My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey - Day 2, Part 1
Dr. Arnold Plotnick
(click pictures to enlarge)
(click pictures to enlarge)
I went to bed 10:00 p.m., totally exhausted. Even though I’m somewhat of an insomniac, I figured that after 23 hours without sleep and with a carb-heavy dinner in my gut, I’d sleep like I was in a coma. No such luck. I woke up at 2:30 a.m, Turkish time, rarin’ to go. I resisted the urge to get up, and instead forced myself back to sleep, and thankfully woke up at 6:00 a.m. We left the hotel early, since we had a big day ahead.
A quick review of geography may be in order here, before we proceed.
Istanbul is a huge city, with almost 15 million people. The city spreads over a very large area, on both banks of the Bosphorus strait. The Bosphorus runs north and south, dividing the city in half, with the eastern half located in Asia, and the western half located in Europe. A small inlet of the Bosphorus, called the Golden Horn, runs roughly east to west, slicing through the middle of European Istanbul. The area north of the Golden Horn is the modern, European-feeling, very westernized New District. This is where our hotel was located. South of the Golden Horn is the Old Town – the 3,000 year old historical core of the city. Near the tip of the Old Town peninsula is a district called Sultanahmet, where many of the city’s most famous sights can be found, and this was where we were headed this morning.
We quickly located the metro station and easily figured out how to buy tokens and use Istanbul mass transit. We took the funicular from Taksim to Kabatas, and then the tram from Kabatas to the Sultanahmet station.
After grabbing an authentic breakfast – pastries and Turkish tea, and then headed through Sultanahmet Park, spotting many kitties along the way, like this cute little gray and white kitten.
Our destination: the Hagia Sophia, arguably the greatest house of worship in the Christian and Muslim worlds. Pronounced “aya so-fee-ya”, this Great Church of Constantinople was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537 A.D. It started as a church, then became a mosque, and is now Istanbul’s most impressive museum.
The Hagia Sophia opened at 9:00. I arrived 20 minutes early, and could see a crowd gathering already. Most of the visitors were clustered around the entrance, or wooden benches nearby. I was debating whether to stand on the ticket line, or just hang out on one of the benches, when I spotted a very cute cat sitting comfortably amongst the tourists on one of the benches.
Of course, this influenced my decision. I chose to sit on the bench, rather than stand in the boring old line. To my delight, the cat made himself at home on my lap.
As 9:00 approached, I removed the kitty from my lap and purchased my ticket.
There really are few words to describe how overwhelming, majestic and awe-inspiring Hagia Sophia is. The space is immense. You could fit the entire Notre Dame cathedral within the space beneath the great dome
The main dome is 185 feet high and 105 feet in diameter. It’s breathtaking.
Originally, Hagia Sophia was a church, the apse faced Jerusalem. When Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, a small off-center niche was added in the apse’s circular wall. This niche shows the precise direction to face during prayers, as Muslims must face Mecca during prayer.
Next to the apse is the mimber (pronounced meem-behr), a pulpit used by the imam to deliver his Friday sermon. The imam stands halfway up the stairs, as a sign of respect; the uppermost step is reserved for the prophet Muhammad.
The mimber was certainly impressive. What I found equally compelling was the little cat curled up sleeping near the mimber’s bottom step.
After the Hagia Sophia, we strolled through Sultanahmet Park to the next spectacular building, the famous Blue Mosque. This mosque is one of the finest in the world. Built in just seven years (1609 – 1616), the scale is impressive and the rich blue handmade ceramic tiles that dominate the interior are amazing. The other notable feature, beside the opulent interior and the impressive scale, is the six minarets. The minaret is the tower where the call to prayer is announced, five times a day. A single minaret was adequate for most mosques, given its straightforward function. Mosques financed by sultans often wanted to impress people, by having more minarets.
This was my first entry into a mosque, and I had to obey protocol. Men and women are required to have their knees and shoulders covered. I knew this in advance, so I made certain not to wear shorts on days that I’d be visiting mosques. Shoes must be removed before entering a mosque. At the Blue Mosque (and at most others), plastic bags are dispensed for shoes to be stored and carried. Because everyone had their shoes off, the first thing I noticed when I entered the Blue Mosque was the smell of feet. The place could definitely have used a few blasts of Febreeze. The next thing you notice, once your eyes adjust to the dim lighting, is the intensely decorated interior. More than 20,000 ceramic tiles were used to decorate the mosque. This was the pinnacle of Ottoman architecture.
The dome was modeled after the one used in Hagia Sophia.
As I exited the Blue Mosque through the courtyard, I noticed a man sitting in the corner with a sketchpad, drawing the mosque. A black and white cat was sleeping very nicely on the artist’s bag.
This cat got a little restless and began wandering the courtyard. Naturally, I called it over. And being The Cat Whisperer, she obediently followed.