ISTANBUL NOT CONSTANTINOPLE A hot sunny day greeted us when we left the hostel and walked up into the centre of Sultanahmet which was crawling with tourists, slimy touts and all sorts of wonderful Turks on their day off. Our first port of call was the luxury plus YHA hostel where we asked directions to the Basilica Cisterns. They turned out to be directly under our noses (and literally our feet) so we paid to get in – a whopping 10,000TL each – but luckily they let Linda in for free with her YHA card). The cisterns were built in AD830 by the Roman Emperor Constantine and are a marvelous feat of construction and engineering. They are 110 metres long and 40m wide and the ceiling is held up by 160 marble columns. The walls are 4 metres thick and the water to fill them was carried 19 km from the Belgrad Omani Forest.
Inside, we walked along the slippery catwalk while a tasteful array of lighting lit the columns and reflected in the two feet of water still within the cisterns. Classical music ebbed and flowed from dozens of speakers hidden in the shadows thrown by the lights on to the ceiling.
After the cisterns we walked to the massive Aya Sofya Museum. Originally built as a Byzantine church in AD 537, it was converted to a mosque by the Seljuk Turks and finally to a museum by Kemal Ataturk, the first president of modern Turkey. Inside the huge main building we gazed in awe at the huge dome, the largest in the world until St Paul’s cathedral in London was built, and the huge brass candelabra hanging to within 10 ft of the floor. The inside of the dome was painted with exquisite frescoes and around the walls with huge circular plaques bearing the monograms of various sultans.
We hung around outside the mosque in the sunshine until 1 p.m. when the Upper Galleries opened and we were able to walk up to look around the huge empty balconies where, once upon a time, women would pray in seclusion. When we left Aya Sophia we just wandered around trying to avoid the touts and hustlers. We spent some time sitting in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque but there were tricksters and con-men up to their usual games there so we went down to the Bosphorus for a look.
It was very hot and there were crowds of horrid Sunday afternoon gawkers, but we walked around the promenade until we reached the heaving conglomeration of the Galatea Bridge. We walked along the lower part of the bridge to the other side, found nothing there but crowds and smell so we walked back again and up into the narrow Streets of Sultanahmet again. We bought some snacks at a small shop and wandered back to the hostel.