Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Sounds, Sights And Culture Shock Of Istanbul, Turkey.......

As we followed our guide through the crowded streets I began to hear a chanting of sorts so I took off my headset to have a listen. The chanting was almost musical and increased until it became so loud it blocked out all other sounds around us.  Here we were in Istanbul, Turkey experiencing "call to prayer," or "ezan" one of the five that occur each and every day. Muslims in Turkey are not required to pray in the mosque, our guide Altu said, "it's between you and God as to how many times you pray, when and where." He also said that among Muslim countries Turkey is the most lenient regarding worship. Interesting enough is that the exact times of prayer call change daily, having to do with sunrise, sunset, longitude and latitude, along with the geographical relationship to Mecca.  Although it fascinated us we saw none of the locals stop what they were doing to face Mecca and pray, but perhaps they were doing it silently?

video


Listen As We Hear Prayer Call
 

Glancing around the streets many of the women were covered from head to toe with little more than their faces showing.  While men were dressed like those anywhere else, many had longer hair tied up into knots on top of their heads. Our tour guide Altu wore the head knot along with a conservative white dress shirt over khaki pants.  He was witty and entertaining as he told us about his culture which gave us a peek into life as a Turk.  Turkey by the way means, "land of Turks" and has nothing to do with the bird who bears the same name.

Our Tour Guide Directing Us
 
Follow The Leader With The #15 Flag
 


 
A Local Couple Window Shopping

More Locals


Our first stop of the day was Hagia Sophia which translated means, "holy wisdom."  This building began it's life as a Greek church, was later transformed into a mosque and now serves as a museum.  Built some 1500 years ago it's most prominent feature is the dome and it is considered to be the epitome of Byzantine architecture.  Before it was converted into a mosque the bells, altar, sacrificial vessels and iconostasis or screen with pictures of idols on it were removed. Many of the Christian mosaics and tiles were plastered over also.

 
 


Inside Hagia Sophia






Next we explored the outdoor plaza called the Hippodrome of Constantinople which is now called Suntan Ahmet Square.  The word hippodrome comes from the Greek word "hippos" meaning horse and "dromos" which means path or way.  Horse racing and chariot racing were popular past times in the ancient world and therefore many cities had hippodromes.  Trying to raise the image of himself and his new capital, Constantine brought in monuments from all over the world to adorn his empire.

Green Space On Hippodrome







The Serpent Column was created to celebrate victory of the Greeks over the Persians in the 5th century BC. The top of the monument included a bowl supported by three serpent heads which were later destroyed or stolen. 
 
 






The Walled Obelisk sits on the opposite end of the hippodrome, and was once
 covered by gilded bronze plaques. 



Turkish carpets  and rugs  are handmade and considered to be some of the finest in the entire world. Our group was offered an optional demonstration of carpet making which included lunch so we opted to attend.  We watched in amazement as the young lady created double knots which transformed into a rug, a skill handed down from mother to daughter. She was so fast at knot tying that the store owner asked her to slow down in order for us to actually see how it was done. Everyone in the group was handed a cheese and tomato sandwich on a baguette along with a common drink of hot apple tea.

Young Master Weaver


Carpets And More Carpets For Sale.......The Group Was Quoted A
 Price Of  $2,500 For An 8x12  But They Were Offering A 40% Discount And Shipping Was Included Free Too!
 


Back onto the streets we headed to the Grand Bazaar, the largest and oldest covered market in the world.  It spans over 60 streets and features well over 3,000 shops with a variety of items.  Some of the more common things inside were spices, sweets, leather goods, jewelry, lanterns, teas and more.  Since we had a limited amount of time I was on a mission to find some of the famous sweets called,  "Turkish delights." Well prepared to purchase some was I ever pleased to see shops giving away free samples.  Clyde and I went from shop to shop picking up free samples of delights and other specialty's even going back for seconds.  Eventually Clyde tried snapping photos along the way which seemed to be frowned upon since we weren't shelling out any euros to buy. Perhaps we'd outdone our welcome and were being recognized as the cheap gringo's that we were?

Heading To The Grand Bazaar


Entrance Through The Arch

Plenty Of Turkish Delights.......Many Flavors!
Lightly Sweetened Gummy Type Candies
These Are Sliced Up Into Bite Sized Pieces



Inside The Grand Bazaar






We met up with our group once again and headed over to the Basilica Cistern. Deep beneath the city of Istanbul are hundreds of massive cisterns that hold water.  Originally built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian, it served to hold enough water for the Great Palace. The cathedral sized cistern is 469 feet long, 214 feet wide and holds 2,800,000 cubic feet of water. It's roof is supported by 336 marble columns.  The cistern had been forgotten about for centuries until accidentally rediscovered by a Frenchman in 1545.  While doing research on Byzantine antiques in the city Peter Gyllius noticed locals lowering buckets into the ground through holes in their basement floors. The buckets came up full of clean water and sometimes even contained live fish.

Entering The Cistern



Inside The Basilica Cistern


In 1963 the James Bond film To Russia With Love was filmed in the cistern where it was said to be located in Russia.  James Bond spent many hours rowing through the waters of the cistern in the making of the popular film.


Medusa Head Upside Down
 


For us the cistern was amazing yet a bit creepy as we walked through dimly lit tunnels that took us through forests of marble columns.  Located in the northwest corner of the cistern on the bases of two columns are the faces of Medusa.  The faces are positioned sideways and upside down for some unknown reasons.  But theory has it that it was done on purpose to negate the power of the dreadful creatures stare.

Our final stop of the day was the one I was most looking forward to, the famous "Blue Mosque." The Mosque of Sultan Ahmet,  nicknamed the "blue mosque" because of the blue tile inside is still a working mosque. Built in 1603 by the Ottoman Empire it sits on the site where the Great Palace of Byzantine once was.  The mosque has one main dome, six minarets which are tall spires used only on mosques, and eight secondary domes.  The mosque is the only one in Istanbul having six minarets which caused some hostility at the time it was built.  Since most mosques were only allowed to have one or two minarets at the most, Sultan Ahmet was criticized at the time for thinking too highly of himself.  The only mosque allowed the honor of six minarets was the Prophet's Mosque in Mecca.

This Clever Chain Was To Stop Men From Riding In On Horseback


Outside The Blue Mosque


 My Head Is Covered......Ready To Enter
 
 


 Impressive Mosque Of Sultan Ahmet.......The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey



So as the story goes the six minarets are a result of miscommunication between Sultan Ahmet and his architect.  The Sultan asked to have "altin minare" which means "minarets in gold."  But instead the architect heard, "alti minare" which means "six minarets."  Upset that the Sultan would have one more minaret than the special mosque in Mecca, a seventh minaret was ordered for the Mecca mosque which Sultan Ahmet was made to pay for.




As we lined up to enter the Blue Mosque we noticed a line of cleaning stations outside.  As it is believed that one must cleanse themselves before praying there were a dozen or so men sitting at these stations washing.  It's necessary to wash ones feet, hands, face and even put some water on the top of ones head for total cleansing. This area was only for men since men and women pray separate and wash separate in Muslim.


Muslim Men Outside The Mosque Washing Up, Getting Ready To Pray



Proper dress is strictly enforced before anyone enters a mosque and there were signs outside indicating this.  Women entering must cover their heads while neither men or women are allowed to show their knees.  Tight pants, shorts, mini skirts or other such attire is not permitted.  Those dressed inappropriately were given large sheets of fabric to wrap around themselves as were women to use as head covers.  Everyone must remove their shoes prior to entering and we were provided plastic bags to hold them. The entire mosque floor is carpeted making it nice to walk on with bare or socked feet.


Fellow Passenger Ignored The Rules And Wore Shorts. 
He Was Loaned This Fabric To Wear And Refused To Let His Wife Take A Photo
Wonder If He Knows He's On The Internet Now?
 
 

Admittedly I went into this knowing absolutely nothing about the Muslim religion and listened to our guide attentively. He mentioned the importance of the Virgin Mary even in the Quran (Koran). She is the most important woman mentioned, the Mother of God similar to other doctrines. Muhammad is merely the messenger of God who verbally revealed the text of the Quran.  Although Altu our guide certainly didn't explain much of his religion to our group, he did answer inquiries as they were made thus giving me this little bit of information to pass along.

After Removing Our Shoes We Were Allowed To Enter The Mosque

Inside The Blue Mosque....WOW!

Domed Ceiling


Many Lights Hanging Down


Typically it's the men that attend mosque as the women are busy at home raising the children. Women are welcomed to attend but pray in a separate area for only females.  In the Blue Mosque the women's area is usually on the second level.  However, during our visit there were screens set up to the back of the mosque with signs indicating that was where women should go to pray. Children including girls can pray alongside the men when attending with their fathers.  There are no seats inside a mosque as Muslims kneel on the carpeted floor, face Mecca and bow down to the floor in prayer.

Random People In Area For Prayer
This Was NOT One Of The Prayer Call Times Or We Would Have NOT
Been Allowed To Enter The Mosque


This Side Faces Mecca



During our day in Istanbul we passed by a young boy dressed in a costume who looked like something out of a cartoon.  Our guide said, "you see that boy dressed like a Prince?"  "Today is his circumcision."  The ritual of circumcision in Turkey is done between the ages of 5 and 11 when a boy fully understands what's being done to his body. It's a coming out of sorts, a huge, expensive party where the boy becomes a man.  Boys are dressed in white and red princely outfits and ride upon donkeys, horses or cars decorated with flowers to the party.  The procedure is done at homes, banquet halls or other places by a qualified person and takes less than a minute to perform.  Afterwards the boy is placed on an elaborately decorated bed to rest after which the party begins and lasts until the early hours of the next day. What seems like a strange experience to us is a major turning point and a sacred religious experience for Turkish boys.

Circumcision Day......Party Time As This Lad Becomes A Man
 
 

Our time in Istanbul was exciting, fascinating and so culturally different from the other ports. Definitely a place we want to visit another time to learn a little more and come out two smarter gringos......along the gringo trail.

Perhaps On Our Next Trip To Istanbul We Can Stop For A Turkish Bath?







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