The road trip was finished back on Tuesday the 16th, but I’m a little behind. I figured I’ll show you a bunch of pictures and comment on them.
Gallipoli is a peninsula on the European side of the Dardanelles, which is the strait that leads from the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean. The Gallipoli Campaign was a British attempt to capture and control the straits, but also to open up yet another front for the Germans to defend. The British didn’t think highly of the Turkish army, a big mistake.
The British landed on the peninsula in several places, the most famous being ANZAC Cove, named for the Australian and New Zealand forces that fought there. The problem for the ANZACs was that the cove was surrounded by high cliffs that they would have to scale to get off the beach. Many casualties resulted.
The campaign lasted about 8 months. The troops were evacuated in late December 1915 and early January 1916. Total Allied casualties were around 200,000 killed or wounded; many died from the heat and from dysentery. The Turks estimate over 200,000 dead.
The Gallipoli Campaign is considered the birthplace of Australian and New Zealand national identity. It is also the birthplace of modern Turkey, as one of the leaders was a then unknown colonel by the name of Mustafa Kemal – who became the leader of Turkey and given the name Ataturk.
Edirne was the 2nd capital of the Ottoman Empire and is close to the borders of Bulgaria and Greece.
They relocated a 2nd capital from Bursa because of their territorial gains in the Balkan Peninsula. There are a couple of mosques we visited, each with their own beauty.
First is the Old Mosque (Eski Camii), built in 1414.
The most striking feature of this mosque is the large calligraphy painted on the walls. I would imagine when you are praying that you are in constant reminder of your connection to God. Some of the inscriptions have outlined words behind solid words. These would show a connection, and in one case a hierarchy of importance. One example below depicts one of the 99 names for God. the word Allah, or God is in the background, with the descriptor in front.
The other example has Muhammad in the background and Allah in front, showing the ranking in importance. The picture following is of the mihrab and minbar that also shows the scale of the calligraphy.
The next mosque is known as the Mosque of the Three Balconies (Uchsherefeli Camii), and was built from 1438-1447. It has different designs for each minaret and has a rather clean, simple interior space with very little decoration beside the domes and the area around the mihrab, and even that begins above the level of the doors.
The third mosque we visited was the Selimiye Mosque (1569-1575), designed by the famous Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan. Sinan considered this mosque to be his greatest work.
It is a stunning space, I can see why he felt that it was his masterpiece.
For a few last images, while we were walking around we encountered some lovely examples of Ottoman style houses. We also discovered a pomegranate tree.
Three days – three different cities that had importance to the Ottomans
Safranbolu, which means “city of saffron,” is an old Ottoman town that had some trade significance but also some religious significance. In addition to Safranbolu, we also visited a small village nearby. Yörük Köyü means “nomad’s village” as the people who settled here were former nomads in Anatolia. The significance of Yörük Köyü to our trip is that it is a Bektashi village. The Bektashi were a Sufi order that had achieved some support or standing in the Ottoman court in the 1500’s. The Ottomans were concerned about the Safavids in Iran, who were Shi’a, so they took on the role of the Sunni empire, but they also adopted some of the mystical orders of the Sufis. The Bektashi ideas were adapted by Balim Sultan to use with the janissaries (soldiers). The headdress of the janissary looks like a white sleeve, which signifies the sleeve of Haci Bektash, the founder of the Bektashi order. When the janissaries were disbanded in 1826, the Bektashi order was also disbanded. But can you really tell people, “you can’t believe that anymore.” No. So the order went underground. The village of Yörük Köyü was one of the places that maintained those Sufi practices, even if hidden. Many of the last names of the people in the area reflect the janissary ties. Much of the design and decoration in the houses reflect the Bektashi Sufi order. Certain numbers are considered mystical and significant, especially 3, 4, and 12, so you will find images and design elements that will be in 3’s or 4’s or 12’s. Stripes, urns, flowers, wall niches. It is very subtle, and if you weren’t told that it had significance you would think, “oh, that’s nice.”
The village itself is very old and has a simple, low-tech, feel to it. The oldest standing building is about 400 years old. The house we were able to tour, Sipahioglu Konagi, was built around 250 years ago, and the decorations in the main room were done about 125 years ago. These houses stay in families for generations. When walking around, I was reminded of Taos Pueblo or Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico; an old village with very traditional ways, but not a complete rejection of technology. This village did have electricity and telephones, and the houses now have plumbing added, but it does have a rustic charm.
Safranbolu has significance as a stop on the old caravan routes. We had lunch at Cinci Han, a former caravanserai, which was converted into an inn and restaurant. Well, you can’t really say converted, because a caravanserai is a rest stop while moving your caravan. The animals would be kept on the ground floor, and the travelers would stay in the upper levels. So it has the same role, just remodeled to fit the modern traveler’s needs. The room that we had lunch in, was quite beautiful, with vaulted ceilings and a clean, tranquil décor.
Next up was Iznik. Iznik is famous for its ceramics. The pottery medium they use has an extremely high (about 85%) quartz content, so it is a beautiful white, that the artists can then apply different colored glazes to the bowl, plate, or tile and the colors are quite sharp. Besides the type of clay used, they are also famous for the colored glazes they developed. They were the first to successfully produce a red that did not bleed when applied and fired. The original colors were shades of blue and green, along with black, but the addition of red added some variety to the designs. We went to a tile workshop that is part of a foundation that is working to preserve the art of making Iznik tile (http://www.iznik.com/english/). They were creating individual pieces, using traditional patterns, but they also make custom tile murals that are installed in office buildings, subway stations, hotels, and the like. We were watching people work on a large modern geometric design while we were there.
After the tile workshop, we visited two mosques. One was an old Byzantine church converted into a mosque. It later fell into disrepair and was abandoned as a ruin. Only recently, it was restored to use as a mosque.
The other mosque was the Yesil Camii, or Green Mosque, which was built between 1378 and 1391. It is the oldest Ottoman mosque and has greenish marble columns inside, but an otherwise modest interior. I thought it was a beautiful space – rather serene.
We also walked over to the old city walls. Iznik was once known as Nicaea. The walls showed the layers of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman improvements.
Our last major city, and the largest of the three, is Bursa. The first major distinction of Bursa is that was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. The first two sultans of the empire, Osman- it’s namesake, and Orhan are buried here. Their tombs are part of former Byzantine buildings, the Saint Elia monastery.
The tombs are beautiful, and the sarcophagi are unique – very simple shapes – sort of like a pentagon shaped tube that tapers from the head to the foot. In addition to the sultan, some of his wives and children are also buried there – in smaller, similarly shaped sarcophagi.
There is also a Green Mosque (built from 1412-1419) and Green Tomb, named for the green and turquoise blue Iznik tiles that decorate them. The tomb is the final resting place of Mehmet I (d.1421).
The second claim to fame of Bursa is silk. Bursa was a city at the end of the Silk Road, the trade route from China. At some point, Christian missionaries smuggled silkworms out of China (or India, depends on the account) and started production in Anatolia. There was also production in northern Persia (Iran). You need to have the right climate to grow mulberry trees, the leaves of which the silkworms eat. Bursa has that climate as it is on the edge of a mountain range (there is a ski resort nearby).
There is no large scale silk production in Bursa today, but there are still some smaller factories. Most silk comes from China or India, where it is cheaper to produce due to lower labor costs. The silk market complex, the Koza Han, used to have people buying and selling raw silk, but now it is filled with shops selling silk scarves, neckties, and meters of silk fabric to shoppers. They sell cheap imported scarves for 5 or 10 lira ($2.50 to 5), or you can venture into the store to find the locally made goods, the good stuff. Yes, there are very expensive scarves, with fine detail or woven with gold thread. But you can also find nice, Bursa scarves for under 60 lira ($30).
The third claim to fame of Bursa is the art of shadow puppetry. We toured a puppet museum, which had marionettes as well as the shadow puppets. We then watched a performance by a gentleman who has been performing for close to 30 years. One puppeteer does all of the puppets as well as the voices and sound effects.
The two main characters are Karagöz and Hacivat – sort of a Punch & Judy combination. Watching the show, they started to remind me of Ralph Kramden and Norton from The Honeymooners. The play has a basic plot of little stories, but the performer adapts some of the lines to suit the audience. He threw in some English words since he knew that there were Americans in the audience. It was charming.
My next post (coming soon) will deal with the more touristy aspects of these towns.
To borrow from SI’s Peter King, here are 10 things I think I think:
1) Bathrooms are always an interesting “challenge” when you go to different countries. While I’m not a facecloth person, the absence of one is sort of irritating. Why should you deny me the facecloth? Why can’t I make the decision to use it or not? I feel the need to buy myself a facecloth, especially if there are none in the 3rd hotel I will encounter tonight in Safranbolu (there wasn’t. Sigh.). The toilets have a different type of flush mechanism. Instead of a handle on the tank, there is a push button on the wall. It also has a built in bidet, which is convenient if you’re into that sort of thing. If you don’t know what a bidet is, look it up – I can’t explain everything for you, you need to do some work on your own.
2) The hotel in Istanbul that we are staying in is very modern, newly renovated, and a bit too hip for it’s own good, or for guest comfort. Very IKEA. Our room has a sitting area by the windows, but it is up on a platform that is about 18 inches above the floor; high step, almost should have had a second step to get up to it. The bathroom is the most impractical. No shelves or bars for towels, only the hooks on the door. It has a shower only, but about the size of a bathtub, flat pan, and no curtain or door, just a glass panel about 2/3’s of the length of the space. As soon as you turn on the water, the drain is too slow to catch the water and it immediately starts to spill into the main bathroom. I had to adjust the pressure to a gentle sprinkling to keep the inflow and outflow at an even keel, and still had to use a hand towel to dry up the flood. If I find the comment card, I’m going off.
3) Meals have been good, if a bit similar. If I have to eat 3 weeks of strictly Turkish cuisine, I may lose it. It would be like being in America and eating fried chicken or cheesesteaks for every meal for 3 weeks. The dessert is always good, if also a bit the same. Small sweet pastries, usually baklava in some form or another. You don’t need a large portion; a couple small pieces are more than enough – unless diabetic shock is part of your game plan. But eating small portions is a good idea. It allows you to indulge in something rich, but not so much that you get sick. Luxury in moderation.
4) Educational mumbo jumbo alert – Skip to number 5 if you wish: On Monday, we had our first meeting as a group. We introduced ourselves and then we spent about an hour talking about general goals and themes. On Tuesday, we spent the morning looking at a basic timeline of Ottoman history – their impressive rise, peak and “golden age” under Suleyman, and their sudden, dramatic, insanely rapid, 300 year long decline. (Yes, that was supposed to be sarcastic.) We then talked a bit about available website resources (and, by extent, the lack thereof), setting up annotated photostreams and interactive timelines, and then a discussion of the stereotypes about the Turks and Ottoman Empire, and those that have been discarded and/or adopted by various modern Turks and governments to suit their political needs. Barb, our one presenter, showed us a picture of a Turkish “Disneyland” which has a land that celebrates Ottoman history. It has a “castle” which is sort of mosque-like, but in a Disney sort of way – a little soft, fluffy, and cartoonish. In all, good information that gets you thinking about how we should approach Ottoman history. You wonder what is important to the Turks, the heirs to the Ottomans, and question if that should be a template for how we should look at it – or a warning about how not to look at it.
5) Tuesday afternoon was a trip to the Sadberk Hanim Museum. It is a private museum, created by a prominent (wealthy) family. They also founded Koç University. The one side was an archaeological museum – all of the ancient Greek and Roman artifacts – not as interesting to me; saw it all and more in Greece and Italy. The other side was filled with beautiful examples of 15th, 16th, 17th century tiles, embroidery, handcrafts, and everyday objects of (mainly) upper class life in the Ottoman Empire. Beautiful things. I was amazed by the stitch work and detail on items that are rather basic. A turban cover, a shaving apron, a wrapping cloth: all beautifully embroidered and decorated. I was also looking at the items with Arabic inscriptions, trying to make out the words with my limited Arabic. I can sound out some words based on the letters, but don’t really know what they mean. But it is fun practice. I’m much better when it is linear and basic, but struggle when it is highly stylized, because they stack letters on top of each other and it is hard for me to distinguish some of them.
6) After the museum, we took a cruise down the Bosporus. The museum was close to the Black Sea, well past the second (Sultan Mehmet) bridge. The cruise back was about 1½ to 2 hours, nice breeze, beautiful scenery, and a good time to talk with some of the other participants. We passed under the Galata Bridge and then dropped off on the old city side of the Golden Horn to head for dinner at a restaurant near the Spice Market. Tuesday was the first fasting day of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish), with Ramadan having begun on Monday night. It is OK for non-Muslims to eat during the day, just as long as you do it inside a restaurant and not out in the open, out of respect.
7) After we got back to the hotel, Brian and I walked back down to the square and worked our way to a nice little café that we went to on Sunday. They don’t serve alcohol, as they are too close to the Blue Mosque, but they do serve tea, coffee, food, and even prepare a water pipe for you. We went to play backgammon both evenings. The first night, I asked for a board and promptly forgot how to set it up. I knew there were two sets of 5, a set of 3 and a set of 2 pieces, but forgot where they went. So our host had some people at the next table set it up for us. The next time, I looked it up on my iPhone and copied a picture so I had a template. I forgot how much I liked backgammon. It is a good strategy game, but one that requires a bit of luck to go with it. You rise or fall based on the roll of the dice. It’s how you react to the roll that shows your strategic skills. We were pretty even in games won. After 4 games and 2 cups of tea each, our bill was 10 Turkish lira – a little over 5 dollars. I gave our host another 5 and we had a nice couple of hours for $7.66.
8) Bus Trip Bingo – Spot the Atatürk. Can’t really say much more than that. Sort of like “spot the Annunciation” when you are in Italian art museums, or maybe punch buggy.
9) Wednesday morning we went to Koç University to listen to a presentation about Ottoman literature, poetry and travel writing. It is a private university that teaches almost exclusively in English. Public universities in Turkey are free, but you have to take entrance exams in high school to determine where you may be able to go. The students with the highest scores get first choice of university. If you don’t do well, it’s pretty much try again next year.
10) Hit the road to Safranbolu. For some reason unbeknownst to me, we drove in the bus from a location far to the east of the 2nd bridge onto a highway which took us to the airport, which is about 10-15 miles west of the city, to take a local road along the Sea of Marmara, still to the west of either bridge. At the first rest stop, we found out that there was a major accident that closed highways, but I can’t imagine why we needed to detour around and thru downtown Istanbul to get back to the bridge. We spent about 2 hours circling before we crossed the bridge into Asia. I was apoplectic, but anyway, we’re here so…