Sitting on the rooftop terrace of my hotel.
To my right is the Sea of Marmara. Marmara means marble – the islands of this sea connecting the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, and ultimately the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, contain much of the marble used in building many of the impressive Byzantine and Ottoman structures.
To my left is the Sultanahmet, or Blue, Mosque. The ornamentation inside is predominantly blue Iznik tile – beautiful geometric and floral designs. I’m watching the line of tourists lined up to see the interior. You enter a side door, after you remove your shoes and cover any exposed shoulders, knees, and, for the women, hair. When in Rome… Anyway, in some of the churches in Italy, women are asked to cover shoulders and even their heads.
In front of me is the beginning of the Bosphorus, the reason for this city’s existence. Byzantium, Constantinople, Kostantiniyye, Istanbul. This strategic point controls trade from the Black Sea ports to the rest of the world. Much like Gibraltar to the west, control of this place is power. The Byzantine Empire controlled this city for over a millennium. At the end, Constantinople was the only thing left of that empire. And then it was gone. 1453. Mehmet the Conqueror: Sultan, Shahanshah, now, Caesar.
On the other side of the Bosphorus is Asian Istanbul. Large enough to be an impressive city on its own. I’ll get to explore some of that part during the institute, so I’ll add more about that later.
Behind me is the city. Movement, sounds, smells, energy. Awoken this morning (though I went back to sleep) by the sunrise azan, or call to prayer. Since my hotel is next to the Blue Mosque, you can’t help hearing it. Each of the 6 minarets of the mosque have at least 8 speakers. I’m sure I’ll get used to it.
Energy. Last night I went out to have some dinner. Walked down the small alley my hotel is on, turned left and walked through the nearly closed for the day bazaar behind the mosque, passed a courtyard with a cafe featuring live music and a Sufi dervish performance (mystical for the tourists, I guess), and then climbed some steps and walked over to the plaza that spreads between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya. 10:30 – 11:00 at night and the plaza is bubbling over with activity. People strolling. Families enjoying the cool evening breezes. Sidewalk vendors selling all sorts of items – scarves, postcards, light-up toys, battery operated dolls that look like dervishes and whirl around when you turn them on, hot flatbread, roasted corn, cool watermelon slices, sweet dough, assorted nuts, ice cream.
After I ate, I walk back through the plaza and the place is still alive, if not more so. You can’t help but get caught up in the mood, the energy, the sheer joy of living that is evident. I was exhausted from a long day of travel, but that stroll gave me the boost I needed. When I got back to my room, I quickly fell asleep as the energy wasn’t there to keep me going.
I’m looking forward to next week when Ramadan starts. Since Muslims can’t eat and drink during the day, they celebrate the breaking of the fast, iftar, after sunset. It should be even more energetic at night. I can’t wait…