I wasn’t looking for this when I ran across it. I was looking for a haman–a Turkish bathhouse. But this quiet and regal cemetery and tomb simply drew me in from the crowded street of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar area.
The Sultan Mahmud II cemetery and tomb are in what is now a busy, downtown area, It’s surprising to see it so close to trams, carpet hawkers and kabapci sellers (kee bap jee, sellers of kebobs). The mausoleum itself houses the sarcophagi of three Ottoman sultans: Sultan Mahmud II (1875-1839), Sultan Abdulaziz (1830-1876), and Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1842-1918), and those of their close relatives. Adjacent to the mausoleum is a small graveyard containing the graves of some of the sultans’ more remote descendants and assorted dignitaries. Some graves are much older than the mausoleum.
The cemetery is even older and fascinating. I am still learning the symbolism. I found this information about Ottoman style tombstones: “Sixteenth-century Ottoman tombstones marked a change in funerary practice in the Empire. By now tombstones were beginning to appear as social markers where they were not only starting to be more prominent in structure, but there were also headgears of different turbans, decoration of the body of the tombstones with motifs, as well as providing more information about the deceased. The first mentioned change is said to be an indication of the pre-Islamic Turkic traditions. This carving of headgears displayed the social status and thus class of the deceased. Motifs were almost always reserved for women. With the exclusion of the palace women who had mausoleums next to their husbands, women didn’t hold social status through occupation. Perhaps it was because of this reason that women tombstones were fashioned in flower motifs.” There is a good video at the link that shows the cemetery.
3/27/15 Saturday was my day off. It’s taking forever to get over this cold. Little energy. I did a bit of sightseeing , but most of my energy was gone before I even got to the metro stop—wow are the trams crowded.
Istanbul is unbelievably old–older than this American can wrap her brain around. We are used to 100 years being “old” but that’s just a blink, here. I explored Çemberlitaş—the hooped column in Turkish. (Pronounced Cham bear lee tosh), It is often called the Burnt Column in English or the Column of Constantine, since his statue once stood on top of it. Çemberlitaş is also the name of a tram stop (tramvey), near the Grand Bazaar and the surrounding neighborhood. The area has been inhabited for more than 2000 years–heavily populated most of that time. It is now near the tourist district and an easy, though over crowded, public transportation ride for me. This column sits next to the tracks, on the edge of a small, paved park. In fact, it is easy to miss with all the shops and eateries.
The Burnt Column originally stood in the Forum of the old Byzantium city, but not much is left—though what is there has been carefully preserved. Here’s what my guidebook says about it:
“A survivor of both storm and fire, this 35m column was constructed in AD 330 as part of the celebrations to inaugurate the new Byzantine capital. It once dominated the magnificent Forum of Constantine. Made of porphyry brought from Heliopolis in Egypt, it was originally surmounted by a Corinthian capital bearing a statue of Emperor Constantine dressed as Apollo. This was brought down in a storm in 1106. Although what is left is relatively unimpressive, it has been carefully preserved. In the year 416 the 10 stone strums making up the column were reinforced with metal rings. There were renewed in 1701 by Sultan Mustafa III and consequently the column is known as Çemberlitaş (the hooped column) in Turkish. …it was damaged by several fire especially one in 1779 which decimated the Grand Bazaar.
A variety of fantastical holy relics were supposedly entombed in the base of the column, which has since been encased in stone to strength it. These include the axe which Noah used to build the ark, Mary Magdalene’s flash of anointing oil, and remains of the loaves of bread with which Christ fed the multitude.”
But obviously, there are different reports of what is entombed in the base. According to Wikipedia: “At the foot of the column was a sanctuary which contained relics allegedly from the crosses of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus Christ at Calvary, the baskets from the loaves and fishes miracle, an alabaster ointment jar belonging to Mary Magdalene and used by her for anointing the head and feet of Jesus,the palladium of ancient Rome a wooden statue of Pallas Athena from Troy.”
There is supposed to be a haman—a Turkish bathhouse—that is geared toward tourists, but I didn’t find it.
3/22/15 Trying to get over a killer virus. The same one that’s going around school. Everyone has it. And it seems like about 3 weeks into any new country, I’m going to succumb to some bug. It’s no wonder, since I’m sure my immune system is bombarded with lots of new bacteria, viruses and the like. My theory is that by the time I’ve traveled all over the world, I’ll either have a super human immune system. Or something with kill me. One of those options.
Part of my job as an English teacher is to get my students talking. I play a game called “What If.” I have lots of “what if” questions that they draw from an envelope. It’s a great way to practice talking in English and (usually) we all get to laugh. This week I got the sweetest answer ever. The young man drew the question, “What if you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead. Who would it be?” He answered that he would have dinner with his girlfriend. When I asked “why” he said, “Because I don’t have girlfriend. I want to meet girlfriend!” Awwwwww!
And sometimes you get scary answers, too. Scary answers that don’t make any sense. One young man in the same class got the question, “What if you could commit any crime and get away with it. What would you do?” He answered that he first wanted to run barefoot for 20km. He would run as fast as he could in the dark along the highway. He said that he would be tired and that his feet would bleed. Then he would find his enemy and cut his throat with a knife. There was no mistaking his meaning. He demonstrated the action of cutting the throat. Twice. Then he fell silent, along with the rest of the room, as he seemed to be picturing it in his mond. Trying not to react, I asked, after a pregnant pause, if he had an enemy. “No.” he said. Then smiled broadly, as if this was obviously the perfect answer.
The young man is not Turkish. He’s Iranian and his family left there a few years ago. They are now refuges. I find I get very odd answers from Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian refuge students. I imagine this is an aspect of war, dictatorship and oppression that we don’t think about. Eeeek.
The virus isn’t gone, but I’m getting better. I had enough energy today to finish moving into my new apartment, do a second load of laundry, make a list of things I need to organize the room, buy most of the items AND I still had time to do my lesson plan, answer some emails, get updated on social media, shower and wash my hair. Then I had PIE for a late lunch. (it totally rocks to have a roommate who is a baker!) And that’s about the time I realized I had gotten ink in my freshly washed hair. Yeah. No idea how it got there. I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t see where it came from. Other than on my hands, I can find no other ink staining anything. And now there’s no time to re-wash my hair and get it dry in time for school (I don’t own a blow dryer). SO I’m going to pretend it’s intentional. Think I can pull this off as a fashion statement? I found a scarf with the same shade of blue…..maybe a hat? (I the end, my students thought it was great! Even some of the younger teachers commented how great it looked. I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was a huge mistake.)
I got a chance to talk to one of my new roommates, Trudy, yesterday. We are of similar age and sounds like our backgrounds have much in common as well. I really hope to spend a lot of time with her in future. Anyway, she is also teaching at English Time at a branch that is very nearby, Avjular. Seems like it is a small branch, with mostly weekend classes. And that’s where she met Edgar, one of the new teachers who started a day earlier than I did. Edgar is a “piece of work” and really difficult to love. He’s been a bit “handy” with me. I put on my “mommy is angry” voice and told him I was old enough to be his mother and I was NOT interested in his advances. He’s barely spoken to me since. Fortunately. Edgar is a very proud Mexican American. Nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage, BUT he was hired as a native English speaker to teach English. The only language he wants to use is Spanish. I’m not convinced that English is really his first language—his speaking is very poor. He has awful grammar and worse pronunciation. I’d guess his writing is even worse than that. So, under the best of circumstances, he’s going to have difficulty teaching grammar to others, even modeling good grammar to others. But he is constantly speaking Spanish. AND he has been caught teaching his students Spanish, as well. Robert (the head teacher at Sirineviler) has warned him.
But Trudy didn’t know all this. She was just trying to teach her speaking activity—a one hour class of open speaking for any student who came by to talk. Edgar had already been too familiar with her (maybe he has a thing for older women?) and suggested that they could be “an item”—which she shot down immediately. But then he came into her activity class and took over. First he told the students that they needed to learn Spanish, NOT English. Then he suggested that Arabic and Chinese (Chinese is NOT a language) were also more important than English. He spoke too fast for these beginner level students, popped his gum constantly and began explaining that they needed Spanish so that they could party in Mexico and dance with chicas. Trudy got him out of the classroom, but her activity was ruined. She reported it to the head teacher at that branch and to Richard, the Istanbul HR manager. Today, I told Richard about the conversation. I don’t know what the other branch will do, but Richard has already talked to Edgar and told him that he should consider himself on final warning. The school has decided that he is on his own for finding a place to live—I assume that means they believe he will wash out. At least I hope so.
I have looked and can’t seem to find a Swiffer–or anything quite like it. But at least they have vacuum cleaners in Turkey, unlike Vietnam. I can use the one in the apartment. The place is “fairly” well furnished, but missing a few items. Too many renters means that most of the glasses have seen better days–chips and cracks or broken and thrown away. I bought a mug just for my use and a couple of ceramic frying pans that were on sale. I plan to use them and leave them here.
But the apartment is roomy, light and I have a very large private bedroom. I really like all my roommates. It’s like having ready, made friends. Everyone is quiet, respectful and good sense of humor. I seldome have to clean up after anyone. I feel so lucky to have wandered into a good crowd. AND there’s a housekeeper who comes in every other week to do the big stuff. Yeah!
Work Schedule: Right now, I’m working M-F evening (3 hours each night), plus some one hour activity classes twice a week. I also have a 4 hour Sunday class and a floating 2 hour private lesson (most weeks). As time progresses I’ll probably end up teaching full days on the weekend (8 hours each day) and take two days off through the week. Looks like a more solid schedule, that’s easier to maintain. The students are young adults, mainly. Most are going to university or are working fulltime. They take the English Time courses to meet a college requirement or for their job. The classes are very intense and focus heavily on grammar. I’m glad that I’ve started with two Level one classes (there are 6 levels) so that I can brush up on grammar as I teach! I know almost nothing about holidays here–suspect Christmas and Easter are barely even mentioned but Ramadan (called Ramazan, here) is bound to be big. I am told that the class schedule in the summer is really light, so I might have a bit of time off. Or not. Anyway, everything here is soooooo much better than the situation in Vietnam. Bien Hoa seems like a bad dream. Glad I could go there but very glad to be gone.
I’m told that Istanbul gets snow once a year. It was the week before I came, so I fortunately missed out. Spring is in full force here–flowers beginning to bloom and leaves appearing on trees. Atlanta will be much the same right now.
No plans for where I will go next, but I’ve got a lead on a job in St. Petersburg, Russia (brrrrr!) and the school I’m at now (English Time) has already told me I can sign another contract and stay in Istanbul or I could move to another location in Turkey. Antalya is a Turkish city on the Mediterranean coast–an old Roman city with the original seaport, city wall and aqueduct. It’s a thought!
I slept 10 hours last night and slowly this virus is lifting. I find that traveling to a new country guarantees you are exposed to new “bugs” of all kinds, so eventually you are going to succumb to one. So far three weeks seems to be when I get sick. Will be glad when I am completely well again but I’m better each day.
In the meantime, I’ve been able to take a few photos of my new apartment. I moved in Friday March 20ith and have worked each day in addition to battling this cold, so it’s all I could do to get organized. It’s located in Şükrübey (pronounced: Shuk Ru Bay) and is just 8 metro bus stops from my school branch.
I have SIX roommates—but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Upstairs are Katt (Canadian, tall and thin, organized and smart) and her husband Ali (Turkish, handsome and fluent in English) and Trudy (Canadian, hilariously funny and about my age. We are going to be such good friends). Katt and Ali own the apartment and another across the hall that is also rented to teachers. There is a large living room, huge terrace on their level. They share a kitchen and a bath on that floor. I’m on the lower (entrance) floor with Victoria (late 20’s, vegetarian, from Georgia, USA. She actually asked me if I knew where Dahlonaga, GA was!), Mags (late 20’s, amazing cook, funny), and Augustine (early 20’s, very tall, very thin, from South Africa). Our floor has a small terrace, medium sized kitchen, very large bath and the entry way to the apartment. Everyone is fairly clean and quiet, so far. No complaints.
The apartment is well situated. I’ve not been well enough to investigate the neighborhood fully, but there is a small grocery in the bottom floor of the apartment building and a large one across the road. I am half a block from the metro bus line. Here are the parts I find amazing: 10. The road in front of my apartment building is part of the old Silk Road. Imagine the history. And 2). You can see the Sea of Marmara from the terrace window. I can walk to the sea!
Hagia Irene or Hagia Eirene(Greek: “Holy Peace”, Turkish: Aya İrini), sometimes known also as Saint Irene. It is a former Eastern Orthodox church located in the outer courtyard of Topkapı Palace, near Gulhane Park in Istanbul, Turkey. It is open as a museum every day except Tuesday. The church was dedicated by Constantine to the peace of God, and is one of the three shrines which the Emperor devoted to God’s attributes, together with Hagia Sophia (Wisdom) and Hagia Dynamis (Force)
Personally, I didn’t think it was worth the 20TL they charged (The Archeology Museum only charged 15TL). There was no signage, no explanation, no decorations inside the church–just a very old, gutted building. I couldn’t get a good look at the dome, as there was netting stretched across the top–presumably to catch the pigeons–and their droppings–who clearly live here.
According to Wikipedia: The building reputedly stands on the site of a pre-Christian temple. It ranks, in fact, as the first church built in Constantinople. Roman emperor Constantine I commissioned the first Hagia Irene [Reference?] church in the 4th century. It served as the church of the Patriarchate before Hagia Sophia was completed in 360. From May to July 381 the First Council of Constantinople took place in the church. It was burned down during the Nika revolt in 532. Emperor Justinian I had the church restored in 548.
Heavily damaged by an earthquake in the 8th century, it dates in its present form largely from the repairs made at that time. The Emperor Constantine V ordered the restorations and had its interior decorated with mosaics and frescoes. Hagia Irene is the only example of a Byzantine church in the city which retains its original atrium. A great cross in the half-dome above the main narthex, where the image of the Pantocrator or Theotokos was usually placed in Byzantine tradition, is a unique vestige of the Iconoclastic art; presumably it replaced earlier decoration. The church was enlarged during the 11th and 12th centuries.
The church measures 100 m × 32 m. It has the typical form of a Roman basilica, consisting of a nave and two aisles, divided by columns and pillars. It comprises a main space, a narthex, galleries and an atrium. The dome is 15m wide and 35m high and has twenty windows.
….After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Mehmed II, the church was enclosed inside the walls of the Topkapi palace. The Janissaries used the church as an armoury. It was also used as a warehouse for war booty. During the reign of Sultan Ahmet III (1703–1730) it was converted into a weapons museum.
In 1846, Marshal of the Imperial Arsenal, Ahmed Fethi Paşa, made the church into a military antiques museum. It was used as the Military Museum from 1908 until 1978 when it was turned over to the Turkish Ministry of Culture.
Today, the Hagia Irene serves mainly as a concert hall for classical music performances, due to its extraordinary acoustic characteristics and impressive atmosphere. Many of the concerts of the Istanbul International Music Festival have been held here every summer since 1980.