Friday is cuma. (In Turkish, there seems to be no compulsion to capitalize your days of the week.) It comes from the Persian and Arabic words for “reunion.” Then Saturday is cumartesi. This literally means “after Friday.”
Sunday is pazar which means “market.” Maybe Sunday was historically the market day? I don't know. And Monday is pazartesi, which, as you may have guessed means “after Sunday.”
So then we get to lonely Tuesday which is salɩ (that's the dotless 'i'.) I don't know the origin of this name.
Wednesday is called çarşamba which comes from a Persian phrase meaning “four days after the Sabbath.” And then Thursday is perşembe, again from Persian meaning “five days after the Sabbath.”
Now, having told you all of these things you didn't need to know to understand my post, let me begin.
On cuma, which is on Friday, we got together with another family from the United States who are also traveling the world. We first met them in Athens, and as luck would have it, we are both in Istanbul at the same time as well.
We first visited the Basilica Cistern. It is a dark, eerie, and amazing place. It was built by the Eastern Roman Empire in the 6th century to hold water for use in the imperial palace of the time. The water came from the Belgrade woods which are about 19 km away. Of course, being Romans, they brought the water to the city (then called Constantinople) by means of aqueducts.
The cistern is underground. It is a large chamber held up by 336 columns, each 9 meters tall. Most of the columns were not built for the cistern itself, but were taken from other Roman buildings and brought here. So there is a variety in the materials they are made of, the capitals on them, and even if they are one whole piece of marble or two pieces fused together.
The walls and floor are made of brick and were waterproofed with a thick coating of mortar. The area of the place is about 9,800 square meters and it could hold 100,000 tons of water. Today, there is a lot less water in it, but there is some. And there are fish living within it.
|Dark and spooky|
The Turkish government has built some walkways that allow you to walk over the water and see the area. Plus, they lead you to a few of the unique features.
One of the columns is not just a plain cylinder, but is carved with teardrop shaped engravings all along its length. It is called the crying column, and is said to always appear to be wet as though it was crying.
But perhaps the most fascinating feature is near the southwestern corner of the cistern. Two of the columns there have unique plinths (or platforms on which their pedestals stand.) These are Medusa heads. Yes, the lady with snakes for hair is here, twice!
Archaeologists believe that, like the columns, these sculptures were not carved in Istanbul. Rather, they were brought here from other sites in the Roman Empire, though no one knows which site or sites these two Medusae (I think that's the plural of Medusa) came from. Another mystery is why are they here? Were they just brought as convenient stands for pillars? Or were they brought to ward off evil spirits? Or is there another reason? No record has been found explaining their presence.
But that's not all. They aren't just in the space. They are placed in an unusual way. One of the Medusa heads is laying on its side, as though her ear were to the ground with the pillar sprouting out of her other ear. Perhaps this was the only way she would fit under the pillar. But the other Medusa head is upside-down. Again, why is a mystery. Maybe they believed that if she were upside-down, no one would be turned to stone.
|Does the blood all rush to her head?|
It is a dimly lit, somewhat creepy, and incredibly cool place.
Together with our friends, we also took a cruise on the Bosporus. I guess it was a watery day.
The Bosporus is a long strait that connects the Black Sea at its north and higher end to the Sea of Marmara at its lower southern end. From there, the waters flow through the Sea of Marmara to another strait interior to Turkey called the Dardanelles. Through this the waters pass into the Mediterranean Sea. The Bosporus separates the European side of Turkey from the Anatolian or Asian side.
|The waters of the Bosporus|
The Bosporus means the crossing of the cow and comes from the myth of Io. Zeus fell in love with Io and covered the world in a thick blanket of clouds so no one would see him pursue her. However, his wife, Hera, saw the clouds and immediately suspected something was up. She came to see what he was up to. Zeus turned Io into a heifer and insisted he hadn't been doing anything particularly interesting. He had never seen the white heifer before. Hera, not believing him, asked if she could have the heifer. How could Zeus say no without giving away everything? So he gave it to her.
Hera imprisoned poor Io, guarded by Argus who had one-hundred arms and one-hundred eyes. Argus never let all of his eyes sleep at the same time, so it was impossible to catch him off guard. Zeus sent Hermes to rescue the heifer. Hermes played such soothing music that all of Argus's eyes fell asleep at the same time. Then Hermes killed Argus and set Io free. (I'm not sure why Zeus didn't just change her back at this point. But he's Zeus. He isn't known for being considerate.)
Hera sent a giant gadfly to chase Io and torment her everywhere she went. And so she ran all around the world. The Ionian Sea was named for her. As so was the Bosporus, the crossing of the cow, which is where she crossed from Europe to Asia.
|It's a bit easier to cross these days then in Io's time|
The myth does eventually get happier for her. She meets Prometheus, who is chained to a rock and tortured daily. Because he ticked off Zeus. And as we mentioned, Zeus isn't considerate. Anyway, Prometheus tells her she must wander as a cow for many more years, but eventually she will be changed back into a woman. And she will have a family. In fact, she is the beginning of a line of descent that will lead to great heroes, including the one who will eventually free Prometheus.
|The Ortakoy Mosque|
It all comes true. Eventually she reaches the Nile River and here Zeus turns her back into a woman. She marries, has children. Way down the line is the great hero, Herakles (who has his own problems with Hera, because guess who his father is and who his mother is not.) And Herakles frees Prometheus.
The Turkish name of the strait is Boğaz, which has a less mythic and more anatomical origin. It means throat. And I suppose it is somewhat esophageal.
|One of the fortifications for fighting across the strait|
We enjoyed seeing the Bosporus, the many mansions and palaces built along its waters, and the immense bridges that span it connecting two continents. I should say we, meaning the four adults in the families, enjoyed this. The children enjoyed running about the ship, up the stairs, down the stairs, hiding, and chasing. I assume they saw the water and the features from time to time, but only occasionally. Still, they were probably happier that way.
|The Istanbul Modern (a museum of modern art)|
I'm not sure where the official boundary between Europe and Asia is (or if there even is one) but assuming it is in the middle of the Bosporus, then I have officially been in Asia. However, I have not yet set foot on land in Asia.
Don't worry, I plan to do that tomorrow. Monday. Or should I say pazartesi?