To queue or not to queue - Simpson Prize 2014
Today has been a day of contrasts. This morning we walked down one of the major boulevards in the old city, down towards the Hippodrome and beside the Blue Mosque and Haigia Sophia. A beautiful pink and orange sky accompanied us as well as our usual pack of local dogs. With the exception of our little band the streets were virtually empty, the only consistent presence was the Turkish street sweepers that we came across every 100 or so metres. We returned to where we walked after breakfast to start our day's activities and we encountered a sea of tourists. In six years of visiting I have not seen the streets so busy, packed with so many people. Topkapi Palace particularly was heaving with people and queues had formed at every exhibit and every room. The bazaar, where we frequent for an afternoon coffee at Cafe Fez, was wall-to-wall people. It occurred to me at that point just how many different languages, accents and cultures made up this throng of people. The Australian and New Zealand accents were scarcely heard, if at all, and it certainly puts our input into the tourist economy into perspective.
After breakfast and the morning discussions we travelled to the Blue Mosque. After discarding our shoes and the girls putting their pashminas around their heads we went inside. It was awe-inspiring, the mosque is a marvel of architecture and engineering coupled with beautiful religious art. To me, it was my first true look at the religion of Islam, that defines the culture. The walls were covered in beautiful calligraphy prayers, gold, and intricate tiles which must have taken an enormous length of time to create. It helped me understand how much of a priority their religion takes. Other than the Grand Bazaar the Blue Mosque was the biggest reminder that I wasn't in Australia.
After exiting the Blue Mosque we moved on to the Topkapi Palace, the centre of government for so many years. We were overwhelmed with a beautiful view of the city and an opulent interior of all the buildings. The palace became more opulent as we explored it; from the cups, bowls and jewellery covered in gems so large and numerous they looked fake; to the Sultan's bedroom with luxurious velvet and gold in abundance. We saw the style of the sultans, who seem to have worn clothes made for giants. Despite their almost humorous size we did appreciate the beauty of the workmanship. The development of fashions over the years for a privileged class was evident to us all as well as an intriguing insight to the culture.
We then spent a bit of time in the Grand Bazaar, where we were able to observe the many sides and signs of a culture so far removed from our own. It never ceases to amaze us all that there are so many sights and views from many vantage points and at restaurants to feed the soul and the body.
Lachlan Bryant (ACT)