In February of 2006, the Leopard and his companion, the Sparrow, took a trip to Istanbul, Turkey. The resulting journal serves as a good guide to the city, including things to see and drinking and dining venues. Each day is documented diary-style, and the appendix contains supplementary notes as well as a food glossary and a timeline of key events referenced in the journal. The black-and-white pictures were taken by the Leopard, the color ones by the Sparrow.
The flight on Turkish Airlines (Türk Hava Yolları) is very pleasant and gives us the opportunity to start assimilating to the language and culture right away. I ask for red wine (kırmızı şarap) with dinner and am served a bottle of Villa Doluca, one of Turkey's primary wine producers. As our plane descends towards Istanbul, we can see a host of freight and tanker ships anchored off the coast in the Sea of Marmara. Our flight lands in Atatürk International Airport (Atatürk Hava Limanı) an hour early. Our first hint that we are in a foreign land is the minarets visible in the city outside the airport. My friend B. is early to receive us. The ride lasts about forty minutes and is hardly very scenic as it takes us on the freeways. The ride over the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge offers us our first glimpse of the Strait of Bosphorus.
Like many İstanbullus, B. lives on the Asian side of Istanbul and rather far from the central areas of the city. The Asian side is primarily residential and many people commute across the Bosphorus to the European side. The Kavacık neighborhood that he lives in is very much a suburb. We drive through a small central area with shops and eateries and are a little surprised to see many wild dogs and cats. B. tells us that the homeless dogs are mostly friendly, though he will later recount an incident that took place early in the morning in Taksim Square during which he was nearly attacked by a pack of dogs. We also later notice that the dogs are tagged, possibly by an animal control bureau that is spaying and neutering them.
Once we freshen up a bit, we are ready to go out. B. leads us down a steep hill to the coast of the Bosphorus. At a little pastry shop, B. buys three simits for .50 YTL each (see appendix for food vocabulary list). The price for these is generally the same throughout Istanbul. We eat them with tea at a small outdoor tea garden (çay bahçesi) on the water's edge. Across the Bosphorus the ramparts and walls of Rumeli Hisarı are visible.
Rumeli Hisarı ("Europe Castle")
Mehmet the Conqueror had this structure built in four months in 1452 as preparation for his attack on Constantinople (see appendix for time line of significant events). Its location is at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus, so it allowed the Ottomans to control all traffic on the strait. The sultan told his three viziers that they would be killed if it wasn't completed on time. These days, it is a museum and an open-air amphitheatre for a summer music festival. We consider visiting it later in our stay but never quite make it back, though there is a bus direct from Taksim Square.
What we thought was going to be a brief outing will become a major odyssey through much of the city. Luckily, we don't know this at the time and just go along in a haze due to lack of sleep. The journey begins at a ferry station next to the tea garden. When we get on the ferry, the Sparrow and I are pleased by the elegant and clean interior. The Bosphorus teems with commercial vessels flying many flags and cruising to and from the Black Sea. The waterway is an international zone due to a clause in the Lausanne treaty that specified that the Turkish government would have no control over vessels passing through the strait.
Our ferry lands at the Arnavutköy (literally "Albanian village") neighborhood a little farther south on the European side of the Bosphorus. One of the first things we notice is an old marble kiosk with Ottoman era script. B. tells us it is part of the old water system and that these structures are common throughout the city. We have come here because B. wants to take us to a famed baklava place that gets desserts shipped in from another location that specializes in sweets. The variety that B. really likes is not available, so we try another type that is similar to the baklava I have had at home. The little portions are flaky, very sweet, and coated with pistachios. They cost 2.50 YTL a piece, which B. considers rather expensive.
We walk along the coast and pass the Bosphorus Bridge, the first bridge built over the strait, and find ourselves in the neighborhood of Ortaköy (literally "middle village"), which we will be able to explore in more detail later. We pass through a little area with restaurants and cafes as well as the Ortaköy Camii mosque, which presents an iconic contrast with the modern span of the bridge. B. hails a taxi, and we ride to Taksim Square.
The square (Taksim Meydanı) and the area surrounding it is very central to the city and seems to be a place where local Turks congregate, as opposed to the more historical Sultanahmet, which attracts more tourists. On the western side is a stone reservoir that gives the square its name ("taksim" is the word for a place containing a central reservoir), built in 1732 to feed water lines to the city. Much of the square is chaotic as part of it is being dug up to extend the tram line and many buses come through here. B. points out the Cumhuriyet Anıtı ("Republic Monument") in the center, which dates from 1928 and depicts Atatürk and other figures. In September of 1955, mobs gathered in the square to organize attacks on the city's Greek community, many of whom lived in Beyoğlu. The State Opera, Ballet, Symphony Orchestra, and Theatre Company are located at the eastern end in the Atatürk Kültür Merkezi ("Atatürk Cultural Center").
We walk down İstiklal Caddesi ("Independence Avenue"), a wide, mostly pedestrian street crowded with people. The architecture is endlessly fascinating and combines various European styles with Ottoman touches. We pass the British Consulate General, built in 1845 in the form of an Italian palazzo. It is heavily guarded and fortified due to the 2003 bombing. At this point, we are ready for a break and some caffeine, so B. suggests we get some Turkish coffee. The first place we try, a roof-top lounge, serves only tea and nescafe, so we walk on. It seems that not every place serves Turkish coffee, but we finally locate one that does.
Little Wing Cafe
A cafe that B. likes, located across from the famous Babylon night club on Şehbender Sokak. It provides a very pleasant and intimate space with comfortable seating. For food, the cafe specializes in home-style cooking. The Sparrow and I share a spinach and cheese börek and find it very tasty. The Turkish coffee is a special treat. We order it az şekerli, but B. says the result is what he would consider orta şekerli. Afterwards, he reads our grounds. The total for three coffees, the börek, and one tea is 16 YTL.
Galata Kulesi ("Galata Tower")
Our journey continues with this landmark. B. tells us the first intercontinental flight took place here, which occurred in the 17th century when a man with wings on his arms glided from the tower across the Bosphorus to the Asian side. Originally, settlement in this area began when the Byzantines demanded that Genoese traders form their own community on the other side of the Golden Horn. The tower was built in 1348 as the high point of the fortified Galata community (now called Karaköy). Galata later became the Ottoman capital's European quarter.
We walk down steep streets until we come to the Kamondo stairs, an interesting, curving Art Nouveau stairway. We eventually make our way to the neighborhood of Karaköy, across the Golden Horn from Sultanahmet. From here we catch a ferry to Kadıköy. This ferry is even more elegantly appointed than the first one, and we enjoy the carvings in the interior. We manage to see some interesting landmarks on the way.
Kiz Kulesi ("Maiden Tower," better known in English as
A short tower on a little island just off of the Asian shore and one of the most distinctive features of the city. Although constructed in the 18th century, it is associated with the myth of Leander, who drowned while crossing the water to meet his lover, Hero. Hero then killed herself by jumping from the tower. Actually, the myth is more closely associated with the strait at the Dardanelles to the south of the Sea of Marmara. It is also called the Maiden's Tower due to a legend that a maiden was put here by her father to protect her from a prophecy that she would die by snakebite. A fruit-seller came by and sold her a basket of fruit that concealed a snake, which killed her. It is apparently a cafe by the day and a restaurant by night. The structure figures in a key scene in the James Bond movie The World is not Enough.
An early 20th-century train station positioned right on the water that was presented to the Ottomans by Kaiser Wilhelm. It definitely has a very German look and still functions as a railway station for lines from Asia.
The ferry lands at Kadıköy, known in ancient times as Chalcedon, the site of the first colony in the area. This neighborhood is fairly far south on the Asian side and is definitely hopping with locals out for fun on a Saturday night. Our objective here is meeting up with some old college friends of B.'s for dinner. We walk around the main road Söğütlüçeşme Caddesi for a bit, enjoying the new sights before going to the restaurant.
The decor of this restaurant reminds me of Olive Garden or some such place, but B. assures us that the food is authentic and traditional, and he is very much correct. A host of mezes are available from bar setups, and diners can simply go up and fill their plates with their choices. We let everyone else choose for us as they obviously know better than we do, and we are not disappointed with the choices. Some of the better picks include dolmas with patlıcan ("eggplant"), yaprak sarma (stuffed wine leaves), a peculiar seaweed, humus, ezme (a red pepper paste), and tabouli. I have a lahmacun (a kind of Turkish pizza) with ground meat and try a bit of an odd dish that consists of mashed meat mixed with wheat. It has sort of a paté texture. For dessert, I sample a lovely type of baklava called fıstıklı that consists of very thin layers of dough, cream, and lots of ground pistachio. I never had much of a taste for baklava, but this dessert is a true treat. We enjoy talking with B.'s friends, all of whom are cultured, intelligent, and gracious. As we are ready to leave before everyone else, they generously offer to take care of the bill.
B. contemplates taking either a taxi or a bus back to his apartment. He manages to find a bus that takes us there, but it proceeds on a freeway through neighborhoods that B. finds totally unfamiliar. The Sparrow and I are surprised to see an Ikea store at one point. Eventually, the bus does get to Kavacık, and from the stop we get a taxi. The Sparrow and I are happy to finish our first day and get some much needed rest.
I awake to the sounds of both a rooster and the morning call to prayer, which I find strangely comforting. Apparently, one of the reforms of Atatürk that failed to stick was a requirement for mosques to perform the call in Turkish instead of in the traditional Arabic. For breakfast, B. makes tea, and we eat simits he bought last night along with olives (zeytin) and herb cheese he purchased at the restaurant. We begin by walking down the steep hill to the coast again. The ferry isn't operating today, so we catch a bus to üsküdar. I see some interesting things on the way, including the ruins of an old castle.
üsküdar was originally the colony called Chrysopolis. Although a suburb of the earlier colony Chalcedon, Chrysopolis grew more rapidly due to a superior harbor. Both fell to the Ottomans a century before Constantinople did. It is today rather conservative and holds one of Sinan's finest mosques, Atık Valide Camii. Though a visit to this mosque may have been nice, we eventually make so many trips to the Asian shore for other purposes that we decide against it.
At the bus depot, B. helps me purchase an akbil for 20 YTL. The deposit is 6 YTL, and the remaining 14 YTL can be used for rides. The Sparrow and I are able to use one akbil for both of us as it actually records how many times it is accessed on a single trip and gives us both free transfers. However, the ferry is not associated with the larger transit system, so we buy tickets for 1 YTL each. The ferry takes us to Beşiktaş, from where we catch a taxi to Ortaköy just to the north. B.'s girlfriend P. has an apartment just off of Ortaköy's main street Ortaköy Dereboyu Caddesi. She serves us Turkish coffee, and another reading of the grounds is performed. We had thought about taking a boat tour of the Bosphorus today, but the weather isn't promising, so we decide on an indoor activity and go to the Dolmabahçe Palace instead.
Dolmabahçe Sarayı (literally "filled-in garden palace")
This opulent building on the water was built by Sultan Abdül Mecit in 1843 to replace the Topkapı Palace as a more European-style imperial residence. Fittingly, the designer of the Paris Opera did the interiors. After the end of the Empire, Atatürk based himself here until his death in 1938. Entry is by guided tour to two separate sections, the selamlık and the harem (15 YTL and 10 YTL, respectively). B. says that the harem pales next to the one at Topkapı, so we opt for just the selamlık. Entry is half price for the native Turks. We have to go through a security X-ray to get past the main wall. Once inside the courtyard, we can see the ornate clock tower. All the palace clocks are stopped at 9:05 am, the time that Atatürk died. We get inside just in time to catch the English tour.
The selamlık essentially consists of the imperial suites where business of state was carried out. We first see lots of dining room sets in glass cases, then the palace mosque. A staircase to the upper level offers the first taste of the gaudy opulence of the palace, especially when we're confronted with a one-ton chandelier. At the top is a hallway with a two-ton chandelier and Russian bearskins. One of the more interesting sections is the hamam (bath), consisting of three cool marble rooms: a dressing room, a warm room, and a hot room. The grand finale of the tour is the throne room, which features a four-ton chandelier, apparently the biggest in the world, and lots of trompe l'oeil effects painted on the walls and ceiling. In all, it's an interesting place that I'm glad we've seen, but the tour is a little rushed and much of the décor is extravagant and excessive in a very European fashion, which I've seen before. The Topkapı Palace will turn out to be much more stimulating and exotic.
The rain is really coming down now, as it has been for some time. We discount any outdoor activity and take a taxi back to Ortaköy for lunch. There is a little section by the water and the mosque with many cafes and restaurants, including a row of little stands selling kumpir (baked potato).
We go to this cafe by the water's edge for lunch. The Sparrow and I share a simple cheese sandwich for 5.50 YTL, and B. and P. both have kumpir, packing them high with the many fillings available, including pieces of sausage. The place is very crowded, especially at the tables by the windows overlooking the water.
As it has been raining and may not let up anytime soon, we decide it is a good day to stay in and prepare for a dinner gathering. We first go to a fish shop and buy mussels stuffed with rice and some local fish. The fish shops are amazing sights, with the fish displayed in fan shapes in huge, shallow metal bowls. Then we go to a liquor shop to pick up wine and rakı. We spend the rest of the afternoon chatting and watching cable TV. Shows in English are generally subtitled.
Two other Turkish friends, M. and his wife N., arrive for dinner that evening. Dinner is a pleasant feast that begins with P.'s mercimek çorbası ("lentil soup") and continues with mezes such as patlıcan salatası (an eggplant salad that resembles baba ganoush), beyaz peynir (white goat cheese), and humus. The fish is fresh and very tasty. For wine, we have a Sevilen Altıntepe, a Sultaniye (Chardonnay). I sample my first drink of rakı this evening.
Today, we are out on our own and will have to truly face the challenges of making our way in a foreign land, though we have certainly benefited from the introduction provided by our friends. Our first objective is to get breakfast. We go down to the area by the water where we saw the cafes the previous day, but strangely enough none of them seem to be open at 9:00 am, even though some of the menus specifically mention kahvaltı ("breakfast"). We finally find a simple place on the other side of Muallin Naci Caddesi that suits our needs.
Simitçi Dünyası ("Simit World")
A bakery place that may be a chain, even though it doesn't feel like it in the pleasant, cave-like interior. I manage to order nescafe, tea, a simit, and another bread product in Turkish. The total comes to 4 YTL.
We walk out to the main road along the coast and find a bus stop. Soon, we see a bus with Eminönü marked on the side and hop on. In about thirty minutes, we have crossed the Golden Horn on the Galata Bridge and are at the bus depot at Eminönü. I notice an akbil booth and make note as B. has warned us that there are not that many places where we can refill our akbil. Our first stop is the nearby mosque.
Yeni Valide Camii ("New Queen Mother's Mosque," but better
known as simply Yeni Camii)
Built between 1597 and 1663 on a commission from Sultan Mehmet III's mother, this mosque has a distinctive and prominent position on the water at Eminönü. It is the first mosque we see, so we are a little timid when we enter but are dazzled by the interior. The Iznik tiles are considered later and inferior to those of earlier mosques, but they still seem attractive to us.
We hop on the tram at Eminönü and find that we get a free transfer because an hour has not yet passed since we first got on the bus. As we ride by the Sirkeci train station, we see some sort of crowd gathered and a heavy police presence. The tram goes up a hill and in a couple of stops is at the Sultanahmet station, which is close to the major sights. Museums, including the Aya Sofya museum, are closed on Monday, so we decide to concentrate on mosques and others sights. We first visit the little tourist office at the Hippodrome. Upon entering, a man at the desk thinks I am French and greets me with a hearty "bonjour." I ask if they have a bus route map, but they only have basic maps. For some reason, he gives me a Stadtplan in German.
Now a pleasant park with some monuments, the Hippodrome was the scene of chariot races during Byzantine times. It was originally built in 203 by Septimius Severus after he conquered what was then called Byzantium. Constantine expanded it in 324. In 1826, Sultan Mahmut II had the Janissary corps killed here, and riots promoted by the Young Turks took place here in 1909. The interesting structures in the present park include a stone gazebo called Kaiser Wilhelm's Fountain, presented to Sultan Abdül Hamit II in 1901 and inlaid with golden mosaics; the Obelisk of Tutmosis III, carved in Egypt in 1450 B.C. and placed on a marble pedestal by Theodosius in 390; the Spiral Column, an odd, fragmented double-spiral column cast to commemorate the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea and originally placed at Delphi; and the Magnetic Column, dating from the 10th century, whose bronze and brass plates were pilfered by the Fourth Crusade.
Sultan Ahmet Camii (known in English as the Blue Mosque)
Although the main entrance to this famous structure is through the huge courtyard, visitors are asked to enter from the rear. Sultan Ahmet I had it constructed from 1606 to 1616. It represents the last flowering of classical Ottoman mosque architecture. The architect, Mehmet Ağa, had trained with the famous Sinan. The interior is alive with gloriously blue Iznik tiles, hence the mosque's nickname. The stained-glass windows are also lovely, though they are not the originals. Visitors are only allowed behind a fenced-off area, but it is adequate to appreciate the beauty of the dome. A wide, metal chandelier hangs from the dome down nearly to the floor level as in many other mosques. The pillars that hold up the dome are rather large, and for this reason the mosque is not considered as architecturally elegant as the Süleymaniye Camii. The mihrab contains a piece of the black stone from the Kaaba in Mecca. The most distinctive exterior feature is the presence of six minarets, which caused a scandal at the time because they equaled the number of minarets of the mosque in Mecca. Afterwards, we look at the tomb of Sultan Ahmet I to the north. The small building is packed with the tombs of the sultan's wife and sons and allows a closer examination of some Iznik tile work.
Yerebatan Sarnıçı ("Sunken Cistern," but better
known in English as the Basilica Cistern)
This underground structure was constructed by Emperor Justinian in 532 as a reservoir for water for the Great Palace, delivered by aqueducts from another reservoir by the Black Sea. The cistern was forgotten for centuries until being uncovered in 1545. After paying the 10 YTL entry fee, we walk down some stairs and are awestruck at coming upon a huge subterranean space supported by an array of 336 columns in 12 rows. Wooden platforms above the water create a path through much of the place. At times, we can see fish in the dimly lit water below. One of the interesting details is the tear column, so named because of tear-drop shapes on its surface. More famous are the Medusa columns, both of which have huge sculptures of the Gorgon's face, one upside-down for some reason. On our way out we see a cafe that would be an unusual place for tea.
We find some postcards we like in the gift shop at the cistern exit, and they are reasonably priced at .25 YTL each. The lights seem to be out in the shop, and when we pay the clerk tells us, smilingly, that he can't see well enough to give us change and requests that we come back later. I tell him that we would like to have the change immediately. The amount was in his hand the whole time, and he laughs as he gives it to us, as if he realizes how shameless his scam was and how unlikely it was to succeed. It's time to get something to eat, so we walk a little bit, trying to find someplace that isn't too close to the tourist area.
Yabacı Kardeşler Karadeniz Pide & Kebap Salonu
("Yabacı Brothers Black Sea Pide and Kebab House")
On üçler Sokak a little bit west of the Hippodrome. There are two menu lists outside, one in English and one in Turkish, so we know what we are getting into. The waiter doesn't speak English, but we manage okay in Turkish, particularly after he gives us English menus. I get the İskender kebap (4 YTL), a tasty construction of lamb chunks served on pide bits in a butter and tomato sauce with yogurt on the side. Extra bread, a chewy flat bread like focaccia, is served in a basket. Sparrow has a yağlı yumurtalı, a pide topped with egg (3.50 YTL). We eat our lunch with refreshing, yogurt-based ayran (.75 YTL) and finish it with fincan çay (tea in a cup, 1.50 YTL). When we're done, he squirts lemon-scented hand cleanser into our palms. B. tells us that these Black Sea (Karadeniz) places are popular and that the pide from this region are particularly special.
Built in 1571 by Sinan and named after the grand vizier of Sultan Selim II, this mosque is a tiny gem. Outside is a cemetery with gravestones topped with turbans. When we reach the courtyard, a young man asks us if we want to go into the mosque and lets us in. The interior is filled with some of the most fantastic Iznik tile designs we see. One fragment from the black stone in the Kaaba in Mecca is framed in gold above the entrance, two are in the mimber, and one is in the mihrab. When we are ready to leave, the young man tries to sell us a set of pictures of the mosque; we decline but give him a donation.
We attempt to locate Küçük Aya Sofya but are unsuccessful as the tiny streets are sometimes unlabeled on the map in our guidebook. Although there are some small hotels in this area in the south of Sultanahmet, it is a very old and local scene. We give up on our search and walk north to Divan Yolu, the main street connecting Sultanahmet with the Bazaar district.
A tall column by a tram stop that was erected by Constantine to celebrate the founding of his new city as the capital of the eastern provinces. The site was originally Constantinople's forum. The monument is unfortunately covered in scaffolding so we can make out very little.
Kapalı Çarşı ("Covered Market," but better
known in English as the Grand Bazaar)
A huge complex of more than 4000 shops as well as restaurants and cafes, the Grand Bazaar is a maze where everything imaginable is on sale, though many of the goods seem directed at tourists. It has its origin in a masonry warehouse built in Mehmet the Conqueror's time. More interesting than the wares is the obviously old, domed ceiling. It doesn't take long for us to tire of being beckoned by the shopkeepers of nearly every place we walk by, and we seek out the exit.
After leaving the bazaar, we are still in a major shopping area with tiny streets and lots of people. It takes a while to make our way out of the tangle.
Beyazit Square (also known as Hürriyet Meydanı,
In Byzantine times this region was the Forum of Theodosius, and sections of columns can still be seen on Yeniçeriler Caddesi to the south. At the north side is the massive entrance gate to the walled-off Istanbul University. Mehmet the Conqueror's first palace, Eski Sarayı ("Old Palace") was built here. After it was replaced by the Topkapı Palace, palace women whose sultan sons had died were sent to live here. The present building was built in the 19th century as the Ministry of War. The prominent stone tower in the interior was used to spot fires and can be easily seen at a distance.
We are ready for more tea. The area near the square looks unpromising so we check in the guidebook and find a place nearby.
Erenler Çay Bahcesi ("Saints Tea Garden")
Yeniçeriler Caddesi 36/28. Set in the courtyard of the çorlulu Ali Paşa Medrese with a sign in front that reads "Magic Waterpipe Garden." When we enter, we can see both an empty outdoor garden and an indoor area. The sign outside reads aile ("family"), which indicates that both men and women are welcome in at least one section. A man beckons us into the indoor area, and we find ourselves in a smoky, domed room filled with older men smoking nargileh (water pipes). The guidebook mentions that students of both sexes frequent this place, but apparently that is not true at this hour. Nevertheless, we sit, accept tea from a man with a tray, and write postcards. The atmosphere is exceptionally lazy. It apparently takes at least thirty minutes to smoke a nargileh, so it seems that people spend a lot of time here. Uniformed servers take around trays of tea and bring fresh coals for the pipes. A man next to me is studying an English textbook and asks me some questions on the finer points of preposition usage. We have a pleasant chat, and I ask him how we pay in a place like this. He tells me we just go to the counter at the end. After two glasses of tea each we are finally ready to leave. We go to the man at the counter and tell him how many teas we had. Each costs .70 YTL.
Built 1501 to 1506 by Sultan Beyazit II, this was the second imperial mosque constructed in the city after Fatih Camii. Many of the later mosques were based on its design, which ultimately refers back to Aya Sofya. The use of fine stones is particularly noteworthy in the interior, including marble and distinctively purple porphyry.
We walk along the walls of the university. The guidebook tells us only students are allowed inside, so we peek through the fence at the tower. However, P. later tells us that tourists are allowed in but non-student Turks are not, partly to avoid people congregating for subversive purposes. We soon reach the top of the hill and our next destination. Like Rome, the city of Constantinople was built on seven hills, and our journeys take us up and down many of them.
Built between 1550 and 1557 on a commission from Sultan Süleyman I the Magnificent as the fourth imperial mosque in the city, this one is the grandest of them all. Architect Mimar Sinan chose to be buried here, even though he described the mosque in Edirne as his best work. The entrance first leads into a forecourt and garden, then the courtyard, and finally the mosque itself. The interior is astonishing in its gracefulness and use of open space. Unlike the Blue Mosque, the buttresses that support the four columns are incorporated into the building's walls and are masked by galleries. The Ottoman mosque architects all seemed to want to better Aya Sofya, and Sinan is really the only one who came close with this building. Interior decoration is sparse. Although the Iznik tiles, stained-glass windows, and 19th-century arabesques in the dome are pleasant, the mosque's effect is derived more from its use of space. One interesting detail is the ventilation system, which managed to draw up the smoke of candles into a chamber where lampblack was collected, which could then be used to make ink. Four minarets at the corners of the courtyard make the mosque's presence unmistakable at the top of the hill. One imagines that the Blue Mosque must benefit from very successful publicity to be more popular than this grand building.
I need to use the restroom after the mosque and find a sign for the WC. .50 YTL is required for entry. The interior is quite bizarre. On the right is the women's section. On the left is a row of enclosed and not very clean stalls, but the hall is decorated with plants and LCD screens showing oceans and forests. Speakers emit recorded bird and nature sounds. As it is getting late, we decide to make our way back to Eminönü to return to B.'s.
After leaving the outer courtyard of the mosque, we walk by a little domed building on Memer Sinan Caddesi that is the mosque's hamam, also designed by Sinan. We walk through the Tahtakale area, a popular shopping district. Each little street seems dedicated to a different ware. The array of streets and the bustle of people getting out of work and shopping are disorienting, but we manage to stay on course by following the slope of the hill. After a while, we stumble into the Spice Bazaar by accident.
Mısır Çarşısı ("Egyptian Market,"
better known in English as the Spice Bazaar)
Dating from the 1660s, this bazaar is much smaller than the Grand Bazaar and was constructed as a part of the Yeni Camii complex, which is evident in its architecture. Rent from the shops still supports the mosque. It is called the Egyptian Market because it was once thought to be supported by taxes levied on goods from Egypt. We walk through and are delighted by the scents and the huge bowls of richly colored spices. The salesmen are as pushy as in the Grand Bazaar.
Rüstem Paşa Camii
A tiny mosque designed in 1560 by Sinan for Rüstem Paşa, grand vizier of Süleyman the Magnificent. It is considered an early version of the huge mosque in Edirne. The entrance is a little difficult to find until I follow the guidebook and look for the doorway and plaque that mark the stairs leading up to the small courtyard. Both the interior and the facade are covered with lovely Iznik tiles. Even the pillars that support the dome are adorned with the elegantly patterned squares. Rüstem Paşa himself was apparently a conniving figure who plotted with Süleyman's wife Roxelana to turn the sultan against his favorite son Mustafa, who was killed by the sultan in 1553.
After our final mosque of a very full day, we walk to the main square of Eminönü and call B., who has kindly provided us with a spare cell phone that we can use to stay in contact him. He has been working all day and gives us directions for getting back to his apartment. We can apparently catch a ferry that takes us all the way to the coast by his neighborhood. Our first attempt to find the correct ferry is unsuccessful, and I need to call him back to clarify. Finally, I figure out we need to take a "Boğaz'a" ferry to the Anadolu Hisarı port. We use the akbil to get on a ferry that is leaving shortly, but once we are on I take another look at the schedule I picked up on Saturday and realize that the ferry we got on will bypass the port we want. To correct the error, we get off at the next port, Beşiktaş, and wait for the next ferry. Unfortunately, we are unable to simply wait outside for the next one as the traffic of passengers is carefully controlled. We need to go around the front and use the akbil again for entry. I had thought it would be considered a free transfer, but we are charged again. After getting on the correct ferry, we have to watch out for our port as they are poorly marked. The voyage from Beşiktaş to Anadolu Hisarı takes forty minutes. One nice thing is that the ferries follow the scheduled times closely.
Anadolu Hisarı ("Anatolia Castle")
The ferry stop is named after the castle that is just to the south of it. Sultan Beyazit I had the structure built in 1391 in preparation for an Ottoman siege of Constantinople, which ultimately failed. It is lit up at night and is mostly in ruins, unlike the later Rumeli Hisarı across the Bosphorus. Parts of the structure have been incorporated into the row of buildings along the water.
For dinner, we find a börek place. The young men running the place do not speak English, but we are able to determine that one variety has only cheese, whereas the other has meat. We use our hands to describe the quantity we want. The pastry is cut up and put on a plate for us to enjoy in the upstairs seating area. The clerks are pleasant and helpful. The total comes to 4 YTL. After dinner, the Sparrow picks up some citrus fruits and huge strawberries from a nearby shop. Back at B.'s, we snack on pieces of a huge simit dipped in a mixture of avocado and the cheese from the previous morning. We also try Tekel beer, a crisp, light lager produced by the government-owned Tekel company.
P. has kindly offered to let us stay at her place indefinitely, so we decide to do that for at least two more nights and then see about getting a hotel.
We start the day by making our way down to the water but soon realize we have no firm idea on how to get there as we have never walked there without B. as an escort. I ask a man for directions to Anadolu Hisarı. I am able to figure out the directions he gives me, but as we are walking the landscape is totally unfamiliar, so I hail a passing taxi. The taxi takes us along the route the man suggested, and it indeed gets us to where we want to go, just by a different road. I pay him 2.50 YTL.
We catch a bus to üsküdar; 1.25 YTL is deducted from the akbil. We intend to get something to eat in üsküdar but see little nearby, so we settle for a commuter's breakfast of simit (.70 YTL for two) from a stand and tea (1 YTL for two) on the ferry. The ferry gets us to Eminönü, from where we catch the tram to Sultanahmet. At the Sultanahmet station we see an automatic akbil refilling booth. It even has an introduction in English. The akbil is simply attached to a plug and money is added in denominations of 5, 10, or 20 YTL. We are now ready for one of the most awesome sights in Istanbul.
Aya Sofya (also known by the Greek name Haghia Sofia,
"Church of the Divine Wisdom")
Entry is 10 YTL. The original version of this church was a basilica built in 360 by Emperor Constantinius, Constantine's son. The second was built by Theodosius II in 415. The present building was completed in 537 during the reign of Justinian. After the conquest of 1453, it was turned into a mosque and remained so until 1934, when Atatürk had it established as a museum. The minarets were added during the reigns of Mehmet the Conqueror, Beyazit II, and Selim II.
In the atrium in front of the entrance are the hollowed-out ruins of the foundation of Theodosius's church. In the inner narthex is a barely visible mosaic of Christ as Pantocrator. The inner narthex leads to the main interior, where the sheer openness and the huge dome hanging high above one's head is absolutely awe-inspiring. The feeling is comparable to when I visited St. Peter's in Rome, but Aya Sofya was built a millennium earlier. The dome has actually been rebuilt several times and additional supports have been added, but it is still amazing that such a thing could have been built when it was. About a one-eighth section beneath the dome is filled with scaffolding that rises to the top, and a fenced-off area cuts off access to some things such as the omphalion, a square of inlaid marble where the Byzantine emperor was crowned, but it doesn't detract too much from the overall effect. The scaffolding is being employed to restore the mosaics in the dome and will likely be in place for many years. The capitals on the huge columns have a fantastic, intricate, leafy design, unlike anything I've seen before. Some of the Ottoman additions include huge medallions inscribed with the names of Allah dating from the 19th century, a chandelier hanging low to the floor, and a mihrab where the altar would have been, but offset to indicate Mecca. In the northwest corner is the weeping column, which has a hole with a worn circle around it. Placing your thumb in the hole and rotating your palm around the column is supposed to be lucky somehow. In the altar space is a mosaic of the Madonna and Child and a fragment of a mosaic of the Archangels Gabriel and Michael. Near the mihrab is a tiny tile panel with a rough depiction of the Kaaba and a mimber in Mecca. The original church was covered with mosaics, but many were destroyed by the iconoclasts during the conflicts of 726-787 and others when it was converted into a mosque. Luckily, some were merely covered in plaster and have been recovered.
An old ramp winds up to the upstairs gallery, where more delights await us. Very early mosaics of St. Ignatius the Younger, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Ignatius Theodorus of Antioch are visible in the northern tympanum. The most fantastic mosaic is the 14th-century Deesis mosaic in the southern part of the gallery, depicting the last judgment with Christ, Mary, and John the Baptist. Secular mosaics include a portrait of Empress Zoe, the wife of Emperor Romanus III Argyrus. Also in the gallery is the tomb of Enrico Dandolo, a doge of Venice who sacked Constantinople and Aya Sofya during the fourth crusade. He ruled much of the city until his death in 1205, when he was buried in the church. Legend has it that his tomb was broken into and his bones thrown to the dogs after the Ottoman conquest. As we leave, a mirror directs our attention to a fine 10th-century mosaic of Constantine, Mary, the Christ child, and Justinian, who is depicted offering Aya Sofya to Mary. Outside are the tombs of various Ottoman figures, including the graves of five sons of Sultan Selim II who were murdered in one night in 1574 to make way for the oldest son, Murat III. Later, in one of the paybacks history is famous for, 19 of Murat III's sons were murdered in 1595 for the sake of Mehmet III. They are also buried here.
We find a small postal booth (PTT) across the street and attempt to send our postcards. As we watch, the man running the booth becomes involved in some sort of street altercation involving the drivers of two cars. He comes back and tells us how much the stamps are for the U.S. but then disappears. We see a sign in the booth saying "back in 10 minutes" and observe him sitting nearby reading a newspaper. Clearly he doesn't want our business, so we walk on.
Haseki Hürrem Hamamı ("Baths of Lady Hürrem")
Designed by Sinan from 1556-1557 for Sultan Süleyman's wife Roxelana (known as Hürrem Sultan in Turkish) and once functioning as the hamam for the Aya Sofya mosque complex, this bath is considered one of the finest that Sinan designed. Although it now houses a functioning carpet shop run by the Ministry of Culture, the sale staff seems to realize that many patrons are tourists and do not pressure or approach us in any way, and we are pleased at the chance to see a traditional bath without having to undergo the experience ourselves. We enter into the dressing room (camekan) of the men's side, which has a marble fountain; continue into the "warm" room (soğukluk) where washing is done; and then into the "hot" room (hararet), designed for sweating and massage. Each room has little adjoining rooms for privacy. From there, we go through a doorway (originally a solid wall to separate men and women's areas) to access the hararet, soğukluk, and camekan of the women's side. Curiously, the sales staff on the men's side consists strictly of men, whereas they are all women on the women's side. Carpets hanging everywhere detract a little from the experience.
Yabacı Kardesler Karadeniz Pide and Kebap Salonu
We go back to this place as we know it's good and cheap. This time, I have a spicy Adana kebap (3 YTL), which comes with salad, rice, and bread, and the Sparrow has a chicken şiş kebap (3.50 YTL).
Türk ve İslam Eserleri Müzesi ("Museum of Turkish and
Entry is 5 YTL. The building was constructed in 1524 as the palace of İbrahim Paşa, who was originally captured by Turks in Greece and made a palace slave but became the grand vizier of Süleyman due to his friendship with the sultan as a young man. However, he was killed in 1536 by Süleyman due to the machinations and envy of the sultan's wife Roxelana. The museum has a wonderful collection of antique carpets, illuminated manuscripts, and crafts. I am fascinated by the tuğras of the sultans, highly elaborate calligraphic monograms designed in a standard pattern, forming a sort of seal for each ruler. In the textiles exhibit are "Holbein" carpets, called such because the pattern shows up in a painting by Hans Holbein. The Sparrow is intrigued by the huge candlesticks. In a separate ethnographic section of the indigenous peoples of central Asia are replicas of a felt yurt hut, ethnic costumes, a black tent (kara çadır) made of goat hair, and details on wool dyeing and weaving. Afterwards, we sit in the pleasant indoor cafe and have tea (.50 YTL).
We had intended to make the Mosaic Museum before its closing, but once we get there we find we probably won't have time to see it. We instead walk through the Arasta Bazaar and some of the streets to the east of Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. At this point, we're formulating plans to get a hotel for our last few nights. We had never intended to stay with B. for the whole time. Staying with P. is more convenient, but as welcoming and generous as she is I hesitate to take advantage of her hospitality as we've only just met her. Initially, we had thought of getting a hotel in Sultanahmet as the guidebook lists plenty of small boutique hotels and accommodations in old Ottoman buildings. However, now that we are walking around near dusk the prospect seems far less attractive. Very few people are out except for tourists and those who want to sell things to tourists.
Soğukçeşme Sokak ("Street of the Cold Fountain")
Running along the southern wall of the Topkapı Palace, this street is noted for nine re-creations of Ottoman-style houses. They are small and boxy but still elegant wooden constructions now used as boutique hotels.
We walk on to the main post office on Şehinşah Pehlevi Caddesi. We stumble around a bit inside and are not at all sure which desk to go to but eventually find one labeled "Mektup" and "Letter." International stamps are .70 YTL each. Afterwards, we decide to take a closer look at the Sirkeci Railway Station in Eminönü.
Sirkeci İstasyonu (Sirkeci Railway Station)
Designed by a German architect in 1881, this station once served as the terminus of European rail routes, including the famous Orient Express. It is based on one of the pavilions of the Topkapı Palace and reflects the style of Islamic Eclecticism, a movement introduced by European architects. It is an odd mix of Ottoman and European Neoclassicism, evident in its rose windows and clock tower. Today, the station seems a bit run-down even though it still serves European routes. Outside is displayed a classic locomotive made in Germany.
We are done with the day but cannot return to P.'s until she comes home from work, so we decide to find a cafe near her apartment. We hop on the tram and take it to the last station, Fındıklı, from where we catch a bus to Ortaköy. I notice a branch of my bank near the station. The tram ride costs 1 YTL and the transfer .25 YTL. On the bus, an older gentleman holding a bundle of flowers offers two to us. Thinking he is selling them, we initially decline, but we accept when he makes it obvious they are gifts. He starts to speak to me in French. It turns out he is a retired professor of medicine who speaks French as a second language and some English. We converse in French for a while, and it's enjoyable for me to use a more familiar foreign language. He tells us it's a special day, referring of course to Valentine's Day. We reach Ortaköy and look around until we find a cafe we want to spend time in.
Destan Nargileh & Cafe
Located in the cluster of cafes near the water, we find this one a pleasant, cushioned place to spend some time, even though tea is a pricey 3 YTL each. It seems that in cafes like this one not even the tea is cheap. Music is playing from a CD, but I find it interesting that the barkeep turns it off during the sunset call to prayer from the nearby mosque.
We get back to P.'s to find that she is making dinner for all of us. B. calls and says he will be late, so the three of us eat. She has made mantis, filled with meat and served in the traditional manner with yogurt and tomato sauce. We sprinkle mint flakes on top. We drink a white wine produced by Kavaklidere, another of Turkey's big wine producers. B. arrives with a bottle of very fine Villa Doluca reserve red wine (özel Kav). It is spicy and has some interesting vegetable flavors.
I am a little restless and get out of the apartment before the Sparrow does this morning. For one thing, I want to take a closer look at the Ortaköy mosque.
Ortaköy Camii (Büyük Mecidiye Camii)
Built by one of the architects of the nearby Dolmabahçe Palace for Sultan Abdül Mecit III between 1853 and 1855, the exterior of this mosque incorporates interesting Baroque and Neoclassical ornamentation. It's fascinating how the later mosques follow European architectural trends much as European churches do. The interior is supposed to contain fine examples of the sultan's calligraphy, but it is unfortunately closed at the moment.
I spend the rest of my time sitting on a bench looking at the water, the Asian shore, and the towers and minarets of Sultanahmet emerging out of the mist. At moments like this one can't help but feel in love with Istanbul. I go back to the apartment to retrieve the Sparrow, and the two of us go back to the Simitçi Dünyası for breakfast. This time we try a sort of spiral pastry. It is dense and not overly sweet.
Our first objective is to locate and book a hotel to go to the next morning. By this time, we have decided to forego the hotels in Sultanahmet and try for a place in Taksim instead. We consider the location ideal for a few reasons. First, the locale is much livelier and is a place where locals congregate more than tourists, even though there are a few hotels in the area. Second, a major bus hub in Taksim Square gives us access to anywhere we want to go. Third, it is both close to the sights we want to see and to B. and P. in Ortaköy, whom we still plan to see much of after we move out of her apartment. Finally, the guidebook mentions buses that go directly from Taksim to the airport. The first two hotels we try are four-star places and out of our price range, even though the prices cited in the guidebook are much lower. The third place we try, Hotel Avrupa, is a one-star hotel but seems to suit our needs perfectly. It is only 70 YTL per night for both of us, the young man at the reception desk is pleasant, and the room he shows us is sunny and nice. We book for the next five nights.
Afterwards, we decide to see a bit of the area. We notice a lot of police in the square, including rifle-armed officers on top of the reservoir. Our ultimate objective for the day is to catch the 3:00 show at the Military Museum, so we don't wish to stray too far. First, we go to the Greek Orthodox church Aya Triada, but it is closed. Then, the Sparrow has some stores she would like to take a look at, so we go on a browsing trip.
İstiklal Caddesi 123-5. We go in as the Sparrow wants to get a glimpse of a local high-end department store, sort of a Turkish Bloomingdale's. The sales clerks are very polite and address us with the formal "efendim." They don't pressure us but hover discreetly in the background, ready for any question we may have. We mainly look at the discounted outlet clothes in the basement level.
İstiklal Caddesi 197. A combination book and music store. We see some CDs by Turkish artists but have no idea what to get. P. played some of her Turkish CDs the other day, but we failed to really note what we liked.
Turnacıbaşi Sokak 65. This antiques store is loaded with fascinating old furniture and decorations, many from the Ottoman era. We quite enjoy poking around. At some point, the two guys running the place try to tell us something. I gather they're closing for lunch, so we leave.
Altıpatlar Sokak 10. A small place with interesting used clothing dating back to the Ottoman era. The Sparrow finds something she likes and asks the woman how much it is. The woman wants 40 YTL. The Sparrow proposes 35 YTL, but the woman says something in Turkish that I interpret as telling us that it's already discounted from 50 YTL. We make a motion to go and the woman doesn't try to stop us, so I gather she doesn't really want to make a sale.
La Cave Wine Shop
Sırasilviler Caddesi 207. Lots of foreign liquors and Turkish wines are for sale here. We try to find the nice Villa Doluca B. brought to dinner last night but are unable to locate it.
It finally seems like a good time to head to the Military Museum. The weather has been a bit wintry all morning, with a sort of frozen slush falling from the sky periodically. We take a bus up Cumhuriyet Caddesi ("Republic Avenue"), and by the time we get to the Military Museum it is snowing in earnest.
Askeri Müzesi ("Military Museum")
We have to go through one X-ray to get into the compound and another to get into the museum itself. Entry is 3 YTL. The museum's collection is huge and starts with the Ottomans. We see the short bows that Ottoman soldiers were highly skilled at shooting with while horseback. I enjoy seeing a model depicting the 1453 conquest of Constantinople. Because the Byzantines closed off access to the Golden Horn with an enormous chain, the Ottomans built ramps and dragged their ships across the land north of the walls of Galata so they could be used to attack the western walls of Constantinople. It seems a staggering feat of engineering and determination. A portion of the actual chain is displayed, along with a diorama of Sultan Mehmet II entering the gates of the city. Room after room is full of bladed weapons and guns from both Ottoman and foreign militaries. One of the most politically provocative exhibits is a room titled "Internal Security Operations." Here we find pictures of murdered civilians, weapons, and other equipment captured from "separatists," which I take to mean the Kurdish PKK guerrillas. The exhibit continues upstairs with a room that a young Atatürk studied in and a large model of the Gallipoli battlefield. The War of Independence (called the "Salvation War" in the exhibit) is naturally prominent. Turkish military actions in Korea and in Cyprus are also represented. We find the actual car that Grand Vizier Mahmut Şevket Paşa was riding in when he was assassinated in 1913, along with his blood-stained shirt. The car window has bullet holes. However, we are disappointed that the Ottoman imperial pavilion rooms are closed today.
At 3:00 we go to the concert hall for the Mehter performance (short for Mehter Takımı, literally "musician group"). The Mehter is considered the first true military band, formed in the 13th century to accompany the Ottoman army into conquered territory. It fell out of favor with the decline of the Empire but was revived in 1953 to celebrate the anniversary of the conquest and has been popular ever since. The performance begins with a slide show recounting the history of the band. It is in Turkish and looks heavily propagandistic. It also depicts something that B. told us the night before, which is that Mozart incorporated some of the band's melodies into his works. The show really begins when the band marches on stage. They make a stirring sight dressed in period costumes (although some of the fake mustaches are rather poor). A large, two-barrel drum keeps the beat while smaller drums follow. Horns and pipes play in unison and a chorus sings. I found out about the Ottoman siege of Vienna while visiting that city, and at the time it seemed like a battle to keep the barbarians from the gates, but hearing this stirring music almost makes me wish the Ottomans had won. The last piece is cacophonous and seems like a rallying call. The performance lasts about 40 minutes. By the time we get out, the snow has stopped. In the grounds outside are a Turkish Air Force F-104, a Bell-Howell helicopter, and a huge artillery piece. B. will later tell us that the cafe around the back is very cheap as it is subsidized by the military.
We walk south down the street looking for some food and settle at a place for cheese börek for 3 YTL a piece. We try to catch a bus going south towards Taksim, but by the time we find a stop we are already so close we decide to walk the rest of the way. Our next objective is to look at a glass shop recommended by M. as we want to get a Turkish tea set to take home. At Taksim Square, we hop on the streetcar that goes down İstiklal Caddesi. A ride costs .90 YTL and is pleasant if slow. B. has told us that P. will not be home until 9:00 that night, so we have a lot of time to kill.
İstiklal Caddesi 314. A glass wares store. The Paşabahçe glass factory was founded in 1957 on the shores of the Bosphorus, and this store showcases some of its contemporary and classical designs. There is a real Crate and Barrel feel to the place as it seems geared to provide middle-class Turks with affordable design, and the tea sets we find are a little too stylish for our taste. The upstairs is a boutique with lots of fine Ottoman-inspired glassware.
Pera Palas Oteli (Pera Palas Hotel)
Meşrutiyet Caddesi 98-100. Built in 1868 by the same Belgian who connected Paris and Istanbul with the Orient Express, this luxury hotel has housed such luminaries as Agatha Christie (who allegedly wrote Murder on the Orient Express here), Mata Hari, and Greta Garbo. The room where Atatürk stayed is apparently preserved as a museum. The Sparrow has remarked that there is a real "Washington slept here" feel to the various Atatürk memorials. We briefly glance through the doors to see the lavishly decorated interior.
Venta del Toro
We want to relax a bit in a pleasant cafe and find this place on Yüksek Caldırım Sokak near the Galata Tower. It is Spanish in style but still serves us a nice Turkish coffee (3 YTL). At the bar are a group of New Zealanders who manage to outdo Americans with their obnoxiousness. The staff speaks little or no English, and the New Zealanders are trying to find out the closing and opening times. I consider translating a little but decide I don't want to help them out. One of them gives the bartender a piece of New Zealand currency and asks him to display it on a bar shelf. When the bartender merely places it flat, the New Zealander walks back behind the bar totally uninvited to stand it upright. The bartender leaves it like that just until the ill-mannered bunch leave.
Kuledibi Şah Kapısı 6. We decide to try this cheap place mentioned in the guidebook for dinner. The staff speaks only Turkish and are very welcoming. I have a tasty Urfa kebap (7 YTL) and the Sparrow has tavuk pirzola (7.50 YTL). We share a yeşil salata ("green salad") for 3 YTL. The main dishes are served with rice, ekmek, grilled tomatoes, and long thin green peppers (biber).
We walk down to the coast to catch a bus back to Ortaköy. The streets are a bit deserted, so I'm pleased when we reach the busy bus stop at Karaköy. I notice that a young man is selling bus tickets. On a couple of occasions we see tickets being sold on a bus. Still, these services seem sporadic and it seems best to have an akbil. When B. arrives, we formulate a plan to go to M. and N.'s tomorrow night for dinner.
At the hotel, the room isn't ready yet, so we go out for breakfast. We go to a very obvious chain nearby called Simit Sarayı ("Simit Palace") so that the Sparrow can get filtre kahve (2.50 YTL). I have a large tea (1.75 YTL), and we share a simit and another swirled pastry. We also need to refill our akbil. We descend into the nearby metro stop but don't find an automatic dispenser. I ask the ticket clerk, but he says he doesn't fill akbils. We return to the hotel to check in.
Hotel Avrupa ("Hotel Europe")
Topçu Caddesi 32. The man at the reception desk shows us two rooms, and we are immediately sold on the bright and cheery corner room that is so extolled in our guidebook. The price of 70 YTL includes breakfast, served 7:00-10:00 in a pleasant area by the reception desk. The room has a TV, though without cable so only Turkish channels come in. The toilet is down the hall, but it is our own private toilet. In all, we think the hotel is perfect for our needs. There is even a cocker spaniel named Kasper who tends to show himself in the afternoons.
We plan to see some sights in the western districts today. I ask the reception clerk where we can refill an akbil; he points us to the Metro entrance by the McDonald's, and the ticket booth there indeed provides what we need. I'm pleased I can muster enough Turkish to say "I would like 10 Lira more on this akbil." We go to the huge bus terminus and are a bit daunted trying to find the bus we need, but we eventually see a 61B bus headed to Beyazit. It first goes down Tarlabaşı Bulvarı, a street off of Taksim Square that P. and B. warn us to stay away from at night because of crime and prostitution. I notice a couple of red-light places and a police armored car. The bus crosses the Golden Horn on Atatürk Bridge and we get off shortly after reaching the other side on Atatürk Bulvarı.
This small mosque on a hill was originally the Byzantine Church of the Pantocrator and was built in 1124 by Empress Eirene. We have to follow signs from the main street İtfaiye Caddesi to locate it. When we find what looks like the entrance, two women are leaving and lock the door behind them. We walk around the other side and find Zeyrekhane, a popular restaurant in an Ottoman-era building that affords an impressive view of the area to the east. From the rear of the church we can see the ancient domes. We walk back around again to make a final attempt to get inside and are greeted by a caretaker who is walking by. He lets us into an initial hall that is obviously very old. First he takes us through a door on the left side to show us the northern church of the old Byzantine complex. The remains of mosaics of Christ Pantocrator and Mary are visible. The caretaker barely speaks English, but we can understand him well enough. Then he leads us through the door on the right side into the southern church, which houses the mosque. The old Byzantine architecture is very evident and impressive here. He lifts up the carpet and unlocks a section of wood floor, and underneath can be seen a portion of the old marble floor depicting Samson. Afterwards, he requests a donation of 5 YTL and in return gives us CDs. I try mine when I return home and find that it is a DVD with sermons from a Muslim cleric with subtitles in English.
We want to get closer to the Aqueduct we saw from the road. İtfaiye Caddesi takes us through a very local market, complete with the blood of butchered animals running through a gutter. One shop has clumps of what we later learn are dehydrated grape leaves for dolmas hanging outside.
Bozdoğan Kemeri ("Bosphorus Aqueduct," better known in
English as the Aqueduct of Valens)
This structure may not have actually been built during the reign (364-378) of the emperor it is named after. It likely carried water over the valley that Atatürk Bulvarı now runs through to a cistern in Beyazit Square for eventual transmission to the Great Palace. The Ottomans kept it up and used it for their water supply. We are quite impressed with being able to get up close and touch the stones and walk along the length to the point where it meets the street.
We are now in the neighborhood of Fatih ("conqueror," after Mehmet II), which is considered a conservative quarter, evident in an increased frequency of head scarves on women's heads as well as full chadors. Plenty of the men wear skullcaps.
Fatih Camii ("Mosque of the Conqueror")
The original mosque on this site was built between 1463 and 1470 as the first important imperial mosque and the second mosque built after the conquest of 1453, after the Eyüp mosque. Mehmet II the Conqueror chose the location because it was the burial site of Constantine and other emperors, probably as another way of thumbing his nose at the vanquished empire. The original mosque had to be rebuilt, and an earthquake in 1766 necessitated a second rebuilding. The present structure was completed in 1771. Outside is the tomb of Mehmet the Conqueror, though he is actually buried inside under the mimber. We can see part of what appears to be the older mosque by the tomb. As the guidebook says the interior is unimpressive, we choose not to go inside but instead walk around the grounds, which are a popular picnic area.
Our next destination is an area by the walls. We wait on Macar Kardeşler Caddesi until a bus comes by marked Edirnekapı and hop on. When the walls are in sight, we get off.
The walls of Constantinople were built by Emperor Theodosius, first in 413 and then in 447 after being razed by an earthquake. On the latter occasion they were needed as a defense against Attila the Hun; all male citizens were required to help and amazingly managed to finish the project in two months. The walls were breached first by the fourth crusade in 1204 and then by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, though they withstood a lot of bombardment and required the most powerful cannon then in use before they fell. It was between this gate, Edirnekapı ("Edirne Gate"), and the gate to the south, Topkapı ("Round Gate"), that the breach was made. The Ottomans kept them up as the city's defense until a century ago. Much of the wall has been reconstructed as a result of a project in the 1980s, and it is very obvious which parts are new. I'm not sure how I feel about the additions, but it does give one a truer impression of how they must have looked in the Byzantine era. There appear to be stairs leading to the top of the walls, and the guidebook says that one can walk on top of them, but the stairway is fenced off at least at this section.
Kariye Müzesi (known in English as the Chora Church)
The entry fee is 10 YTL. The first church on this site was built outside of Constantine's city walls, hence the name ("chora" meaning "country"). The present building dates from the 11th century. Like Aya Sofya, it served as a mosque for some time before being turned into a museum. Our guidebook has a map titling all of the wonderful mosaics and frescoes packed into the walls and ceilings of the small space, most of which date from 1312. Some of the more interesting mosaics include the Dormition of the Virgin and the temptations in the desert, featuring a very scraggly-winged Satan. The frescoes are really extraordinary in their sophistication considering the time they were done. The Anastasis (Christ raising Adam and Eve from the dead) and scenes from the Old Testament are among the most stunning. The Sparrow points out that the marble has been carefully chosen to create symmetrical designs. The church alone is definitely worth the trip out to this part of town. Curiously, our Turkish friends are only dimly aware of its existence.
We walk to the other side of Fevzi Paşa Caddesi to see if we can get up to the top of the wall on the other side, but it is similarly inaccessible on that side. When I think of how far we are from Sultanahmet, I am amazed at the size of old Constantinople.
Mihrimah Sultan Camii
Commissioned by Süleyman's daughter Mihrimah and built from 1562 to 1565, this mosque is considered one of Sinan's finest works. It is on the highest point of the city and is unusual in having only one minaret. Unfortunately, the mosque is closed for repairs, so we are unable to see the famed stained-glass windows in the interior.
As we have finished the day's sight-seeing more quickly than anticipated, we decide we can go back to the hotel to rest up before our trip to meet up with B. and have dinner at M. and N.'s. We hop on a bus that goes all the way to Taksim Square and find a liquor store near our hotel. We're of course unfamiliar with the wines but we like the label of a brand called Cumartesi ("Saturday"), and it's reasonably priced at 10 YTL. When we later present it for dinner, we let everyone know we are unsure of the quality. They assure us that it's drinkable and we find it so as well, though it's uninspiring. After purchasing the wine, we have time for a little snack.
Kılıç Karadeniz Pide Salonu ("Swordfish Black Sea
Lamartin Caddesi no. 27. Another of the famed Black Sea places of the type we found in Sultanahmet, though we like this place even better. We would like to share a pide and need to find one without meat. The menus are in Turkish only and the staff does not speak English, but I am able to determine that the kaşarlı pide consists solely of cheese, tomatoes (domates), and pepper (biber). A look at my phrasebook reveals that kaşar is a kind of yellow sheep's milk cheese. On the pide it resembles mozzarella. The staff is very patient and welcoming and the food tasty.
We rest up a bit in the hotel room, where the Sparrow naps and I watch TV and plot the next day's activities. On one channel, I catch an advertisement for a very popular current film called Kurtlar Vadisi - İrak (Valley of the Wolves, Iraq) that B. has told us about. Apparently, there was an incident in Iraq when a group of Turkish special forces soldiers held a position in the north. A detachment of U.S. soldiers was sent to meet them. The Turks prepared in the standard Turkish way and offered the Americans tea. The Americans instead held the Turks at gunpoint and hooded them. The incident was considered a major insult to the Turkish military, which is greatly revered. The film is a response to the incident and depicts Turkish soldiers taking revenge on Americans. I notice that Billy Zane and Gary Busey are in the credits.
The plan for tonight is to take the ferry to Anadolu Hisarı. I check the schedule and notice the times it reaches Beşiktaş and Ortaköy, figuring a bus to either location will get us there. The first bus we catch goes to Beşiktaş and has to make its way through rush hour traffic. It's a good thing we take this bus as the bus to Ortaköy may not have made it on time. There is no free transfer onto the ferry. This time, the temperature is warmer, so we sit on the upper level of the ferry and I note some of the sights on the way.
In Ortaköy, çırağan Sarayı ("Candle Palace") is visible, commissioned by Sultan Abdül Aziz and designed by one of the architects of the Dolmabahçe Palace. Parts of it were destroyed by fire, but other parts have been converted into a luxury hotel. We have seen it from the street side, but it is meant to be seen from the water. Another palace, Beylerbeyi Sarayı, is visible on the Asian side, a stone-and-marble construction also built in the reign of Abdül Aziz. The former sultan Abdül Hamit II, deposed by the Young Turks, was kept under house arrest here from 1913 to 1918. North of Ortaköy, Arnavutköy can be seen with its row of Ottoman-era houses and yalıs, the summer residences of Ottoman and European aristocracy. Farther north is the suburb of Bebek and the Egyptian consulate, a lovely Art Nouveau building designed by Raimondo D'Aronco, who also designed the Botter House that we will see later. On the Asian side can soon be seen a small, pretty building called the Küçüksu Kasrı, a marble Rococo lodge built for Sultan Abdül Mecit in 1856.
We reach Anadolu Hisarı, where B. picks us up. We drive to the residential suburb of İçerenköy, where M. and N. live in a gated apartment building. We are happy to see the couple and their shy daughter. M. has brought P. with him on his way from work. A friend of N.'s named I. joins us. I. is a violinist for the Istanbul opera and tells us to avoid their current production, West Side Story performed in Turkish. Dinner begins with mercimek çorbası and includes dolma, red pepper in olive oil, beyaz peynir, and a main course of levrek (sea bass) served whole. The fish is fresh and delicious. For dessert, we have creamy helva and an interesting milk-based dessert that allegedly consists of 40 ingredients. M. introduces me to another brand of rakı, Tekirdağ, served in a yellow bottle. It is a bit sweeter and definitely stronger than Yeni.
I had been concerned about how we would make it back to the hotel after this dinner, but it turns out that I. needs to go in the same direction. The most efficient means is by dolmuş. First, M. drives the three of us to a place where dolmuşes to Taksim congregate. We get into one of the vans and are told the driver will leave when he gets two more people. I imagine us sitting there for quite a while, but within a few minutes three more riders show up. Once we get going, we are asked for 4 YTL each, which sounds very reasonable to me. I give I. 10 YTL for the two of us, and she passes it up to the driver with another 10 YTL. The driver sends back change for only 15 YTL. I. asks for the rest of the change. The driver says he only received 15 YTL. After I. insists, he finally gives us the correct change. It's very odd that he thought he could get away with such a scam, but apparently typical. Along the way, the driver beeps at people waiting at bus stops, hoping to pick up more passengers. We get to Taksim Square by way of the Bosphorus Bridge in little over 20 minutes.
Breakfast at the hotel is traditional Turkish and tasty despite some packaged elements. We are served a basket of bread, butter (tereyağı), jam (recel), spreadable cheese, olives, tomatoes, and our choice of nescafe or tea. A TV is on in the breakfast area. We see some images from the latest Abu Ghraib scandal. B. told me there is a lot of talk on the news about the fact that the U.S. news is not showing these pictures.
Today, we are finally setting out to see one of the major sights, the Topkapı Palace. The guidebook advises the T4 bus, which goes from Taksim to Sultanahmet. We end up having to wait a while for it to show up, and the first one that arrives doesn't pick up any passengers. The trip to the Sultanahmet stop, by the Blue Mosque across from the tourist information office, takes about 30 minutes. We approach the palace through the entrance to Gülhane park.
Topkapı Sarayı ("Round-gate Palace")
One of the most justly famed sights in Istanbul, the Ottoman palace was begun by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1466. It was inhabited by all the sultans after him until Abdül Mecit I, who moved into the Dolmabahçe Palace after its completion in 1856. We approach the palace through the First Court. Access to the Second Court through the Middle Gate requires the entry fee of 10 YTL. Near the Middle Gate is a fountain where the imperial executioner used to wash his blades. In the Second Court are the Divan Salonu (Imperial Council Chamber) under the Tower of Justice, which is the most visible feature of Topkapı from a distance, and the Inner Treasury, which contains a collection of Ottoman armor.
Most of the palace's delights are in the Third Court, entered through the Gate of Felicity. Beyond this gate, only the sultan, a few other important personages, and a staff of white eunuchs were allowed access. The Audience Chamber where the sultan would receive foreign ambassadors is unfortunately closed, so we can only get a glimpse of the furnishings. The Library of Ahmet III and its famed woodwork is also closed. A sign by the ticket office details everything that is closed on a particular day, so at least we were forewarned. The Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force contains a clothing exhibit of imperial robes and uniforms, including some talismanic shirts with odd symbols designed to protect the wearer from harm. The treasury is an unexpected delight with its rich collection of precious jewels and fine crafts, including the sword of Süleyman the Magnificent; the mother-of-pearl throne of Ahmed I; the bizarre arm and skull of John the Baptist (originally in possession of the Byzantines); the famous emerald-encrusted Topkapı Dagger; the 86-karat Kaşıkçi Diamond (also called the Spoonmaker's Diamond), the fifth-largest in the world; a throne taken from India by Nadir Shah and presented to a sultan as a gift; and a lovely case for the shirt of Muhammad. The Sacred Safekeeping Rooms have a sign outside informing visitors that the place is considered sacred to Muslims and that they should behave appropriately. The interiors of these rooms are decorated with Iznik tiles and contain the door and rain gutters from the Kaaba in Mecca and some relics of the prophet Muhammad, including his sword and bow, hair and teeth, and a letter written by his hand. An imam is seated in a booth in this inner room chanting verses from the Qur'an. During the Ottoman period, these rooms were opened once a year for the imperial family on the 15th day of Ramazan. The Quarters of the Pages in Charge of the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms now contain portraits of sultans, some by Venetian masters.
Upon entering the Fourth Court, we decide to take a break to have some tea out on the terrace overlooking the water. We fail to notice that tea is a steep 4 YTL each, but we suppose it's worth it for the magnificent view. We can see part of Gülhane park below (once the palace park), which has some visitors who are enjoying the sunny, moderate day. Afterwards, we look at the Fourth Court in greater detail. The true delights of this area, also called the Tulip Garden, are located on a marble terrace with a pool. The gazebo-like İftariye Baldachin offers a lovely view and is a popular picture spot. Both the Revan Kiosk and the Baghdad Kiosk were built by Sultan Murat IV; they are gorgeous on the outside but unfortunately closed. We are able to get into the Sünnet Odası ("Circumcision Room"), which also has wonderful tile work and a row of faucets. We go back out to the Second Court to see the Chinese porcelains in the former palace kitchens. We are now ready for the harem.
The harem is by separate entry for 10 YTL and can only be seen on a guided tour. We should have obtained our harem tickets when we first arrived as recommended in the guidebook as by the time we do so the tour isn't for another 45 minutes, so we sit in the courtyard and the Sparrow sketches some of the architecture. The harem essentially constituted the private quarters of the sultan and his family, whereas the rest of the palace was for conducting the business of state. The women who served as ladies-in-waiting and concubines in the harem were all foreigners as Islam forbade the enslaving of Muslims, Christians, or Jews. Power in the harem was concentrated in the valide sultan, the mother of the sultan, who was frequently able to manipulate her son by giving orders to the grand vizier and choosing wives and concubines. The tour, in English though apparently it's sometimes in Turkish on the weekends, takes us through the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs, where eunuchs from Egypt kept guard. One highlight is the Valide Sultan's Quarters, which include a bedroom and salon. The attached hamam was designed by Sinan. The Imperial Hall is the largest room, with balconies for musicians to play from. The Privy Chamber of Murat III from 1578 has lovely Iznik tiles, a fireplace, and a fountain whose sound could mask private conversations. The Favorites' Courtyard and Apartments are outside and look over both an indoor and an outdoor swimming pool.
As we exit the Second Court and go towards the Imperial Gate, the main entrance to the complex but not the one we came through initially, we can see Aya İrini Kilisesi (Church of the Divine Peace or Haghia Eirene), an old church commissioned by Justinian around the same time as Aya Sofya. Rather than turn it into a mosque as the Ottomans seemed to do with every other church in the city, Mehmet used it as an arsenal. It is now a popular concert hall.
Büyüksaray Mozaik Müzesi ("Great Palace Mosaic Museum")
Entry is 5 YTL. The museum is small, but the mosaic inside is dazzling. Apparently, the mosaic pavement was uncovered in the 1950s during excavation near the Blue Mosque. The original pavement was likely an addition to the Great Byzantine Palace by Justinian and probably measured about 4000 square meters. The fragment in the museum is 250 square meters; the rest is still buried or has been destroyed. Wooden platforms around the pavement allow viewing from both above and close-up. Most of the imagery is bucolic, with a variety of animals, hunters, and farming folk engaged in quotidian activities.
We go back to Taksim and share another pide at our favorite place as a snack. The total is 4.50 YTL with water. After resting up a bit, we are ready to go out and have an evening to ourselves in Taksim. We locate some of the recommendations in the guidebook and look at menus. The first place we go by on İstiklal Caddesi, Hacı Baba, seems too touristy. We walk down the popular restaurant street Nevizade Sokak but are put off by the waiters summoning us to come in, though the two places recommended in the guidebook don't have this pushy element. We go down to the same area the Little Wing cafe is in as a few places there have been recommended. It comes down to a choice between Sofyali 9 and Refik. As both seem empty at this hour, we decide to have a drink before deciding.
A pleasant bar on Asmalımescit Sokak off of İstiklal Caddesi. I have an Efes Pilsen (4 YTL for .5 liter), Turkey's most popular beer, and the Sparrow has some wine (5 YTL).
Sofyali Sokak 9. We decide on this place mentioned in the guidebook as it has a menu in English outside and some of the choices look good. We are asked if we have a reservation when we enter and are sent up to the top floor when we reveal we do not. Only a few people are seated upstairs. The bigger tables are already set with bowls of mezes. The waiter proffers a tray of mezes and describes them all in English. We choose cevizli (literally "with walnuts," an ezme with walnuts) for 3 YTL, beyaz peynir for 1.50 YTL, and fava beans for 3 YTL. After the cold mezes, the waiter promptly serves us the Sofyali börek, which we are told is the house specialty. It's basically a sigara böreği with meat. We order a 35 cl bottle of 2004 Angora, a decent red wine, for 16 YTL. For the main course, I have the kuzu şiş (11 YTL). The Sparrow wants to have chicken, but she is told no chicken is being served. Before we left the U.S., I researched the risks of bird flu on the CDC and WHO websites, and so far the only transmission to humans has been to people who live closely with live, infected birds. Transmission from fully cooked chicken is highly unlikely, which is significant for the Sparrow as she doesn't eat red meat and doesn't like fish. Yet it seems there is still a general fear of eating chicken in Istanbul, and we have seen TV spots attempting to convince people that it is safe. We imagine that this restaurant just doesn't want to stock chicken as it is not cost-effective at this time. Instead, the Sparrow orders levrek for 10 YTL. By the time we leave, the room we are seated in is filled with young Turks enjoying copious amounts of mezes and rakı.
After dinner, we go to a European-style cafe and have çikolatalı Fransızca kek (French chocolate cake, 5.75 YTL) and a decaf espresso (4 YTL).
We get on the T4 bus for our final day in Sultanahmet.
Arkeoloji Müzeleri (Istanbul Archeology Museums)
Located on the grounds of the Topkapı Palace and reached by the Gülhane park entrance, this group of museums was founded in the 19th century as the Ottoman palace collection. Entry is 5 YTL for the three, which is quite a bargain for how large the collection is.
Arkeoloji Müzesi ("Archeology Museum")
We begin with the statuary galleries. The Ionian kouros figures are charming. I enjoy the lion from the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Helicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The sculptures from the Hellenistic period are more expressive and show the influence of Pergamon, a Hellenistic kingdom known for its library and fine arts. We then continue with artifacts from the prehistoric periods in Thrace and Bithynia. Artifacts from the Byzantine period include lots of early Christian art that combines pagan and Christian images in an interesting way. The "Istanbul through the Ages" exhibit is fascinating and traces the course of the city's history (beginning with the founding of the early colony of Chalcedon) with artifacts and good text in English and Turkish. I notice some painted window glass fragments from the Zeyrek church and a diagram of the Christ Pentacrastor windows that are barely suggested in the actual building. More links of the chain that guarded the Golden Horn and Constantinople are also present. A huge re-creation of the Temple of Athena at Assos dominates one room, and some of the original fragments are included, others being scattered in museums throughout Europe. Artifacts from early civilizations in the area include fragments from the various cities at the location of Troy, some interesting Bronze Age tablets (including a marriage contract that stipulates that the husband is allowed to marry a slave girl if his wife doesn't give birth to a son within a year), and pieces from the cultures of Syria, Palestine, and Cyprus. The Royal Necropolis of Sidon collection is impressive and includes a marble sarcophagus from the 4th century B.C. that depicts the Battle of Issus and the victorious Alexander the Great on horseback. Next to it is a contrasting sarcophagus with a frieze of mourning women.
Çinili Köşk ("Tiled Kiosk")
This little building is considered the oldest surviving non-religious Ottoman construction in the city, built in 1472 by Mehmet the Conqueror. The tile patterns on the facade evince a Seljuk influence. The 17th- and 18th-century Iznik tiles are a delight, as is the intricately patterned mihrab and a peacock wall fountain.
Eski Şark Eserler Müzesi ("Museum of the Ancient
In this context, "orient" means not eastern Asia but the near east. The collection begins with pre-Islamic artifacts of the Arabian Peninsula and continues with actual glazed-brick panels of animals from the processional street and the Ishtar gate of ancient Babylon from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.), which are stunning and in beautiful condition. I see a copy of the Qa'desh treaty dating from 1258 B.C., the earliest extant parity peace treaty, which ended hostilities between the Hittites and the Egyptians. Obligatory tablets of Hammurabi's code are also on display.
For lunch, we go back to our favorite Karadeniz place in Sultanahmet one last time. I can't resist having another İskender Kebap. The Sparrow has the tavuk şiş (3.50 YTL), and we share some cacık (1.50 YTL). We have decided to have another go at finding the Küçük Aya Sofya by approaching it from the other direction. On the way, we see the Sphendoneh, the remnants of an ancient structure that once supported the southern end of the Hippodrome and now has other buildings built on top of it.
Küçük Aya Sofya Camii ("Little Aya Sofya")
We are finally able to locate this mosque. It was originally built by Justinian between 527 and 536 as the SS Sergius and Bacchus Church and converted into a mosque in 1500. Unfortunately, it is closed for renovation and a canopy is covering the squat red dome. Apparently, the mosaics inside were destroyed, but the green-and-red marble columns remain.
The Sparrow wants to return to the Arasta Bazaar to see some of the goods on sale. The open market consists of one street and was built as part of the Blue Mosque complex. We stop inside one shop with lots of textiles. The shop owner good-naturedly beckons me to take a seat because, as he says, women take a long time shopping. We chat a bit about New York, which he has visited. He is polite and not pushy, so we feel comfortable in his shop. He shows the Sparrow a piece of hand-made, antique Anatolian clothing that she takes interest in. When she asks how much, he tells her 180 YTL. She proposes 100 YTL, and he seems vaguely insulted and claims it has already been discounted. He tells her she can have one of the other, lower-quality garments for $20 but that this piece is special. This is all of course part of the game. He agrees to go down to 160 YTL. The Sparrow says it's still a lot of money, and at this point I tell him that we'll leave and think about it. My remark has the desired effect, and he asks the Sparrow how much she would like to pay. She proposes 130 YTL. He agrees to take 130 YTL in cash. We tell him we don't have the cash with us, so he offers 140 YTL with a credit card, and the Sparrow agrees. The experience seems to happen very quickly, although there is much polite conversation mixed in. Only afterwards do I realize that the end price is precisely at the midpoint of the initial price and the counter-offer, which is how it's generally supposed to turn out.
Today is the first truly sunny day since we arrived, and we enjoy being out and walking. We go down Divan Yolu on a walking tour recommended in the guidebook and see some interesting sights. We first pass by the Binbirdirek Sarnıcı ("Binbirdirek Cistern"), which was built by Constantine and now houses a cafe and restaurant. We don't go in as the guidebook tells us it is not as interesting as the Basilica Cistern simply because the water has been drained. We then find a little cemetery that holds the impressive tombs of Sultan Mahmut II, Sultan Abdül Hamit II, and others. Across the street is the Köprülü Library, dating from 1659. Part of the same külliye ("complex") is the tomb of Köprülü Mehmet Paşa. We pass a cemetery and go into a tea garden recommended in the guidebook.
Yeniçeriler Caddesi 84. This tea garden in the courtyard of the Koca Sinan Paşa Medrese is actually a club for the Professional Union of Owners of the Works of Science and Literature, but everyone is welcome. Entry is through a gate leading to the paşa's tomb. We end up seated in a garden with pretty vaulted arches and domes. Even though it is enclosed with a plastic covering, the sun comes through and it is very pleasant. As it is a weekend, there are more young people, including women, joining with the older men smoking nargileh. çay is 1 YTL.
Nuruosmaniye Camii ("Light of Osman Mosque")
Built in Ottoman baroque style between 1748 and 1755 on a commission from Sultan Mahmut I, this mosque has a very pleasant interior. As we approach it, a man shows us the way in. He asks us where we are from, and when we say America he says something about Bush with a smile on his face. The Baroque details are really interesting, as are more classical touches such as the colonnaded gallery and Roman arches. However, we leave soon as people are coming in for prayer. The Sparrow notices that the women are collecting to pray behind a screen, so it does not seem appropriate for us to stay.
We walk east down Nuruosmaniye Caddesi, a wide street with lots of high-end boutique stores. From there, we cross the Galata Bridge to Karaköy to catch a bus, the first day it has been pleasant enough to walk across the famed bridge.
Galata Köprüsü ("Galata Bridge")
The view from this bridge is more evocative than the bridge itself, which dates from 1992 and is the latest in a series of structures over this part of the Golden Horn. The older bridge was built on pontoons, which kept the Golden Horn from flowing properly and evacuating pollution, so it was moved to a point farther west in the Hasköy district and the new one was built. Underneath the walkway and roadway are a host of restaurants and cafes.
Tonight, we have planned to meet with B. and P. to take them out to dinner as they have been so generous with putting us up and taking care of us. We rest up a bit at the hotel and meet them at the monument at Taksim Square. B. takes us to one of his favorite restaurants in the area.
The restaurant is on the sixth floor of a building on Asmalımescit Sokak near Sofyali Sokak, west of the Montreal bar. It is quite crowded, but a table opens up as we arrive. We are seated by a window that looks out on the street through a row of plants. The menu is in Turkish only, but B. is able to guide us through the options. For mezes, we have elma patates (French fries) for 3.50 YTL, kırmızı biber közlene (red pepper cooked over hot coals) for 3.75 YTL, Kars eski kaşarı ("aged Kars cheese," a special cheese from the town of Kars that B. recommends) for 4 YTL, and the serin aşçı tabağı (literally "cold chef's plate," a sampler plate) for 6.50 YTL. For a main dish, I have the kadınbudu köfte (literally "lady's leg meatball"), ground meat rolled with rice and fried in batter, a regional specialty of Izmir, for 6.75 YTL. The köfte are spicy and very nice. The Sparrow has a baked, lasagna-like dish with patlıcan and lol, a kind of cheese. We enjoy Sevilen Altıntepe, a white wine we had at P.'s before, for 20 YTL. When the bill comes, B. suggests we leave a 5% tip, though we had previously left 10% tips as suggested by our guidebook.
A bar on İmam Adnan Sokak that P. suggests because it is never crowded on a Saturday night. The name refers to the name of İstiklal Caddesi during the Ottoman era. We sit upstairs, and the Sparrow and I share a bottle of Troy Dark beer for 5 YTL, produced by the Turkish affiliate of Denmark's Tuborg brewery.
Our main objective today is the 3:00 whirling dervish show, so we intend to stick close to the area. We go on a tour of some sights along İstiklal Caddesi led by a walking tour map in the guidebook.
Triada (Church of the Holy Trinity)
Completed in 1882, this Greek Orthodox church is the largest Eastern Orthodox church in Istanbul. It is open today as it is Sunday. We peek in during mass and are dazzled by the frescoes on the dome, the marble columns, and the blue, star-studded vaults, all in perfect condition. We watch a mass procession led by a swinging, incense-wafting censer and hear lovely singing.
As we proceed down İstiklal Caddesi, we pass Galatasaray Square, home of the Galatasaray Lycée, a public school established in 1868 for instruction in Turkish and French. On the other side of the street is the çiçek Pasajı ("Flower Passage"), which leads under the 1876 Second Empire style Cité de Pera building. It has undergone a number of changes over the years and now houses a fancy cafe. The next perpendicular street, Sahne Sokak, contains the Balık Pazar ("Fish Market"), lined with stands featuring many varieties of artfully displayed fresh fish. At 24A Sahne Sokak is the entrance to the courtyard of the üç Horan Ermeni Kilisesi ("Armenian Church of Three Altars"). We go into the church and find a mass in progress, again with lovely singing. The building's interior is not as interesting as that of the Greek church. Also on Sahne Sokak is the Avrupa Pasajı ("Europe Passage," also known as Aynalı Pasajı, "Arcade of Mirrors"), an elegant gallery with rows of sculptured figures. On the left side of İstiklal Caddesi appears the large Franciscan church San Antonio di Padua, built in 1913. We pop in briefly. A little street, Muammar Karaca Sokak, leads to the Palais de France, once the French embassy, but it now looks like it is being demolished. Farther down and on the east side of the street is the Netherlands Consulate General, a pleasant building constructed in 1855 by Swiss architects the Fossati brothers. Also designed by the Fossatis is the nearby Russian Consulate General.
İstiklal Caddesi 473. Designed by Italian architect Raimondo D'Aronco around 1900, this building was the first Art Nouveau edifice in Beyoğlu. It really shows its age and is badly in need of renovation. Still, we enjoy the ironwork in circular patterns, the floral stonework, and the balcony at the top. It is named after its patron, Sultan Abdül Hamit II's Dutch tailor. Art Nouveau started making an impression on Ottoman architecture in the last 19th century and was mainly introduced by D'Aronco, who made the style distinctively Ottoman by incorporating Islamic motifs.
A small pide and kebap place a bit down the street from the Mevlevi monastery on Galipdede Caddesi. The staff doesn't speak English, but the menu has English translations. I order a dana şiş (6 YTL). The Sparrow orders a kaşarlı sucuklu pide (5.50 YTL), which the menu describes in English as "cheese and garlic." Unfortunately, I neglect to verify this translation with my phrase book because it turns out that sucuk is actually a garlic sausage that resembles pepperoni. The Sparrow is able to remove it from her pide.
We walk down to Tersane Caddesi. The streets in the lower area of Beyoğlu are abandoned on this Sunday afternoon.
Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii
A mosque designed by Sinan in 1577 on a commission by one of Süleyman's viziers. The mosque is closed but we can look in and see the fine marble mihrab and mimber. The rococo sebil (drinking fountain kiosk) by the street is also very nice.
Arap Camii ("Arab
Built in 1337 as a Genoese church, this building was turned into a mosque by Spanish Moors in the 16th century. We have to walk into the courtyard to get in. The interior is very typical of a Christian church with its wooden columns, two-level nave with galleries, and belfry. It's very odd to see a mihrab inside.
We walk up the hill to the Galata tower and sit in the little park outside of it. There is much activity going on, and we enjoy people-watching for a bit. Some kids are playing soccer, a couple are walking their infant child, and a dog is sniffing around everything.
Galipdede Caddesi 15. Entry to the Mevlevi museum is 2 YTL, but tickets to the whirling dervish show are 25 YTL, which is steep, but we'll hardly ever get another chance to see a performance like this one. We arrive early and poke around the grounds a bit, which include a cemetery with gravestones reflecting the headgear of the dead and the tomb of Galip Dede, a 17th-century Sufi poet, but the doors to the main building (the tekke) are opened a half-hour early and we get in to get good seats. B. and P. arrive closer to 3:00. The building is hexagonal, with a wooden stage in the middle ringed with seats. Glass cases along the walls contain some objects, which I suppose constitute the museum part. We are given pamphlets in English that explain what we are about to see.
The show takes about ninety minutes. The first thirty minutes consist of introductory music played by performers in a gallery above us. The guidebook recommended sitting towards the back, and I now know why as those seats would afford some view of the musicians. The second thirty minutes are devoted to the initial rituals of the dancers. Each one wears a tall headdress, which represents the ego's tombstone, and a flowing white skirt, which represents the ego's shroud. First, an elder enters and bows to the mihrab; then two others arrange mats around the edge of the floor. Twelve dancers enter and sit on the mats. Another elder, this one with a green addition to his hat, leads the dancers in bowing to each other, which occurs three times.
The last thirty minutes is devoted to the dancing (semâ). Each dancer in turn passes by the primary elder and receives some whispered instruction before beginning the whirling. The arms are initially held at the side but are allowed to drift out and over the head during the dance. When all the dancers are spinning at the same time, the effect is both thrilling and serenely beautiful. The other elder passes closely to each one as if assessing technique. The effect is unfortunately dampened by the flashes of cameras going off despite signs and stern admonitions from attendants. After the first session, the dancers stop and appear visibly exhausted but start to spin again. This occurs a few times. A couple of them apparently cannot handle it and sit out the last dance. I had initially thought that the dancers were monks who live in the monastery, but they are a bit too styled up in appearance, and we learn that they lead normal lives outside of their devotion to certain religious rituals. M. later tells us he knows someone who was in the order for a bit but quit because he found it too commercial.
After the show, P. and B. join us for Türk kahvesi at "Little Wing." They cannot stay long, and we have to say goodbye to them soon. However, M., N., and I., who had initially planned to see the dervish show with us, soon show up. We chat for a bit and go for dinner at a place I. knows. M. tells me this area was once very dodgy but has since undergone a renovation.
I never catch the name of the home-cooking restaurant I. takes us to, but it is located at the corner of Sofyali Sokak and Jurnal Sokak across from a place called Thehouse. The menu is in Turkish only, and we make a meal out of very tasty vegetarian mezes. The bill comes out to a cheap 30 YTL for five people.
İstiklal Caddesi 102, just south of Sakizağacı Caddesi. This muhallebici ("milk pudding place") has been around since 1935. M. chooses a range of desserts (tatlıcı) for us to sample. The special, Saray muhallebi, is a square-shaped vanilla pudding topped with chocolate sauce (3.25 YTL). The burma kadayıfı (3.75 YTL) is a pleasant shredded wheat pastry ("burma" means "twisted") topped with kaymak (clotted cream). But my favorite is the kuşgözü (literally "bird's eye"), which also happens to be B.'s favorite, a fıstıklı baklava loaded with finely ground pistachios and topped with a small dollop of cream, hence the name. It is extremely tasty and seems to me a bargain at 3.75 YTL for four pieces. We don't finish these, so I am able to take one with me to enjoy the next morning. At one point, M. says he thinks he sees Orhan Pamuk leaving but realizes it probably isn't him as the controversial author would likely go around with a guard or two. I would have liked to have seen Pamuk as I recently read one of his novels, Benim Adım Kırmızı (My Name is Red) and plan to read more. He is considered a worthy candidate for the Nobel Prize but recently ran into trouble with the government due to statements about Turkey's crimes against Kurds and Armenians.
The sun is streaming through our hotel windows in the morning, and it indeed turns out to be a very pleasant day, with temperatures hitting 60°. Both of us want to spend most of the day outside if possible. We begin by picking up a bottle of rakı for friends back home at the liquor store where we bought the wine. The store has a good selection of various sizes. The Sparrow wants to return to Süleymaniye Camii to do some sketching as she found it inspiring on our initial visit there, so we hop on a bus to Beyazit Square again and get off just after passing under the Aqueduct so that we can see the Şehzade mosque on the way. We see the words "Fuck Denmark" scrawled on a nearby wall. B. told us that he went into a grocery store that wasn't stocking Danish products. Otherwise, we see no signs that people are upset about the Muhammad cartoons.
Şehzade Mehmet Camii ("Mosque of Prince Mehmet")
Sinan designed this mosque between 1543 and 1548 as a memorial for Süleyman's son Mehmet, who had recently died. It is considered his first important work. We have to keep walking around the building until we find the entrance on the street side. A man asks where we're from and invites us inside. The interior is done in lovely red, white, black, and blue calligraphy. The windows are arch-shaped insets filled with holes to let in light. The mimber has lovely carvings. I really like the way the entrances to the courtyards echo the design of the mihrab in many mosques, and such is the case with this one. I take the time to note down the interior construction of this mosque. The central dome is supported by four half domes. Under these are three half domes on the east and west sides, and two half domes and an arch on the north and south sides where the doors are. The base has four arches and a half-dome on each side, and each corner has supporting columns that connect to the corners with vaulted arches. Prince Mehmet and Süleyman's grand viziers, Rüstem Paşa and İbrahim Paşa, are buried in the tombs.
We walk back to Süleymaniye Camii, and on the way we notice a very ancient-looking arch over Mart Şehitleri Caddesi. There are a few restaurants outside the walls of Süleymaniye that have tables and chairs set outside to attract patrons on this sunny afternoon.
This time, we begin in the mosque's cemetery and see the tombs of Süleyman and Roxelana. Donations are taken in little booths in front, so I just peek into both. Süleyman's tomb has a ceiling filled with glittering star-like jewels, and Roxelana's has flower tiles and stained glass. The Sparrow sits herself along the mosque's north wall and does a sketch while I walk around. I look for Sinan's tomb outside but cannot find it. When I come back, a young man starts to watch the Sparrow's work over her shoulder. He does this for an inordinately long time, so I ask him "çok güzel, değil mi?" ("very nice, isn't it?") to make him aware of my presence. He agrees, but keeps watching. He's probably just bored.
One objective of the day is to finally find a tea set. The guidebook recommends a nearby area called Tahtakale and a street called Uzunçarşı Caddesi ("Long-Market Avenue") as a place where the locals shop. We wander down this street and see plenty of kitchenware but no tea sets. It does indeed seem to be a very local scene, and we are not pressured by anyone as in the Grand Bazaar. We finally find a little shop that sells little but tea glasses and platters. We locate a simple set of six glasses and platters with the distinctive red, white, and gold design we see served in all the tea gardens. All are Turkish made, the glasses by Paşabahçe. I ask the young lady running the store how much for a set of six glasses, and she tells me it is only 3 YTL. I then inquire about six platters. She tells me something rather complicated, but I gather she's telling me the prices for both individual pieces and the cost of glasses and six platters together, which is a very reasonable 11 YTL.
We are ready for lunch at this point. Every time we have been to Eminönü, I have observed fish fresh from the Bosphorus being grilled and served in fish sandwiches, sometimes right from fishing boats. Today seems like a perfect day to try this very local snack. We have a little trouble finding the Sparrow something to eat, but at one of the fish places we locate tavuk dürüm (2 YTL). A balık ekmek is 2 YTL and is very delicious. The fish sandwich sellers yell "Buyurun!" (roughly "here you go") to passersby in rapid-fire repetition. We sit in the open out by the water. Afterwards, we are ready to walk again and stroll across the Galata Bridge, where some men are fishing today.
We look for a pleasant place to have tea. The places along the water in Karaköy look touristy and unpromising, so we walk on. We finally come to Tophane İskele Caddesi and find a row of tea and nargileh cafes. They all look fairly similar, so we select the one with the nicest chairs.
Çınaraltı Nargileh & Cafe
The wicker chairs make for a pleasant place to sit in the open air. The place is definitely not as interesting as the nargileh places near Beyazit that we have come to adore, but it serves its purpose. We pay 2 YTL for three glasses of tea.
We walk on and end up at the Beşiktaş port near the Deniz Müzesi ("Naval Museum"). Some of the collection is visible outside, including what looks like a wrecked submarine. We walk as far as Yıldız Parkı, a park filled with lovely Ottoman kiosks, which would be a nice place to spend some time on a day like this but we've been walking for quite a while and are ready to go back to the hotel.
We catch a bus back, and after we rest up a bit we are ready to turn in our akbil and get our money and deposit back. The day before, P. provided me with two phrases I can use to ask for our credit on the akbil. We go to one of the akbil booths at the Taksim Square bus terminal, and I say "İçindeki parayı geri almak istiyorum," which I can roughly translate into "I would like to get back the money for this one." I choose this phrase over the other one P. gave me because I can better make out what it means. However, the clerk says it's not possible. He asks me how much money, checks the akbil, and shakes his head. I wonder if maybe he didn't understand or is in a bad mood, so I go to another akbil booth and say the other phrase P. gave me: "Cihazı da geri vereceğim," which I later learn translates into "I am also giving back this device" This time, the clerk takes the akbil and gives me back 6 YTL, which constitutes the deposit but not the remaining value. I conclude that one of the phrases is used to request back the credit and the other to ask for the deposit; I was just confused and thought they were interchangeable. There wasn't much value remaining, but if we had known we would have tried to use up the full value.
We are ready to find some dinner. We first go to a restaurant called Musa Usta Adana Kebap Salonu, which is recommended in the guidebook. However, when the Sparrow tries to order a chicken dish, she is told it is not available. As I don't want the Sparrow to go without protein or have to eat fish again, I apologize to the wait staff and tell them we are in the mood for chicken. We walk along İstiklal Caddesi for a bit and come upon another restaurant.
Beyoğlu Kanat & Kebap Sofrası
On İstiklal Caddesi just south of Mephisto. The waiters are friendly and speak English well. I order the beyti kebap for 8 YTL. It comes with bulgur. The Sparrow has the piliç şiş for 6.5 YTL. We are also given cheese for 1.5 YTL each. For our last meal, we would like to drink rakı. This place offers a good variety in various sizes. The Sparrow has a single Yeni Rakı for 3.5 YTL, and I try a double Efe Rakı for 6 YTL. The Efe is a little sweeter than the Yeni.
After dining, we briefly stop into a book and music store farther down on İstaklal Caddesi that we looked in before and that we like more than Mephisto because the collection of Turkish CDs is better ordered. Also, it has a good collection of books in English about Turkey and Istanbul.
We have enough time in the morning to have a final breakfast before walking to the Havaş bus stop. The bus leaves for the airport at 5:00 am, and then every half-hour from 6:00 am to 1:00 am. Tickets are 8.50 YTL each. The ride takes us down Tarlabaşı, across the Golden Horn, and under the Aqueduct again. We pass by the rather gothic-looking Valide Camii. Once we reach Kennedy Caddesi, the bus heads west to the airport. We can see many remains of the old wall that surrounded Constantinople at the shore and pass through the walls by Yedikule Hisarı, a castle dating to the reign of Theodosius II (408-450). Ships are anchored in the Sea of Marmara as they were when we landed. There is a little bit of traffic, but for the most part people are driving into the city at this hour, so the ride only takes about 45 minutes.
1. Turkish pronunciation
2. Istanbul geography
4. Turkish currency
5. Turkish language
7. Turkish coffee
8. Public transit
10. Kemal Atatürk
12. Basic Turkish expressions
14. Iznik tiles
15. Mimar Sinan
16. Süleyman and Roxelana
19. Whirling dervishes
20. Food vocabulary
Pronunciation of the Turkish language is very consistent and
all letters are pronounced. The accent is generally on the last syllable of a
word, though there are many exceptions.
Vowels are generally pronounced short, though I hear them
pronounced longer in certain words.
â - adds a slight "y" sound to the preceding consonant
i - pronounced like the "i" in "bit"
ı - pronounced like the "i" in "bird"
ö - pronounced like the German "ö"
ü - pronounced like the German "ü" or French "u"
Consonants are similar to their English counterparts, with a few exceptions:
c - pronounced like "j" in "jeep"
ç - pronounced like "ch" in "chair"
ğ - silent, lengthens the preceding vowel
j - pronounced like "z" in "azure"
ş - pronounced like "sh" in "shirt"
Istanbul is a very spread-out city separated by two bodies of water. The Strait of Bosphorus (Boğaziçi) runs down the north-south axis and separates the Asian from the European side. The European side is further divided by the waterway known as the Golden Horn (Haliç, literally "bay" or "inlet"). The old city of Constantinople was primarily confined to the area on the peninsula between the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara (Marmara Denizi), and much of the old walls can still be seen ringing the shore. The historic Sultanahmet area is at the tip of this peninsula, with the neighborhoods of Eminönü, Beyazit, and Fatih to the west. The Galata Bridge (Galata Köprüsü), Atatürk Bridge (Atatürk Köprüsü), and Golden Horn bridge (Haliç Köprüsü) connect the peninsula with the area north of the Golden Horn. Across the Galata Bridge is the region called Beyoğlu, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Karaköy, Galata, Tünel, and Taksim. Farther north along the water are Beşiktaş, Ortaköy, and Arnavutköy. The Bosphorus is traversed by two bridges, the Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. The most significant neighborhoods on the Asian side are üsküdar and Kadıköy. Naturally, there are many more neighborhoods spreading out in all directions from this central area, but most of them are residential and not encountered on our travels. The European side of Turkey is also known by the name Rumeli, which means "land of the Romans" and was originally used for the Eastern Roman Empire but later came to denote the part of the Balkan peninsula that was under Ottoman rule. The Asian side is also called Anadolu (Anatolia).
Despite the fact that Europe picked up its coffee-drinking habit from the Ottomans, kahve is nowhere near as prevalent as çay. It can be obtained anywhere, even on the ferries. During the day, we see trays of tea carried to workers at shops. It is generally served in small, elegant, tulip-shaped glasses with a thin middle and a bulbous base seated on little platters with sugar cubes and tiny stirring spoons. It frequently costs as little as .50 YTL. We really like the way it is served and are disappointed on occasions when we are given cups with handles. B. tells us the best way to ensure that we get what we want is to ask for küçük çay ("small tea"), which seems to work. Though I generally prefer my tea with milk and no sugar, I take to drinking it in the Turkish manner, without milk and with a sugar cube.
Tea is made in an interesting fashion, which I observe B. doing one morning. He employs a double boiler apparatus (called a çaydanlık) that essentially has one teapot on top of another. The top one is filled with tea leaves and the bottom one with water. When the water boils, hot water from the bottom one is poured into the top one, the bottom one is refilled with water, and both are returned to the heat. When the bottom one boils again, the heat is set lower to allow the tea to simmer.
Recently, rising inflation caused even the smallest purchases to be priced in millions of TL (Türk Lira). Finally, the government simplified matters by striking off the extra zeroes, and 1,000,000 TL was made equivalent to 1 YTL (Yeni Türk Lira, "New Turkish Lira"). Each YTL is divided into 100 kuruş. A lot of places still show prices in the old system and many people, particularly older people, quote prices in the millions. During our stay, the exchange rate is roughly $.75 for 1 YTL. Naturally, each bill and coin has a portrait of Kemal Atatürk.
Anatolian Turkish (standard Turkish) is the predominant language of the Turkic language group, which includes other central Asian languages such as Uzbek, though words from Persian, Arabic, and other languages have entered the vocabulary. It is naturally challenging to learn as it is not part of the Indo-European language group, but it is also very consistent and there are no issues with irregular verbs. Atatürk's reforms included adopting the Latin alphabet. B. tells me that few people these days are able to read the language in the old script, so much of the Ottoman archives remains untranslated. It's hard to imagine not being able to read anything written before 1923 in your own language. I find that my slim knowledge of Turkish comes in handy as many times we have to deal with people outside the tourist areas who know little or no English. Generally, between my bad Turkish and someone else's bad English, communication is successfully made.
Taxi (taksi) cabs are plentiful, use meters, and are fairly reasonably priced. Drivers don't seem to expect tips. Hailing a cab is rarely a problem; indeed, we frequently find taxis beeping their horns to get our attention when we're walking along. We use them frequently when we are with B. but rarely when it is just the two of us.
Ever since the Ottomans lost Arabia and its wealth of coffee beans, coffee has ceased to be a significant part of Turkish culture, and except for "nescafe" (the generic term for instant coffee) it is difficult to find in the form we are accustomed to, filtre kahve ("filtered coffee"). European coffees like espresso and cappuccino can be obtained at pricier cafes. Turkish coffee (Türk kahvesi) is also not ubiquitous, but it is a lovely experience when done right. It is generally served in a small cup accompanied with a glass of water to cleanse the palate. As sugar is added at the beginning, the customer must specify sweetness when ordering. The Sparrow and I prefer az şekerli ("little sugar"), but it can also be produced orta şekerli ("medium sweet"), çok şekerli ("lots of sugar"), or şekersiz ("sugarless," or sade, meaning "simple"). An unusual method, described to us by B. and P., is employed to make the drink:
1. Use one
coffee cup of water for each serving, along with a heaping teaspoon of coffee
and a teaspoon of sugar (for az
şekerli). Cardamom (kakule)
can be added for a special touch.
2. Put water, coffee, and sugar in a cezve, a small pot with a long, insulated handle.
3. Stir over low heat until the mixture begins to froth. Pour off the froth into the cups and return to heat.
4. Continue to heat and pour off resulting froth until finished. Do not stir; instead, let the grounds settle on the bottom.
Telling a person's fortune with the grounds is often part of
the coffee ritual. B.'s method is the following, though I do not know how
traditional it is:
1. When only grounds are left in the cup, turn the cup over on the saucer and let it sit until the bottom has cooled, which indicates that the grounds have dripped down the side of the cup.
2. Right the cup and look for patterns or pictures in the grounds on the side of the cup. A healthy imagination is required for this step.
3. Have the subject turn the saucer towards him or herself and drip the grounds in the saucer into the cup while making a wish.
4. Flip the saucer over so that the grounds drip down the bottom side. The speed with which the grounds drip indicates how quickly the wish will come true.
Though the transit system is hardly unified, it still manages to get people where they want to go. Although individual tickets or jeton (tokens) can frequently be bought, the easiest way to pay is by buying an akbil, a little plastic device with a metal socket that is purchased with a deposit and filled with credit that is expended with each trip. The metal part is pressed onto a box, and the amount remaining is shown. Transfers within an hour are usually free. Though B. tries to explain the logic of the system, I have trouble understanding why some rides cost 1.25 YTL but others 1.10 YTL or 1 YTL. The list of public transit options includes:
Buses: We use buses more than anything else as
they generally seem to get us wherever we wish to go. There are no route maps
at the stations, but each bus has the areas it serves listed on its side. We
learn to look out for our destination neighborhoods and have little problem
once we get accustomed to the system.
Ferries: A dizzying array of ferries serve various ports along both sides of the Bosphorus. Once we get the hang of it, it is fairly easy to figure out ferry destinations, and we pick up a handy schedule that shows all the times.
Tram: A light rail system that begins at Fındıklı in Beyoğlu proves very useful for getting us to Sultanahmet.
LRT: Another light rail goes from the airport to Aksaray, where it meets the tram. We never use it, but it would have proved convenient had we stayed in Sultanahmet and needed to get to the airport.
Metro: An underground subway goes from Taksim to the northern suburbs, but it doesn't go anywhere we need to be.
Streetcar: An antique, quaint streetcar goes down İstiklal Caddesi from Taksim Square to Tünel. It frequently has to go very slow due to the number of people on the street.
Funicular: Yet another subway, the third oldest underground railway in Europe, goes from Tünel at the streetcar's terminus to Karaköy. It doesn't cover much ground but could be useful for someone wanting to avoid the uphill walk.
Mezes are similar to Spanish tapas and are ubiquitous in both restaurants and at dinners in people's homes. Certain restaurants, called meyhanes, specialize in mezes. They also seem to be a lot more vegetable-oriented than main courses, which are usually meat-laden, and come in both cold (soğuk) and warm (sıcak) varieties. They are traditionally consumed with plenty of rakı. Mezes date from the time of Süleyman the Magnificent, who thought the Persian rulers had a good idea when they would give slaves small sample plates of dishes to taste for poison. He introduced the practice to the court, and Turkish cuisine hasn't been the same since.
To call Atatürk the father of Turkey is a bit of an understatement as he defined modern Turkey in so many fundamental ways. Mustafa Kemal began military school in 1896 and rose up through the ranks of the Ottoman military. He commanded a division of soldiers who held out against a superior force of British, Australian, and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in 1915, a victory that cemented his reputation. After the war was lost and the sultan was made a puppet of the victorious Allied Powers, Kemal formed a nationalist army that fought the Greeks, Italians, and French in the Turkish War of Independence from 1920 to 1922. The republic was proclaimed under his rule in 1923. He adopted the obviously symbolic surname Atatürk ("Father of Turks") and set out to modernize and define Turkey by establishing a secular state, reforming the language, adopting the international calendar and measures, recognizing equal rights for men and women, modernizing headgear and dress (thus the fez was replaced with the fedora), and instituting a number of other measures. The reverence for Atatürk has taken on a cult-like nature, and pictures and portraits of him can be found literally everywhere. Any challenge to his legacy is considered treason bordering on heresy. He also helped define the peculiar character of Turkish democracy. Atatürk was a military man who ruled with a firm hand, and his reforms would certainly not have been possible in a true democracy. Although since his time Turkey has been governed by a parliamentary democracy, military officers of the National Security Council have directly intervened and overthrown elected officials on occasion, always claiming to act according to Atatürk's principles. Indeed, many Turks seem to feel that the military knows better than the politicians.
Rakı is a brandy flavored with anisette that is essentially the Turkish national liquor. We see it consumed everywhere in huge quantities, usually with a meal of mezes. The major national brand is Yeni Rakı, which is produced by the government company Tekel. Tekirdağ is another variety produced by Tekel. In 2004, the commercial brand Efe was introduced. Rakı is drunk in tall, thin glasses. Water is added, which mixes with the liquor and makes it cloudy. Ice is always on hand to keep it chilled. It is meant to be sipped and savored over the course of a meal, which is a very sensible way to drink it because it's rather strong.
Evet, hayır - Yes, no
Merhaba - Hello
Günaydın - Good morning
İyi günler - Good day (can also be used as a farewell)
İyi akşamlar - Good evening (can also be used as a farewell)
İyi geceler - Good night (strictly used as a farewell)
Hoşça Kalınız - Good-bye (said by the person leaving)
Güle güle - Good-bye (said by the person staying)
Hoş geldiniz - Welcome (literally "you came well")
Hoş bulduk - Response to hoş geldiniz (literally "we found ourselves well")
Teşekkürler - Thanks
Teşekkür ederim - Thank you (also used to refuse something, as in "no thank you")
Sağ olun - Thank you (literally "be alive")
Lütfen - Please (also used to accept something)
Affedersiniz - Excuse me
Şerefe - Cheers
Afiyet olsun - Bon appétit (can also be said at the end of a meal, literally "you are healthy")
The major mosques seem to be open most of the day, though they sometimes close for the mid-afternoon prayer. Some of them are locked, and we are only able to enter after finding a caretaker who lets us in. Shoes have to be removed, and plastic bags are frequently provided to carry them. The Sparrow carries a scarf to wrap over her head. Donations are sometimes very explicitly requested, but at other times there is simply a box to put money in. The outside courtyard of a mosque usually has a şadırvan (ablutions fountain) with water faucets for ritual washing. Each mosque is built so that the mihrab (prayer niche) is in the center and faces Mecca. To the right of that is usually a mimber, a staircase with a pulpit, generally for Friday sermons by the imam. The second-level gallery of a major mosque frequently contains an imperial loge (hünkâr mahfili) with a delicately carved screen to allow the sultan to pray in private. Naturally, interior decorations do not include any depictions of actual figures but are very lovingly decorated with calligraphy and patterns. Many Istanbul mosques are adorned with Iznik tile. Mosques frequently consist of an entire complex (called a külliye) with a medrese (theological school) and a hamam (bath). Curiously enough, the characteristic square dome design of mosques in Istanbul was inspired by the Christian church Aya Sofya. One can certainly spend a lot of time visiting the various mosques (indeed, P. tells us there are more mosques in Istanbul than in Tehran), so we limit ourselves to the ones that our guidebook considers special.
Iznik, once known as Nicaea, the seat of the first Ecumenical Council of 325, is a little town to the south-east of Istanbul. It was known for its ceramic arts since Byzantine times, but it is most famous for providing the tiles used in many of the Ottoman architectural marvels of the 16th and 17th centuries. The colors blue and white predominate in these tiles, which may seem to be a very limited palate, but visits to some of the tiled structures reveal the extraordinary variety of patterns that Iznik artisans were able to achieve. In addition to the Blue Mosque, some of the finest examples of the tile work can be found in Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii, Rüstem Paşa Camii, Topkapı Palace, and the Tiled Kiosk in the Istanbul Archeology Museums.
The greatest of the Ottoman architects, Sinan was born a Christian in 1497 but converted to Islam when he joined the Janissaries and became a military engineer. Süleyman the Magnificent made him his chief of imperial architects in 1538. His first work was the Şehzade Mehmet Camii in 1543. It is said that his career was devoted to equalling the architectural achievement of Aya Sofya, and many of his mosques are clearly inspired by the former church. His masterpiece is considered the mosque in nearby Edirne, but his finest building in Istanbul is the Süleymaniye Camii. Other Istanbul mosques built by him include Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii, Rüstem Paşa Camii, Mihrimah Sultan Camii, Azapkapı Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii, and Atık Valide Camii. He also built Haseki Hürrem Hamamı as well as other hamams, tombs, and many other buildings. He is buried in a simple tomb that he designed himself next to Süleymaniye Camii.
Sultan Süleyman I the Magnificent had the longest reign of the Ottoman sultans, from 1520 to 1566, and the period of his rule encompassed both territorial expansion and enduring artistic achievement. He was considered a fair ruler who helped codify Ottoman law. A poet himself, Süleyman encouraged a full flowering of the arts; many of Istanbul's finest mosques were commissioned during his rule, and many of his own verses are remembered as Turkish proverbs. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of his story is his romance with his wife Hürrem (literally "the laughing one"), known to Europeans as Roxelana. Roxelana is one of the most interesting and famous figures in Ottoman history. She was originally captured by the Ottomans in what is now the Ukraine and sold as a slave. She ended up in the harem of the Topkapı Palace and eventually managed to become Süleyman's favorite concubine. She used her position to have Süleyman's son Mustafa banished and eventually killed, hoping the son she bore the sultan would be the next in line. She also had Grand Vizier İbrahim Paşa killed because he opposed her. In a scandalous and unprecedented move, Süleyman eventually took her as his wife. Her son Selim succeeded Süleyman as the next sultan in 1566. Selim II is remembered as an incompetent drunkard.
Toilets really vary in cleanliness and modern conveniences, and we find it helpful to always carry toilet paper with us. Some are the quintessential Turkish toilets accessorized with a faucet and cup, whereas other times we find modern fixtures. Paper towels or driers are infrequent. Public toilets are plentiful, especially close to mosques, though there is almost always an attendant to pay .50 YTL to.
A dolmuş (literally "stuffed," from the same root word as dolma) is a form of transportation unique to Istanbul that usually consists of a small van or bus that offers a point-to-point ride between major destinations, although passengers can request to be dropped off along the way. They are thus quicker than buses but cheaper than taxis and can certainly be very useful at night after the buses have stopped running.
Sufism dates back to the early years of Islam and has always focused on the direct apprehension of Allah through mystic practices. Although there are many orders of Sufis, the Mevlevi Order is the most well-known due to the whirling dervishes. The order was founded by 1273 in Konya by followers of Celâladin Mehmet Rumi (known in English as simply Rumi), called Mevlana (a formal title for a Muslim spiritual leader). Each semâ is considered a spiritual journey, through which the dancer eliminates the ego and finds truth, returning as a more perfected being who is better able to serve Allah and his creation. Atatürk outlawed the practice 1923, but in the 1950s the government realized the value of the dervishes as a tourist attraction. Women are also allowed to dance, but we don't see any on our visit.
Adana kebap: Spicy lamb kebab.
Ayran: A salted yogurt drink frequently consumed with kebabs.
Beyaz peynir: Literally "white cheese," a goat cheese similar to feta.
Beyti kebap: An Adana kebap rolled in thin bread and sliced.
Börek: A pastry usually filled with cheese, meat, spinach, or potatoes. Served in huge pieces or in little, cigar-shaped portions (sigara böreği) as mezes.
Cacık: Yogurt mixed with cucumber and mint.
Dolma: Literally "stuffed," grape leaves filled with rice and other things.
Döner kebap: Literally "turning," compressed meat cooked on a revolving skewer.
Dürüm: Literally "something rolled up," a kebab served in pita bread.
Ekmek: Bread. Copious amounts accompany every meal, either as flatbread or sliced baguette.
Elma patates: Literally "apple potatoes," French fries.
Ezme: A spicy paste of tomatoes and peppers.
Fıstıklı: Literally "with pistachios," a kind of baklava.
Helva: Dessert made with sesame oil, a cereal, and syrup or honey.
İskender kebap (also called a Bursa kebap): Grilled lamb with tomato sauce, butter, and yogurt served over pide pieces.
Kadayıf: Shredded pastry soaked in syrup.
Kaşar: A mild, yellow sheep's milk cheese.
Kaymak: Clotted cream.
Kebap: Grilled or broiled meat, generally spelled "kebab" in English.
Kısır: Bulgur salad.
Köfte: Meatballs made from minced lamb mixed with rice, bulgur, or bread crumbs.
Kumpir: Essentially a baked potato, but with a choice of many fillings.
Lahmacun: A Turkish pizza like pide, only rounder and with a softer crust.
Levrek: Sea bass.
Manti: A kind of ravioli, though smaller.
Mercimek çorbası: Lentil soup.
Muhallebi: Milk pudding.
Pide: A sort of Turkish pizza, though it's usually in a long, oval shape instead of a circle. Crust varies from thin and soft to thick.
Piliç: Chicken, as in a young hen or pullet.
Simit: B. refers to these sesame-encrusted things as Turkish bagels, though they are wider in diameter.
Şiş kebap: Skewered cubes of meat usually served with peppers, tomatoes, and onions.
Sucuk: Garlic beef sausage.
Tavuk: Chicken, as in a hen.
Urfa kebap: Spicy kebab, though not as spicy as an Adana kebap.
Yaprak sarma: Stuffed vine leaves.
c. 5600 B.C.:
Scientists believe that the Bosphorus was formed in a single day when water
from the Mediterranean coursed into a valley and reached the Black Sea.
1274 B.C.: The Battle of Qa'desh results in a victory of the Hittite kingdom (which controlled much of Anatolia from 1680 to 1180 B.C.) over the Egyptians. Conflicts between the two civilizations will be resolved by a peace treaty in 1258 B.C., one of the earliest known such documents.
c. 1250 B.C.: Possible date for the Trojan War.
c. 1000 B.C.: Possible founding of Semistra, the first known settlement on the present-day site of Istanbul
700 B.C.: The Greek colony of Chalcedon is founded on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.
657 B.C.: Greek colonists found the city of Byzantion, named after their king Byzas.
479 B.C.: At the Battle of Plataea, the Greek city states defeat the forces of Xerxes of Persia, ending the Persian Wars and allowing Greek expansion in Asia Minor.
133 B.C.: The kingdom of Pergamon, a Hellenistic center of arts and learning, is left to the Roman Empire by its last ruler.
79 A.D.: Byzantium is incorporated into the Roman Empire.
129: Anatolia (Anadolu) becomes the Roman province of Asia Minor.
193: After Byzantium takes his rival's side in a war of succession, Roman consul Septimius Severus attacks and razes the city. Once he becomes emperor, he will rebuild it under the name Augusta Antonina. The Hippodrome will be one of his additions.
330: After becoming the sole ruler of the Empire by winning a civil war, Emperor Constantine founds a capital for the eastern provinces at the site of Byzantium. He calls it Nova Roma but it is better known as Constantinople.
395: The Roman Empire splits into eastern and western halves after the death of Theodosius I.
413: Emperor Theodosius II has walls built around Constantinople. They will fall due to earthquakes and be rebuilt in 447 to guard against the approach of Attila the Hun.
476: The Western Roman Empire falls after the abdication of Emperor Romulus Augustus. The Eastern Empire will gradually lose its Roman character and become what we now consider the Byzantine Empire.
527-565: Reign of Emperor Justinian, who manages to temporarily restore Italy to the Empire.
527: Construction of Küçük Aya Sofya is begun.
532: The Basilica Cistern is constructed.
537: Aya Sofya is completed.
610-641: Reign of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, who makes Greek the official language of the Empire, marking a break with the Roman tradition. During his reign, the Empire starts losing territory to Arab armies unified by Islam.
726: Emperor Leo III wishes to stamp out idolatry in the Empire, starting the Iconoclastic Crisis. Many Byzantine mosaics, including some in Aya Sofya, will be destroyed.
787: The Second Ecumenical Council at Nicaea ends the Iconoclastic Crisis.
1071: The Seljuk Turks, members of the Oğuz tribes of central Asia, encroach on Byzantine territory and are victorious at the Battle of Manzikert.
1124: The Church of the Pantocrator, later renamed Zeyrek Camii, is built.
1204: Constantinople is sacked by the Fourth Crusade, led by Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice. The Empire will be restored in 1261.
1273: Galata is established as a Genoese colony.
1273: The Mevlevi Sufi order is founded in Konya by the followers of Rumi. The order will become famous for its whirling dervishes.
1301: After a victory over the Byzantines at Nicaea (Iznik), a tribe led by Oğuz Turk warlord Osman, later known as Osmanlıs (Ottomans), proves itself as a military power. They will soon absorb the other Turkish emirates in the region and become an empire to be reckoned with.
1348: Galata Tower is built.
1391: Anadolu Hisarı is built by Ottoman Sultan Beyazit I.
1394: The Ottomans lay siege to Constantinople but are forced to divert their forces to face the invading armies of the Mongol warlord Timur (also known in English as Tamarlane).
1449: The Janissaries (derived from Yeni çeri, "new army"), created in 1330 as the sultan's household troops and bodyguards, revolt for the first time. They will eventually form a power base that even the sultan will fear.
1450: Mehmet II becomes sultan of the Ottomans. By now, the Ottomans have reduced the Byzantine Empire to little more than Constantinople itself.
1452: Mehmet II builds Rumeli Hisarı on the European shore of the Bosphorus and rebuilds Anadolu Hisarı on the Asian side.
1453: To circumvent the great chain that the Byzantines have stretched across the Golden Horn, Sultan Mehmet II "the Conqueror" has his ships dragged across what is now Beyoğlu and succeeds in attacking and breaching the walls of Constantinople. The city falls after a 54-day siege and is renamed Islambol ("Islam abounds").
1466: Construction of Topkapı Palace is begun.
1481: Mehmet II dies and is succeeded by Sultan Beyazit II, who reigns until 1512.
1501: Construction of Beyazit Camii is begun.
1520-1566: Reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, who ushers in a golden age of arts.
1529: Ottoman forces lay siege to Vienna, representing their farthest westward advance into Europe. They will try again in 1683.
1536: Grand Vizier İbrahim Paşa is killed at the instigation of Süleyman's wife Roxelana.
1543: Construction of Şehzade Mehmet Camii begun.
1550: Construction of Süleymaniye Camii is begun.
1553: Süleyman kills his own son Mustafa at the instigation of his wife Roxelana and Grand Vizier Rüstem Paşa.
1560: Rüstem Paşa Camii is built.
1562: Construction of Mihrimah Sultan Camii is begun.
1571: Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii is built.
1577: Azapkapı Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii is built.
1597: Construction of Yeni Camii is begun.
1606: Construction of the Blue Mosque is begun.
1748: Construction of Nuruosmaniye Camii is begun.
1771: Construction of latest Fatih Camii finished.
1826: The Janissaries mutiny for the last time and are brutally suppressed by Mahmut II. Many are executed in the Hippodrome.
1843: Construction of the Dolmabahçe Palace is begun.
1853: Construction of Ortaköy Camii is begun.
1853-1856: The Crimean War is fought with Britain, France, and the Ottomans allied against Russia.
1861-1876: Reign of Sultan Abdül Aziz. The palaces çırağan Sarayı and Beylerbeyi Sarayı are built.
1908: The Young Turks, a secret society dedicated to reform, instigate a rebellion, deposing Sultan Abdül Hamit II in 1909 and putting his brother Mehmet V on the throne. Constitutional rule is imposed, making the Empire a multi-party state.
1913: Grand Vizier Mahmut Şevket Paşa is assassinated, probably due to an internal power struggle. The party of the Young Turks takes control of the government.
1915: During World War I, British, Australian, and New Zealand troops attempt to gain control of the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) peninsula. The Turkish force led by Mustafa Kemal is victorious in what is known in Turkey as the Battle of çanakkale.
1918: The Ottoman Empire surrenders to the Allied Powers and its territories are claimed by the victors.
1919: Mustafa Kemal organizes a resistance to the Istanbul government run by the Allied Powers.
1920-1922: The Turkish War of Independence is led by Mustafa Kemal against Greek, French, and Italian forces.
July 24, 1923: The Treaty of Lausanne is drawn up between Turkey, Greece, and the Allied Powers, establishing the independence of the Republic of Turkey and defining its borders. Greeks in Turkey will be exchanged for Muslims in Greece.
October 29, 1923: The Republic of Turkey is founded with Kemal Atatürk as its first president. The city of Ankara replaces Istanbul as the capital of the new nation.
1950: About 800 Turkish soldiers are killed fighting with the UN force in the Korean War, gaining the respect of both their own people and other allied soldiers and marking one of the nation's few participations in an armed conflict outside of its own interests. Turkey will join NATO in 1952.
September 6-7, 1955: Following a wave of nationalist fervor sparked by Turkish outrage at the Greek claim to the island of Cyprus, Istanbul's minority Greek community is victimized by mob violence. Greeks will leave the city in huge numbers over the years that follow.
1960: A military coup deposes Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, who will be hanged in 1961. Other coups will follow in 1971 and 1980.
1974: Greek militants overthrow the government of Cyprus, threatening Turkish inhabitants. Turkey sends in troops and still occupies part of the island to this day.
August 15, 1984: The PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, Kurdish for "Kurdistan Workers Party") launches a guerrilla war in the Kurdish area of Turkey. Both the PKK and the Turkish military will be responsible for acts of indiscriminate brutality against civilians.
1999: PKK leader Abdullah öcalan is captured in Kenya. The PKK's latest insurrection effectively ends.
July 4, 2003: In what is known in Turkey as the "hood event," American soldiers take eleven Turkish special forces soldiers into custody in Sulaymaniya in Northern Iraq. Turks are outraged at the insult to their military. The 2006 movie Kurtlar Vadisi – İrak will depict this incident and a revenge on American soldiers.
November 20, 2003: Islamic extremists bomb the British embassy and the British-owned HSBC bank in Istanbul.
January 1, 2005: Turkish currency is revalued and the New Turkish Lira is introduced.
February, 2005: In an interview with a Swiss magazine, Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's most famous living author, accuses his nation of ignoring atrocities against the Armenians and Kurds. Charges are brought against him, which will be dropped in January of 2006 after much international controversy.
Kinzer, Stephen. Crescent and Star: Turkey between Two Worlds. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2001. Written by a foreign correspondent who served as the New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul, the anecdotes in this book offer an insightful and balanced portrait of Turkey's modern identity.
Maxwell, Virginia. Istanbul. Lonely Planet Publications, Melbourne, 2005. A very comprehensive and detailed guidebook to the city.
Pamuk, Orhan. Istanbul: Memories and the City. Translated by Maureen Freely. Knopf, New York, 2005. An engaging memoir of growing up in the city peppered with observations of its history and culture.
Stoneman, Richard. Traveller's History of Turkey. 1993. A short and readable look at Turkish history.
Rough Guides Travel: travel.roughguides.com.
Frommer's Guide to Istanbul: www.frommers.com/destinations/istanbul.
University of Calgary's history of the Ottoman Empire: www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/islam/empires/ottoman.
Last update for this page: 30 September 2006