Catriona Robertson

journeys at home and abroad

Istanbul

Thoroughly enjoyed Istanbul.  Friendly, upbeat & vast, with multiple layers of history and identity.  It was good to see people from along the Silk Road mixing in with everyone else.

Proper heating keeps everyone warm, even in the trams and on the ferries (nota bene Caledonian MacBrayne).

Turkish cuisine is irresistible – scented quince, hot stuffed celery, walnut & pistachio sweetmeats, chopped up meze, melting lamb, almond milky puddings.

People I spoke to seemed fairly relaxed about intercultural relations in the city, although it’s a shifting scene.  The Syrian war doesn’t help and Gezi Park, scene of the 2013 anti-government protests, had a police presence.  Some people feel there’s a changed ‘mentality’ which is leading young people to find work abroad.

There doesn’t seem to be anything formal between muftis, rabbis, humanists and patriarchs, but ordinary folk are getting together intentionally.  I bought a CD in Hagia Sofia (every ex-cathedral has a gift shop) featuring Alawi, Jewish, Sunni and Kurdish musicians – swooping pentatonic vocals and intricate oud.  Lovely stuff – see/listen to the videos at the end of this post.

Many thanks to Debbie Damon (thinking of you this weekend!) for the inside track on visiting Istanbul.

Lighting shop (Istanbul is full of chandeliers), with shopkeeper in the background.

Lighting shop (Istanbul is full of chandeliers), with shopkeeper in the background.

Busy café off Taksim Square: chatty young people, tea in glasses (no milk), coffee in espresso cups, glacé fruits & baklava, tiled portraits & landscapes on the walls.

Rooftops of the outbuildings of the Suleymaniye Camii, looking over the Golden Horn to Galata Tower and (on the right) over the Bosphorus to Asia. Extensive mosque outbuildings used to house schools, hospitals, libraries & kitchens to feed the poor.

Drinking water tap at the Sublime Porte. Istanbul has wonderful taps.

Drinking water at the Sublime Porte, for hundreds of years the entrance to the epicentre of the vast Ottoman Empire’s government.  Istanbul has exquisite taps (that still work) and this is my favourite.

Display of sweetmeats at Hafiz Mustafa cafe.

Sweetmeats at the Hafiz Mustafa café.

Star of David window & minaret: this used to be a synagogue, now a mosque, with a kiosk cafe on the ground floor.

Star of David circular window & minaret behind: this used to be a synagogue & is now a mosque, with a kiosk café on the ground floor.

The old district of Pera - Monmartre meets Palermo.  Not all the old houses have been renovated - oriel windows are common.

The old district of Pera: hilly Montmartre meets historic Palermo.  Not all the old houses have been renovated – oriel windows like this are common.

Haghia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) at night.

Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), at night.  Holy Wisdom appears in the Hebrew scriptures (Hokhmah), is closely identified with God and is consistently female.  “When he established the heavens, I was there.” Proverbs 8:27.  Hagia Sophia was a church 537-1453, a mosque 1453-1931, & is now a museum.

Haghia Sophia has huge buttresses to support the dome and add-on buildings all around.

Hagia Sophia has huge buttresses to support the dome and add-on buildings all around.  It was the largest cathedral for nearly 1,000 years.

Marble floor in the nave of Haghia Sophia, where Byzantine Roman emperors were crowned. Reminded me of Westminster Abbey's C13th Italian marble Cosmati pavement.

Marble floor in the part of the nave where Eastern Roman emperors were crowned. Reminded me of Westminster Abbey’s C13th Italian marble Cosmati pavement.

Now that Haghia Sophia is a museum, people wander around on foot, their voices absorbed by the huge space, which is much like it must have been when it was built in the C6th.

Now that Hagia Sophia is a museum, people wander around on foot, their voices absorbed by the huge space, much like it must have sounded in the C6th.

Modest taps, ornate water tank.

Modest taps, ornate water tank.

A churchwarden's nightmare - loose tiles, or - in this case - broken marble, on the floor.  They make a tinkling noise when you step on them.

A churchwarden’s nightmare – loose tiles.  Or, in this case, broken marble, on the floor of Hagia Sophia’s gallery.  They make a tinkling noise when you step on them.

Turkey's hero founder Attaturk on the door of a music shop.

Turkey’s hero founder Ataturk on the door of a music shop.

Realistic dollar and euro notes on sale in the market, next to the honey sticks.

Fake US dollar and Euro notes for sale in the market, next to the honey sticks.

Ashkenazi synagogue in the Pera area.

Ashkenazi synagogue in the Pera area.

Neve Shalom Synagogue, also in the Pera area of Istanbul.  When asking directions, I met its organist - French was our common language.

Neve Shalom Synagogue, near the Galata Tower. When asking directions on the street, I met its organist (we spoke in French).  I heard people in cafés speaking a mix of Turkish, French & English.  In Damascus & Cairo I’ve heard a mix of Arabic, French & English.

A sure sign that you're heading east - slim candles in sand, rather than tealights on a stand.  These were at the Anglican church - warm welcome from the priest and congregation.

A sure sign that you’re heading east – slim prayer candles in sand rather than tealights or short candles on a stand. These were at the Anglican church. Acapella choir & a warm welcome from the priest and congregation.

Hand-washing in a cake & pastry cafe.

Marble basin and brass taps in a cake & pastry café.

Street musicians - soft singing, balophon & drums.

Street musicians – soft singing, balophon & drums.

Studying in the women's part of the Suleymaniye Mosque.

Studying in the women’s part of the Suleymaniye Mosque.

I got talking to two gentlemen from Karachi, Pakistan, also visiting Haghia Sophia.

I got talking to these two gentlemen from Karachi, Pakistan, who were also visiting Hagia Sophia.

Underground water tank built by Emperor Justinian in the C6th.

Underground water tank built by Emperor Justinian in the C6th.  James Bond visited in From Russia With Love.

Unusually active & muscular Christ, pulling Adam and Eve from their graves - a fresco in a stunning Byzantine church (now a museum) in Chora, Istanbul.

Unusually active & muscular Christ, tugging Adam and (especially) Eve out of their graves.  Fresco in a stunning Byzantine church (now a museum) in Chora, Istanbul. (The uplighting casts a shadow.)

Street fountain.

Stainless steel tap, plastic bucket, but magnificent street fountain.

Wah-wah packaging in a music shop - 'practice your freedom of expression'.

Wah-wah packaging in a music shop.  Ouds hanging in the background.

Taps at the Iskele Camii.

Taps for washing at the Iskele Camii.

Mullah Nasruddin, riding his donkey backwards - lots of stories about this wise fool in Islamic culture.

Fridge magnets.  Mullah Nasruddin, riding his donkey backwards – lots of good stories about this wise fool.  Also Phil Simpson’s twitter name.

Samovar in a lokanta (swift service lunchtime restaurant) on the Asian side of Istanbul.  Hot salep was also served from samovars on the street at night.  The other place I've noticed samovars is in Iran.

Samovar in a lokanta (swift service lunchtime restaurant) on the Asian side of Istanbul. Hot, gloopy, rose-scented salep was also served from samovars on the street at night. Reminded me of the samovars in Iran.

Here’s a clip from the Pera Lounge CD, followed by a short film on the Pera Ensemble which brings traditional music from different traditions together, including Assyrian music.

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2 comments on “Istanbul

  1. Kirsten Stalker
    17 March 2015

    Wonderful photos Catriona, looks fascinating and makes me want to go there! Are you on hols or (more likely) an interfaith visit?

    Hope you enjoy the rest of the trip (if you are going elsewhere)

    Much love, shrimp xx

    ======================================== Message Received: Mar 17 2015, 08:19 PM

    • Catriona Robertson
      18 March 2015

      Thanks Shrimp – it was, as you say, fascinating & multilayered. I’d love to go further into Turkey next time. I suspect Istanbul, like London, does its own thing. My only regret was not finding an International Women’s Day event.

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