10 Must-See Sites in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia is a 6th-century Christian basilica, converted to a mosque by the Ottomans, now a museum. If the word awesome still had meaning, I would use it to describe the Hagia Sophia, temple of Holy Wisdom. It set the standard for Byzantine architecture, though it was 1,000 years before another cathedral surpassed its size. From the outside, it’s a red-orange mountain that seems to anchor the city to the Bosphorus shore. It’s not particularly beautiful but the air of greatness can’t be missed. On the inside, it’s vast and filled with the light of heaven. The massive dome practically floats above the wide-open space below. Interior surfaces are decorated with frescos, mosaics, calligraphy and marble.

 

Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Istanbul

The Sultanahmet Mosque is just down the way from Hagia Sophia. Together they are like bookends to the Hippodrome (Roman entertainment center). The Sultanahmet Mosque is commonly called the Blue Mosque after the 20,000 hand-painted tiles on the interior walls. It pairs well with the Hagia Sophia, not only in proximity but also as a complementary experience. While Hagia Sophia draws the attention upward, the Blue Mosque induces inward reflection. Hagia Sophia makes me go Wow! Blue Mosque makes me go ahhh. Inside the Hagia Sophia, I feel small. Inside the Blue Mosque, I feel peace. There’s a lot happening on the walls, with all the painted tiles, but the atmosphere is light and serene. Continue reading

Go East Young Man! The Via Egnatia to Byzantium

Via Egnatia route map, Wikipedia

Via Egnatia route map, Wikipedia

The Roman Via Enatia was built in the 2nd century BCE running west-east through Roman occupied lands from the Adriatic Sea to Byzantium (which became Constantinople a few centuries later, then Istanbul… https://youtu.be/Wcze7EGorOk). The road begins on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea at the Albanian town of Durres (ancient Dyrrachium) and heads eastward for about 700 miles through some very rugged terrain, including multiple mountain passes. The modern countries on the route are Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, Greece and European Turkey. All roads lead to Rome, as they say, but the Via Egnatia required a transfer to the Via Appia, which picked up on the other side of the Adriatic and continued to Rome.

the Via Egnatia at Philippi in Greece

the Via Egnatia at Philippi in Greece

The apostle Paul used the Via Egnatia to travel between Philippi and Thessalonica in northern Greece on his 2nd missionary journey. In the waning years of the Roman Empire, travel along the Via Egnatia, or any road in the Roman provinces for that matter, was dangerous and by the 5th century CE, the road was in serious disrepair. With the Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople, the road was restored and became an important trade route to western Europe. The Via Egnatia made up one leg of the crusader march from Europe to the Holy Land.

Like many highways through once-Roman territories, the modern Egnatia Odos runs parallel to its ancient namesake from Thessaloniki, Greece to the Turkish border.

 

 

Istanbul Highlights #1

istanbul_highlights1

The highlights of Istanbul for a first-time visitor are:

The Hagia Sophia is a 6th-century Christian basilica, converted to a mosque by the Ottomans, now a museum. If the word awesome still had meaning, I would use it to describe the Hagia Sophia, temple of Holy Wisdom. It set the standard for Byzantine architecture, though it was 1,000 years before another cathedral surpassed its size. From the outside, it’s a red-orange mountain that seems to anchor the city to the Bosphorus shore. It’s not particularly beautiful but the air of greatness can’t be missed. On the inside, it’s vast, immense, vast and vast and filled with the light of heaven. The massive, superlative dome practically floats above the wide-open enormity below. Interior surfaces are decorated with frescos, mosaics, calligraphy and marble. Continue reading