Monday, 10th December, 2012
Istanbul (Day three)
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Our third day in Istanbul. It is very cold outside, about 7 degrees, and wet. This cold weather could be with us for the rest of the trip. It is about ten to five in the afternoon and almost dark outside. Most of the rest of the group are out doing local walking tours shopping and sight seeing – Rosemary took a group off on the couple of kilometres walk to the Galata Tower. I have never been there, and had the weather been a little more pleasant would have enjoyed the walk. Instead, I have decided to take advantage of the fact that I am staying in a nice hotel with nice warm heating…
We had a late start today, which was very welcome. Originally this was going to be a free day but the plans were changed a number of times. Nevertheless, at 10am we set off for the Grand Bazaar for those who wanted to do some shopping. I did want to do some shopping for gifts and such but had little expectation that I would find anything I wanted in the Bazaar. I did want to search up for a couple of books on the places we visited, and so, although warned not to head of on our own, this is precisely what I did (I didn’t have a “shopping buddy” with the same interests as me – where is Fraser Pearce when you need him?). There is a small corner that sells all kinds of books, old and new, but mostly in Turkish, of course. Nevertheless, I did find a couple of very nice coffee-table style books on Turkey and Cappadocia – but they weighed a ton and I wasn’t minded to drag them all the way home with me. Wandering back into the main part of the Bazaar, I paused to look at a pile of cheap Meerschaum pipes. Of course, when you do this, you are invited into the shop for a cup of tea and a chat. This one was a very tiny little store, just room for the owner and myself to sit, as he pulled out pipe after pipe to show me, and talked in broken English of the governments, taxes, and hope for the future. Universal concerns, really. With my hands full of pipes, I had to choose one, and so, as I handed each one back and the as the price fell from 65 Turkish Lira to 40, he and I finally clinched a deal. Another spare one for the office.
I wandered around for a bit more, and then realised that I hadn’t actually taken any notice of when we were supposed to be meeting back at Gate 7. I took out my iphone and texted Rosemary – I had fifteen minutes to be back there. I checked the spot that I had marked on my Pocket Maps app (also on the iPhone) and saw that I was at the opposite side of the Bazaar from where we had to meet (as usual). I used the direction finding capability of the app to find my way back through the maze of shops to the other side, and arrived with a few minutes to spare.
We then headed around toward the Church of St Saviour in Chora, via a tour of the city walls. Some parts of the walls are being restored with funding from UNESCO, others are still in ruins. The walls protected Constantinople from invasion from the Turks for almost four hundred years, but were finally breached with the aid of the new invention of cannons powered by gun powder. A story for another time.
I had visited the Chora church last time I was in Istanbul in 2009. It is a little off the main tourist road, and so was not so crowded – certainly not on a day as inclement as this one. the main attraction of the Chora Church is the many mosaics and frescoes preserved mostly in its two narthexes and side chapel, despite the building having been used for a mosque for about 400 years. In the main, the pictures were simply plastered over – when the plaster was removed in the master restoration, there they were as fresh as they day they were put there. The main nave and sanctuary of the church is a little less interesting as the walls are mainly marble covered brick. The original church on this site was constructed during the reign of Justinian in the 6th Century, and some little evidence is visible of this church on the ground outside near the apse of the church. More evidence – the base of some walls – remains of the late 11th century church are also in the same location. Finally rebuilt to the present structure in the early 14th century, this is the period from which most of the images date. Most notable are the series depicting in detail (like a comic book) the life of the Blessed Virgin from her conception to the conception, birth and ministry of our Lord, and inside the sanctuary a large panel mosaic of the Dormition. In the side chapel, which was probably used as a burial place, there is the magnificent and classic fresco of the Anastasis of Adam and Even – otherwise known as the Harrowing of Hades. I had intended to spend a bit of time sitting in the church praying (Hakan gave us plenty of time), but it was really very cold and I didn’t feel very inclined. Instead I went and had a look at the small museum shop (yes, this place, like Hagia Sophia, is also a museum) for books. I couldn’t find the ones I was looking for – “Paintings of the Dark Church” and “Biblical Turkey”, but I did find “Churches of Istanbul” and “”Biblical Anatolia” – the latter virtually the same as the “Biblical Turkey” book I was looking for and the former a good guide book to the sacred places in the City. Frustratingly, the “Churches of Istanbul” does not include a map showing the locations of these churches – the same thing I noticed in the Istanbul exhibition in the Museum on our first day here.
We grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe near the Chora, a toasted sandwich and a cup of Salep (the hot white milky spiced drink) for about $5, and I had a chance to sit and smoke my new pipe and read a few pages of my new books. The last time I was here it was a beautifully warm and sunny Spring day – what a contrast!
Then it was back on the bus for our last visit of this short day – one of Hakan’s “icing on the cake” events: and indeed it was – a visit to the Fenar, that is, to the Church of St George which is the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew. I had not visited this place on either of my two previous trips – last time because the date of our visit coincided with Orthodox Holy Week and Easter. I remember clearly watching Pope Benedict during his visit here for Vespers on the Feast of St Andrew in 2006, and it was a joy to visit the church which is now, by default, the mother church of our Eastern brethren and sistern. You can read about this church and its history on this page on the Patriarchate’s website: http://www.patriarchate.org/patriarchate/stgeorge. A special unexpected pleasure was being able to venerate the relics of St John Chrysostom and St Gregory “The Theologian” (aka Gregory Nazianzus – one of the three Cappadocian Fathers), who were both in their time Patriarchs of Constantinople and whose relics had been in the possession of the Roman Church until John Paul II returned them to the Patriarchate in 2004. Clearly visible inside the beautiful white marble caskets were the bones of these saints. We were all very moved by this encounter.
And so the day’s tour came to an end. Tomorrow we leave Turkey and head for Greece via Gallipoli. I don’t know if I will ever visit this city again – chances are that I will (given that I have been here three times in the last five years), but if I do I would like to come back here with my wife and family, to share some of the wonders I have seen with them.