June 24- Istanbul

We were met at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul by our private tour guide John. How great it is to have someone with us who knows the language! After getting some Turkish Liras we left for our first day of adventures. With little sleep, we were running on adrenaline and excitement and for some of us, caffeine. 

Istanbul is an amazing city. It literally strattles Europe and Asia. John says the population is somewhere between 14 and 16 million making it even larger than New York City.  As we drove into the city we could see the ancient city walls which protected inhabitants from many invaders. Istanbul has a strategically desireble location linking Europe and Asia, the Aegean and Black Seas.

 Our first stop was to have been a visit to the Blue Mosque. We didn’t go today because it is Friday, the worship day for Muslims. We are also here during Ramadan, the holy month. People fast from sunrise to sunset.

Our first stop was the Hagia Sophia. Today it is a museum/visitor site, though at one time it was the most important church in the Christian world.   Gordon explains:

“Until the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, this church was the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  For a thousand years  it had the largest dome in the world.  Some of the ornate icon mosaics have been recovered They were covered with plaster when the Ottomans turned it into a mosque.”

While Hagia Sophia is no longer a church, it is awe-inspiring!

 Next, we visited the Hippodrome where sporting activities of ancient times took place, including horse racing. Interestingly, it was also the place for political and cultural events for the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.  When Justinian was the Emperor, he quelled a riot by massacring 30 thousand people in the Hippodrome. 

We finished at the Basilica Cistern. Anna will tell you about that next.

We have no record of St. Paul ever being in Istanbul but its importance in church history is undeniable. 

We are staying at the Grand Bazaar Hotel in Istanbul. I know all of us will sleep well tonight!

Mosaic at Hagia Sophia. Egyptian obelisk at the Hippodrome