-views-istanbul

The second gate has two guard towers called “Gate of Salutation”, which leads to the second courtyard. This was the administrative centre of the palace. The Tower of Justice, to the left is a watchtower dating back to the 15th century, is the tallest structure within the palace. The Imperial Council Hall where the Ottoman Empire was literally govern from, is in-front of the Tower of Justice. The palace kitchens and confectionaries among others, are located here too.

Topkapi Palace

“Gate of Salutation”, the entrance to the second courtyard. The ticket office is to the right.

Topkapi Palace

Ticket office just before the entrance of the second courtyard. Credit : mikestravelguide.com

"Gate of Salutation"

Scan your ticket at the turnstile after security checks inside.

Topkapi Palace

Model of Topkapi Palace after the turnstile.

Topkapi Palace.

Tower of Justice at the back. Imperial Council Hall in-front.

Topkapi Palace.

Frontage of the Imperial Council Hall.

Topkapi Palace

Sokhumi Fortress inscription. The inscription originally belonged to the Fortress of Sokhumi on the Black Sea later brought to the Topkapi Palace grounds.

All paths in the Second Court will lead to the “Gate of Felicity” that gives access to the Third Courtyard. It houses the private residence of the Sultan and the palace school. This is the Sultan’s private domain where he spent his days. The Chamber of Holy Relics located here, consists of repository for Islāmic relics, including the mantle, sword, and bow of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Housed in the Pavilion of the Conqueror, is the palace’s most famous collections of imperial jewels. The Library of Sultan Ahmed III, is situated behind the Audience Hall.

Topkapi Palace

“Gate of Felicity” leading to the third courtyard.

Topkapi Palace

Audience Hall just after the Gate of Felicity.

Topkapi Palace

Dormitory of Privy Chamber.

Topkapi Palace

Attire of Fatima, daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) displayed at the Holy Relic chamber.

Topkapi Palace

Benches to rest in the third courtyard.

Topkapi Palace

Autumn flowers in the third courtyard.

Topkapi Palace

A sort of burned out tree trunk, but the tree survived.

The fourth and last courtyard of the palace consists primarily of private terraced gardens and pavilions of the Sultan. From here, he has a great view of the city overlooking the Golden Horn, Bosphorus Straits and Marmara Sea. Many of the Ottoman Sultans had an interest in flowers and gardening, and the fourth courtyard gardens are filled with tulips or roses depending on the season.

Topkapi Palace

Autumn roses in the fourth courtyard garden.

Topkapi Palace

Terrace pool and fountain.

Topkapi Palace

View across the Marmara Sea from Topkapi.

This was our second visit to Topkapi Palace, the first being 2013. Nothing much has changed since. You wouldn’t miss much thus, you might want to utilise the 40₺ entrance fee for other attraction elsewhere.

Istanbul Stopover

October 2017

Our flight home from LHR to KUL by Turkish Airlines is a stop-over flight (our choosing) instead of a transit. We’ve decided to take advantage of the stop-over lower fare compared to a transit, as it is sufficient to cover one night’s stay in a hotel. Our flight departed LHR at 11:30 and arrived IST at 17:20 local time, Istanbul being 2 hours ahead of London. We’ll be doing a 3 night free & easy, no itinerary stop-over in Istanbul.

Buyukcekmece, Turkey.

Flying over Buyukcekmece in preparation for landing into Ataturk, Istanbul.

For Muslim passengers who wish to perform their prayers, there is a prayer area behind baggage carousel 11 on the arrival level. There is no ablution facilities there, but you can do so at the washroom in-front of carousel 9 & 10. If you are on transit at Ataturk, there is a prayer hall on departure level between gates 218 & 219.

Atarturk arrival prayer room.

Prayer area on arrival level behind baggage carousel 11.

Prayer hall Ataturk departure level.

Prayer hall at Ataturk departure level between gates 218 & 219. It’s facing the apron, so you do get to see aircraft movement.

Although we’ve been to Istanbul several times, this will be our first taking the metro into town (otherwise it has been the airport shuttle). It’s a matter of following the sign on the floor & overhead signboard to the metro platform on the lower floor. There is lift to assist passengers with luggage, thus it’s step-free to the platform.

Metro at Ataturk.

Way to the metro platform at the airport is clearly marked on the floor and overhead signboards.

Our ‘Istanbulkart’ (Oyster equivalent) purchased 2 years ago, had sufficient balance for us to drop off at Sultanahmet stop where our hotel is. Unlike Oyster, Istanbulkart can be used up to 4 persons. The first will go thru the turnstile and pass the card to the person at the back to do the same. Of-course, 4 charges will be incurred for a 4 person use. Should you require to top-up your card, there are top-up machines close to the platform.

Istanbulkart

Istanbul’s version of the Oyster card.

Those intending to proceed to Sultanahmet, Eminonu or right to Kabatas or in between, you’ll need to change to Tram service at Aksary. Although there is another interchange at Zeytinburnu to do so, people who we asked (non-english speaking) gestured ‘no-no’, but to get off at Aksary. One person even wrote down ‘Aksary’. No idea why that’s so. Thereafter, you’ve walk over to the Tram stop at Yusufpasa.

Exiting Aksary station is step free, but one needs to cross a very busy & wide main road over to Yusufpasa. There is an underground walkway but the stairs down and then up again is taxing. We GUARANTEE those with luggage and the not-so-young will be breathless. Once across the main road, it’s a further +/- 150m to Yusufpasa tram stop. We wonder whether a transfer at Zeytinburnu, would be step free and be friendly to disabled?

Istanbul train map.

Useful metro/tram map of Istanbul.

Trams runs frequently and you should not have to wait long for one. By the time we reached Sultanahmet stop, it was already night. We will be putting up at Star Holiday Hotel, a short walking distance from the stop. This is our 3rd time staying here and although the room is a little smallish, it’s proximity to attractions in Sultanahmet area makes choosing this hotel a no-brainier. It’s literally a 3 minutes walk to the Blue Mosque and 2 minutes, to Hagia Sophia. We’ve reviewed the hotel here. Nearby attractions or rather all attractions in Sultanahmet area, will be covered in future post.

Star Holiday Hotel, Sultanahmet, Istanbul.

Our favorite hotel, Star Holiday Hotel.

Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque.

A beautiful sight of the Sultanahmet Mosque aka ‘The Blue Mosque’ seen from our room window.