We were met, at 9, by our Turkish guide who was an invaluable fount of knowledge. Guiding in Turkey is a prestigious occupation where guides require a tertiary degree, must speak a minimum of two languages and will have studied long and hard to attain their guiding license. It is such a good system that all through our trip we had excellent, articulate, well educated guides and is something other countries, including New Zealand, could learn from.
|Our group in the Basilica Cistern|
Our first stop was at the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici), an extraordinary underground reservoir built by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian, around 560AD. It is vast, 140m long, 70m wide with a capacity of 100,000 tons of water. The striking thing about what is essentially just a water tank is how beautiful it is. 336 columns support the ceiling, many of them elaborate Corinthian columns. This seems a bit over the top for a water tank but the columns were simply recycled from demolished, abandoned or damaged buildings. Tourists are fascinated by the medusa heads at the base of two columns, some theories are that they were simply put there to attain the correct height of the pillar but there are
myths surrounding them including the fact that they may have been put there to protect the cistern. Either way they are a real, much photographed drawcard for visitors. The Basilica Cistern, no longer a supplier of water to the city, is a beautiful, atmospheric place with raised walking platforms and large fish now living in the water. Until I visited I never knew it existed. I believe it was used as a location in one of the James Bond movies and features in a Dan Brown novel.
Left and above left:: Inside the Basilica Cistern
Right: Medusa at the foot of a column in the Cistern
Right: That's me, all scarfed up ready to enter the Blue Mosque
Below: The interior...not a good photo.
Below right: A photo I took of a photo showing how the mosque looks during a prayer service.
It was time for lunch. We had had a wonderful morning, learnt so much and seen some amazing sights, and there was much more to see, but lunch at a nearby café was a chance for a welcome sit down and rest and time to discuss our morning's activities.