Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Turkey Turns 85

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Eighty five years ago today, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed from the capital in Ankara. From the corner of my balcony on the Asian side of Istanbul I awoke to scores of red flags  hanging from apartment windows, poles, shops and even draped across the backs of people walking down the street…the air is simply swirling with national pride.

Tonight Bagdat Caddesi will be closed to vehicular traffic from 7pm and an energy packed celebration will take place up and down the Asian sides most trendy boulevard. If you want to see Turk nationalism at its best…this is the place to be.

Mehmet Moves In

Zonaro's Gate of Constantinople.

I guess 555 years has a way of diluting the history of conquest and defeat. Today, May 29th, marks the anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople, the defeat of the Byzantium Empire and the death of Constantine XI. Yesterday I took a walk along Theo’s famous wall and tried to imagine the difference 5 centuries can make.

In May of 1453 while the death throes were already shuddering through the fading Byzantine Empire and Constantinople’s fate had probably already been sealed…it wasn’t so much the heat of battle that caused the breaching of Theodosius’s famous land wall. It was the simple fact that a gate, possibly obscured by rubble, had been left unlocked. The Kerkoporta Gate on the northern portion of the land wall and not too far from the Golden Horn was soon discovered by the Ottomans to be unsecured. They flooded through the gate and into the streets, Constantinople was overrun and the Ottoman Empire began its amazing rise.

If you want a taste of the history you can take the train from Sirkeci to YediKule station and visit the YediKule Zindanlari Museum…yesterday we had it all to ourselves and from my post on top of the walls I can report to you that for today–all is well.

The Value of Men

Hanging with the Crew

There’s an old Moorish proverb that says “He who does not travel does not know the value of men”…I can relate to that sentiment. I love this city of Istanbul, its history, its food and beauty…but most of all I love its people. As you have heard me say over the past few years—we have never felt more welcome than living among Turks. While I still butcher the language and stretch the seemingly endless patience of our Çevre, we have fallen into a corner of Asia where I feel content to just sit and live…with some exceptions.
We have crisscrossed Turkey more than a dozen times the last few years and no matter what town, village or nomadic encampment we have visited and imposed upon, we find a thread of Turkish complexion that runs clear through from border to border…Turks are simply people of quality. They love to talk, laugh, eat and visit; they just like hanging out and getting into the details of each other’s lives.

The Master and her protege
Our doorbell rings all day long with neighbors and friends dropping in to chat and the food never seems to stop. Whenever one of the older women in our neighborhood cook special Turkish dishes they call Ann to come and learn…every week plates of food flow back and forth from their kitchens to ours and vice versa…tough life, I know.
While I am pretty well set with my balcony view of Minibus Yolu and the comings and goings of our friends, neighbors and food, I simply long to wander…which leads me, finally, to the point of today’s thoughts.
The expedition season is upon us and my gypsy juices started flowing this week as we began our plans for our summer wanderings across Asia Minor. In a few weeks we will head to Taurus Range to weave our way into the mountain villages and see if we can catch up with the locals. Next, Konya will be our base as we explore the ancient seat of the Great Seljuk Turkish Empire. The area is home to scores of ancient caravansaries, Mosques and Churches and some of the world’s oldest settlements.
All of which brings me back to the words of a forgotten Moor—whether in Istanbul or the rugged outback of Turkey, we have learned the value of the people of Turkey…they are simply Priceless.

For a great insight into nomadic hospitality check this from Today’s Zaman

Snuffing Out a Bit of Culture

May 19th is a big deal in Turkey commemorating the start of the War for Independence. I find that ironic, because today is another “May 19th” that is going to be remembered for a long time…this one for restricting a freedom that many Turks have enjoyed without restraint.  That of lighting up a smoke whenever and wherever the mood hit.

Starting today public smoking is being frowned upon in this great nation of nicotine loving Turks.  Already banned in airports and large offices today the ban sweeps into its purview the small shops, parks, entertainment venues and extends even to the ferries and taxis that troll throughout the metropolis. An estimated 15 million packs of cigarettes (300 million smokes) are  inhaled each day in Turkey.

Being a non-smoker it took some time to get used to the second hand smoke I was inhaling when we first landed here a few years ago.  Now when returning to Istanbul from abroad there is nothing that makes me feel more  “at home”  than the smell of cigarettes as soon as we step out of the airport.

I know…its bad for me, bad for you,  bad for all of us. I get it. I am not advocating smoking. However, when I see things that have been culturally endeared to me pass away there is an element of grief I experience. I cannot count the times that a Fiat-wielding taxi driver has held out a pack of smokes to me as he weaved and dodged through Istanbul”s infamous traffic, before lighting up himself. The scent of tobacco has become synonymous with the Turkish hospitality that has courted and overwhelmed us during our time in Asia Minor.

No doubt we will all be much healthier and able to worry about whatever great health risk becomes popular in the future. For now though I am not too worried, once I see the ashtrays on the treadmills at the local sports salon go…I will know that the restrictions are here to stay.

Moleskine Diary

Breaking in a new Moleskine Diary, smacks of the Sacred. If there was ever a time to inaugurate one, this was it, west bound from Istanbul on the famed rails of the Orient Express toward exotic destinations. For some distance we would share these historic rails with the likes of Inspector Poirot and Agatha Christie, before skewing south towards Thessaloniki. I cracked open the smooth black cover of my pocket size journal and put pen to paper.

IMG_3086.JPG Leaving Istanbul

This particular journey was not on “The” Orient Express itself, but rather the Dostluk Filia, an overnighter run to Greece. We had booked two sleeping compartments and we’re looking forward to being caressed to somnolence as we journeyed across western Turkey and into Greece. We were comfortably settled in as we made our way out of Istanbul and into the setting sun.

IMG_3120.JPG West of Bakirkoy

This night would prove to be one of the most wretchedly enchanted evenings of my life. A journey through the midnight hours racked by jerks, stops, sways, mosquitoes, and the repeated rapping at our door for passports and inspections. Making our way across borders that are less than “Filial” (as our tickets proclaimed) was an unexpected ordeal.

The ancestral tension between these neighbor countries was the

Visiting Hagia Sophia with Prof. Nelson


I am working for a Getty Institute Summer Programme that takes place in Istanbul with a special emphasis on art history and thanks to the programme, I had the pleasure to meet Robert S. Nelson who is the writer of Hagia Sophia, 1850-1950 : Holy Wisdom Modern Monument and who is a Rice gradute (hopefully like me if i finish my ph.d one day). We had a field trip to Hagia Sophia and although it was my third visit in the last three summers, with Prof. Nelson’s guidance, this has become the most informative one…

I have never visited Sogukcesme Street, just behind Hagia Sophia, whose preservation story is told by Zeynep Çelik here. Honestly, this street looks so artificial, so theme-park like that, I don’t see I will need to see it again…

First city walls of Istanbul discovered in Yenikapı

According to Hurriyet, ‘One section of the lost city walls, dating back to the period when Roman emperor Constantin had first founded Istanbul (Constantinople), was discovered Archeologist Metin Gökçay in Yenikapı Istanbul old town….However, in an act that could not occur anywhere else in the world, a concrete plant was swiftly built over the ruins belonging to the first founding of the city, found during digs as part of the Marmaray Project’

Topkapı Palace presents unseen, rare stuff for the first time.

The exhibition ‘Turkish Bath: The Bathing Tradition and the Art of Hairdressing during the Ottoman Period’ features 130 pieces, 80 percent of which have been taken from the palace’s warehouse and have never before been displayed

Istanbul reviews for would be travellers…

After a few super busy weeks, Erkan returns to the blog with some links:
A cool history blog, Mavi Boncuk posts about Marginals of old Istanbul .

TavelBite focuses on Nişantaşı: “The ultra-hip area of Nisantasi has long been one of the most desirable areas to stay in Istanbul, thanks to its haute couture shopping and great art….” Robert Haru Fisher writes for Frommer’s and offers a piece for would be travellers: Istanbul Delights: A Turkey Travelogue. In the mean time, Anya von Bremzen focuses on Istanbul’s Food and Wine stuff.

byzantium 1200

direct quote from the site: “byzantium 1200 is a project aimed at creating computer reconstructions of the Byzantine monuments located in İstanbul, Turkey, as of year 1200 AD.” The project was partly inspired by Alan Sorrell’s (who is referred to as the master of reconstructional drawing) famous painting of istanbul. Background information can be found here. 54 monuments are listed for remodelling, only 9 of them were incomplete when I last checked it out (i.e. a moment ago). I find it very practical that each reconstruction is accompanied by a map (and very impractical that the map cannot be magnified for a closer look).

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