Paris, London and Prague all have one thing in common. They are relatively flat. Istanbul, however, gives San Francisco a run for its money when it comes to hills.
For the over-50 crowd, you have been warned. When visiting Istanbul, get ready to climb some hills — and stairs.
I climbed a few of both today as we veered off the beaten tourist track and found our way to the Chora Church.
The church was originally built in the fifth century outside the great wall constructed by Emperor Constantine. We huffed and puffed our way along parts of the wall this afternoon as we searched for Chora Church, also known as the Kariye Museum since 1945.
Our wandering took us to a pretty, little park, Kariye Sehir, behind the church.
We arrived at the park just as the afternoon call for prayer rose over Istanbul in a cacophony of sound. We were atop a small rise looking out over a seemingly endless expanse of buildings immersed in the unintelligible hum.
It’s quite an experience to be outside when the call goes out! It’s impressive for the sheer number of recorded voices blasting from speakers in the minarets. There’s always some mosque, somewhere, that gets started a minute or two later than all the others and ends the call all alone, a single, plaintive voice crying out in the abrupt silence. It’s kind of like a lone baritone who mistakenly offers several more notes when his fellow chorus members have stopped.
Back to the church. Its exterior was hidden in restoration scaffolding, but you can see it sans scaffolding here.
Restoration work was occurring inside, as well, but we were told it should be finished by June or thereabouts.
We were able to see some glorious 14th century mosaics and frescoes which have managed to survive earthquakes and being covered in plaster when the church was coverted to a mosque around 1500.
My favorite was in a side chapel — a resurrected Christ pulling Adam and Eve out of their tombs.
After a bit of Turkish tea and some baklava at a cafe, we started back to our apartment, climbing a hill or two and five flights of stairs to get there.