Dec 16

A Day at the Vatican

Vatican Mass. Vatican City, Rome, Italy. 2016

Vatican Mass. Vatican City, Rome, Italy. 2016

We spent the day at the Vatican and as a history nerd, I was in heaven. It wasn’t just the art but the architecture and context. It was overwhelming, beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent. I loved the work by Raphael and Michelangelo particularly the Last judgement in the Sistine Chapel. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world but it’s difficult to appreciate just how big until you’re standing in the middle of it. Also, it was a little weird to see real pope mummies in some of the side chapels but I understand that these are holy christian relics. I’ve seen body parts in reliquaries before, most notable at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

I couldn’t help but compare Rome and the Vatican with Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) and Hagia Sophia. After the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople in 330 A.D., his new city surpassed the glory of Rome becoming the wealthiest and most powerful city in the western world.

Hagia Sophia was built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in 537 after rioting in the city led to the deaths of thousands of citizens and the destruction of a significant part of the city. It remained the largest and most important church in the christian world for centuries until Constantinople was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Byzantine Mosaic. Hagia Sophia. Istanbul. 2012

Byzantine Mosaic. Hagia Sophia. Istanbul. 2012

In St. Peter’s, there is a circle on the floor of porphyry marble just inside the entrance that was reused from an earlier church which was demolished to make way for the current Basilica. It was on this exact deep purple circle that Charlemagne knelt and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope during Christmas mass in 800 A.D. Thus the rivalry was established between the Byzantine Romans and the newly created Holy Roman Empire. Ironically the porphyry marble sarcophagi that once held St. Helena, the mother of Constantine as well as that of their daughter are both on display in the Vatican Museum.

Aug 12

Seeing the Sites

Today we did a lot of walking. Topkapi Palace, Byzantine Cistern, Byzantine Hippodrome and the Blue Mosque. The high point for me was seeing the treasure rooms and holy relics in Topkapi Palace. Each treasure was more exquisite than the one before and encrusted with massive diamonds, emeralds and rubys. The sacred relics were astonishing in their depth and significance. Among the sacred relics were swords of the Prophet and his companions, the Prophets actual tooth, beard clippings and mantle, the sword of King David, staff of Moses, saucepan of Abraham and turban of Joseph. Nearby were the skull and arm of John the Baptist. I’m still trying to process the experience.

Later as we walked near the Grand Bazaar, I couldn’t help but notice was how clean the streets and paths were in Instanbul, easily the cleanest of all the ancient cities I have visited around the world. I’m not sure of the reason, the residents seem very proud of their city and perhaps this is part of it, and perhaps they view cleanliness as a sacred duty. Whatever the reason, it certainly added to the enjoyment.

One of my goals for the day was to learn more about the Arabic style of calligraphy. There is a booksellers section next to the Grand Bazaar and we found ourselves in the shop of a very pleasant gentleman who sold pages of antique books that had been broken up and illuminated in lustrous gold leaf. After studying several pages and lengthy handwritten proclamations, I ended up purchasing a book that nicely explained the process of Arabic calligraphy and page design, just what I was looking for.
Colors of Istanbul

Colors of IstanbulCurious Lizard

Interior Blue Mosque Istanbul

Interior Blue Mosque IstanbulCurious Lizard

Blues of Istanbul

Blues of IstanbulCurious Lizard

Cistern Cafe Istanbul

Cistern Cafe IstanbulCurious Lizard

Istanbul Grand Bazaar

Istanbul Grand BazaarCurious Lizard

Aug 12

Round the world

This morning we are on our way to travel around the world by way of the Silk Road. Toady we fly to Instanbul where we’ll stay for a bit before continuing on to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. From a historical perspective, we will be traveling through the regions that saw the first contact between East and West, Han China and Rome, Byzantium and the splendid court of the Tang emperors. This route saw the first exchange of silk and perhaps most importantly, the introduction of paper to the western world.

We’ll be updating this blog as we’re able with photos and video, so stay tuned!