May 032013
 

 

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The melodic wail of the Azan, the call to prayer, pierces my jet-lagged sleep. “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!”God is great! God is great!, calls the amplified muezzin in a high tenor. Quickly following sings a second muezzin in a resonant baritone. Before the first begins his next phrase, a third chimes in, another tenor but with faster tempo. 
Somewhere more distant, a fourth Azan rings forth and maybe a fifth. I can’t tell. The melodious call to prayer reverberates along the dark, narrow streets and alleys of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s old city. The sounds echo off walls and buildings, rising to a glorious cacophony until each muezzin finishes in his turn and once again quiet rules the dawning day in Sultanahmet.

 

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I have returned to Turkey with a contract for a book from a Turkish publishing house. Seeing my previous work, an editor felt there was a place in their catalog for a book by an American photographer/writer that could reinforce the bridge between Western misconceptions and the reality of his dynamic country.

They’ve invited us for lunch today. Their office is somewhere in Asia, that is, the Asian side of the legendary Bosphorus dividing not just Istanbul, but Europe and Asia as well.

 

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 Nothing like trying to do a photo shoot on a breezy day in a rocking boat at the entrance to the Bosporus Strait.

 

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“Take a ferry from Eminönü to Üskudar, then a taxi to my office.”, wrote the editor. On the ferry, address in hand, we meet a kindly, English-speaking Turkish gentleman who takes us under his wing. “Don’t take a taxi. They’ll drive you around and cheat you.” He finds the right bus, even pays our fare, hands me his phone number saying, “Call me when you’re done and I’ll show you the fantastic view from Çamlıca Tepe.”

Following our course on googlemaps shows me where to get off but when I get to the location shown on the app, it’s not there. Quizzical gestures with the address to a passerby points me to the building two blocks away.

The meeting goes well. We’re shown warm, Turkish hospitality and the impressive variety and quality of books they publish. When finished, the editor calls our new friend and we agree to meet at the ferry. How can one pass up such serendipitous hospitality.

Weather has turned. It’s overcast, not an afternoon to photograph a spectacular, mountain-top view. He suggests a ferry ride through the Golden Horn, the body of water separating old Istanbul from the more cosmopolitan Beyoğlu district. First though, he takes us around Üskudar and introduces us to a friend of his who owns an historic kebab restaurant where we sample some wonderful fresh-baked bread.

 

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After passing beneath the famous Galata Bridge, we zig-zag from shore to shore, dropping people off, picking others up. Dusk descends, a glorious sunset spreads behind the city silhouetting mosques and their minarets against a crimson fire. We take the funicular  to the top of the Pierre Loti cemetary where the lights of the Golden Horn are spread beneath us. Exhausted from the day, jet-lag and the cold, it is after-all, winter, our friend sees us off in Eminönü promising to meet another day for the view from the mountain.

 

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The next day we spend wandering the streets of Sultanahmet and at Istanbul’s archeological museum where millennia of human habitation and creativity is on display.

 

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The incredibly crafted Alexander Sarcophagus from the 5th century BCE. A masterpiece of ancient sculpture.

 

If there is one thing that dominates your awareness in Turkey, it is history. Vast expanses of human history pervade the Anatolian landscape. The Tigris and Euphrates, those rivers of legend that cradled civilization, have their source high in the mountains of Northeastern Turkey.

 

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 A Seljuk mithrab from 1432, made twenty-one years before the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453.

 

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The massive bulwark of the aspe on the exterior of the Hagia Sophia built by the Emperor Justinian I in 537 CE.

 

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The remains of a Byzantine triumph arch, the starting point of the Via Egnetia. This Roman road led to the cities of Europe and was the point from which distances were measured.  4th century CE


Evidence of humanity extends back 65,000 years! Civilization though, doesn’t begin until the Neolithic, around 8,000 BCE, when mankind evolved from its hunter-gatherer lifestyle and learned to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. The Anatolian Peninsula, which makes up the 97% of Turkey not in Europe, is chock full of Neolithic sites.


The neolithic was only the beginning. Cities sprang up. Bronze replaced stone, iron replace bronze. Armies conquered. Empires grew. clashed and disappeared time after time over the thousands of years before the Greek roots of our civilization appeared.
The entire panoply of early civilization and much of the history of the past two millennia can be seen. So here, in two short days, I experience a summation of my book; the incredible warmth and hospitality of a Muslim culture firmly rooted in history.
Before I really get to work though, we’ll escape winter and head south to Israel, returning in a few weeks to southern Turkey where spring will have begun.

 

 

Copyright 2013 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

 

Sep 302010
 

The interior blue dome of Istanbul's iconic Sultan Ahmet Mosque, misnamed The Blue Mosque.


Like its famous Dervishes, Turkey is a whirlwind of culture, history, people and color. It is at once ancient and modern, traditional and sophisticated, religious and secular. A land of contrasts united under one religion, Islam, with a history reaching back to the dawn of civilization.

Istanbul, Turkey’s greatest city, is our introduction into the country’s deep, fascinating history and famous hospitality. It is a bustling megalopolis of 17 million. My first impression is of a clean, modern, city of broad avenues, low hills and a skyline punctuated with the needle-like minarets of numerous mosques rising out of the surrounding masses of multi-level apartment buildings.

Looking east toward the Bosphorus and the Bosphorus Bridge from the Topkapi Palace

Along the Golden Horn

The highway runs east along the north shore of the Sea of Marmara. This broad sea, along with the Bosphorus, separates Europe from Asia as well as dividing Istanbul. The narrows of the Bosphorus, leading to the Black Sea lie in front of us. A broad, tree-lined park with recreation path extends for miles along the shore leading us to Sultanamet, the age-old quarter of Istanbul.

Turning off the highway, we pass through Istanbul’s 1,700 year-old Byzantine walls into a maze of crooked streets lined with restaurants. Men, appearing as timeless as the walls, sit in groups around low tables smoking nargiles, the classic Turkish water pipe.

The timeless lobby of the Turkuaz Hotel in Sultanahmet

Our driver deposits us in front of an Ottoman mansion from the mid-nineteenth century, the Turkuaz Hotel, appropriately painted bright turquoise. Walking down a level through a cool, tree-shaded courtyard, Yolanda and I enter the lobby, stepping into another. Here we find the esthetic of exotic Turkey; marble floors, walls tiled in colorful, geometric designs, dark, wooden pillars supporting a low paneled ceiling, pillowed benches lining the walls. Ottoman lamps, like large jewels, hang from the ceiling.

Marilena, the manager, speaking lightly accented English, shows us to our room, The Sultan’s Room. It is beautiful in its decadent thick, velvet drapes and crystal chandelier. Though not a large or expensive room, it is richly appointed with frou-frou chairs, lamps, dark-wood cabinets and a curtained window seat which Yolanda immediately usurps for a jetlag induced nap.

Our room, The Sultan's Room

Two delicious hours later, we are awakened by the first, of what will become innumerable Ezans, the calling of the faithful to late afternoon prayer. Rising and washing, we set out for some sight seeing and later dinner at a nearby restaurant Maria recommends.

A vendor sells pomegranate juice outside the Aya Sophia, built almost two millenia ago.

The enormous interior of the ancient Aya Sophia built first as a church in 537 CE converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. They are just now uncovering the angels in the corners and other beautiful, Christian mosaics after hundreds of years. Islam does not permit the depiction of humans or animals in their mosques.

Tahiri Cesme, meaning historical fountain, is a find. The street-side tables beneath the shade of a broad grape arbor quickly fill with tourists and Istanbulus alike. The restaurant’s namesake fountain sits beside the street while an ancient, Byzantine wall forms a backdrop.

The Tahiri Cesme restaurant

Perhaps ten different Meze, Turkish appetizers, are brought on a tray. We pick a spicy eggplant dish and another of a yogurt-based sauce similar to Greek tzatziki. A scrumptious, flat bread puffed and piping hot from the oven appears and we begin our first meal of renowned Turkish cuisine: chicken kabap for $6 and the house special lamb kabap for $8.

Traffic flows sporadically along the cobbles of the ancient, narrow street barely wide enough for two cars. The occasional truck or bus stops to negotiate the sharp corner, clogging traffic and causing honking and much entertaining arguing. As night descends, we finish our meal with the traditional, small, glass cups of hot Turkish tea and head up the winding street to the old, Roman Hippodrome and Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque.

A few of the 336 columns of the labyrinthine Byzantine cistern built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in 532 CE, filled in over the centuries ago and discovered in 1545. Fish still swim in the waters.

The Romans recycled columns of various styles from earlier periods for the cistern. Here, a sideways Medusa capitol serves as a base. After all, everything was going to be underwater. No need to pay attention to style.

The long, narrow, well-lit plaza of what had been the city’s chariot racetrack two millennia ago, is quiet. A few couples stroll between the monuments. An ice cream vendor fills an infrequent cone. Men, sitting among large pillows along the thousand-year old walls talk quietly, drawing an occasional breath of pungent tobacco from a large nargile.

Meandering along, we find ourselves in the entry courtyard to Istanbul’s largest and most famous mosque. The Blue Mosque or in reality, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque built by the sultan in 1616, is a sublime structure. Six elegant minarets rise high above the multiple domes, dramatically lit against the night sky.

The quiet, exterior courtyard of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque with four of its minarets.

The sacred silence is punctuated occasionally by the click of high heels on stones. Several tourists murmur in a far corner. The occasional shutter clicks. Suddenly, the Ezan, the call to prayer, explodes in the courtyard; one long, loud, unbroken phrase: Allahu Ekber-Allahu Ekber-God is great-God is great.

It is spine tingling! Then the night turns magical as the Ezan is echoed from a distant mosque. The two Muezzin trade phrases back and forth until once again, silence reins over the ancient city. We could not have had a more beautiful and appropriate introduction to Istanbul.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com