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New Newport News News: Istanbul edition

Your Turkish lesson: TEH-she-cur ay-day-EEM = thank you / later a helpful salesman told me that you may lay your hand over your heart, slightly bow your head and say “Solle” to express thanks / kiddie = cat / TL = Turkish lire, worth about 50¢ / No = hayir [hah-EAR]

 

            I saw a very apt sign on our walk from the harbor to the tram stop: “Between chaos and madness in a strange land.”  I have no idea what the author of those lines might mean, but it described Istanbul and my feeling toward it very well.

            Ron, as always, had thoroughly researched how to get around the city, whilst I specialize in 3 things: history, culture and folklore.  And food.  Four things: history, culture, folklore and food.  [Let’s come in again…]

            So we used some of our Turkish Lire to buy passage on the tram to the Hippodrome.  I’m sure you know that horse = hippo in Greek [yes, hippopotamus means “river horse”].  So, the Hippodrome is the oval race track for chariots.  A broad boulevard marks the track itself and the columns and obelisks are still at the center, although ground level is about 5’ higher than when they were placed.  Now the place is thronged by merchants’ stalls and tourists, just like it was on any day in the Roman and / Byzantine Empires.

            In the reign of Justinian [500s AD], the Emperor who built the Hagia Sophia [see below], the race-goers were rabid sports fans and adopted the colors of their favorite team drivers.  Picture European soccer crowds rioting.  The Blues and the Greens began a sports riot that turned into an anti-Emperor riot.  Justinian was ready to run away, when his crafty, beautiful, former-stripper wife Theodosia convinced him to tough it out.  He then invited the Blues and Greens to attend him at the Hippodrome the following day to discuss the problems.  When they were assembled, he had the gates barred and his soldiers murder every single one of them [something like 500].  And that was that.

            Hagia Sophia means “Holy Wisdom” and refers to Jesus, the Word or Logos.  [In the beginning, there was the Word…Gospel of John]  Justinian, whose wisdom was very much less than holy, caused this building to be built in 6 years.  Despite the collapse of the dome and rebuilding it on a steeper incline, the building has stood for 1500 years.  For 1000 of those years, it was a Christian cathedral, lavished with oil lamps, golden mosaics, magnificent marble, on a scale that is impossible to grasp, even when you are there.  Since 1453 it has been a mosque, with all the iconography plastered over [though not completely destroyed].  The large roundels of calligraphy that dominate the space now were added in the 19th century.  Several mosaics have been uncovered, though badly damaged.  In the pendentives, are 10th century frescoes of 6-winged seraphim.  On the upper clerestory are 11 century golden mosaics of Christ, several saints and assorted emperors and wives.  Well worth the TL25 each to get in.

            Stunned and sated, we left the holy in search of the profane.  Lunch, that is.  We walked over to the Archaeological Museum complex, where we found the café closed [no one knew why it was closed or when it might re-open].  We walked around to the park at the Topkapi Palace, where we found an outdoor snack shack, with lovely sandwiches.    Thus fortified, we returned to the 3 buildings of the Archaeological Museum.  Inside and outside were hundreds of sarcophagi, dating over several hundred years.  Hundreds of sarcophagi.  In the smaller building were Hittite, Babylonian and Assyrian statues and tablets; Hittite stuff is rarely seen outside Turkey.  A portable copy of the Treaty of Kadesh, from the Hittite viewpoint, explained the draw between Ramses the Great of Egypt and Muwatalli II.  According to Ramses, he won the battle and his copy of the treaty covers an entire cliffside.  Many of the blue tile lions and griffins from the Ishtar Road were mounted on the walls to give the impression of approaching the Gate.  A copy of the Code of Hammurabi, dating from ca 1790 BC was exciting to see; Ur-Manmu’s law code from Ur in Samaria is the oldest known, ca 2100 BC; contemporary with Abraham rather than the Ten Commandments.

Carol, “All I really need to see is the stuff from Troy.”

            Ron, “‘Troy Story’?”

In fact, there was too much from Troy to really grasp, although it was very well displayed in sequence.  There was gold [most of which went to Berlin in the 1890s, was thought destroyed in WWII, but was recently “found” in Russia], but mostly endless pottery, ranging from primitive to very fine indeed.

We walked back toward the Hippodrome, remembering that we had seen refreshment there.  We selected a rather upscale and shady outdoor café called “Ayasofya.”   We bought a large plate of fresh fruit, beautifully sliced and served.  We will never again wish to eat a green plum, however, despite their popularity among the locals.

We worked out way back to the tram via a neighborhood of mid-priced shops, saying “hayir” a lot, but buying some things.  At one shop, we bought a hanging glass oil lamp, reminiscent of the ones in Hagia Sophia, though much humbler.  I saw a cat there and the salesman said, “I have 5 more cats!”  This was all it took for him to lure me across the street to a carpet shop, where 5 kittens reposed on an antique [?] pillow cover, waiting for Momma to return.  One of the kittens, white, had the one blue eye, one green eye so prized in Turkey

“I have homes for them all,” said the shopman proudly. “They will not be street cats!”

I said “hayir” to carpets

                       

 

N4 49 Med cruise 8 Istanbul edition

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