The Church of St. Savior in Chora

Church of St. Savior in Chora, IstanbulThe Church of St. Savior in Chora is one of the oldest and most beautiful Byzantine churches in existence. A church was first built outside the defensive walls of Emperor Constantine I, and was given the name “Chora” meaning countryside, very early in the 5th century A.D.. Soon thereafter, Emperor Theodosius II built the walls that are extant farther to the west, and although still called Chora the church found itself within the capital city of the eastern Roman Empire.

A church with such a long establishment goes though many periods of destruction and renewal. What you see here in this photograph is a remarkable survivor of 15 centuries of earthquakes, fires, warfare, iconoclasm, poverty, and the demotion of Christians to second-class citizens under the Ottoman Caliphate. Today, the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is a museum[40].

Genealogy of Christ, Church of St. Savior in Chora, IstanbulThis remarkable painted dome shows the Genealogy of Christ, and probably dates from around 1310.

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe PalaceDolmabahçe Palace was built by Sultan Abdülmecid I [37], when he was inspired by what he had seen at the Palace of Versailles in France. Construction began in 1843, and when it was completed the Sultan (who was also the Caliph) moved there in 1856. The royal family thus left Topkapi Palace in the “old Europe” part of Constantinople, with its eastern flavour and influences, across the Golden Horn[38] to Dolmabahçe Palace in the “new Europe” part of the city, with its western flavour and influences.

Whereas tilework filled Topkapi, gold and crystal[39] filled Dolmabahçe. Its position hard by the waters of the Bosphorus makes for a stunning view of its facade. I saw and toured Dolmabahçe while on a day-long boat excursion all along the Bosphorus, seeing Istanbul from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea.

Wall of Theodosius II

Wall of Theodosius IIThe ramparts of the historic peninsula of Istanbul are a zone of outstanding universal value, as designated by UNESCO, and a protected world heritage site. Today, I walked along part of the wall that protected the city from an attack by land coming from the west. This extent of the ramparts runs for 6,650 metres, and was built by the emperor Theodosius II in 447 A.D.. This was in the period of the height of the Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire.

Topkapi Palace

Enderûn Library in Topkapi PalaceToday I visited Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. This was the seat of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, and it is an expansive fortified complex occupying the height of land on the peninsula of the old city. Today it is a museum, containing artifacts from the Sultans from their rise with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 to their fall with the abolition of the Sultanate in 1922.

I was most impressed with the jewels and precious objects on display in the rooms of the treasury[36]. Their intent to awe the beholder, and enhance the prestige of the Sultan, was clear. The crowds of tourists were unavoidable, but I managed to capture this serene image of the Enderûn Library in the Third Courtyard of Topkapi Palace.

Tram along İstiklal Avenue

Tram along İstiklal AvenueThis is the “nostalgic tram” that runs along İstiklal Avenue (formerly Grande Rue de Péra) in Istanbul, from the Tünel metro station to Taksim Square. It is a revival of the tram that was taken out of service in the 1950s, and it has brought vibrancy and charm to this pedestrian shopping street.

The city of Ottawa would be wise to follow this example from Istanbul. The Sparks Street pedestrian shopping mall has been a failure since it was closed to traffic in 1966, mostly due to obtuse federal government mis-management of civic affairs. Streetcars (the North American term for trams) were taken out of service in Ottawa in 1959, a now-regrettable mistake. The Ottawa Streetcar Heritage Committee has a proposal to bring streetcars back to Sparks Street, and turn it around from the wasteland it is now to the tourist and shopping mecca it is supposed to be. Istanbul did it successfully with its revival of İstiklal Avenue, and I am inspired by its example for my own city.

Tulips in bloom in Istanbul

Tulips in IstanbulTulips were brought to Turkey from Iran centuries ago, and soon became one of the enduring symbols of this city, Istanbul. It is from Istanbul (then called Constantinople) that the tulip made its way to the rest of Europe, especially the Netherlands. A tulip festival[35] was revived in Istanbul in 2006. There is not a lot of green space in the old city, but I found this colourful tulip bed near Hagia Sophia.

Ishtar Gate of Babylon in Istanbul

Lions from Ishtar Gate of BabylonToday I visited the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. As Constantinople, this city was the seat of the Ottoman Empire, whose territory took in a wide area including Asia Minor[33], Mesopotamia[34], and Egypt. Treasures from the ancient empires in these places found their way to the Archaeology Museum. These are three, original lions from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. I saw the complete reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate (built by King Nebuchadnezzar II around 575 B.C.) in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, so it was a treat to see these original fragments here in Istanbul.