What stories are lost in time? I think for every person out there, there are at least a hundred great stories to be told. What is culture but a cultivation of different ways that we were that have lead us to now? Great stories. Great battles, devastating losses, accomplishments, and the way we have come together as a society during those times to celebrate, to mourn; food, art, theatre, being at the top of the list.
I arrived in Istanbul on a damp Monday in late September. The turbulent taxi ride to the hotel near the Bosphorus took me along side ancient city walls. The city walls of “Constantinople” from the 5th century protected the city from attacks. Those were times of siege coming from international waters. If those walls could talk, what stories they would have about the Ottoman Empire reign that came at the end of the 13th century?
I had travelled 14 hours on a plane, and was tired, but excited with the new sights, sounds and smells. Things are just different. They’re faster, and that can seem scary to some people who aren’t used to stepping away from their comfort level. Istanbul; a city of 15 million people, isn’t waiting for me to pick up my pace. Coming from a capital city of 1 million people in Edmonton, this is a whole new world. It brought my favorite pastime (people watching) to a whole new level.
I had to go out to the boardwalk that evening and get down to the water I could see from my hotel. The Bosphorus is a straight of water connecting the Sea of Maramara with the Black Sea. It also acts as the continental border between Europe and Asia. I think all great cities have easy access to water. There is a lot of scientific study done around people and our fascination with water, or being drawn to bodies of water. I wont go into it all but basically being around water has psychological healing effects, and brings calmness and a sense of connectivity. Maybe it’s the way we used to find water to hunt for fish and being near water meant being by supply, providing comfort and security, or maybe it’s watching for boats coming back into the harbor meant the return of family, or again supply of resources. Either way, water still remains a powerful comforting force for people. In the same way we boast our River Valley in Edmonton, and we head down there just to sit, and look at the water; at the core of it we just love being close to the elements.
I walked around the Besitkas area. Besitkas means “Cradle stone” in Turkish and there are a few different stories about how the area came to be named, but all circle back to the stone taken from the stable or the crib in which Jesus was birthed. I love a good backstory, and there is not one place you can go in Istanbul where you don’t hear about the way it came to be. Legends, theories, and just straight facts, from times long past. It’s a writers paradise to think of all the people who came through this city, and the imagination can unfold a thousand tales.
I was in Turkey on business, but there is no way to avoid the areas of intrigue that call out to you when you visit a new place. The places you have heard about from travellers before you, or as an exotic destination in a movie set, is now right outside your window waiting for you to unravel more stories. I travelled to the Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia) which means “divine wisdom” and felt the clock turn back in time. It’s the most beautiful dome showcasing both Christian and Muslim faith in one building. The building was destroyed three times over before from earthquakes, but the final building that stands now was constructed over 1400 years ago originally as a cathedral, and during the Ottoman empire was converted to a mosque. They removed or plastered over many of the Christian mosaics and paintings, and now, as a museum they are slowly being uncovered to tell the stories of that time as well. Pure amazement.
Fun fact: Edmonton was home to Canada’s first ever mosque. The Al-Rashid Mosque.
The Blue Mosque built in 1610 is an active mosque to this day, and I had to go because of all the pictures I had seen of the building. It is not blue on the outside, but the inside interior is covered with over 20,000 ceramic mosaic tiles that are blue and gold. I entered with the provided headscarf and dress that they gave me at the door. Shoes are removed before you enter, and all customs are respected. As they should be. This is a house to worship god, and I was inspired by the faith as I witnessed people on their knees giving time to worship their god. I watched a woman kneeling, eyes closed to the floor, her lips moving slightly but no sound coming out as she addressed the divine. Her expressions were so sincere and honest and hopeful, and even though I do not practice organized religion, or find myself belonging to a “group”, I felt so connected to this woman by watching her pray to her god.
Of course I feasted on the local cuisine during my stay. The vendors were selling corn on the cob roasted over an open flame in the street cart, or chestnuts taken with ease out of their spikey shell and roasted covered with spices. Locals carrying boxes of Simit, a circular bread covered in sesame seeds (looks like a cross between a sesame seed bagel and a pretzel) sold on every street corner and sometimes in the middle of the highway for a mere 1TL (maybe .35cents Canadian). That will fill you up until your next meal time.
Five days in Istanbul, and only a short time spent outdoors due to my daytime conference. I walked to Taksim square, had dinner on the Bosphorus on a boat and sailed past fortresses from centuries ago built by emporers and sultans. We were sailing toward the Black Sea as so many boats came in from. The Ottoman Empire rule not forgotten as the landmarks remain along the coastline and inland boasting a rich history. It makes me think of Edmonton and Canada for that matter and the rich history that we do have, but pick and choose to keep or ignore. It makes me ever more curious, and I feel that things are about to get all the more real as I dig for answers.