W8 UPDATE / 28 November 2012
The Gidfars: two weeks in Turkey, Summer 2012
Three days in Istanbul, followed by nine days in the small village of Kas on the Mediterranean Sea. To reach Kas we flew to Antalya, a large resort city popular with Russians, and drove three hours to our final destination.
We focused on the historical center, staying in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, which is within walking distance of all the major monuments.
Small hotels, lots of places to eat reasonably priced good food, mostly a variety of kabobs and rice. Though our visit coincided with the month of Ramadan, we never felt awkward ordering lunch, or sampling the local beers or national drink Raki, an anise based liquor.
Water is all around in this city, reminiscent of San Francisco. Old Istanbul is comprised of seven hills.The view is of the Bosphorus as seen from the hotel’s roof top lounge.
Most hotels in this neighborhood have accessible roof tops—due north Haghia Sophia. And the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque to the south. Built between 1609 and 1616, in the classical style of Ottoman mosques—a combination of native Turkish architecture mixed with elements of Haghia Sophia. The former gave form the entry courtyard, nearly square and ringed with an open domed arcade, the latter giving form to the interior spaces, formed by a massive central dome, supported on the east and west by two semi domes, and a series of cascading smaller ones.
Spectacular main space of Haghia Sophia (meaning Divine Wisdom)—the dome has a diameter of 100’, and reaches a height of 180’. The building in its current form was completed in 563, replacing two earlier versions, which acted as the center of Orthodox Christianity dating back to 360 AD. The building remained a Church until 1453, when it was converted to a Mosque by the conquering Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II. The conversion included the addition of the minarets, Mihrab, and the plastering over of all figurative mosaics. The name was not changed, as Divine Wisdom is also an attribute of Allah. Ataturk, who had a deep respect for Turkey’s history, ordered that the building be deconsecrated, and converted into a museum in 1934. Restoration work included the removal of plaster to expose the mosaics.
Blue Mosque’s courtyard visible through portal—note the higher interior arch over the threshold which allows an unimpeded view of the high dome.
One of six minarets.
Blue Mosque’s spectacular dome measuring 77’ across, reaching a height of 140’, and supported by four equal pointed arches and semi domes. Cables support low hanging chandeliers.
Topkapi Palace, served the Ottoman Sultans from the 1460’s to the 1850‘s—a compound which included governing chambers, mosques, treasury, private residences, harem, schools, libraries, kitchens, and pleasure pavilions commemorating military successes. This image is taken within a court ringed with such pavilions.
A pavilion’s deck overlooking lush gardens.
Dome of main space inside one of the pavilions. Poetry, Persian as well as Turkish, adorns buildings. Sadly, most Turks can no longer read these Arabic script inscriptions—one of Ataturk’s decrees in 1928 in the quest for modernization was to abandon the old script for a modified Latin one.
The Hippodrome was built in 200 AD by Emperor Severus, and parallels the plaza between the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia. The thirty five hundred year old obelisk was brought from Egypt. Its base at the original grade, is visible 20’ below the current street level. The Hippodrome served as a sports arena during Roman times.
The exterior of Yeni Camii (or Mosque) as seen through one of the surrounding narrow streets. As is common with many religious buildings in both the west and the east, this mosque is supported by the nearby spice bazaar. Both were built in the 1660’s by the mother of the Sultan.
A steep climb up the hill form the spice Bazaar leads to the Suleymanie Mosque complex. Some side streets are too steep for vehicles and are stepped.
Inside the Spice bazaar.
This is the view that greets you upon entering the mosque grounds through a gate at street level, and up a final steep ramp. The Galata district is in the foreground, modern downtown Istanbul in the distance.
The south facade of the mosque with the courtyard to the left, and main building in the foreground. The men sitting at the wall are performing their ablutions prior to entering the mosque for prayers. The mosque complex was built between 1550 and 1557 and includes the a hospital, baths, schools, carvansaray and tombs for Sultan Suleyman and his Ukrainian wife Roxelana. The building is as spectacular as the site, was designed by Sinan, the most famous of the Ottoman architects.
Suleymanie Mosque view into the courtyard—the classic Turkish mosque plan taken to perfection. The courtyard is rectangular, the main building roughly a square, whose central dome is supported by two semi domes east and west, arches to north and south, whose load is transferred to the ground via a series of well concealed buttresses. The second and third floors housed the court astronomer, who played a key role in advising the Sultan of astrologically significant readings affecting major decisions.
Suleymanie Mosque interior. The fence separates the visitors’ area from the prayer area, typical of all mosques. All have to remove shoes, women need to cover their hair.
The dome measures 90’ across, and is decorated with painted islamic motifs over plaster. This is typical of all mosques we visited. Iznik tile, for which Turkey is famous, is used sparingly, and mostly on the lower parts of the building, if at all. This I found surprising and unlike mosques in Iran (my native country), where mosques are completely covered in tiles.
The drive from Antalya to Kas was through heavily wooded and mountainous southern Turkey.
New towns along the way were compact and vertical—I did not see any single family homes—sprawl is limited as a result. Note the solar thermal system devices on roof tops—all high rises are equipped with these panels and supporting water storage drums, whether in towns or cities. Gas is expensive, cars are small. Turkey imports all its petroleum, and is careful not to waste it.
Kas as seen from the road. The village is quiet with fewer tourists than the nearby more famous village of Kalkan.
The Mediterranean has clear waters. This is the port village of Ucagiz, accessible only by water, and surrounded by an ancient city half buried in the sea after an earthquake in antiquity. Its hill is crowned by a castle first built by the Lycians, and expanded thereafter by successive rulers, including Greeks, Persians, and Ottomans.
Turks are a deservedly proud lot for the rich vein of history that runs through their country, coupled with a relatively stable, democratic and corruption free government, whose policies have yielded good economic growth, especially in the past ten years.
Tourism accounts for 20% of Turkey’s GDP—the country has remarkable infrastructure, from world class airports, to domestic airlines flying the latest Airbus equipment, to a well maintained road system. Turkey ranks sixth among the world’s top visited countries, ahead of the UK.
We found Turks to be friendly, courteous and quick to offer help. They appeared to be a happy lot—their country’s GDP growth was 8.5% in 2011, with a per capita GDP of $14,400, well ahead of all their Middle eastern neighbors, except Israel. Turkey has no significant exportable natural resources, resulting in a country free of corruption, and the negative effects of easy money that is the bane of her oil rich neighbors.
Thanks for reading.
Ali Gidfar, AIA
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