(kind of like 'happy holidays...)
12.09.2010 0 °C
Şeker Bayramı, basically "sugar festival", which marks the end of the holy month of Ramazan in Turkey, started on Wednesday. This was evident by the amount of people, especially those in head scarves and conservative Muslim dress, shoving down balık ekmek, or fish bread down by the port. They all seemed relieved the fasting is over. It's an official holiday here in Turkey so of course I got to enjoy a few days off
As you would imagine during a holiday named after sugar, there's an abundance of sweets floating around. Small children, dressed in new outfits, knock on their neighbors' doors to get some candy. Reminiscent of my trick or treating days, I loved seeing groups of them coming to my apartment building.
Since moving here a little over two weeks ago, I haven't visited any of the historical sights or typical stops on a tourist's agenda. I was busy adjusting myself, looking for an apartment, starting work, etc. And history there is plenty in Istanbul! There are endless things to keep you busy. So this was the perfect time to start exploring. I started off a great few days with a boat tour of the Bosphorous. The Bosphorous strait, which is called Boğaz, or throat or strait in Turkish, connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and essentially divides Istanbul into Europe and Asia. So on the boat, we were smack in the middle of two continents!
After we had an overview of all the sights from the water, we went to Aya Sofya, one of the most famous monuments in Istanbul. It was built as a church when Istanbul (then Constantinople) was part of the Byzantine Empire. Aya Sofya was finished in the year 537. It's highly impressive to imagine that it could survive this long. In 1453, when Mehmet the Conqueror came to Istanbul to start the reign of the Ottoman Empire, Aya Sofya was converted into a mosque. The faces on the mosaics and other artwork were covered during this time, but since Ataturk (the founder of modern Turkey) proclaimed Aya Sofya as a museum in 1935, the mosaics were excavated and restored. Now there's a harmony between Christianity with all the artwork depicting Jesus, Mary, the saints and angels, and the influence of Islam, with some Arabic writing inside and minarets outside.
We didn't get too many photos of the artwork inside so I uploaded some from online, and then included some pictures of us.
Sultanahmet Camii, or as foreigners call it "Blue Mosque" because of the prominent blue tiles inside the mosque, is right around the corner and was in fact built as competition to the Aya Sofya. It allows visitors of course but is still a working mosque. Women are asked to cover up if they are not wearing pants or a long enough skirt. It's also suggested to wear a head scarf. We thought about decking me out in one and sending a picture back home to my father for shock value, but decided against it. Sorry Dad
The next day we visited Dolmabahçe Palace which was used by the Ottoman sultans from around 1856 until 1922 (the end of Ottoman reign in Turkey) To me it looked like a European palace, much like ones I've seen in Germany, France or Spain. An interesting tid-bit about this one was that Ataturk died here in 1938. We were able to see the actual bed he died in, adorned with a Turkish flag. All the clocks in Dolmabahçe palace are set at 9:05, the time of Ataturk's death.
Also on our itinerary was the Basilica Cistern, built in 532 and used to store water for the palaces and other buildings. Its "cavernous depths" were a nice place to escape the heat above ground. My favorite was the Medusa head made into a column.
At the Military Museum, I got a good review of Turkish history, starting from the migration of people from Central Asia, to the Seljuk Turks, Ottomans, and finally World War I, the War of Independence and Gallipoli. We got there an hour before it closed so I'll have to go back when I have more time.
It's a rainy day today so a perfect time to study some Turkish. I started lessons last week with a private tutor so hopefully he can help me with my struggle against Turkish vowels