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CULTURAL HIGHLIGHTS OF TURKEY

HAGIA SOPHIA

Hagia Sophia Church is one of the most extraordinary buildings in the history of architecture and from the Golden Age of Byzantium. It played such an important role in Byzantine Empire as well as in Ottoman Empire as a mosque.

The word "Hagia" in Greek means "Divine" and "Sophia" means "Wisdom". "Divine Wisdom" is one of the attributes of Jesus Christ and this church is devoted to his divine wisdom. The Church of Hagia Irene was another church which was also devoted to "peace" attribute of Jesus Christ. The church was first completed in 360 during the reign of Constantinus. It was called as "Megala Ekklessia", the Great Church. This church was burnt in 404 during a revolt. A new church was built in the same place, by emperor Theodosius on Oct,405. It was also destroyed in a fire. The third and the last church was completed in 537 by Emperor Justinian I. It was completed only in 5 years. Emperor Justinian I was a very strong believer of Christianity and he wanted to use the church as a means for enlarging the scope of Christianity. This church served as the heart of the empire, all coronation and major baptism ceremonies took place here. When Turks conquered Istanbul in 1453, the first thing Mehmed "the Conqueror" did was to order the conversion of the church into a mosque. Because Prophet Mohammad had said that the army who conquered Istanbul would have Allah's Grace. From then on, the Church served as a great mosque, with four minarets added in different periods. The mosaics on the walls were covered with plaster because they were forbidden in Islam. Actually this helped the preservation of the mosaics and frescoes. The mosque was carpeted and the pulpit was put on the southern part of the church. Hagia Sophia served as a mosque until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered the conversion of the mosque into a museum. He believed that it was a world heritage and people could come and see it. Therefore, in 1929, the plasters started to be removed and in 1940s, it was reopened as a museum.

While approaching the church from Blue Mosque, one gets impressed by the red big building with a splendid dome. The building is huge and vast. When entered through the main gate, one passes through two different narthexes (entrance). In the second entry hall (endonarthex), there's a big bronze gate which is from the reign of Justinian I. This was the main imperial gate to the church which was only reserved for the emperor's passage. Right above the gate, there's a mosaic which is from 9th C. Jesus Christ is in the middle, on the right hand side is Angel Gabriel and on left is Blessed Virgin. The depiction of Emperor Leo VI is also in the mosaic. The ceiling is reveted with floral mosaics. On the left end of the endonarthex, there's the ramp leading to the galleries on the second floor.

The interior of the church is vast. The building is covered with a big central dome which is 56 m., 150 feet high, 33 m.,72 feet in diameter. The dome was decorated with Arabic calligraphic writings during the Ottoman Era. The building is strengthened with columns in green and purple color. Purple (porphyry) was the sacred color of the Byzantium. The emperors were born to purple color fabrics, used this color in their costumes and buried in purple color fabrics. Upon walking into the church, one sees a square which was "Coronation Square" of the Byzantium Emperors. All of the Byzantine Emperors were coroneted in Hagia Sophia Church. On the right wing of the church, there's the "Library of Mahmud I", which is an Ottoman Era addition(1739). The nave of the church is beautiful, it was facing east when it was an orthodox church. After the conversion of the church into a mosque, the nave was decorated with big candlesticks and stain-colored glass. There is a pulpit on the left of the nave. This pulpit is no way comparable to the ones in original mosques but it was a later addition as well. Above ,on the left of the nave there's the "Lodge of the sultan" which was designed as a secret lodge for prayer ceremonies of the Ottoman Sultans. This is a work of Italian Fossati Brothers who came to restore the Church in the 19th century and built many additions to the church. The mosaic on the apse is splendid...It's the depiction of Blessed Virgin and Jesus Christ and this mosaic is from the 9th C. It's completely original.

To reach the galleries on the second floor, one climbs a ramp which is very impressive . There are three splendid mosaics here on this section. The first one is located in the southeast of the main church. It depicts the judgment day of the world, "the Deesis", Jesus Christ is in the middle, on the left is John the Baptist, on the right is Blessed Virgin. This mosaic is spectacular because the pieces used for the mosaic is quite little and this made the mosaic look like a picture. Even the cheek color or the wrinkles of John the Baptist is easily recognized. The other two mosaics are located in the eastern end of the Church. The one on the left depicts Emperor Monomachos IX with his wife, Zoe. Jesus Christ is in the middle. The one on the right depicts Empress Irene and Emperor Komnenos II with Blessed Virgin and Jesus Christ on her nap. As one walks to the very left end of the church, can come close to the beautiful mosaic on the apse which Blessed Virgin and child Jesus Christ.

SULEYMANIYE MOSQUE

The Suleymaniye Mosque (in Turkish and Arabic) is the second largest but finest and most magnificent of the imperial mosque complexes in the city. It's as magnificent as its founder Suleiman the Magnificent and a masterwork of the greatest Ottoman architect, the incomparable Sinan. Suleiman the Magnificent is the 10th Sultan of Ottoman Empire who expanded the boundaries of the Empire far to Vienna's City Walls. Conquering Vienna was his ultimate aim but he could not succeed.

The construction of the Suleymaniye Mosque began in 1550 and the mosque itself was completed in 1557. The mosque is actually a complex building with the tombs of Suleiman and his wife, Hurrem Sultan(Roxelana). The other buildings were finished some years later. The mosque is preceded by a courtyard with columns of the richest porphyry, marble and granite. At the four corners of the courtyard rise the four great minarets. The four minarets are said to signify that Suleiman was the fourth sultan to rule in Istanbul and the 10 balconies denote that he was the 10th Sultan of the Ottoman Dynasty.

Entering the mosque, there is a vast room, almost square in plan surmounted by a huge dome. The dome is 47 m., 150 feet and its diameter is 27.5 m, 87 feet. The stain coloured windows are lovely, the sunlight diffuses inside very nicely. The mihrab where the imam(priest) stands and the pulpit are Proconassian marble. There is also a marvellous woodwork inlaid with mother of pearl and ivory of the doors, window shutters and the preacher's chair. There are also impressive calligraphic inscriptions by the most famous calligrapher of Ottoman Empire, Ahmet Karahisari and his pupil Hasan Celebi. The mosque is all carpeted with red prayer rugs all pointing South where Mecca is located. Next to the mosque are the turbes, the tombs of Suleiman and his wife, Hurrem(Roxelana). The tomb of Suleiman is revetted with beautiful Iznik tiles and quite impressive. There is also the tomb of great architect, Sinan in the same complex. According to the story, Sinan was the only architect who had the honour of opening an Imperial Mosque because Suleiman gave the key to Sinan which was given to him to open the mosque. Another saying says Sinan trusts the quality of the mosque so much that if there is any big earthquake happens, this mosque will never collapse, it will fall into the waters of Golden Horn as one piece, not in small pieces...

TOPKAPI PALACE

When Sultan Mehmed II captured Constantinople in 1453, he found the palaces of the Byzantine Emperors in such ruins as to be uninhabitable. He chose a large area on the broad peak of the Third Hill as the site of his first imperial residence. He constructed a great complex of buildings and gardens here and they came to be known as "Eski Saray" which means "The Old Palace". A few years later, he decided to have his palace on the N side of the First Hill which had been the acropolis of the ancient Byzantium. He constructed a massive wall surrounding the area along the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. This took place during the period 1459-65 after the Sultan left the former palace to women of his father's harem. The Harem in Topkapi Palace in its present state dates back to the reign of Murat III(1574-95), Mehmed IV(1648-87) and Osman III(1754-57).

Topkapi Palace was more than just the private residence of the Sultan and his court. It was the seat of the supreme executive and judiciary council, the Divan and the training school, the Palace School. In the First Courtyard, there were a hospital, bakery,arsenal, a state mint, a part of the treasury and the Outer Service. It was open to public. The Second Courtyard was open to people who had business with the council. The Third Courtyard was reserved to the Sultan's household and palace children. The Fourth Courtyard was exclusively reserved for the Sultan's use.

Topkapi Palace continued to be the principal residence for four centuries until in 1853, Sultan Abdul Mecid I moved into the new palace of Dolmabahce on the Bosphorus. The old palace was used as house for the women of the departed sultans and their servants until the Harem was officially disbanded in 1909. In 1924, Topkapi Palace was converted to a museum with the order of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The final step was the opening of the Harem to the public in 1960.

DOLMABAHÇE PALACE

The word "Dolmabahce" in English means "The stuffed garden". Because the Dolmabahce Palace is founded upon a reclaimed area by filling up the sea. It's a beautiful 19th C palace right by the Bosphorus, on the waterfront. It's in baroque and rococo style and very French. Many people think that it is a small model of the palace of Versailles in Paris, France. It can be visited with a tour guide of the palace as a group. Open everyday except Mon and Thu from 9:30 am-5 pm

When one enters the palace area, the first thing to see is the beautiful French style gardens. After having a lovely walk by the Bosphorus, one reaches the main building. The palace was constructed between 1842-1853 by one of the Ottoman Sultans, Sultan Abdulmecid. The architect was a famous Armenian architect, Nikogos Balyan. The palace reflects the European and more "modern" side of the Ottoman Empire. The Sultans moved to Dolmabahce Palace after its construction was finished and never went back to Topkapi Palace which hosted them nearly 4 centuries.

Before entering into the main palace building, one should wear blue shoe covers to keep the palace clean. After that, one faces with a huge entrance hall with beautiful French Baccarat crystal chandeliers. The palace altogether is decorated with French Baccarat and Czech Bohemian crystal chandeliers. The entrance hall is the hall where the visitors were used to welcomed. This part is the official part (Selamlik) of the Palace that was only open to the men. The women and the children lived in a different part called "the Harem". The Sultan's bedrooms were also in the Harem Part. The founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died in this palace in 1938 of sirosis disease. He actually lived in Ankara, Turkey's capital, but he used to come to Istanbul quite often and Dolmabahce Palace was his residence when he visited Istanbul. His room is also in the Harem Part of the Palace. There are many portraits in the palace by famous artists, like Aivazosvky of Russia. It's a very ornate palace with its 285 rooms, 43 large halls and 6 Turkish baths. The large old carpets on the floor are Hereke Carpets which were exclusively woven for the palaces. Some rooms have a great parquet floor with three different woods inlaid into each other by using no nails. Many of the palace fabrics and the curtains were also coming from Hereke, a small town 50 miles,70 kms. to the east of Istanbul. The palace fabrics today were replaced by new ones which are very similar to the original ones.

UNDERGROUND CISTERN

The Underground Cistern is one of the most extraordinary and impressive buildings in Istanbul. It is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm. The admission costs 10 YTL. (7 USD or 5 EUR) in 2012 season.

The structure was known in Byzantium as "Basilica Cistern" because it lay beneath the Stoa Basilica, the great public square on the First Hill. The Basilica Cistern was built by Justinian I after the bloody Nika Revolt in 532, probably as an enlargement of an earlier cistern which was constructed by Constantine the Great. During the Byzantium Period, it was used as a reservoir for water storage for the Great Palace and other buildings in the First Hill. During the Ottoman Period, the water was used for Topkapi Palace and watering the gardens of it. However the cistern had its brighest days during the Byzantium Period. The water was brought from Belgrade Woods via aquaducts.

The interior of Underground Cistern is breathtaking. It is 138 m, 452 ft long by 65m, 213 ft wide. There are 336 columns in the cistern. Most of the column capitals are either in Corinthian or Doric Style. At the far end of the Cistern, there are two heads of Medusa which are put upside down or side ways. The Medusa Heads are taken from an ancient Pagan site but they complement the pillars very beautifully and add a different taste to the building.

Because of its magic atmosphere and great acoustics, this cistern is now hosting many Classical Music Concerts. There is also a little café which one can sip his or her coffee and enjoy this unique building. On the way to the exit, there are two small bookshops which is full of postcards and informative books as well as some silver jewelry.

GRAND BAZAAR & SPICE MARKET

Bazaars are the highlights of daily local life and reflects city culture. Grand Bzaar and Spice Markets are two most popular bazaars identified with Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 61 covered streets and over 3000 shops which attract 250.000 / 400.000 visitors each day. The bazaar was built after the conquest of Istanbul and got bigger and larger over the centuries with the addition of new sections and inns.

Today it's a heaven for shoppers with its traditional shops and goods. There are thousands of items you can find and buy according to your interests or you can just enjoy local people and Turkish hospitality as well. It’s one of the most favourite destinatons with its location, architecture, history and fame. Spice Market is the second largest covered shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar. The name of the Spice Market comes from Egyptians who used to sell their spices. You can see and smell many interesting spices, dried fruits and nuts, teas, oils & essences, sweets, honeycombs etc. It has 86 shops inside and the ceiling is also covered with domes as in the Grand Bazaar which gives the market a very authentic atmosphere.

Grand Bazaar mainly houses shops of gold, textile and leather, Spice Markets spices and foods as well.

ANKARA MUSEUM OF ANATOLIAN CIVILIZATION

Anatolia has hosted many different civilizations since 80th century BC and they finally built the biggest exhibition center of ancient cultures findings in Anatolia. First landscape picture of the world, Mother Goddess statues, first house samples are just some of the highlights.The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is located on the South side of Ankara Castle. It is one of the richest archeologic museums in the world with many extensive collection of artifacts, coins, gold, silver, glass and bronze works remaining from different periods. The works start with Paleolithic age, and chronologically continue through Neolithic, Bronze, Assyrian trading colonies, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuq and Ottoman Empire periods. It represents a real cultural and historical treasure and definitely a must-see place.The Museum was also elected “European Museum of the Year” in Switzerland on April 1997.

GOREME OPEN AIR MUSEUM

Cappadocia's most famous attraction is the Göreme Open Air Museum, a vast monastic complex with painted cave churches carved out by Orthodox monks (1000-1200 AD). Along with rectories, dwellings, and a religious school, they formed a large monastic complex carved out of a roughly ring-shaped rock formation and decorated it with elaborate Byzantine frescoes. The site holds the region’s best collection of painted cave-churches and the frescoes’ colors still retain all their original freshness. The frescoes also unique examples of rock hewn architecture and fresco technique.

There are many churches and chapels in Goreme Open Air Museum but the most important ones are The Nunner, St. Barbara Chapel, Apple Church, St. Basil Church, Snake Church, Dark Church, Sandal Church, St. Catherine Chapel and Buckle Church. Most of them are fully painted inside with amazing Byzantine murals dating back to 900-1200 AD. Most of the frescoes have been damaged by wind, water, weather, earthquake, and shepherd boys who sought refuge in the caves and used the faces in the figures as targets for pebble attacks having been taught that images were sinful. But the beauty of the churches and their decoration still remains.

The Goreme Open Air Museum has been a member of UNESCO World Heritage List in 1984. It was one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.

EPHESUS

Established as a port on the mouth of the Cayster River, the city was founded between 1500-1000 B.C. It was the second largest city of Roman Empire, a strategic trade route in Anatolia and one of the greatest seaports in the ancient world. Once the most important commercial center of the Western Anatolia and a religious center of the early Christianity as well, today Ephesus is a unique tourism center located today in Selçuk, a small town 30km away from Kuşadası. The site hosts thousands of visitors each year.

Ephesus was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 17 and then rebuilt and enlarged by Tiberius. The city was conquered by the Ancient Greeks after the Trojan War in 11th and 12th Century. After occupying it and getting involved with the local people, Greeks established an Antique City government and changed the name of the city as Ephesus. After Alexander the Great period, the city was moved from the place around castle to the valley between Bulbul and Panayir Mountain where the ruins still exists today.

The extensive ruins include The Temple of Artemis, Library of Celsus, Gymnasium, Agora and terrace houses; The Temple of Artemis is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. The temple was dedicated to the Goddess of the Hunt. Only the foundations and one column remains from the temple which once measured 425 feet long, 220 feet wide and 60 feet high.

Originally built in 115-25 AD, Library of Celsus was dedicated to Celsus the proconsul of Asia. This restored facade is a highlight of the ruins today. The archictectural structure reflects traditional Roman library architecture. The interior measures 70 by 80 feet and helds approximately 15,000 scrolls. Known as The “State Agora”, the market area has 360 feet square. In the Hellenistic period, it was surrounded on all sides by arched shops. It was located next to the harbor and was the city's main commercial center.The Theater originally holding 25000 auditors, was built in the Hellenistic period and was renovated by several Roman emperors. It was designed for theatrical performances and later, hosted gladiatorial contests. Terrace houses of wealthy Ephesians, had luxury bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and triclinium. Frescoes and mosaics are very worth to see. They were inhabited until the 7th Century AD. Built against the mountain south of Ephesus, the roof of each house forms the terrace for the house above it.

Ephesus is also a sacred site for Christians due to its association with several biblical figures including St. Paul, St. John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary. The 3rd Ecumenical Council was held there in 431 AD

PAMUKKALE & HIERAPOLIS

Pamukkale is a a unique wonder in the world as well as a spectacular archaeological site with unusual well preserved ancient ruins. 19km north of Denizli, 45 minutes driving distance to Ephesus, the site is located in the in the River Menderes Valley.

Pamukkale means ‘Cotton Castle’ in Turkish and derived from the amazing appearance of the travertines like cotton balls. The travertine pools are a strange formation caused by thermal springs. The mineral composition of the thermal water creates white travertine pools.

It’s a very strange piece of landscape with a surreal appearance unlike any site you’ll see in Turkey and today it appears in the Unesco World Heritage list. The water in the basins is changing its colour according to how the light enters.

The water coming from the springs contains a large mineral content, with chalk, limestone and travertine cascading down the mountain, resembling a frozen waterfall. You must definitely visit this fascinating place if you will visit Ephesus region.

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