The plane that spirited me away from fair Athens spat me out – sleep-deprived – in the merry city of Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantion/Byzantium. Baklava here is, empirically better than anywhere else in the world, and the sights are unparalleled. It is, after all, a Roman Greek Turkish European Asian Muslim Christian Jewish Byzantine Ottoman smorgasbord about 2600 years old.
Eh, you know.
I had the privilege of meeting fellow Hope sophomore Kaan in Istanbul, one of the many cities he calls home. We had excellent pasta, good wine, and I got to meet some of his friends. Incidentally, Kaan is one of the finer jazz musicians I’ve had the pleasure of knowing in a while, so if you see his name in a concert poster on campus, go see him.
Anywho. As a good Byzantine major, I decided to hit as many of those sights as I could, but Istanbul is rich enough to be seen from a hundred angles. I’m afraid I didn’t take too many photos in mosques or churches, largely out of respect, but I have done what I can. On the tip of the peninsula, the most iconic religious centers of the world all seem to huddle like old men over a backgammon board. The domes and minarets are splendid. The Hagia Sofia (the oldest of the lot), is still the largest, and bares the unique position of being both a church, a mosque, and a museum. Well, officially it is a museum now, but in the mind of all good Byzantinists, its a church, and in the mind of all lovers of Turkish sophistication, it’s a mosque. I like to think it’s very much all three, no hate. I’m no fan of Mehmed the Conqueror, but let it stand. God is Great.
A brief zip through time:
- 600sish BC -A Greek Megaran bloke named Byzas goes to Delphi, and asks the Oracle about founding a colony. Oracle says Yes! Byzas goes to the bridge between Europe and Asia and names his town…Byzantion.
- 190s AD -Romans decide to upgrade the town a little.
- 313 AD -Constantine, Roman Christian Emperor, needs a new capital. In an empire-wide bride hunt, he settles on Byzantium and names it…Constantinople. Eastern Rome builds out from here, in the mighty empire we now think of as Bzantium.
- 1453 -After a thousand and a hundred plus years of Byzantine rule, the descendants of Othman the Great (known as, well, the Ottomans), break into the city after a month-long siege. Byzantine Empire falls, and Mehmed II makes the city officially Turkish. In a remarkable display of non-egotism, it is not renamed Mehmedşehir, or Mehmedopolis.
- 1910s -Ottoman Empire dissolves after four hundred years of colors, spices, sounds, intrigue, and excellent coffee. The new Turkish Republic carries over into the present day.
The point was merely to explain that the history of this city is very, very long, and worth a little contemplation if you visit it.
There was also a remarkable collection of Eastern Antiquities in the archaeological museum -including what I believe are original lions from the Ishtar Gate -the legendary entrance to Babylon.
And there was the Topkapi Palace, and the Chora monastery, but I really must not out geek myself here. Suffice to say that I enjoyed my historical bits of the trip very much. I will give the long-suffering reader a chance to breathe again.
My hostel in Sirkeci, while in a slightly dingier edge of town, was clean and well-maintained by a very international group of friends-cum-hosteliers: a Russian lady from Novosibirsk, a rather cute Syrian guy, several wonderfully informative Turkish folk, and a Turkish grandmother who made excellent apple tea. Also, gorgeous Colombian roommates. Moving on.
I also ate very well. The lira is much more benign to a wallet than the euro, and so I took myself to three course dinners fairly often. Turkish lentil soup (seen below), is absolutely fantastic.
I also found a Malaysian restaurant in Istanbul, to my delight. Nasi lemak, teh tarik, and rendang. I regret nothing.
The sheer diversity of the city was truly excellent. I can’t think of a better way of spending Christmas than in the heart of the Turkish, Byzantine, Eastern Mediterranean world. It’s so strange, I suppose, leaving Europe. It’s so hard to articulate all the things seen, and the places tasted, and the colors and smells that had stamped themselves in my eye like a bad camera flash. Thank you, Europe, it has been excellent. With this I end my four-month chronicle, and hand it over to the new bloggers. 😉 Have a blast, David and Taylor. Eat lots, and write more, and see all the things. Good night!