İyi Cumalar! (Happy Friday!) Guys,
First off, I was really impressed by the wide range of responses from last weeks post. It was interested to hear about your own holiday preferences/memories/traditions, and what you thought of Kurbabyn Bayramı. I was also very astounded by some of your takes on the policies of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Even though many of them ranged in opinion, you all managed to hit on topics that are still being discussed even today in Turkey. Aferin (well done!)
For this week, I have put together a few photos/videos from my so-far adventures around Istanbul, seeing a few tourist destinations and historical sites and thought I’d share them with you. Also can take a look at how the city has changed over the recent history to become a modern metropolis.
I put together a map so that you can see some of the places that will be discussed here and have an idea where things are located here.
Istanbul has been around as a city since the times of ancient Greece, when it was known as Byzantium. However, the city grew to prominence when the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great moved the capital from Rome to here, renaming it Constantinople after himself, with the hope of creating a new Christian center of the Empire.
Over the next few centuries, enormous cathedrals and other public works were built that survives to this day.
Built in the 500’s AD by command of Emperor Justinian, the Haga Sophia is probably one of the most iconic sights in Istanbul. It has served as a Greek orthodox basilica, later a catholic cathedral, and when Istanbul was captured by the Ottomans, it became the Imperial mosque of the city. When the Republic was founded in the 1920’s, it was reopened as a museum for all to see.
The first thing you notice about the Hagia Sophia is IT’S HUGE! Even though most of the structure has stayed intact since it was first a christian church, you can see how each group left it’s signiture through art inside.
The ceilings and walls are covered in ancient mosiacs, tile plaster paintings of various christian icons.
However, in many Islamic traditions, there is less emphasis on paintings, statues, and personable reflections of religious figures. Instead, there is a larger presence of geometric figures, architecture, and calligraphy.
Valens Aquaduct and the Cistern
This ancient roman aqueduct was built around the same time to transport water from the mountainous forests outside of Istanbul to the imperial palace, it was stored in the Istanbul cistern (an ancient water filtration and storage facility). Now it is apart of Istanbul traffic!
The Cistern is known as Yerebatan Sarayı (The sunken palace) because of it’s huge size and ornate architecture.
One of the grandest buildings still standing is probably Topkapı. This was the main palace of the Ottoman sultans over the centuries. The palace sits overlooking the Bosporus, at the mouth of Istanbul. It is an elaborate collection of buildings, gardens, libraries, steam baths (hamam), and mosques..and almost a city itself. In addition to the imperial family living here, the palace was also home to many of the royal scribes, the aides of the sultan, their servants, and the women slaves of the sultan.
So now that we’ve seen some of the historical sights around Istanbul, it would be equally important to look at how they stand next to the newer additions.
Ever since becoming a democratic republic a little over 90 years ago, Istanbul has slowly moved towards modernization. But it is within the last 20 years that this has really picked up speed and becoming noticeable. In 2002, the ruling government party came to power, promising to open up and liberalize Turkey’s economy. This has brought lots of foreign investors and wealth into the economy. It’s clearly evident from looking at certain parts of the city!
It’s an interesting sight to see something so familiar like fast food that you take for granted, standing along side someone selling food from horse-drawn carts.
But even though Istanbul has become a global city and a magnet for many business, it’s impossible to ignore that this is not the case for everyone living here. In certain areas, poor city planning and a rapid influx of people from rural areas have created widespread poverty. Many apartment buildings have not been renovated in years, public services like electricity, water, and gas are known to periodically be interrupted. Istanbul is also home to a large migrant and refugee population currently. Many of these are Syrians who escaped the conflict currently taking place in their country, but there are many ethnic and religious minorities that often are living in dire conditions in the city. So wealth for some does not always reach everyone.
Large cities like this are prone to have issues like this. Having so many people (almost 16 mıllıon!), constantly growing, and meanwhile catching up on current issues is not a easy thing. If any of you are thinking about becoming civil engineers, this where this skill is in most need! But I’m curious to get your thoughts of Istanbul: What was some of the sights you enjoyed seeing/reading about?
Next week: We’ll be talking about food and customs!
Also, instead of a photo of the week, I’ll give you guys a video. This is a view from my apartment building look at the new Levent district during the call to prayer. While in many cities in the US and other countries, we may have church bells to mark the hour. In most islamic countries, there are Ezan –call to prayer. This happens 5 times each day from each mosque, as a kind of gentle (but loud!) reminder for people to pray in accordance with islamic tradition. You can hear several different chants in this video, and they are almost like waves, rolling over each other. Enjoy!