It was a cold and rainy day in Istanbul, but we were able to see all we planned. The day began at the Hippodrome and Blue Mosque. Nothing remains of the Hippodrome other than three obelisks. Of the three, the Obelisk of Theodosius is the most interesting. The obelisk was created by Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479–1425 BC) but moved to Constantinople A. D. 390 by Theodosius I. The Obelisk was erected on a marble base depicting the emperor awarding a victor’s crown (stephanos).
The Blue Mosque is the popular name for the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, named for Ahmed I who constructed the mosque beginning in 1609. The interior is lined with blue İznik style ceramic tiles (explaining the popular name of the site).
Next we walked to the Hagia Sophia. When John Chrysostom was patriarch he was based in the first version of the church (369-404) This church was Eastern Orthodox cathedral from 537-1453 when it was converted to a mosque. For most of that time it was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The church was converted to a mosque in 1453 by Mehmet II, but in 1935 the first President Mustafa Atatürk converted the building to a museum. There is a great deal of restoration going on in the building, but there is still a great deal to see.
After an excellent lunch at the “World Famous Pudding Shop” (stuffed eggplant and lots of fresh bread and water), we walked to the Istanbul archaeological museums. On the way we visited Hagia Irene, a lesser know and smaller church which was never converted to a mosque as Hagia Sophia was. The church was partially destroyed in A. D. 532 in the Nika revolt and restored by Justinian in 548. Although never converted to a mosque, it was used as an ammunition store my Mehmed II in 1453. There is not much to see there ad much of the basilica is closed.
In contrast to Hagia Irene, there is too much to see in this collection of museums in a short afternoon visit. There is a museum dedicated to Ancient Near Eastern archaeology, a second with a huge collection of Greco-Roman sarcophagi and dedication stones (as well as a new room with artifacts from the temple of Artemis in Magnesia, and a multi-floor museum for Greco-Roman period artifacts.
There were three items of interest for biblical archaeology. First, the Gezer Calendar is is one of the earliest examples of Porto-Hebrew. Second, the inscription from Hezekiah’s tunnel was placed in the museum by the Ottomans. Third, one of the two warning inscriptions from the Temple in Jerusalem is here, displayed in a not-very-prominent place on the floor at the end of a hall. This inscription is in Greek (the one in Israel is in Latin) and it warns non-Jews to stay out of the Court of the Men under threat of death. This may be what Paul refers to in Ephesians 2:14. In addition to these items, there are three small altars dedicated to unknown gods (cf., Acts 17).
This is only a small overview of the museums. I did not walk through the hall dedicated to the archaeology of Troy and did not take much time in the sections on Istanbul simply due to time constraints. I took around 200 photographs, and that was not nearly enough!
Tomorrow we fly to Antalya, which I hope means better weather.