02 June 2011 THURSDAY

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Today is the last day of our wonderful tour. We want to end the tour with a grand finale!! We started at 09:15 to give every one a little longer time to sleep in. We walked up the road along the tram way to the Sultan Ahmet Square. The tram that we have used several times was running along a huge 500 year old plain tree which was right in the middle of the busy road which is one of the main arteries of Istanbul road system. hMeli told the story of why the plain trees were so important in the Ottoman history: The Ottoman Sultan's used to give a bag of gold to every woman who had a baby. The ceremonies were held every Friday since the beginning of the Empire in 1299 AD.

One of hundreds of  old plain
trees in Istanbul

One day, a woman who did not have a baby in her arms got in line with the mothers with their new born babies. The Sultan was surprised to see that this woman was there but had no child. When it was her turn, the sultan asked her why she was here. The woman replied," your highness I can not have a baby, but I have planted a plain tree and I promise you I will take care of this tree as well as a mother will take care of her baby. " The Sultan liked the idea and awarded the woman with a bag of gold just like he would have done a mother. since then the plain trees became imperial trees and they were always protected.
This explains why Istanbul and old Ottoman cities are full of these huge old trees.

Our first stop in the Byzantine Hippodrome was in front of the Kaiser William's fountain. when the Prussians and the Ottomans declared alliance, William visited the capital of the Ottoman Empire and in the Hippodrome this fountain was built to immortalize the friendship of the two emperors. The Tugra of the Sultan and the code of arm of  William were decorating the golden dome of the fountain.

Rosa is showing the Tugra on her scarf.

Tugra - The signature of the
Ottoman Sultans

In AD 324, the Emperor Constantine the Great decided to move the seat of the government from Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Nova Roma (New Rome). This name failed to impress and the city soon became known as Constantinople, the City of Constantine. Constantine greatly enlarged the city, and one of his major undertakings was the renovation of the Hippodrome. It is estimated that the Hippodrome of Constantine was three times the size of  the stadium in Rome.  Its stands were capable of holding 100,000 spectators. Throughout the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome was the centre of the city's social and political life. Huge amounts were bet on chariot races, and initially four teams took part in these races, each one financially sponsored and supported by a different political party  within the Roman/Byzantine Senate: The Blues , the Greens , the Reds  and the Whites . The Reds and the Whites  gradually weakened and were absorbed by the other two major factions (the Blues and Greens).

Another emperor to adorn the Hippodrome was Theodosius the Great, who in 390 brought an obelisk from Egypt and erected it inside the racing track. Carved from pink granite, it was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor during the reign of Tuthmosis III in about 1490 BC. Theodosius had the obelisk cut into three pieces and brought to Constantinople. Only the top section survives, and it stands today where Theodosius placed it, on a marble pedestal. The obelisk has survived nearly 3,500 years in astonishingly good condition.

To raise the image of his new capital, Constantine and his successors, especially Theodosius the Great, brought works of art from all over the empire to adorn it. The monuments were set up in the middle of the Hippodrome, the spina. Among these was the Tripod of Plataea, now known as the Serpent Column, cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. Constantine ordered the Tripod to be moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and set in middle of the Hippodrome. The top was adorned with a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. The bowl was destroyed or stolen during the Fourth Crusade.


The releif showing how the way the Obelisk was erected is divided in two sections. When the huge one piece stone, the obelisk was laying on its side, those who were in charge of erecting it looked tiny in proportion of the stone. After the obelisk was erected, the accomplishment was symbolized by showing the size of the man as big as the huge stone.

After the hippodrome we walked across the street to the Blue Mosque. The cascading domes  were breath taking. Quickl all of our cameras got stuck on our noses to take the best picture to capture the wonder of architecture of the 17th Century.

There was a long line to go in the mosque. When we went in the mosque we sat around Meli to listen to the story of the Sultan who wanted to immortalize his fame in this monumental building.

Having tea had become the ritual of our group. So before we visited Aya Sophia we had one more, our last tea ritual.

Hillary and Jacob gave us the last 2 presentations. Hillary had an excellent presentation on Aya Sophia and Jacob, sitting under the marbles which inspired the artists taught us about marbling in the Ottoman Art.  

Many of the students had studied Aya Sophia in their art classes. But they said no pictures and no words can do justice to the
grandeur of this 1500 year old superb building.
We have been together for 23 days. for some of the students who had already graduated this was not just the last meal of the tour but
also their last Earlham function at least for a while. It was a very emotional evening. Every one promised to staying touch.
Time will show if our paths will cross again.


Melitour Home Page   Earlham 2011 Journal  
Table of content        DEPARTURE