I took a short trip to Istanbul in May of 2015 to get a taste of the old city and its history, of Constantinople and the Byzantine empire, of the Ottoman empire and the sultans with their harems. In particular I wished to see the religious relics held at the Topkapi palace, including the staff of Moses and clippings from the beard of Mohammed. You see, I am starting another novel which will deal with relics, in particular the crown of thorns held at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Because of my interest in relics, I first stopped on this trip in Paris, France where in the very back of Notre Dame, in their own cubicle, in a red glass opaque box, are the crown of thorns, a couple of nails and wood from the cross used to crucify Christ (I found out they are only brought out for viewing at times of veneration, every first Friday of the month and on a few religious holidays). I confirmed with an official there that the items were priceless.
“Yes, they are priceless items,” he said in a voice that reminded me of smoky cafes from another time.
“Then why aren’t they held with the Cathedral’s treasure?” I asked in poorly pronounced French. “Why are they out in the open like this?”
“Oh,” said the official, “the security of the treasury is not good enough.” He would say no more, leaving me to understand that the crown of thorns was protected by pressure alarms, movement alarms, bulletproof glass, you name it. And yet, there were no guards in sight and an emergency exit just around the corner. An idea cemented for my book…
In Istanbul I found the same thing true – the religious relics were on display in a different area of the Topkapi palace from the treasury where enormous diamonds and jewelry were on display. I had to assume the same thing, the security in place for the opulent treasures of the Ottoman empire was not good enough to secure the priceless relics like the staff of Moses and personal items of Mohammed and his colleagues. I shuffled along in the funneled crowd around the display cases. Moses’ staff looked well worn, almost polished. Smaller than in the movies. Mohammed’s beard clippings were minute and bristly looking.
I viewed the palace as part of a full day tour of the old city with the She Tours company. Also the Blue Mosque, with its impressive interior.
A lot of tourists in the old part of Istanbul from all over the world. Istanbul is actually a large modern city and port as well.
The Haj Sophia is this incredibly old, fortress of a church built in Istanbul’s Constantinople days, by the Byzantine Christian rulers. When the Muslims conquered Constantinople they converted the church into a mosque. More recently the mosque was converted to a museum, with its marvelous Christian mosaics uncovered.
The Grand Bazaar, open since 1463, was disappointing, being quite commercial and touristy. I did though buy a handmade Kilim rug though from a shop just outside the bazaar for 400 lira, for my wall.
A car rally, the Allgaeu Orient Rally of 2015, passed through Istanbul, in the plaza between the Blue Mosque and the Haj Sophia, where the old chariot races took place before crowds of 100,000. I took photos of the teams and imagined myself a member of one of them, racing through the Orient, across bad lands, around wars, getting lost, then finding our way back to the right route. Not winning but giving the journey our best go, having good fun with my companions along the way.