Saturday, September 19, 2015

Istanbul: Wonderful First Few Days

Late Saturday evening greetings from Istanbul, Turkey.

Travels across the ocean went well; still adjusting to the seven hour time difference. Istanbul is a very large city of 14 million inhabitants; an amazing mix of cultures. This is my first time in a predominantly Muslim country; over 98%.

Spent yesterday at the palace of the sultans here, Topkapi Palace. One of the chamber rooms in the harem is pictured here. Most of what you see are tiles; the tile artistry is beyond belief here.

Today our little group visited the Blue Mosque, which is directly across a grand plaza from Hagia Sophia. This was my first visit to a mosque. All had to remove shoes and women who had arms or legs not covered were given cloths and cover skirts. Men in shorts had to cover their bared legs as well. Frankly, it all seemed strange once we entered because it all felt like a giant tourist area, with lots of talking and photo-taking, with very little reverence at all, given all the machinations we were put through just to enter the grand space, pictured here.

I understand why we needed to do what we did to enter this place, including the removal of all shoes. Perhaps while here I should visit a not-so-famous mosque and see and feel the difference.

Next up today was Hagia Sophia. We hired an English-speaking guide and it was awesome. As we stood in the outer narthex, we were told that that was the location where the city's pagans would gather for instruction. One had to be a Christian in ancient Constantinople (now Istanbul) in order to have any status, in order to vote, in order to be able to be a respected member of society. Our guide told us that it was in this outer narthex that instruction in the Christian faith would take place and that twice a month, those who had completed instruction would be led into the cathedral for baptism. I definitely need to read much, much more about this history to verify this account.

Folks, it was simply amazing standing in this place. I took this photo to show you some of the history of the place. It all began as a Christian temple/church/cathedral, then in the early 1500's it was converted to a mosque and then in the early 20th century was converted into a museum. This is a long and complicated history. Today's Hagia Sophia is a study in that history. It is the third building to stand on these grounds, now over 1500 years old. On the ceiling of the apse, you will see a restored mosaic of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Jesus. To the right and the left are large pieces of calligraphy which, in Arabic, read Allah (on the right) and Mohammed (on the left). So the history is seen right in front of you as you stand in this immense space.

Just a few days here and I have seen and learned so much. We will be attending Mass tomorrow at one of the few Catholic churches here in the city. More in the next few days.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

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