From HUGer Christine:
Some days here feel like a fleeting moment, but when reflected upon also feel like a week. Today may have been our busiest day yet; our heads are full, our feet are tired, and our hearts are slowly but surely acknowledging the diversity of our world while also comprehending that maybe, just maybe, other people live differently than we do in America.
Istanbul is a city full of old and new; historic churches, shopping malls, stray dogs, and ancient tiles still so full of color. Istanbul is home to the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Ottoman Empire, the Grand Bazaar, the bridge between Asia and Europe, and 15 million people. Today we took our shoes off, covered our heads, and toured inside the Blue Mosque; a mosque with six minarets and beautifully ordained with blue floral tiles and a dome 40 meters high. We humbly walked across the carpets along with other tourists and practicing Muslims (it is still an operating mosque) and left in awe of the impressive Islamic holy building. The Hagia Sophia, once an operating mosque, exists around a half mile from the Blue Mosque as a museum blending both aspects of Christianity and of Islam. The Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century AD and existed as a church until the Ottoman empire when it was transformed into a mosque. Since being turned into a museum, the Christian artwork has been restored and we can see beautifully ornate floor-to-ceiling tiled portraits of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Mother Mary, and many others. These pieces coexist with the hanging lights also found in the blue mosque and a large mihrab (prayer box that points towards Mecca) which is found beneath a portrait of Mary holding baby Jesus. The sight brings me to reflect on religions living harmoniously, just as all persons share the same earth; Islam has moved people to create magnificent and masterful architecture and artwork just as Christianity has, all in the same city.
Our group went and visited the home of the Sultans during the reign of the Ottoman Empire after lunch. Building after building was filled with blue tiles, couches, gold accents, and Asian-influenced architecture. We had the chance to see the Spoonmaker’s diamond, a pear shaped diamond totaling 89 carats (WHAT), and many holy Islamic artifacts such as keys to the Kaaba (black box in Mecca holding the most holy Islamic item) swords belonging to important people of the Islamic faith, the supposed staff of Moses, and lots of boxes of Muhammad’s beard hair. The mix of people visiting this part of the museum was almost as interesting as the artifacts themselves; I overheard many discussions between people trying to decide the difference between Christianity and Islam, Islamic men and women teaching their children about their faith through the artifacts available to them, and a sadly large portion of disinterested tourists. It’s incredible how a key can make one person awe-struck and feel spiritually connected and another person can look at the same thing and just see a piece of metal.
The final activity of the day was shopping at the Grand Bazaar (SHOPPING). I went in with the goal of purchasing a tapestry and accidentally came out with two (don’t worry mom, they are both beautiful and totally worth the price I so expertly bargained). The Bazaar is streets full of shops containing pottery, scarves, lamps, candy, spices, and everything in between. It’s the oldest shopping center in Istanbul and is basically a tourist trap because nothing has a price tag. Regardless, the center is rich in Turkish culture and rich in goods; from just window shopping to bargaining down an item from 550 Turkish Lira to 200 (good job Tyler!) the experience is unlike any other shopping experience I have ever had.
We leave Turkey tomorrow and I sit here and long for more time in Istanbul. I feel like I barely know the area around my hotel and the Blue Mosque, much less the other 95% of this huge city that sits on two different continents. I know I will return some day to learn even more about the most diverse, most beautiful city I have ever been to in my entire life.
PS Congratulations Brent my baby brother and the newest baby bison!!! I caught your quartet performance live at your graduation last night and it made me weepy, and then my wifi wouldn’t work and I got even more weepy. I love you and am so proud of you for graduating! I can’t wait to be at Harding with you this next year! (also HI MOM AND DAD; I LOVE YOU!)