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.
I’m sure I will come back to see these many more times while I’m in Istanbul, but I had a chance to take a quick view of two of the amazing sites here in this great city. It is my second visit to both the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofia in Turkish) and the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı in Turkish), so I was able to sure as an impromptu tour guide to another new teacher.
Here is what Wikipedia says about the Hagia (EYE uh) Sophia (heavily edited):
Hagia Sophia(from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, “Holy Wisdom”) is a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi) in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The building was a mosque from 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.
The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, its patronal feast taking place on 25 December, the commemoration of the birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ.Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”. It remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site.
In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered this main church of the Orthodox Christianity converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels and other relics were removed and the mosaics depicting Jesus, his Mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were also removed or plastered over. Islamic features – such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets – were added. It remained a mosque until 1931. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the Republic of Turkey. Haghia Sophia is currently (2014) the second-most visited museum in Turkey, attracting almost 3.3 million visitors annually.
The Grand Bazaar is huge and a great place to see even if you aren’t much of a buyer. From Wikipedia: The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. In 2014, it is listed No.1 among world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors. The Grand Bazaar is located inside the walled city of Istanbul, in the district of Fatih. The construction of the Grand Bazaar’s core started during the winter of 1455/56, shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Sultan Mehmet II had an edifice erected devoted to the trading of textiles.
My flight to Istanbul, via Kuala Lumpur, was mercifully uneventful, but long. Sixteen hours getting there, plus customs, passport control and a 6 hour time difference. But I’m here and safe, staying in a hotel and trying to get on Turkey time. I should see my school for the first time tomorrow.
The weather here is good, highs in the 60’s F, sunshine. The folks at the hotel and the restaurant across the street speak fair English. I’ve even met another new teacher, Edgar, from Huston.
I’ve been walking and trying to stay awake all day to adjust to the new time zone. Of course I don’t know the language or the neighborhood, but it’s funny how the ear tries so hard to make sense of the words it hears. I did this some in Vietnam, but it’s very strong here in Istanbul.
And I’ve already heard the call to prayer from a nearby mosque. Here are a few first photos.