The Jewel of Santorini

Some will immediately notice that a day is missing from my blog.  That would be Wednesday, September 22.  Overwhelmed by the experiences of the prior 4 days, a “day-off” was called; and so I sent word to Brother Maurus not to worry about my absence, but to go forth with the pilgrims to the Island of Rhodes.  And though within sight of this attractive city and island, I remained aboard to enjoy some reading, blogging, and the quiet which comes with the majority ashore, missing the city I could see just moments away.

Old Town, from above the harbor of Rhodes (http://www.greecetravel.com/rhodes/oldtown.htm)

We sailed overnight from Rhodes to a coastal town of Crete, Agios Nicolaos.  It was here that we disembarked to Knossos, the capital of the ancient Minoan Civiliation (see entry “Cretans, too”).  By 11:15am we set sail for what many consider the jewel of the Cyclades, Santorini (officially Thira).  By 4:15pm the shipboard activities director, Elizabeth, was urging us to the upper decks to begin to admire the sparkle of this enchantment.

The Cyclades.  Note that Santorini (aka Thira) is southernmost.  (Source: http://www.greeka.com/Cyclades)

The jewel rose from the horizon, first ahead, then to port, and to starboard.  It rose from a hazy obscurity as a rocky fastness, yet soon began to reveal its many facets — layered rock, abrupt soaring height, topped by what appeared to be snow (but which proved to be houses!)  Many details emerged, as attested by the photos below.

Santorini, Main Island

Lighthouse near Akrotiri. Santorini

Highest point of the Island of Santorini

Drawing closer to the harbor, smaller craft began to appear — unique in design to the island — tourist punts prowling about with guides speaking of the volcanic nature of this Aegean jewel.  They would be telling their guests that 3600 years ago a massive eruption threw a major portion of the original single island into the atmosphere and buried the remainder under hundreds of feet of ash.  The ultimate results were two islands, with a natural harbor (lagoon) whose depth of 1300 feet accommodates all manner of seacraft.

As we slowed for harbor entry, the new caldera (mouth of the active volcano) rose to port of our ship; the lifeless black surface, a-jumble with lava rock, revealed the earth recreating itself even as the sea persists.

Our ship enters the lagoon, the old caldera, Santorini

Local tourist vessel, with new caldera in background, Santorini harbor

New caldera, Santorini Harbor

Distracted by scenes to port and starboard, one could easily miss that ahead lay the harbor proper.  From a distance earlier it appeared that one other cruise ship was in port, probably anchored over the one site (we had been told) where a ship could drop its anchor.  Any others arriving would need to maintain their positions by thrusters or, having debarked their passengers, cruise about the islands until such time as their passengers returned.   Visual distance can be deceptive, we all know.  Hold one’s thumb up to a distant object and it disappears behind flesh and nail; all the while one knows this is an allusion.  Thus so as our craft came into harbor: not one, but five other ships had preceded us, and to our port we could see a sixth sailing away!

And then there were five!

Smaller cruise ship sailing from Santorini Harbor

It may have occurred by now that getting ashore might not be with the ease of gangway and concrete pier.  The two landing points — known as old harbor and new harbor — are not really harbors as we had encountered thus far.  They are landing spots for smaller craft -tenders – leaving and receiving folks from the tourist bus lot (new harbor, destinations numerous), and Fira (old harbor).

Map of Islands of Santorini, Thira being the largest

Harbor Tender, Santorini Harbor

The harbor tenders rapidly came alongside in spite of their continual service to the other ships in harbor (evidence of great organization and experience).   Our wait on Deck 2 was not long, as the tenders were both to port and starboard.  Father Eugene and I gladly moved to the port side, were helped aboard the small craft, and witnessed the remainder of the boarding (all seats were taken before we sailed!)  The journey, brief with a minimum of choppiness, brought us to old harbor.  Kindly helped to the concrete pier, we stepped into a sea of tourists, shops and vendors at the base of the looming island!

Now, there are three means by which one may scale the “cliff”, or face, to attain Fira: gondola (skylift), mule/donkey, or as a pedestrian.  The gondolas dangle from shore to peak over the harsh layers of rock interspersed with intrepid trees and shrubs.  The mules/donkeys are skilled and numerous (as we discovered), ferrying the brave along in an ambling fashion.  The pedestrian faces two challenges: wear and tear upon the body (lungs, knees, calves and back), and mule droppings (moist) and dry (windblown).  For Father Eugene and I, the first was too easy, the second too scary (imagine straddling a mule, sitting higher than the pedestrian walls which separate the path of steps from the air and rocks below!), the third preferred.

The climb began — once we found our way through the shops to the actual ascent point!  I refrained from taking pictures of the mules or other tourists.  Rather, we both became fascinated by the vista along the way, as evidenced by the stops (for me, both photo-ops and breathing points!) revealed below.

Beginning the ascent to Fira

Second stop on the ascent

Third stop, ascent

Fourth stop on the ascent

Fifth stop on the ascent, view of the harbor

Nearing the summit, looking down upon the path up

Seventh stop: our alternate means of ascent. What were we thinking?

Summit attained! View of new caldera and harbor

At the summit the last 20 steps were numbered…ending in 988!  Goodness!  We knew that not all steps of the ascent were equal; but we made them all!  Imagine the life of the mules/donkeys and their owners. We spent a few moments admiring our accomplishment.  Then we stumbled along doing what two male tourists typically do — walk, gawk and talk without shopping OR buying.  There were shops for scarves, handbags, jewelry, statuary, pottery, handcrafted fabrics, trinkets (cups, shot glasses, spoons, t-shirts), fine clothing, rocks (really!), gelato; banks with the ubiquitous ATM, hotels both starred and not, churches, and of course, restaurants with their street maitre’d (hawker of wares and greeter).  We found little of interest for purchase, but enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells.  Once gain, as on Mykonos, the gelato was excellent!  Our wanderings did take us to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Candlemas (for Roman Catholics, February 2), the ancient end to the Christmas Season (4oth day), which celebrates the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple (see Gospel of Luke, Simeon and Anna).

A rare thing happened as we stepped from the Cathedral — it rained!  Stepping from the portico, it suddenly became apparent to me why all the other folk who had been in the Cathedral were loitering about on the porch!  It wasn’t a dousing rain; but it was enough to drive me back toward the ever-so-subtly smirking Father Eugene, whose wry wit greeted me with “Well, you figured it out”.  The winds began to seriously blow; it was cooling quickly with gusts lifting flag to salute and hats to soar or to be jealously grasped.  What seemed most appropriate was a fine dinner overlooking the harbor — a treat funded by a staff member who espoused the beauty of this jewel.  Don’t ask Father Eugene or I the name of the restaurant — neither introvert held it fast to memory.  However, ask upon what we dined, and both can readily attest: fine mineral water, a very fine Greek salad, warm bread, and fresh calamari (not deep-fried!).  The olives, feta and greens sang; the bread crunched and tore so fine; the wine (me) washed soothingly down both moresel and mouth-full; and the calamari — an aria to that which is of the sea!  Oh, heavens, it was good.

The afternoon was waning towards dusk as we departed the restaurant.  With little hesitation — knowing the hour, the ships sailing time, and our earlier ascent — we chose the Gondola to return us to the embarkation point to our ship.  As we stepped along, we found the evening unfolding in a robust and spectacular array of colors.

Eight euro (four apiece) bought us our fast descent (the ascent is just as rapid!) to the embarkation point.  Boarding proved a bit more challenging than from ship, as the winds were up and the harbor choppy.  The tender bore us quickly alongside the MV Louis Cristal onto which we lifted grateful legs for an end to our day. Father Eugene parted to his room and I to walk the deck to admire once again the visual wonders of Santorini.  Witnessing the last tender to arrive (the last of the tour bus folk, of whom some were our pilgrims), a short walk led to the aft Caruso bar, where a double Amaretto soothed me toward a night of slumber aboard our vessel, now steering for the Isle of Crete and evidence of the ancient Minoan civilization.

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From Ephesus

We arrived at Kusadasi, Turkey, in the early afternoon, finding other already berthed cruise ships in the harbor.  With lunch to fuel us, we disembarked, passed through Turkish security and boarded our bus.  Our guide, Tuks, greeted us warmly.  A robust fellow with a barrel chest, dark hair, and strong voice, he is an archaeologist and lecturer at university in Izmir, a city not far from Kusadasi and the ancient ruins of Ephesus (where he has labored for 30 years, taking great pride in what has been unearthed and preserved).

 
 
 

Tuks, our guide

 
 

Our first destination: the House of the Virgin Mary

The House of the Virgin Mary (source: website)

“The House of the Virgin (Meryemana in Turkish), located in a nature park between Ephesus and Seljuk, is believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The peaceful site is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, and is visited by many tourists and pilgrims.

“According to predominant Christian tradition, Mary was brought to Ephesus by the Apostle John after the Resurrection of Christ and lived out her days there. This is based mainly on the traditional belief that John came to Ephesus (see St. John’s Basilica) combined with the biblical statement that Jesus consigned her to John’s care (John 19:26-27).

“Archaeologists who have examined the building identified as the House of the Virgin believe most of the building dates from the 6th or 7th century. But its foundations are much older and may well date from the 1st century AD, the time of Mary. This site had long been a place of pilgrimage for local Orthodox Christians.

“Since 1892 the House of the Virgin has been a Catholic pilgrimage site. It was restored by 1897 and a shelter for visitors was set up.

“The Meryama was later visited by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, who confirmed its appropriateness as a place of pilgrimage. On November 29, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass here.”  Source: www.sacred-destinations.com

 The house sits on a plateau above an ancient valley.  Upon our arrival, we found the now typical sea of tourist buses.  Tuks took us through a major bazaar of shops and vendors to the site.  The throng of pilgrims pulsed along the way with us.  We viewed a large water cistern, lush green areas, the house and its interior, the fonts for filling / drinking of the ‘healing waters’ of the site’s spring.  Some of our group lit candles, while other pilgrims stuffed prayer intentions into a wall.

A sea of buses, The House of the Virgin Mary

 

Pilgrims on way

Water Cistern, in shape of key hole

Terraced Gardens, The House of the Virgin Mary

Pilgrims entering the House

 

Father Larry Richardt lighting candles

Prayer Request Wall

Holy spring water taps for pilgrims

This place, as all Christian pilgrim sites, reminds us of our faith in Christ – faith passed to us through the first apostle, Mary; faith passed to us through the companion of Mary’s later years, John; passed to us through faithful relationships which reveal the longing we have for being united with God, and God with us, no less than the longing of the Son for the Father.  For our Muslim brothers and sisters, who honor Mary as well, this site is holy as well.

Tuks shepherded us to our bus, and we motored back down to the valley.  Twists and turns, highway and city street, were our vehicles to the ancient ruins of Ephesus.

In biblical times, Ephesus was a thriving port city.  It is mentioned as recipient of a letter ascribed to St. Paul.  However, the city now lies more than 5 miles from the coast, its harbor silted in over the centuries.

Tuks was very enthusiastic and very proud of the archaeological work in which he has participated.  Having lead more than 1500 tours to the site, he reminded us of the massive amount of work, money and study of this ancient city.  He assured us that what has been unearthed, and in some cases restored, is but a fraction of what yet remains buried under centuries of dirt brought down by landslides, and earthquakes. 

The experience of walking from one end of ancient Ephesus to the other was overwhelming; for me, as a sensate (Myers-Briggs) it was exhausting.  This site consumed more pixels than any other for the entire duration of the pilgrimage!  Because of its enormity, I am going to arrange the photos below in topical groupings.  The captions will need to suffice as descriptives.

Roman Baths: no less than 3 have been excavated thus far.  Baths in Roman cities were integral to life and health.  Water was carried by aqueducts from mountainous heights, and sewage was carried away by yes operating drainage systems (see future Corinth entry).

Roman Baths, at main gate to Ancient

 

Looking toward west, water cistern, Ancient Ephesus

 

Water pipes, Ancient Ephesus

 

Sewer trench, Ancient Ephesus

Monumental Structures: It’s hard to choose which monumental structures to include here.  Each was significant in the life of the inhabitants of Ephesus: some religious, some civil, and some domestic.  They are placed here in the order encountered on our walk from the baths at the entry to the city (above) to the road to the harbor which is no more.

Odeum (city meeting hall) and Basilica (trading area), with Augustus' Agora (marketplace) in foreground, Ancient Ephesus

Municipality Palace (pyrtaneion), Ancient Ephesus

 

Temple of Domitian, Ancient Ephesus

Memorial of Memmesius, young boy who died, Ancient Ephesus
 

Heracles Gate, Ancient Ephesus

 

Trajan Fountain, Ancient Ephesus

 

Temple of Hadrian, Ancient Ephesus

 
 
 

Houses and shops restoration, Ancient Ephesus

 
 

House ruins, mosaic floor, Ancient Ephesus

 
 
 

Ancient House, next to 7 terrace houses under excavation, Ancient Ephesus

 

Facade, Library of Celsus (third largest library in ancient world), Ancient Ephesus

Floor of Library, Ancient Ephesus

Mazaeus and Mithridates Gate into Agora, Ancient Ephesus

 

Commercial Agora, Ancient Ephesus

Looking toward Terraced Houses excavation site, from Agora

 

Grand Theatre, Ancient Ephesus (though currently under some restoration, the theatre is used for performances yet today)

Athenaeum (school of the arts) remains, Ancient Ephesus

 

The long road pilgrims walked, Ancient Ephesus

 
 Ruins: This archaeological site in only partially restored.  The process continues — not only because of what is yet to be discovered beneath the 6 feet or more of earth which has accumulated over the centuries, but also because of the artifacts laying about.  A few of those are shown below.

Store of terra cotta pipes, Ancient Ephesus

Ruble to be restored, Ancient Ephesus

 

Rubble of columns awaiting reconstruction

 

This was a very long day for all pilgrims!  Departing the ruins of ancient Ephesus — all a-jumble with memories of the day and looking forward to a Captain’s Dinner in our finest clothes upon return to our ship — we found ourselves sent forth from the site to our bus by an Ephesian feline.   She (?) appeared as overwhelmed as we were feeling!

Ephesian Felin

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A Revelation on Patmos

 
Skala Harbor, Patmos

Tuesday morning brought us to the port of Skala, Island of Patmos.  Having sailed overnight from Mykonos (east and slightly southeast) to arrive at this Greek Island just west of the Turkish coast, we were eager to see and learn.

Mentioned in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 1:9 (“I, John, your brother, who share with you the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus, found myself on the island called Patmos* because I proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus”),  this island was one of the Roman Empire’s choice isles of exile.

In 1099, the Greek monk Christodoulous founded a monastery, fortified it, beginning centuries of promoting scholarship and spirituality in this place.  Today the Monastery boasts one of the richest monastic collections in Greece, including manuscripts from the 5th Century AD, an original El Greco, Catherine the Great jewelry, and Saintly relics.

In 1999, the island’s historic center Chora, along with the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse, were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO,  (source: Wikipedia)

Leaving our ship, we boarded tourist buses.  Our first destination was the Cave of the Apocalypse, the traditional site of the visions which John dictated to his scribe.  From the bus parking lot, our local guide lead us slightly uphill to the exterior of the entry to the stairwell which wound down to the cave.

Walkway leading to entry to stairs to cave, Patmos

 

Mosaic above entry to stairs to cave, Patmos

The descent was steep, winding, and challenging.  We were greeted at the cave with the caution that photos within the cave were not allowed; thus, the experience was limited to absorbing the relative smallness, darkness, and yes, holiness of the place.  Icons, incense, and soft murmurings overlaid the age of the place and its significance to late first century Christianity.  Crowded as it was, it was difficult to simply sit and absorb the depth of the place.  Few lingered as they would have wanted.

As we ascended, we passed the shop (part and parcel to any of the religious shrines or ancient locations we were to experience!)  A number of articles were sold.

The Monastery of St. John

Reboarding our bus, we climbed to the Monastery of St. John, a massive structure overseeing the greater part of this part of the island.  Nestled just beneath its walls are apartments and villas (our guide pointed out the rich and famous who just this year made this place a quiet haven). 

The pictures below better speak of the wonder of this place than a the plethora of words I could craft.

Beneath the walls of the Monastery of St. John, main entry

 

Mosaic triptych, just inside main entry, Monastery of St. John

 

Interior Courtyard open to visitors, Monastery of St. John

 

Bell towers of the Monastery of St. John

 

Graceful arches, Monastery of St. John

 

 

Rough hewn stone foundational to the Monastery of St. John

 

 

Windmills, seen from the parapets of the Monastery of St. John

 

The museum, an integral part of the monastery’s heritage, was filled with centuries old artifacts — from illuminated texts, Orthodox bishop’s mitres and rings, icons, and objects of art.  Again, no photos were allowed (leading me to purchase a book — they won!)

Wide-eyed, we witnessed the skill of our bus driver in negotiating a breathtaking u-turn (how many Hail Mary’s were muttered for those few moments I cannot say).  We descended to the port, returning to our ship that we might continue on to our next port-of-call, Kusadasi, Turkey, for an afternoon at the House of Mary and the ancient ruins of Ephesus.

 
 
 
 
 
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Mykonos

The town, the harbor, Mykonos

Our sailing from Istanbul returned us through the Dardanelles to the Aegean, heading for our first stop in the Cyclades. 

The Island of Mykonos was our destination.  As advertised in the daily shipboard newsletter, Mykonos is dry, rugged, and one of the smallest of the Cyclades.  As the daily newsletter continued, “An ancient myth tells us that rocks strewn across its barren landscape are the solidified remains of the giant slain by Hercules”.  The port town, also named Mykonos, is gateway to sandy beaches and a main shopping area dotted by trendy bars and restaurants, favorites of the tourists who seem to flock here. 

One of the defining features of the town is the white washed, cubic houses with sky-blue trim and doors.  The island has about 365 chapels (Orthodox), also white with the blue trim, doors and some domes.  Most of these chapels are memorials; the raising of such memorials predates the Orthodox Church to a time when the Greeks would raise temples or memorials on the peaks of hills and mountains in honor of the Gods (see the Athens and Corinth entries for explanation of “acropolis”).

Enough background, though.  Our ship arrived mid Monday afternoon, coming alongside the ample docking pier of the harbor.  Father Eugene Hensell, along with many other aboard, road a tourist bus, for the short, circuitous ride along the shore road to a somewhat plain, unfinished welcome center for tourists.  Since this was our first “you are on your own” excursion of our cruise (both of us were first-time cruisers!), we set off knowing little to nothing.  We had no map, no guide; we just wanted to look through the shopping area, get a bit of a notion of the island, and return to the ship.  Simple, right?

The trek begins on the narrow streets of Mykonos, Fr. Eugene -- in red -- leading the way.

 

Simple became a hike, a walking adventure of 3 hours duration.  We traversed up the narrow roads to great heights, passing along the way chapel and windmill.

One of 365 Chapels on the island

 

 

Windmill, characteristic of the Cyclades

Upward, ever upward, to a short plateau and a brief descent before we deciding to turn back.  Any shopping yet?  No , just a respite for gelato (boy, was it good; and was it hot on the road!)  Continuing on and yet hopeful, we chose a slightly different route of return.  We passed above the embarkation bus facility, wending with eyes upon the harbor to our left and the rising hills of the island to our right.  Coming to a crossroad which could have taken us to the Church of St. Andrew, our ship, or maybe toward the shopping area (hope is eternal), we chose the third and climbed — again — toward regions unknown yet similarly rocky with white-washed structures with blue trim, and littered with chapels (at one point 4 within about 2 acres!), finally coming to a very familiar intersection with a Greek version of a round-about!  

 

Round-about, Mykonos

Well, this juncture afforded us a good chuckle.  We about-faced, retraced our steps, and once at the crossroads, chose the narrow route to our ship (a narrow road large enough for a tourist bus and ourselves, or said bus and a very small car — think SmartCar — or a very small car and us — just not all three)! 

Surviving the narrow road, the heat, the miles uphill and down we trod, the sight of the Cristal was most welcome.  

We later learned that we missed shops to be found on other islands (no loss as far as two male clerics were concerned), a full Orthodox Church and a Chapel both open and which members of our larger group declared beautiful, and an early return!   But our gains were tremendous — we spent only 8 euro on gelato, carried with us a certain pleasure of having persevered our long trek, and shared conversation of life, ministry, and questions which both interest and challenge us! 

Oh, yes — and sore feet, tired legs, and hardy appetites for the evening’s meal!   

The town above the harbor, Mykonos

 

A Chapel on the heights, Mykonos

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Istanbul

In the night we journeyed to Istanbul.  Lulled to sleep by the engine vibrations and the stellar dinner, most of us slept very well.  Some early risers climbed from our comfortable berths before 6:30am (7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard time) to witness our passing through the Dardanelles, a very narrow, 18 mile sea-lane.  To the port side three World War I memorials loomed on the shore, the most famous being Gallipoli.  By 9:00am we had passed into the Sea of Marmara.

Entering the Port of Istanbul

Later in the afternoon Istanbul began to appear over the horizon.  Like Athens, it is a vast city (11 million) climbing from the sea to the hilly (mountains) on both the European and Asian continents.  The passage between is the Bosphorus, connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.  It is here that ancients built a city; the Emperor Constantine made it the eastern capital of the Empire (New Rome); later it was called Byzantium; and finally Istanbul after the Ottoman’s conquered it in 1453. 

 The view from the upper decks was mesmerizing.  Amidst the sprawl of the city crammed upon the hills overlooking the ancient harbor could be easily seen the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace – the focus of our excursion on the morrow.  For now, we enjoyed the sights, the docking, and for some, a short evening excursion to the largest covered bazaar in the world (closed on Sunday; thus the need for late afternoon shopping!)  I enjoyed our evening dinner, followed by evening Mass in a conference room on Deck 8 (part of our pilgrimage, presided over by Father Eugene, our spiritual guide and speaker throughout the pilgrimage; more on this later in a separate entry).  

 Leaving the now more than warm conference room, I wended my way below to a comfortable seat aft on Deck 5 in the Caruso bar.  (Each night this place became for me and others of our group the “ending” of the day, whether in port or at sea.  The staff, especially the waiter, Nythen, was most gracious and shared willingly their origins; Nythen, for one, from India, 26 years old, a college major in Hotel and Hospitality, who admitted he had his dream job!)

Buildings on the harbor, Istanbul

 Open to the sky and sea, with a marvelous view of the city lit and noisily alive, this aerie aft brought to the senses air very fresh (the lack of the port or sea odor was a surprise), strong breeze, and the sight of a ¾ moon and one very bright star hanging the sky over the city.  Asia lay to the left (port), Europe to the right (starboard).  Here lay the juncture not only of two continents, but of Christianity (as a minority) and Islam living side-by-side in a modern (1923) secular state.  Minarets and mosques, well-lit and prominent, sat amidst apartment homes aglow overlooking the port aglow on this evening before a quiet Sunday. 

 The port bustled with activity, even though it was 10:00pm, with ferries and excursion boats plying the mild waves and often accompanied by Turkish music aboard.  Nearby other cruise ships lay berthed, their lights gleaming off their white hulls and pristine decks.  In the distance a suspension bridge binding the two continental halves of the city became every fifteen minutes a cascade of varied colors and patterns, the lights ascending, descending, and forming waves to delight the eye.

Bridge connecting two continents, light show

Sunday was our first debarkation; ship to bus was a short walk.  Our guide immediately proved to be quite good.  Turkish born, she was very fluent in English, having lived in the United States during her high school years with her family (her father was Turkish military).  She gave us some helpful facts about Turkey: it is just slightly larger than Texas (the Texans won’t like that comparison!), has a population of 85 million of which 38% involved in agriculture.  11% of the GDP comes from agriculture, 32% from banking, tourism and other service industries, and 20% from industry (high quality products with low labor costs for textiles and such corporations as Mercedes-Benz – their tour busses are all built in Turkey). Finally, she told us that currently petrol (gasoline) is $11.00 / gallon, the highest in all of Europe!  

She guided us to the three major sites and a wonderful Turkish meal at a pre-arranged restaurant.  It was a very long day!

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque: This mosque was built in the 16th Century (1550 – 1556)  by Suleiman I.  It sits on a knoll just above Golden Horn, the ancient major port area.  It is the largest Mosque (one of 3,000!) in Istanbul, and became the model for all future mosques.  There are six minarets.  On the exterior wall of the mosque are covered areas with faucets for ritual cleansing (for worshippers only).  When we entered, we did so with our shoes in hand (the custom for anyone to enter a mosque).  The tile work upon the walls was intricate, the carpet in the worship area spread before us (vacuumed constantly so that it is always clean), the space vast with the dome above held up by four massive, solid stone pillars.  Outside the courtyards were simple, with a large number of sycamores, some very old, soaring above (a surprising link for me to the Wabash Valley!)  And we encountered cats and dogs of Istanbul, fed and protected by the government.  (Really!  and this has nothing to do with religion in this secular state, but is a means of animal control —spay, neuter, allow to roam for their lives, and very different for other countries who put down unwanted animals!)   

Garden area outside Blue Mosque

 

Sleeping Turkish Cat, Blue Mosque

 

Main Dome, Blue Mosque

 

Support Column, Blue Mosque (note intricate tilework)

 

Prayer carpet -- patterns separate worshippers row by row and side to side

 

Social Courtyard, Blue Mosque

Having been overwhelmed by the Blue Mosque, we walked the short distance to Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), first a Christian Basilica (Justinian, 7th Century), then a mosque after 1453, and now a museum of antiquities.  This structure, revered among the Orthodox and other Christians, gave rise to the style of the Blue Mosque. 

Hagia Sophia

Its main entry is fronted by flying buttresses (needed in medieval times to add more support for the massive dome).  There are three imposing interior doorways from the narthex — the central door originally for the Emperor and his family, the two smaller for the clergy; yet smaller doors to the right and left of this trinity were for the laity.  The main sanctuary is massive, with both Christian art (once whitewashed by the Muslims and now allowed to be seen) and Muslim art (especially in the form of great shields on the supporting pillars).  Among the many pieces which are outstanding, I will mention only three (see photos below): a mosaic of St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople; angels upon the main pillars (until a year ago, all thought to have not face, but now the face of one has been revealed through a process of delicate restoration); and the mosaic in the vesting room of the royal family depicting Mary with child.

 

Main entry to Hagia Sophia, wth buttresses (12th/13th Century)

 

Main doors, Hagia Sophia (interior looking to narthex)

 

Main Dome, Haggia SophiaShield from time Hagia Sophia was a mosque

 

 

Faceless Angel, Hagia Sophia

 

 

Angel with face revealed, Hagai Sophia

 

St. John Chrysostom, Hagia Sophia

 

Mary and Child Mosaic, Imperial Vesting Room, Hagia Sophia

 

View of main sanctuary floor, from second floor balcony, Hagia Sophia

Having been more than sated visually and verbally, we moved on to a carpet gallery to learn how authentic, handmade Turkish rugs are made (really, by hand!) of pure silks, cotton, and other natural fabrics.  A number of purchases were  made from among the pilgrims of these authentic Turkish items which increase in value through use!  It was then to lunch.  (I failed to mention that we lost one of our pilgrims at Hagia Sophia.  More than tardy for our bus-boarding time, we had to leave him to his own devices to return to us or the ship; an intrepid traveler, he did rejoin us at the Topkapi Palace!)  Our meal was excellent, prolonged by the size of our group and the amount of food we ordered.  The bread was excellent, and unique.

Puff bread, Istanbul

With full stomachs we once again boarded our bus which quickly snaked its way through the very narrow, cobblestone streets (the buses here and in Greece are all equipped with dual rear wheels, the one most rear having a turning radius less than the front wheels but aiding in the turning of such a large vehicle in such narrow streets; throughout the pilgrimage, our drivers proved competent and very safe!)  We arrived at the parking area of the Topkapi Palace – the place a-swarm with vendors, tourists, and buses!

This final stop of our day served for centuries as the home and governing center of the Ottoman Empire.   It is comprised a large gardens, walkways, vistas over the harbor, and sprawling buildings for the sultan’s family, servants, and government officials.   The areas devoted to artifacts – jewels, swords and daggers, royal clothing, gifts of artwork and vessels for dining and wine – did not allow for photos.  What follows are pictures that I will allow to speak for themselves through their beauty and their captions.

Topkapi Grounds, overlooking the Golden Horn

 

Main Gate, Topkapi Palance

 

Very old sycamore, Topkapi Palace inner courtyard

 

Sultan's Consultors Room / Building, Topkapi Palace

 

Family Dwelling, Topkapi Palace

 

View of Golden Horn / Harbor from Topkapi Palace balconyEntry to Sultan's Consultors Room

 

 

Dome, Sultan's Consultors Room

 

 

Weary pilgrims heading to bus and ship from Topkapi Palace

It was good to return to the ship, to freshen up for dinner, and feel as we sat down the engines engaged and the port slipping by as we moved away for our next port of call, Mykonos.