There’s a story about a small boy, sitting amongst mountains of sweets, and starving to death. His problem? So much to choose from he couldn’t choose any. So, why did this story come to mind here in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul? Well, so far, Nanette hasn’t bought anything. But first, let’s backtrack a bit.
We opened the curtains this morning to see the ship gliding into the port of Istanbul. Wow! Time for a relaxing breakfast while we dock and then off to explore. We only have one day here so we’ll have to choose carefully which of the many attractions we should see. How do you decide in a city that was the centre of the known world for about a thousand years? You guessed it – we’ll take it all thanks.
First stop – Ayasofya. This amazing building was built by the Roman Emperor Justinian to be the largest Christian church in the world. Emperor Constantine had changed Byzantium to Constantinople, and moved the seat of the Roman Empire here. Now it’s time for Justinian to make his mark and build a church that will rival Solomon’s temple and will last forever. What’s more, he’ll use columns and marble pillaged from the most famous archaeological sites in his empire in strategic parts of the building.
Roll on a couple of hundred years. Rome is gone, the crusaders have won and lost, and the mighty Ottoman Empire is ascending. The great sultan renames Constantinople to Istanbul (more or less based on some road signs the Greeks left lying around), and Justinian’s church is now considered offensive. The sultan sees value in the building, so he simply converts it to a mosque by adding minarets on the outside and plastering over the Christian frescoes inside. Today, Ayasofia is a museum and some of the Christian artwork has been restored. Everyone is awestruck as we stand dwarfed under the amazing fifty metre high domed ceilings adorned with Christian and Moslem symbols side by side.
Now to the Grand Bazaar. Built by one sultan and expanded by others, this massive warren houses around four thousand shops and stalls. Ceramics, leather, glass-work, lamps, spices, rugs, silks and – of course – fake handbags and perfumes. We’re on our own somewhere in the middle of the maze of little walkways when I suggest to Nanette I might just nip around the corner to look for a can of coke. Not funny apparently. Anyway, thanks to the choice enigma mentioned earlier, we escape relatively unscathed.
Now we just have lunch cruising the Bosphorus, a visit to the Topkapi Palace where the Ottomans sat and ruled the world from Vienna to Morocco for a few hundred years, then an hour or so at the incredible Blue Mosque and we’re done for the day.
When we finally board the bus for the ship, we reflect that we’ve walked through doorways where only the Emperor of Rome was allowed to walk, stood on the spot where the Ottoman sultans were crowned, walked through the rooms where viziers negotiated with leaders of nations, and bought a bottle of water from a small boy who fled the conflict in neighbouring Syria. We have spent the day surrounded by Turkish Delights but, unlike the boy in the story, we are full to overflowing.