Showing posts with label turkey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label turkey. Show all posts

October 14, 2013

Medusa and the Sunken Palace

A stone's throw away from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is the entrance to the Basilica Cistern. The so-called Sunken Palace is an impressive underground complex that features a pair of Medusa heads. Medusa was the infamous Gorgon whose gaze was able to turn her victims into stone, similar to how a wayward glance from the surgically altered eyes of a K-girl has the ability to turn my knees into jelly.

First constructed 1500 years ago under the rule of the Roman emperor Constantine, the chamber remained in operation for a thousand years until the Ottoman era. The largest cistern in all Constantinople with a capacity to hold 80,000 cubic meters of water, the engineering marvel is a rather large facility and still in solid condition.

7000 slaves toiled away for several years to build the waterproof facility. The beads of sweat dropping from their forehead  were among the first liquid donations to the cistern, which was designed to hold rainwater for future use.

Many of the marble and granite columns that support the structure were reused from even more ancient ruins or were surplus from other construction projects, so they sport a variety of styles from Ionic to Doric. The two Medusa heads arrived from parts unknown, ending up upside down or sideways to fit into the general architecture without additional modification and also to avoid her direct gaze.

November 26, 2012

Sailing to Byzantium

On our first full day in Istanbul a tout sold us a ticket to a Bosphorus cruise, guiding us to the vessel and telling us that it would leave within a few minutes. Over an hour and a half later we were on our way, sailing through the straight that divides one city and unites two continents. On one end of the Bosphorus is the Black Sea, and on the other is the Sea of Marmara. On one side is Europe, and on the other is Asia.

As the only waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, the straight has always played a strategic role in the region. The Byzantine and Ottoman Empires came and went, temporarily centring themselves here while ruling over significant portions of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Byzantium gave way to Constantinople and then to Istanbul. Through it all the Bosphorus retained its importance, its blue waters beautifying the city materially and spiritually.

As we sailed along the Bosphorus, loud Turkish pop music blared from the ship's speakers. It was momentarily turned off as the muezzins call for prayers echoed through the straight from the many mosques dotting both sides of the Bosphorus. We sailed under a bridge connecting Asia to Europe and vice versa, constructed fifty years after the founding of the Republic of Turkey yet dreamed of since antiquity. Along the banks, groups of fat old men enjoyed a dip in the waters.

Layer upon layer of history and happenstance was visible in the high density neighbourhoods we sailed past. As we drifted further from the centre of Istanbul, we saw many palatial residences adorning the water way. Some residences were restored and opened to tourists. Others had been converted into elaborate wedding halls or luxurious hideaways for the rich and famous.


And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
~ William Butler Yeats

November 23, 2012

Turkish Delights

I had wanted to visit Turkey for a long time, its transcontinental allure appealing to my East-meets-West lifestyle. I landed in Istanbul on a late August night, taking a ten day break from my work in Seoul to make my Turkish dream come true. My parents flew in from Vancouver, and we enjoyed some family time together. The hotel I had reserved in Istanbul was overbooked, so without having set a foot in its lobby we were shuffled onto a black van and dropped off at another pension. 

The next day we enjoyed the life and beauty of Istanbul, before heading off for a few days to see some of the natural and historic wonders of the land - Ephesus, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia. None of them disappointed. We returned to a flag-covered Istanbul on the Turkish independence day Zafer Bayrami and capped off the trip here several days later. We traveled between towns mostly via overnight buses. The in-bus service was exceptional, with regular snacks and refreshments brought to passengers by the attendant.

As far as negative aspects are concerned, the travel infrastructure was sound but far from spectacular. Signage was poor and maps were hard to come by. The only people happily giving directions were shopkeepers or touts. The English level was surprisingly poor, although not at the cringe worthy levels of China and South Korea. The food, at least in the tourist areas, was nothing special. The tea was lovely though.

Traveling around was not too cheap, as the cost of goods and services leaned more towards the European side of the ledger than to the Asian side. Among the womenfolk there were a few stunners, but Turkey does not boast the across the board talent level of South Korean girls nor the Miss Worlds and Miss Universes found in the upper end of the Indian spectrum. People who have just met me often assume I am a Turkish man, so it is safe to say they are rather good looking. 


"I don't like Turkish type man. They are too agressive with Asian face women." - Taiwanese girl I met in China