Istanbul, April, 2009
We travelled to İstanbul on Thursday morning, April 23, 2009 (a national holiday).
Ankara bus terminal
One purpose of our trip was Ayşe's meeting with S., who was spending a sabbatical at Istanbul Bilgi University. He was living at Bilgi's Santralistanbul campus. Located at the head of the Golden Horn, this campus had, since late Ottoman times, held Istanbul's power station; but the station was decommissioned in 1983. Ayşe and I also got a room at Santralistanbul, to which we walked from the Alibeyköy bus terminal. We met S. and immediately caught the bus to Taksim. Eventually we met two more mathematicians, P. and J., and ended up at one of the restaurants beneath the Galata Bridge across the Golden Horn.
On the way down the hill from the Tünel end of İstiklâl Caddesi, I noted a graffito in Greek.
near the Galata tower
Beneath the Galata Bridge
Our room at Santralistanbul
Along the Golden Horn
On Friday morning, while Ayşe and S. worked, I crossed a footbridge (called the Elephant—Fil—bridge) to the right (west) bank of the Alibey River. Just below this point, the confluence with the Kağıthane River forms the Golden Horn. I walked on the west bank of this, south to Eyüp.
Eyüp is named for Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, who is supposed to have died during an unsuccessful Muslim seige of Constantinople. He was supposedly buried as close to the walls of the city as the Muslims could reach. Indeed, according to the Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi [Encyclopedia of Istanbul from Yesterday to Today, a joint publication of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and the History Foundation, 1994], there is a legend that the Byzantines agreed to the erection of a tomb for Ayyub. But the tomb was forgotten or destroyed after the Latin sack of Constantinople of 1204. After Mehmet the Conqueror took the city in 1453, he is said to have rediscovered Ayyub's tomb. Now the supposed tomb is revered by the faithful: after all, Ayyup knew the Prophet. The neighborhood of the tomb is a desirable place to be buried oneself.
Ayyub's tomb is opposite the mosque named for him. Between is a large leaning plane tree on the spot where (I read somewhere) Ottoman sultans were declared sultan.
I didn't get good photos inside the tomb. Photography was permitted; indeed, the faithful were taking photos. I just didn't want to use the flash. One really just gets to enter an antechamber and peer through windows into the tomb chamber.
An elderly bearded man pointed to something in the wall opposite the tomb chamber. I think he just wanted me to get out of the way so that he could pay his respects to a slab of marble on display behind glass. The marble had indentations as of toes. It was said to be the footprint of the Prophet.
A man who entered the tomb behind me was asked by an attendent if he spoke English. When he answered affirmatively, he was given a red rose in a bag. I spoke to him outside. The bag had a booklet about being Muslim.
I had visited Eyüp twice before, with my mother and with Ayşe, both times by the municipal ferry that plies the Golden Horn. Indeed, because of these experiences, I recommend Eyüp to Istanbul visitors as a place worth seeing. Now, wondering if the ferry might be a pleasant way for visitors to Santralistanbul to reach the mouth of the Golden Horn, I went to have a look at the Eyüp terminal. It was closed. Golden Horn ferries now terminated at Sütlüce. This was on the opposite, eastern, side of the Golden Horn, just downstream from a pedestrian bridge, which I crossed.
Before heading back to Santralistanbul, I went to investigate a mosque designed by Mimar Sinan. A man sitting by the road thought I was looking for Miniatürk, but I didn't at the time know what this was. I told him I was looking for the mosque, and I went in the direction that he indicated. Soon he came running, and, passing me, said “Gel!” (come). I decided to follow him, but meanwhile some folks from a car started following him. We went up stairs and around the small mosque, passed by a garden with doves, and entered some kind of cellar. I didn't know if I was really expected to follow. I enquired of the man who seemed to be the host; he said “Kurban” (sacrifice). I figured I didn't need to see the sheep or whatever animal was inside the room.
But then the man, whose name was Erhan, took me back to see his doves,
which, if I understood correctly, could also be purchased by people
wanting to make sacrifices. Erhan pointed out among the doves a couple
of keklik (partridge). Learning my country of origin, Erhan
said, “The US is finished; capitalism is finished; communism is
the way of the future!” At least, that's how I understood Erhan's
Turkish. He asked my religion. I said that I could be counted as
Christian, but that what mattered was being good, not one's religion.
Here I had in mind the words of a Bektashi leader, which I had
quoted in writing about a trip
When you go to the next world, God will not ask what
religion you were, but will ask an account of what good and what bad you
did. Here Erhan seemed to agree with me, observing that people just
took the religion of their parents, but “What matters is what's in
Learning that I was staying at Santralistanbul, Erhan said he liked to go there on weekends to drink. Here his language was unmistakable: he made a fist with thumb out, which he put to his mouth to indicate drinking. (Men in Ankara had once made the same gesture to me when I showed concern over a man sprawled unconscious on the sidewalk.)
My A-Z street atlas of Istanbul indicated a Jewish cemetery nearby. As I walked there, a passing driver stopped and asked in English, “Are you lost, Brother?” He thought I might be looking for the Pierre Loti Cafe, which however was back on the western side the Golden Horn, overlooking Eyüp. I assured my good Samaritan that I was fine. He drove off, and I continued on my way; but soon I found him backing his car off of a major road: he had entered it in the wrong direction.
Despite what I had told him, I had become unsure of how well my maps corresponded to reality. I enquired of somebody on the street, who walked embarrassingly far with me to point out the right direction for the cemetery. Perhaps he was not confident that I could understand his Turkish well enough. I did eventually find a cemetery, but it turned out to be Armenian. There was no Armenian cemetery indicated on my maps. Inside, a caretaker came out of a sort of house; she eyed me rather suspiciously. I wandered around a bit, then went to ask her about a Jewish cemetery. “This is an Armenian cemetery” she pointed out. She did however allow that there was a Jewish cemetery nearby. I decided I didn't have time to find it, though, if I was to meet Ayşe and S. for lunch.
Back at Santralistanbul
On Saturday morning, I reversed the previous day's trip from Eyüp, but without looking for any cemeteries. From Eyüp I wanted to continue down the Golden Horn to the old walls of Constantinople.
Along the Golden Horn again
Along the walls
Inside the walls, not far from the shore road, I found a group of tourists who had left some sort of garden. This was in the district of Blachernae. Perhaps the tourists were from Greece. The garden held a church, in whose crypt was a sacred spring. But I didn't get to see this right away. Two or three people were sitting on a patio; they didn't pay much attention to me, though one of them came along when I followed the sign for the gift shop. He said he didn't speak much English, so we communicated in Turkish. The shop sold mainly jewelry and icons. When I asked about books, he said there was one, but it was in Greek. He showed it to me: it was a history of the holy spring.
A younger man was invited to show me the spring itself. We chatted a bit in Turkish, and he seemed surprised that I didn't know the foreign academics that he knew working in Istanbul. As we talked, he filled a couple of small plastic bottles from a tap. I thought he was offering me water, but he was only adding to a large collection of filled bottles. Perhaps each member of a group of faithful tourists takes a bottle. As we talked, a young well-dressed couple came in and took a bottle.
Back outside, I decided to leave the compound when another tour group arrived.
At what must have been the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, a.k.a. the Tekfur Sarayı, there was some sort of fair of pigeon fanciers within a chain link fence. Having in mind my visit with Erhan the previous day, I asked if the birds were for sacrifice, but was told No with a rather incredulous look. Indeed, I didn't think these birds were for sacrifice, but I couldn't think how to express the alternatives in Turkish.
I followed the walls as far as the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque. It looked fine in the guidebook to Sinan's works in Istanbul that I was carrying. Unfortunately the mosque was surrounded by scaffolding and closed. Some dolmuş drivers who were goofing around at the Edirne gate in the city walls told me that the mosque would open in a couple of hours for prayers, but I didn't have time to wait, and anyway I didn't want to disturb the faithful.
As I was walking past Eyüp to reach Santralistanbul, somebody asked me if I spoke English, though I think he was French. He and his wife (and baby in stroller) were looking for…Santralistanbul. Somebody had told them about art exhibits there. I explained where the place was, and they decided it was impractical to go with the stroller.
In the afternoon, Ayşe and I took the ferry to the Islands. We were joined by Şule, in town for a break in her two-year stay in France. The ferry was jammed, not surprisingly for a sunny Saturday afternoon in spring. A nearby sign gave the capacity of the ferry at about 1800. After standing around the entry deck in the cold wind for an hour, we decided to get off at the first island, Kınalı. It wasn't the most attractive island, but still a number of people got off the ferry with us. They disappeared into the streets of the settlement.
The island seemed to have but one seaside restaurant, the Mimoza, and that was where we sat. The only rakı they had besides the basic Yeni Rakı was Tekirdağ, but that was fine. When the sinking afternoon sun put us in the shade, we were able to move to a sunnier table.
The A-Z atlas had the island thoroughly covered by a grid of streets, but without a shore road that completely circled the island. In both of these points, the atlas was wrong. We did circle the island. Rather, we made a circuit, though this did involve climbing. We didn't see the monastery that exists according to the Istanbul Encyclopedia.