I went to Turkey! It was pretty awesome. The people are respectful and friendly and the food is good, you usually can’t ask for much more than that, but the sites are pretty incredible as well. Turkey is one of the few countries that finds itself occupying territory on more than one continent (Iceland is another), Europe (which is where I went) and Asia, which is where the vast majority of the country resides. As I was only in Turkey for a day (as a part of the cruise), I stayed in Istanbul. Istanbul is at the mouth of the Bosporus, where the Dead Sea meets the Mediterranean Sea making it a significant port. As the city is so well placed, it was the capital of both the Ottoman Empire (then called Byzantine) and the Eastern Roman Empire (under the name Constantinople). It has a long history and the buildings bear the many influences of that history as a center for political, religious, and artistic change. UNESCO has named the historic areas of Istanbul as a collective a World Heritage Site. (I am not sure if it’s because there are so many or just for the sake of convenience. )
Hagia Sophia means “Holy Wisdom” in Greek. Why would a mosque bear a Greek name? Because it was originally a Greek Orthodox church, briefly a Roman Catholic church, and then around the 15th century became a Muslim mosque (which is what eventually stuck), until it became a museum in 1931. It was constructed in 537AD, making it one of the earliest still standing churches in the world, which is impressive since it was destroyed twice by rioters (damn infidels!!!) prior to the 537AD building. I was there when they were restoring the original frescoes in the ceiling that depicts angels. They were covered because Islam doesn’t allow human images to be present inside of a mosque, and because they aren’t a part of Islamic religious tradition. But now that it’s a museum, well…
The Grand Bazaar:
This is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, it boast well over 3000 vendor on its 61 “streets” selling anything from jewelry (the real stuff) to ceramics. Getting lost is a requirement; it’s really the only way to see everything as similar vendors tend to be grouped together. If you don’t like the price that a vendor is charging just walk a few steps into the next store, haggling is the name of the game here and most vendor prefer you to pay in Euros. Don’t expect bargain basement deals, too many European and Americans have come thru telling them how inexpensive the products were, so they have gotten hip to us and charge more than you might expect, but it is still cheaper than back home. Skip the Turkish rug show (they make them fly across the room), unless you are legitimately there to buy a rug, and go straight to the shopping. You will need more than one day to see it all.
Topkapi Palace (means Cannon Gates):
Occupied for more than 400 years by the Ottoman Sultans of Turkey, it is one of the largest palaces dating back to the 15th century still in existence. It is unlike European palaces in that it is several buildings interconnected by courtyards and breezeways. This was done by necessity as the men and women of that time lived separately and this was not only a royal residence, but also a place where political intrigue played out. At it’s peak it housed nearly 4000 people and had it’s own hospital, mosque, and mint.
The word harem is Arabic and means “forbidden”, and most aptly describes the life of a woman living in the palace. It was some of the more opulent spaces in Topkapi, but put me in mind of a gilded cage where one might keep a pampered pet. The windows were all covered with intricate scrollwork designs, not so much to keep the residents in, but to keep prying eyes out. As life moved all around you, you could only watch, until summoned where you had one purpose, the pleasing of one man.
Turkish Baths (or Hamman) :
Was more like a sauna and were a communal activity. Big decisions were made, gossip shared, and political alliances formed over the hot steamy air. When have you ever been so productive while naked? You can still have a Turkish bath today, there are places that specialize in creating that experience. What you can expect is a relaxing day in the sauna, a massage, and a dip in a cool pool. Sounds pretty close to a day at the spa (I’m in).
But then there is more, I also visited the Blue Mosque, but felt that this deserved it’s own post.
I would love to go back to Turkey. I wouldn’t mind starting in Istanbul (after all I need to spend a day or two in the Grand Bazaar), but I would like to see more of the country, even make it to the Asian part. Do you have any recommendations?