Istanbul Mosaic Museum

Two weeks ago, on one of our children’s days off from school, we headed to Topkapi Palace. The plan was to see the royal jewels armory. When Stephanie and Henry had come in 2010, that room was closed for renovations.

Unfortunately, after dragging the kids all the way from our apartment to the entrance of the palace, we realized that the palace was closed, like it is on every Tuesday of every week. We had forgotten.

The kids, already cranky from being made to go somewhere they did not want to go, were then bribed with some ice cream. And their mood improved. That’s when I remembered that we had yet to visit the Mosaic Museum. It was something Stephanie and I have been wanting to see.

The Mosaic Museum is tucked away not far from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. It’s located southwest of the Blue Mosque in a small market area with many shops selling scarves, jewelry, carpets, backgammon sets; all of the things you can buy in the Grand Bazaar but the prices are cheaper.

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We followed the signs to the museum, entered for free thanks to our Muzekart, and were allowed to marvel at some very old mosaics that were unearthed during excavations in that area of the city. They date from 450-550 AD.

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The floor mosaics are enormous.

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The kids, made happy by ice cream, found the mosaics to be exciting. Therefore, though I am not a licensed physician or nutritionist, I recommend ice cream to enhance the mood of children.

As a bonus, here are some photos of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. It was such a sunny day it would have been a shame not to take pictures.

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We Get To Be Tourists and I Get to Wear a “Skirt”

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I asked before we left the hotel Sunday morning if shorts were okay while visiting the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet). My wife assured me that they were. I consulted our travel guide and it said nothing about clothing. My wife wore jeans and brought a scarf so she could cover her hair.

There’s a tram that stops right in front of Sultanahmet and the Hagia Sophia. The stop is called “Sutlanahmet.”

Sultanahmet was built under Sultan Ahmed I in 1616. It’s been called the “Blue Mosque” because of the blue tiles that decorate the walls of the interior. It is still a working mosque and there are separate entrances for visitors and those who are there to pray. During times of prayer, visitors are not allowed inside.

Near the entrance we were directed to take off our shoes and provided small plastic bags in which we were to place them and carry them with us.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Henry.

There followed a conversation between our son and Steph and I as we tried to explain that what might seem weird to him makes perfect sense to others. That some of the things he believes in his religion might seem weird to others.

This is the boy who not even two nights before said there should be a God of the Birds and a God of the Sun.

“Sometimes you have to follow the rules even if you don’t understand them,” I said.

A woman nearby repeated what I said in an American accent and chuckled.

“Do I sound like a parent?” I chuckled back.

“A very good one,” she said and I thanked her.

In addition to taking off our shoes, I was told to cover my legs and handed a blue wrap that fastened with velcro. I kept wrapping it around and had to adjust it because it was definitely made for someone with a more substantial waist.

Meredith thought it was funny that I was wearing a skirt. Henry felt bad for me. They both wore shorts and were not required to alter their clothing.

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I think the color suits me. Though the blue clashes with the blue T-shirt I happened to be wearing, and the skirt makes my big floppy feet look even bigger and more floppy than they normally do.

The day before, Meredith was sitting next to me on a bench in Gezi Park while Henry played. She looked at my legs and said, “You need to shave your legs.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because there are a lot of long hairs on them.”

I don’t consider myself to have very hairy legs. I can’t even grow a credible mustache or beard. But clearly my daughter thinks I ought to shave my legs because mommy does.

None of my pictures inside the enormous mosque came out. Here’s one of the bad pictures I took.

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Eventually, I’ll just buy a book of photos done by a professional who was given unfettered access to the place to take the most beautiful pictures possible.

After the mosque we ate a delicious lunch here.

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The kofte (meatballs) were very good and so was Steph’s salad. (I have yet to eat a bad tomato here. They all taste like our heirloom tomatoes.) But the chorba (lentil soup) was the standout dish. I scarfed it down quickly. Meredith ate rice, and Henry ate a peanut butter sandwich we had made before we left the hotel. We had a dessert of ice cream from a stand outside.

Then we went to the other big building: the Hagia Sophia. It was built under Emperor Justinian in 537. For over 900 years it served as a Greek Orthodox church. Then Istanbul was conquered by Fatih Sultan Mehmed and it was converted to a mosque. Under Ataturk it was converted to a museum in 1935.

Like the Blue Mosque, the pictures don’t do it justice and I’ll end up buying a book done by a professional photographer who was given unfettered access. Up top you can see the 9th century mosaic of the Virgin and Child (aka “Madonna con Bambino” for those who’ve been to Italy).

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In addition to the sheer enormity of this 1500-year-old structure are several mosaics. Sadly, many were removed when it was converted to a mosque.

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Here’s one of Jesus between Mary and St. John the Baptist.

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Here’s another of “Jesus Christ Enthroned” with Empress Zoe and Constantine IX from the 11th century.

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After visiting the mosaics on the upper floor, we called it a day and took the tram back to the funicular which we took up to Taksim Square, where we saw lots of police in riot gear. They had apparently broken up a Peace Chain. We didn’t know that’s what had happened until after we read about it on the Internet inside our hotel room.