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Thursday, 4-Aug-2005 00:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
The Hippodrome, Istanbul

Kaiser Wilhelm II fountain
Obelisk of Theodosius
Obelisk of Theodosius
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Istanbul's Byzantine Hippodrome was the heart of Constantinople's political and sporting life, and the scene of games and riots through 500 years of Ottoman history as well.

It's now a calm city park called the At Meydani (Horse Grounds) because of its function in Ottoman times. Facing one another across the park are the Blue Mosque and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art.

Monuments decorating the Hippodrome include the 3500-year-old Egyptian Obelisk of Theodosius, brought to Constantinople by Emperor Theodosius in 390 AD. You'll also see the spiral bronze base of a three-headed serpent sculpture brought from Delphi in Greece.

During a visit in 1901, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany erected an elaborate temple-like fountain as a gift to the sultan and his people.

Yerebatan Saray, the Sunken Palace Cistern, is beneath the little park at the northern end of the Hippodrome. Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) is across the street, Topkapi Palace is just beyond Ayasofya, and the Istanbul Archeological Museums are next to Topkapi.

Wednesday, 3-Aug-2005 00:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Galata Tower, Istanbul

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Galata Tower has dominated Beyoglu's skyline since 1348 and still offers the best panoramic views of the city. Above, the Golden Horn, Seraglio Point and Old Istanbul as seen from Galata Tower (looking south).

Originally named the Tower of Christ, it was the highpoint in the city walls of the Genoese colony called Galata.The walls are long gone, but the great tower remains.

Until the 1960s it was a fire lookout tower. Now the upper floors hold an uninteresting restaurant-nightclub, and a panorama balcony.

The panorama balcony, encircling the highest row of windows, is narrow, open to the weather, and not recommended for anyone suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights). The balcony is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm (7 pm in summer) for a few dollars (half price on Monday).

Tuesday, 2-Aug-2005 00:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Yerebatan Saray (Sunken Palace), Istanbul

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Beneath Istanbul lie hundreds of gloomy Byzantine cisterns. They're left from the days of Constantinople.

The grandest of all is Yerebatan Saray Sarniçi, called the Sunken Palace Cistern because of its size (70 x 140 meters, or 2.4 acres), its capacity (80,000 cubic meters--over 21 million US gallons) and its 336 marble columns.

Remember the scene in the old James Bond movie From Russia With Love when Bond is rowing in a small boat through a forest of marble columns? That scene was filmed in Yerebatan.

Walkways and atmospheric lighting were installed during the 1990s so you can see all its curious corners. There's even a little cafe for drinks and snacks.

Yerebatan is in Sultanahmet Square, at the northeastern end of the Hippodrome, just off Divan Yolu, and across the street from Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia).

A visit can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. There's a few dollars' admission fee.

Monday, 1-Aug-2005 00:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
The Bosphorus, Istanbul

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The Bosphorus is the 32 km (20-mi)-long strait which joins the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea, and separates the continents of Europe and Asia. It's great for a half-day cruise.

Its width varies from 500 meters (1640 feet) to 3 km (2 miles), its depth from 50 to 120 meters (164 to 394 feet), averaging about 60 meters (197 feet) deep.

It runs right through the heart of Istanbul, past the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, several Ottoman palaces, at least two fortresses, forested hills, and shore villages with Ottoman architecture.

Traditionally called Bogaziçi (boh-AHZ-ee-chee, "Within the Strait"), more recently it's been called the Istanbul Bogazi, Istanbul Strait, perhaps to differentiate it from the Dardanelles (Hellespont), called the Çanakkale Bogazi.

Its English name comes from a Greek legend: Zeus had an affair with a beautiful women named Io. When Hera, his wife, discovered his infidelity, she turned Io into a cow and created a horsefly to sting her on the rump. Io jumped clear across the strait. Thus bous = cow, and poros = crossing-place: Bosphorus = "crossing-place of the cow."

Recent marine archeological research in the chill, deep waters of the Black Sea has revealed sunken cities on the underwater slopes along the Turkish coast.

Geological evidence supports the theory that in ancient times the northern end of the Bosphorus was blocked by earth and rock. The Black Sea had no outlet (like Lake Van today), and its water level was below that of the Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus.

However, an earthquake destroyed the Bosphorus blockage, releasing a deluge of water from the Bosphorus into the Black Sea, raising the water level and flooding its coastal communities. So it may well be that the Bosphorus is the source of Noah's flood and the legend of Noah's Ark! (Mount Ararat is also in Turkey.)

The Bosphorus has been a waterway of the highest importance since ancient times. Ulysses passed through. Byzas, who founded Byzantium (later Constantinople, later Istanbul) sailed up and down looking for the perfect place to found his village.

In 1452, Mehmet the Conqueror ordered the construction of the mighty fortresses of Rumeli Hisari (Fortress of Europe) and Anadolu Hisari (Fortress of Anatolia) so he could control the strait and prevent reinforcements from reaching the besieged Byzantine capital of Constantinople.

To the Ottomans it was mostly an obstacle: each spring they had to ship their gigantic armies across the strait from Istanbul for campaigns in Anatolia, Syria and Persia.

During World War I, the Bosphorus was the key to the Black Sea and Russia. The Sultan held the key. The Entente powers wanted it. What they failed to get in battle they got by treaty, and British gunboats anchored outside Dolmabahçe Palace.

Sunday, 31-Jul-2005 00:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Develoment of Taksim

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They're For the Birds

See those pairs of little "houses" on both sides of the window? They're for the birds!

It was not at all unusual for architects during the Ottoman Empire to include shelter for our Feathered Friends in their great buildings.

This building at the northern end of Istiklal Caddesi happens to be the taksim, or division-point, in Beyoglu's water distribution system. Commissioned by Sultan Mahmut I and finished in 1732, it has given its name to Taksim Square. (The square used to be filled by a reservoir.)

Islam requires merciful treatment of all animals because they, too, have immortal souls. For another merciful bird moment in Istanbul, see For the Birds in Funny Stuff.

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