Exploring Istanbul

A few weeks ago over beers at our new favorite local neighborhood bar, our friend Andy told us about these Byzantine structures, that are hidden all over Istanbul. Another one of our colleagues, has come to know a great many of them, throughout his 7 years here, and has even published an article about his explorations. Unlike visiting the Hagia Sophia or Chora Church- well preserved ambassadors of Byzantine times and the ensuing changes, these buildings are out of plain sight or buried, some even requiring baleying down into catacombs and temples. Our eyes opened wide and Misty started to sing the Indiana Jones theme song.

"There's tons of stuff buried under this city," Andy continued, "Constantine's tomb is buried somewhere in this city and nobody knows where it is."
Our eyes opened wider in hearing the mysteries that this city, rebuilt again and again, layer upon layer, hides under its robes.

"This year, we will find Constantine's lost tomb," Andy joked. We all clinked glasses excited by the possibility of adventure: international school teachers by day, whip wielding anthopologic adventurers by night.

Many of my colleagues are very into rock climbing and have brought their own gear from home. Rappelling down an ancient time warp to a Byzantine temple would be no problem in this company and I am itching to go.

In the meantime, while we wait for more details on the whereabouts of these places, Jeremy and I have done some more conventional exploration, to build the context for our future ones. At the recommendation of a quirky older colleague of mine, who has wandered the globe, and is passionate about Istanbul and its history, I purchased John Freely's Strolling Through Istanbul- an excellent guide with detailed descriptions of architectural sites and their history.

Chora Church/ Kariye Camii

Yesterday, we embarked on our first stroll to Chora Church, known as Kariye Camii. It is a small and beautiful Byzantine church, dating from the 5th century. It is a jewelry box of exquisite mosaic work and frescoes. Like the Hagia Sophia, it was converted into a mosque, in the 16th century, and later into a museum. Armed with Feely's book, which described every mosaic and fresco in the church, we poked our noses through each little corner, necks craned back, to take in the incredible details of each inch of the ceiling and walls that had been preserved. The mosaics were truly marvelous and I gawked at the incredible craftsmanship that had gone into them, feeling moved by their beauty and grandeur. Light streamed in through small windows, creating that special pensive and inspiring light of holy places. Walking through the church, I felt a little stir of excitement from my college days, studying Art History in Florence.

We left and I went back to our neighborhood feeling intellectually fulfilled. I flipped through a few more chapters of Feely's book. So many sites to see and neighborhoods to explore: the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace... I am looking forward to exploring more, when Daniela comes to visit in a few weeks (!!). And, seeing all these other sites is building the anticipation for our Indiana Jones tour of Istanbul. In the meantime, I need to ask Misty (our resident rock climbing expert) what the particular knot is for climbing back out of holes. She assures me it's easy, but something tells me I may need to practice.

I will now leave you with this. May it inspire a daily adventure!

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