Great Palace Mosaic Museum

After the Blue Mosque, we ducked into the Great Palace Mosaic Museum in the Arasta Bazaar, which houses a small but well-organized collection of restored mosaics excavated from the site of the Great Palace of Constantinople.

The original palace was built by Constantine and covered much of the space between the Hagia Sophia and what is now the Blue Mosque. It was destroyed in the early 6th century, and then rebuilt by Justinian in the latter part of the century, and the mosaics date from this period. Most of the ruins of the palace are buried under the Blue Mosque and other Ottoman-era structures. The mosaics were discovered during archaeological excavations in the 1930s.

It was wonderful to be able to see these fragments up close. They are much older than the works in the Kariye Museum, and most of those in the Hagia Sophia, and depict ‘earthly’ themes rather than religious ones. The color palette of is subdued and natural, but the figures are realized with tremendous depth and subtlety.

Next up was lunch at the nearby Albura Kathisma, a café specializing in Ottoman cuisine. We made friends with another hungry kitty over a nice spread of meze and a main course of chicken with slow-cooked orzo, honey, and dried fruits. After we finished eating, our server took us on an unexpected and neat short tour of the excavation of the original – and ancient – foundations of the building. After lunch, we went back up the hill to the Hagia Sofia and spent some more time enjoying the space inside and taking more photos until it it was closing time.

After a brief stop at the hotel, we walked around the corner to Giritli for a meyhane style meal. The set menu included an incredible selection of 25 or more meze, a main course of fish, dessert, and all-you-can-drink raki. The meze were stars of the meal, with the standouts including smoked mackerel, sea bass ceviche, kale with dill and pine nuts, and nettles with cheese. Dan went for the raki, and I tried the local chardonnay, which had a hint of a sherry flavor. Dessert was house made ice cream with a mild caramel flavor atop small donut balls that were crunchy and light, similar to  fried dough I remember from summer fairs of my childhood. Yet another very friendly kitty (who wanted our fish) kept us company during the meal, eventually settling down to sleep on an empty chair next to us.