When visiting a new country or culture, learning about it from as many different angles as possible is key. People watching, food, music, and events are all great ways to dive right in. Even watching local TV can be a fun way to learn about local life. Another angle to consider is art, modern or historical. And when it comes to art generally speaking, Istanbul is all about the history. Historical art can show you what a people once considered beautiful and what they considered important. In Istanbul, there is no shortage of places where you can find such art. One museum I visited was in the touristy neighbourhood of Sultanahmet but it is not actually on the tourist trail. In fact, when I went, I practically had the place to myself. The Mosaics Museum entrance is located right by the Arasta Bazaar and its exit is actually in the Arasta Bazaar. So it isn’t exactly hard to find – I’m not sure why it doesn’t seem to be as popular as it could be. I found the place rather fascinating and it was a fantastic way to get my imagination going about the ancient days of Constantinople.
The Mosaic Museum was developed over part of the old courtyard of the Great Palace of the Byzantine Empire. It was in this location where the mosaics were found in decent condition. Relatively decent condition anyway, considering we’re talking about a floor that thousands of people had walked on throughout the centuries. The floor dates back to the first half of the 6th century and the emperor of the time was Justinian I. The original colouring of the tesserae, apparently once vivid, has definitely been dimmed by dirt, heavy pollution, and air tinged by sea-salt. However, restorers have been able to bring back some of the former glory. Apparently, they used a rotating whirl jet made up of air, water, and dolomitic rock flour to clean the tesserae. They also lifted what was left of the mosaics (bits and pieces of them disappeared over the years) and re-applied them on new carrier material. The mosaics are made up of limestone, marble, brick, and glass cubes – sometimes even semi-precious stones can be found. Each cube edge is, on average, about 5mm. The entire floor would have required 75 to 80 million cubes, which works out to about 40 thousand cubes per square metre. Tragically, only about 1/8 of the original floor remains today.
Eight things I learned about the people of Constantinople by viewing their mosaics
Idealized Husbandry: Rich people thought working with farm animals was terribly beautiful
Mythical Creatures: They had their versions of sparkly vampires, baseball playing werewolves, and Crumple-Horned Snorkacks
Real Creatures: I guess they loved animals as much as people today do
The thrill of the hunt was to be cherished
The first bite and first bloodshed was the best part of all
They liked children: Not my first pick for a mosaic floor
Old men: I don’t know if they liked all old men or they liked ones that look like they’re thinking Physical Humour: Nothing beats laughing at a guy falling off his horseThe Mosaics Museum is rather small so if mosaics don’t particularly interest you, you’ll be in and out in 10-15 minutes. If you’re like me and you do like mosaics, you’ll spend about 45 minutes, especially if you have a camera. Your other main option for mosaics in Istanbul is at Chora Church (Kariye Muze). Also check out the Terrace Houses at Ephesus.
What is your favorite way to learn about local life?