Istanbul – A stroll in the old city

DSCF0025Turkey’s been going through some difficult times in the last year or so. Fortunately for Turks, their economy is not dependent on one factor: oil, like Venezuela, or tourism, like the Maldive Islands.

Nevertheless, tourism is a big earner, and that sector took a few hits in recent years. A trigger-happy Turkish pilot (let’s call him that) shot down a Russian Mig  – and in retaliation, Russian holiday-makers were ordered to stay home in their frozen wastes instead of flocking to the beaches on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

Then various wealthy Western governments (including my own beloved New Zealand) started advising their citizens to avoid visiting the country – though I think the annual Anzac Day pilgrimage was relatively unaffected.

Well, the Turkish Lira’s not doing so well at present, but (or maybe, so) the tourists have been flocking back. The people at Bloomberg published a piece of research showing that Turkey ranked 4th this year in a list of ten countries “where tourism is skyrocketing”. Then the “editors and experts” of Time Out produced a list of the “Fifty Coolest Neighbourhoods in the World”, and Istanbul’s Kadıköy was on it.

Now I have to tell you, I have mixed feelings about the effects of tourism on a country’s economy, not to mention its natural environment. And I have some doubts about the taste of people who would rank Los Angeles at No. 9 and Istanbul at No. 43. I was also a little surprised to see London’s Peckham come in at No. 11. When I worked there briefly as a high school teacher 20 years ago, “cool” was not a word I ever heard applied to the district, but clearly times have changed.

Still, these days, I think most Turks will be grateful for any encouragement they receive from western news sources.

Anyway, I was moved to get out on an overcast Tuesday and check out some of what Istanbul has to offer. I took a ferry over to Eminönü in the old city, and headed for the Archaeology Museum.

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One of my favourite trees, a plane tree by the tram station at Gülhane. Not as big as our Tane Mahuta, but it must be a few centuries old, and seems remarkably healthy.

 

 

 

 

DSCF0028Model of a Byzantine-era trading boat in the museum garden. One of 37 ships dug up from the ancient Harbour of Theodosius during excavations for the Yenilapı Metro Station. It was a 10-metre-long and 2.30-metre-wide cargo ship, and is supposed to be the most accurate example to date of a small commercial ship once used in the Middle East.

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One of a group of votive statues dating from the 3rd century CE found during excavations beside the Golden Horn in 1949-50. Believed to have been part of a nymphaion (commemorative fountain) or a museion (a building dedicated to the works of the Muses).

 

 

 

DSCF0007A sarcophagus dating from the Imperial Roman period. There was a vast necropolis in the city of Chalcedon (modern Kadıköy) that was used between the 6th century BCE and the 3rd century CE.

DSCF0009Sections of pipe used to bring water from forests outside the city of Constantinople to cisterns in the city which then supplied the fountains and public baths.

DSCF0010DSCF0037Part of the head of one of the serpents forming a column in the centre of the Roman hippodrome. The headless creatures can be seen entwined outside the gates of Sultanahmet Mosque.

 

DSCF0012A mosaic panel discovered in the Kalenderhane Mosque, formerly a Byzantine Church dating from the 12th century.

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DSCF0042A fountain presented as a token of friendship to Sultan Abdülhamid II by the German Emperor in 1895. Abdülhamid is generally condemned in the West as one of the more evil Ottoman sultans (“The Red Sultan”), accused of slaughtering thousands of helpless Armenians in what are often labelled the “Hamidian Massacres”. Well, clearly Kaiser Wilhelm viewed the matter differently. I’d strolled past that fountain many times before without making the connection.

DSCF0057A recently restored Roman underground cistern built by the Emperor Theodosius in the 5th century CE – opened to the public with free admission!

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The large building behind is the home of an organisation calling itself the World Academy for Local Government and Democracy! It seems this NGO is actually based in Istanbul! You can visit their website:

http://wald.org.tr          Turkish

http://wald.org             German

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Tip of the Iceberg – Ancient civilisations in Turkey

Among its multitudinous sins, Turkey faces a barrage of criticism over its supposed lack of due respect and care for ancient archaeological sites and artefacts within its borders. I’d like to share with you just a few news items detailing some of the archaeological finds in the past week:

Roman, Byzantine remains found at Istanbul train station

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I’m all for history and archeology – but what about modern Istanbul’s desperate need for better public transport?

Restoration work on Istanbul’s Haydarpaşa train station at Kadıköy has unearthed the remains of what is believed to be a coastal town with findings so far dating from the late Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods. The station was opened in 1909 with German support to link Istanbul to Baghdad.

In those days a little history wasn’t allowed to stand in the way of progress. Today, a small army of 50 archaeologists armed with teaspoons and paintbrushes are picking over the site, keen to hold up progress on the much needed and long-delayed rail link for months, if not years.

An open-air museum to rise from the ruins

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What’s left of Bıukoleon Palace. Well, it’s 1,600 years old, for God’s sake!

Restoration work is beginning on the remains of the ancient Byzantine Boukoleon Palace, located on the shore of the Marmara Sea near the popular tourist sites of Sultanahmet Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapı Museums.

The palace, with its own private harbour, was built by the Roman Emperor Theodosius in the 5th century and extended in the 9th century by another emperor, Theophilus. It has long lain in ruins, and much of what remained was demolished in the late 19th century for the Orient Express railway line, and later, in 1959 when a road was constructed along the sea coast.

These days, of course, more value is given to such relics of history, and the government of Turkey is planning an open-air museum with an extensive park and overhead walkways to make the ruins more accessible and attractive to visitors. A big question, of course, is – Who pays for all this?

Two-thousand-year-old Roman bath

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The Basilica Therma at Sarıkaya near Yozgat

A thermal spa located in the central Anatolian town of Yozgat is being opened to visitors who will be able to immerse themselves in healing waters once employed in the treatment of members of Roman royal families. One might be tempted to criticise the commercial exploitation of such a priceless relic of an ancient civilisation – but again, who is going to pay for their restoration and upkeep?

Dionysus, Pan sculptures found at temple of goddess Kybele in northern Turkey

kybeleArchaeologists working at Kurul Castle in the Black Sea province of Ordu have found more ancient statues in excellent condition. A 2,100-year-old statue of Kybele found there in 2016 was hailed as one of Turkey’s most important recent archaeological finds.

Historic tombstones found in wall of school in eastern Turkey

tombstoneTombstones dating back to the 12th century have been found in a wall in the grounds of Şair Nefi Middle School in the province of Erzurum.

If you want to make a contribution to the preservation of these sites, I’m sure Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism would love to hear from you.

City of gastronomy to share its cuisine with world

Cuisine hailing from the southern province of Hatay, included in UNESCO’s “Creative Cities Network” in the field of gastronomy, is now set to be branded and introduced to the world. 

With over 600 dishes, Hatay cuisine is famous for its unique features and rich variety across Turkey. 

Hatay cuisineThe Hatay Metropolitan Municipality now plans to share the province’s tastes with the rest of the world through promotional projects that will help Hatay cuisine become a global brand. 

Speaking to state-run Anadolu Agency, Hatay Mayor Lütfü Savaş said the province has been at the center of trade for centuries at the junction of Anatolia and the Middle East. 

“We live in a very important region located on ancient pilgrimage routes. Thirteen of the 23 world civilizations have lived here. We have a historical past, cultural values and civilization accumulation. Here, many food cultures have lived in peace with each other, not conflicted but inspired by each other. And today we are talking about a region that has over 600 dishes. It is unthinkable to not share them with the rest of the world,” Savaş said. 

He added that they have been working since 2010 to make Hatay “the world’s gastronomic city” and noted that the province was included in the Creative Cities Network by UNESCO last year. 

Savaş said they promoted the tastes of the city by organizing “Hatay Days” across Turkey, which they will now take elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East. 

“We organized promotional events during the ‘Hatay Days’ in Ankara, Istanbul and İzmir. We will now share this with the world too. We want to glorify the Hatay brand,” he added. 

Sedat İnanç, the Chairman of the Association of Hatay Cooks, said the region’s cuisine took inspiration from the Arab world, Anatolia, Central Asia and Europe. 

“Turkish cuisine is something separate from Hatay cuisine. Here we have over 250 types of breakfast … We want to gather them all in a book, including forgotten dishes. As fast food has become more popular, these traditional dishes have been forgotten,” İnanç said, adding that people across the world are now seeking new tastes.” 

“There is great interest in Hatay dishes but we still don’t have skillful cooks or facilities to serve them. But if we manage to overcome this problem, I believe that Hatay cuisine will reach the renown that it deserves,” he added.

Source: Hürriyet Daily News

Note: Hatay is also known as Antakya, in ancient times, the city of Antioch

Strolling around old Istanbul – and not thinking about the election

We had a three-day holiday to celebrate the end of the Ramadan month of fasting. Left alone, I did some wandering around less frequented parts of the old city.

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Monumental cemetery  – tombs of late Ottoman luminaries including three 19th century Sultans: Mahmut II, Abdülaziz and Abdülhamid II

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Cerrah Mehmed Pasha Mosque, 1583. The architect, Davut Ağa was a pupil of the great Sinan

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Only the base remains of the 5th century Arkadios column, centre of a flourishing slave market in former times

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Koca Mustafa Pasha mosque complex – built in 1489 on the site of a former Byzantine monastery. The tomb contains the remains of a royal princess, daughter of the Emperor Constantine XI, who is said to have converted to Islam.

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Interior of Hekimoğlu Ali Pasha mosque, built by an 18th century Grand Vizier.

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Haseki mosque complex – the third largest in Istanbul, built by the architect Sinan on the orders of Hürrem Sultan, wife of Süleiman the Magnificent. The complex contained schools, a hospital and a soup kitchen to feed the poor.

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Ancient walnut tree, dating from who knows when?

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Recently restored mosque (in Üsküdar) of Kösem Sultan, one of the greatest Ottoman women – built in 1640, and known as Çinili, or the Tiled Mosque, because of the beauty of its decorative ceramic tiles.

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Mihrab (altar) and mimber (pulpit) in Çinili Mosque – afer a four-year restoration.

Mount Ararat home to rare species of squirrel

mountAraratMount Ararat, Turkey’s highest mountain, is home to Anatolian ground squirrels and other extraordinary wildlife. 

Various bird species, predators, mammals, reptiles and many rodent species are also living on Mount Ararat. 

Mount Ararat has a snow-capped peak that towers over eastern Turkey, Iran and Armenia. It is where the Bible says Noah landed his ark after the flood. 

Thanks to its flora and fauna dotted on thousands of acres of land, the mountain provides a unique living environment to wild animals, some of which are still unknown to science. 

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Anatolian ground squirrel

Anatolian ground squirrels, which live in the region but are rarely seen, have been drawing great attention. 

Iğdır Forestry and Water Affairs Director Mete Türkoğlu said, “This species is generally found in the region from the Caucasus to Iraq, Syria and even Palestine. In Turkey, they live across the eastern provinces of Kars, Erzurum, Iğdır and Ağrı as well as in the Central Anatolian region,” he said. 

He said the squirrels had many reasons to choose Mount Ararat and its vicinity. “They generally prefer dry lands; places far from water and moisture, but where people are. The reason why they are seen especially during these months is that they spend half of the year sleeping.

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Tulip Festival kicks off in Istanbul

tulip festivalThe 13th Istanbul Tulip Festival opened on April 3 at the Emirgan Park with the participation of Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin. As part of the festival, the Istanbul Municipality has decorated many parts of the city with tulips. The festival will continue with various events throughout April.

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/tulip-festival-kicks-off-in-istanbul-129766