Istanbul Surprises

Our trip to Istanbul surprised me, in the best possible way. There were so many things I was beyond excited about. The spice bazaar…

The grand bazaar…

The old book bazaar…

The majestic food…

The ferry rides…

The unbelievable views…

And I loved all of those things, without question. But the things that really moved me the most were things like this, things about which I had thought, “Yeah, I guess we’ll go see that as long as we’re in town.” On our second day in Istanbul we went to the Hagia Sophia, and I didn’t really have any expectations about it. But, oh my goodness, what happened to me when I set foot inside. It was astonishing. No picture I took can really convey the magnitude of the space, the soaring sensation it creates in your heart. The history was palpable, and that is one of my favorite feelings of all time.

The same is true of the mosques we visited. I had definitely wanted to see them, but I was totally unprepared for the emotions they would produce in me. I had only been to a few mosques before, in Bosnia, but it never ceases to amaze me how cool and calm they are, how peaceful and refreshing. They are beautiful buildings, yes, but they are also incredible refuges from the hustle and bustle of the streets outside. Every time we entered one, I just wanted to sit and rest and take it all in. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the ones I loved the most were not the huge and famous ones, but ones we stumbled upon as if by chance. This is the New Mosque, which was completed in 1665. Only in Istanbul could it be called new.

Throughout all of these experiences, I could not get this song out of my head. It’s a beautiful song about lost love, yes, and I remember blaring it while driving around in my mom’s car in high school, thinking of all my teenage heartbreaks. But it’s about so much more than that. It’s about connecting to human history not just on an intellectual level, but on a personal level. It’s about seeing things that are thousands of years old and recognizing that they have relevance for your own life. It’s about realizing that you are part of something that is so much bigger than you are that it is literally unfathomable. During our time at the Hagia Sophia and in the mosques, I could not stop thinking about this one line from the song: “In a dusty cathedral, the living God called, and I prayed for my life here on earth.” As we left the New Mosque, I was feeling so overwhelmed with emotion that I asked Eric if we could just sit on the steps for a little while, and we listened to that song together, as I cried and cried and cried, overtaken by the beauty of a city and a people and a history so rich with life, so rich with meaning. And while the bazaars and the food and the views were wonderful, that moment is probably my favorite memory from the whole trip. Life is full of surprises.

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