Turkish Delight (on a Moonlit Night) – Erich
We are in Turkey. Not just in Turkey, but in the splendidly chaotic city of Istanbul. More properly, I should write İstanbul. In Turkish, there is a dotted “i” and a dotless “ı”. When capitalized the dotted “i” retains the dot, so it looks different than our capital I, which is the same as the capitalized version of the dotless “ı”. And the word İstanbul is spelled with the dotted “i”.
|The words mean Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality|
My greatest challenge is not continually singing the song “Istanbul Not Constantinople.” This is made even more difficult when every time the fabulous dessert “Turkish delight” is mentioned, Syarra likes to add “on a moonlit night” referencing the song. This gets it started in my head again. Mean daughter!
Please note: I do not feel a similar temptation to hum “Turkey in the Straw”.
In our first days here, we have seen some pretty amazing sites. We visited the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is well named, because it is grand in size and it is a bit bizarre. It's not strange that there are so many shops. It is strange in how it is built.
|One of the streets of shops in the Grand Bazaar|
The Grand Bazaar has shops lining the roads, but then arched roofs have been built over the roads. And there are large television screens hanging from the arched roof at each intersection. These can show ads. So it is almost like being in a mall with very wide halls. Except then you look down at the ground where you still see storm drains and manhole covers and you realize that this is a street. Or at least it was before someone turned it into the indoors.
|The floor is an actual city street|
At one shop just outside of the Grand Bazaar, we got a long lesson in Turkish carpets. We learned that they come from different regions, they were made to be given as part of a woman's dowry. Nowadays, they aren't being made so much. They can last up to 250 years because they are made with double knots which makes them far superior to the single knotted Persian carpets. (Or so the Turkish carpet merchant believes.) And let's not even get into Berber carpets in Morocco! What can compare to Turkish?
Of course, we were up front about not wanting a carpet, not having a home in which to put a carpet, and not having friends or family to whom a carpet could be shipped. (That last part wasn't actually true, but given the first part, that we didn't want a carpet, it seemed like a reasonable claim for us to make.) But we got the hard sell nonetheless. End result: We did not buy a carpet. Though I'm sure his claim that the price was unbelievably low was true, the bargain value of the price is somewhat irrelevant when you don't want the product. (If only I could get that point across to merchants in general.)
We also visited some of the major religious sites of today and of the past. There is a huge mosque called Sultanahmet Camii. (Camii is the Turkish word for mosque.) Most westerners call it The Blue Mosque, because the inside is decorated in 22,000 tiles with beautiful floral designs on them. The majority of the color of these tiles is blue.
This was a far departure from Morocco where you are not allowed in a mosque unless you are a Muslim. Here, outside of prayer times, Sultanahmet Camii is open to visitors. We did have to remove our shoes. Alrica and Syarra had to have their heads and shoulders covered. And none of us were wearing shorts, as that is not allowed.
Not only does this mosque invite you in, but they have a lot of information about Islam. We learned that Islam would say that anyone who believes in the one God is a Muslim, even if he considers himself a Christian, Jew, or even a Hindu. (It explained that while Hindus believe in many gods, ultimately their many gods are manifestations of one true god.) In fact, what the information presented explained is that there truly is only one divine religion or one religion of Allah. But the religions of humans are varied because none of them are actually the true religion of Allah. We just can't replicate what Allah and the angels can understand.
A few interesting stories about Sultanahmet Camii: It was built by the Sultan Ahmed I (which is where it gets its Turkish name, literally the Sultan Ahmed Mosque). When construction began, the Sultan set the price at which the tiles would be purchased. But it took many years to build. During that time, the price of tiles went up, but the Sultan's set price did not change. So the later (higher) tiles are made at lower and lower qualities.
Also, the mosque was built with six minarets. Minarets are the tall narrow towers with balconies around the structure. In the days before electrical amplification, this is where the call to prayer came from. Someone had to climb the minaret and sing out the call to prayer. Today, they can stay at ground level and let the speakers get the word out.
But when it was built, many prominent Muslims were dismayed that the Sultan had six minarets built. This was the same number of minarets as surrounded the Kaaba in Mecca. They found it presumptuous that he would include the same number of minarets in İstanbul. So the Sultan solved the problem. He didn't make fewer minarets here. He ordered a seventh minaret be built at the Kaaba.
Right across from the Sultanahmet Camii is the Hagia Sophia Museum. In Turkish this is the Ayasofia Müzesi. The Hagia Sophia was a massive Byzantine Catholic Cathedral built between 532 and 537 CE, in the time when Constantinople (as İstanbul was called in those days) was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It has a gigantic dome supported by two half-domes.
|The massive dome of the Hagia Sophia|
In fact, when the Sultanahmet Camii was built in the 1660s, it was meant to rival the Hagia Sophia. But the engineering of the Byzantines/Romans was difficult to match, and the domes on the Sultanahmet Camii, while more decorative, airy, and lit, are not as big.
|This marble jar is from around 400 BCE and was used to distribute water and sherbet. Sherbet? So said the sign.|
The Hagia Sophia was a Byzantine Catholic Cathedral for many centuries. Though it did have a stretch of about 80 years in which it became a Roman Catholic Cathedral, when Rome sort of recaptured and occupied Constantinople. But it again became a Byzantine Catholic Cathedral until the fall of the Byzantine Empire. Then it was converted into a mosque. The mosque was used until the Sultanahmet Camii was built. And then the Hagia Sophia fell into some disrepair.
|In this area, the Byzantine Emperors were coronated|
But in the early 1900s when Turkey became a secular government and the Caliphate was replaced with a more pro-Western democracy, the Hagia Sophia became a museum. Inside, there is a fascinating mix of Christian and Muslim iconography.
|This mosaic in the Hagia Sophia shows the Emperor and his wife with Jesus. He is giving money to the church.|
Another beautiful stop was the Topkapi Palace. This was the palace of the Sultans until the fall of the Caliphate. Then it too became a museum. It is situated in a perfect location, giving views of Sea of Marmara to the south, the Bosporus to the northeast, the Asian side of Turkey across the Bosporus to the east, and the Golden Horn to the north.
|There's me with Asia across the water. I might be able to swim that.|
Topkapi is different than El Alcazar, a castle complex we saw in Seville, Spain. Both were built by various rulers who added their own elements. But the Topkapi is on a smaller scale. Why build multistory buildings? Instead, you can build a one story building but decorate it so richly that there is no doubt as to the majesty of the Sultan. It also didn't have the extensive and varied gardens of El Alcazar.
|Every column is made from a different kind of marble|
But what it did have was treasures. First, in the treasury, one could see some of the riches of the Ottoman Empire. There were huge gems, jeweled daggers and boxes, and bowls so richly decorated in gemstones that you couldn't possibly ever use it as a bowl. In another section called the Privy Chambers were relics. Now, I always thought Privy Chambers were the toilet facilities, but that is not what it meant here. Here they were the rooms with the greatest of treasures.
These were major religious relics of Islam. But since many of Islam's prophets are those mentioned in the Jewish Bible and the New Testament, some of these relics would also be considered relics in Judaism and Christianity.
We saw what was said to be the staff of Moses, the sword of David, many pieces of the beard of the prophet (by which is meant Muhammad), his sword and the sword of some of his closest friends and pupils, gutters from the Kaaba, and more. In one room in the Privy Chambers, there is a man who sits and sings the verses of the Quran all day long. These are amplified and can be heard throughout the Privy Chambers. He had a beautiful voice. In that room, there are two screens showing the verses of the Quran, one in Turkish and one in English.
In addition to the sites, we have enjoyed some wonderful foods. Of course, the most singular is Turkish Delight. It's difficult to describe it. The legend says that when some sultan broke his tooth on a hard candy, he wanted something softer as his treat. And his royal chef invented Turkish Delight.
Turkish Delight is a semi-solid candy. It is more firm than gelatin, but less firm and chewy than a gummy bear for example. It comes in a great variety of colors and flavors. And it is sweet and delicious. Even if you eat it at a time other than a moonlit night.
The people of Turkey, who are a mix of both Turks and Kurds, are incredibly friendly. As an example, we had purchased some dried strawberries and they were in a sealed plastic bag. We were trying to open the bag in the Grand Bazaar and having a difficult time. One jewelry shop owner saw us having trouble, so he rushed into his store and returned with a pair of scissors, cutting the bag for us.
People offer to help us find where we are going. They recommend the best places to eat or to find certain items. They are a generous people. And most of them truly appreciate it if you try to speak some Turkish. Even if you're not that good at it, which describes my abilities in Turkish quite well.
Of course, we have much more to see and do here. We haven't yet been in the Asian part across the Bosporus. We want to see the Basilica Cistern. And we want to experience more of the foods of Turkey. But even in the few days we have spent here, we can certainly say that İstanbul has been a true Turkish delight.
On a moonlit night.