Ever heard of Byzantium? How about Constantinople? Don't recognize those names? Perhaps you have heard about the most recent one....Istanbul? Actually, they are all one city, Byzantium was the Roman name, Constantinople was the Christian name, and now that it's a Muslim city it's Istanbul.
After sleeping off our "lost" day and adjusting to the new time zone (we're 10 hours ahead of Arizona time) we were met this morning (Friday) by our guide "John" (spelled Can in Turkish). We quickly found out that Kathy and I were the only ones on the tour. I was surprised to find out that no one else had signed up. John said the reason was that, due to very recent bombing attacks against Turkey people are afraid to come here. They have experienced a tremendous drop in tourism. It was also that way when we visited Egypt a couple of years ago when we traveled with America Israel Tours (AIT) but there were over 30 people on that tour (because it was a more popular one). I'm sure the group tour here would have been an enjoyable experience, but there are some BIG pluses in having a personal guide all to ourselves. This means we will have personal guides wherever we go. You really can't improve much on that!
Today we visited the Topkapi Palace, once the "nerve center" of the Ottoman Turks--a beautiful construction with gardens and all the amenities that come with the rich and powerful. Today it is a museum and a testimony to the wealth they enjoyed (including a diamond of 57 karats) We would love to have taken a picture of that for you, but they won't allow a camera near it. The whole complex is built on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus--the rich always seem to want to live near the water. We also made a visit to the Hagia Sophia, or the church of Holy Wisdom, built by the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century. This domed church building was once the largest ever built. The interesting part was that once the Muslim faith took over Constantinople they plastered over the beautiful mosaics of Jesus and Mary and made it into a mosque. But even later it became a museum, so they took off the plaster and exposed the beautiful mosaics underneath which had been protected by the plaster.
After lunch we went to the famous Blue Mosque, so named because of the blue tiles on the walls--a huge mosque and one of the largest in the world. We are told that the builders wanted a worship structure that would be more impressive than the Christian's Hagia Sophia so they planned to cover the ceiling with gold. But the architect realized that if he did that it would deplete all the funds of the builder, so instead he built six minarets that were a little less pricey. Next, John took us to the Grand Bazaar--the first covered bazaar in the world with over 4,000 shops. Oh, what a dangerous place to take a woman!
It has been said that if you ever get lost in there you will never find your way out . So, we made sure we never lost sight of our guide.
Bud & Kathy
Bud and Kathy Downs are making another trip to the Lands of the Bible-- first Turkey and Greece (from May 11 to 22) and then to Israel (from May 22 to June 8). We invite you to join us through our travel blog. We intend to post regular updates and pictures of Bible sites.