In America, we think of something that’s 100 years old as being “very old.” Here in Istanbul, 100 years is barely considered “dusty.”
The Yeni Cami (Yen ee Jam ee) is one of the important items on the skyline, and shoreline, of Istanbul. The name means New Mosque, though “new” is clearly relative. It was completed in 1663. It was originally named the Valide Sultan Mosque. Begun in 1597, there were starts and stops, plus some partial reconstructions along the way, gaining it the name New Valide Sultan Mosque. Eventually, the population just called it the New Mosque. It’s an Ottoman imperial mosque located in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul, Turkey. Located on the Golden Horn, the mosque is right at the at the Eminönü Metro tram stop and within view of the Galata Bridge.
The exterior of the mosque boasts 66 domes and semi domes, as well as two minarets. You can, BTW, know the importance of a mosque by the number of minarets (towers). Only a sultan (or his family, who also carry the title of sultan, even the mother and daughters) could have a mosque with two minarets. Imagine how important that makes the Hagia Sophia (with four minarets) and The Blue Mosque (with 6).
An elegant şadırvan (ablution fountain) stands in the center courtyard, but is only ornamental. The actual ritual purifications are performed with water taps on the south wall of the mosque. Stone blocks supplied from the island of Rhodes were used in the construction of the mosque. The complete complex consists of a hospital (no longer in use), primary school, public baths, a türbe (cemetery), two public fountains and a market (The Spice Bazaar). The public square has undergone a recent renovation and the two fountains are now modern and new. Much of the rest was blocked from the public during renovations.
Today was Saturday, my only full day off, so I decided to spend a few hours walking in the bright sunshine of spring in Istanbul. My path? To follow the remains of the old city walls—known as the Theodosian Walls. They are one of the most impressive remains of the Byzantine past, and they held off invaders for more than 1,000 years! I walked from Topkapı Metro (Pronounced: Top Kap Uh. That final letter isn’t an “I” it’s the vowel pronounced uh) south to the Marmara Sea. I walked around the sea park, investigated a few old city gates and cemeteries, and walked back. Probably 4 miles in all. I’ll sleep well tonight! I do a lot of walking here in Istanbul, so I’m glad I’m in fair shape.
It was cool and breezy, but the sun shone all day—perfect walking weather. The tulips are in bloom and (my favorite) daffodils. It is spring in the city of cities!
With 11 fortified gates and 192 towers, this double walled enclosure sealed in the landward side of the old city of Constantinople. The length of the wall is about 4 miles (6km), so I saw approximately half of it today. It extends from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn, enclosing an area of about 2.5 square miles. As with many important old Roman cities, the “walls” are actually three layers, each taller and thicker than the one before. A thick inner wall had 60 foot towers that gave a view of any approaching enemy, by land or sea. The outer wall was lower, 26 feet high, with additional towers, offset and between the inner wall towers, creating unblocked line of sight. Both walls were made of alternating limestone blocks and red tile brick. This arrangement is attractive and helped them to withstand earthquakes. Between the walls was a 50 foot terrace, used to move military troops easily. (in many cities, this area is where the bazaar is) A second terrace ended in a short crenelated defense wall. In front of it all was a moat (which may or may not have had water) which was 60 feet across and 20 feet deep. Even dry, the moat would have kept large artillery from coming too close.
The walls were built between AD 412-422 (dates vary), mostly during the reign of Emperor Theodosius II (408-50). At the time, they were half a mile outside the city’s original Walls of Constantine, extending the city’s protected area. Though the older Constantine Walls were still standing when the Theodosian Walls were built, nothing remains of them today. In 447 an earthquake destroyed 54 (some reports say 57) of the towers and much of the sea wall. The timing could not have been worse as Attila the Hun was already in the Balkans and on his way to take over the city. For 60 straight days and nights, the population labored to repair the walls.
Ultimately the city finally fell from sheer weight of numbers of the Ottoman forces in May 1453 after a six-week siege. According to Wikipedia, “The walls were largely maintained intact during most of the Ottoman period, until sections began to be dismantled in the 19th century, as the city outgrew its medieval boundaries. Despite the subsequent lack of maintenance, many parts of the walls survived and are still standing today. A large-scale restoration program has been under way since the 1980s.”
Sometimes there is just a tiny bit of history here in Istanbul. It’s so easy to just walk by. Trudy and I stumbled across the Milion mile marker yesterday while strolling through a misty, rainy Sultanahmet area. I’ve walked by it a few times already, but was looking for it this trip. This stone is located in the Hagia Sophia square, just around the corner from the entrance to the Basilica Cistern. There’s the remains of a large masonry structure beside it, but it doesn’t seem to be connected.
This marker was located in the Hippodrome (the chariot racing stadium) area. It is all that remains of a Byzantine triumphal arch. All road distances to the far corners of the empire were once measured from this stone. Now there’s a cute sign post with distances and directions to major cities.
According to Wikipedia: “The domed building of the Milion rested on 4 large arches, and it was expanded and decorated with several statues and paintings. It had survived intact, following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453), for about the next 50 years, but disappeared at the start of the 16th century. During excavations in the 1960s, some partial fragments of it were discovered under houses in the area.”
So far, I’m quite happy here in Istanbul. It’s an amazing city—crowded, of course, but most everything is better than Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Especially the job. In fact, Vietnam seems like a long time ago. And I can’t believe by this time last year I had been hiking the Appalachian Trail for a month!
Here are the positives: It’s easier for me to find clothes. Things are in my size and the quality of clothing is comparable to the US. In Vietnam, all the clothes were very small and looked like it would fall apart in a couple washings. The quality and variety of all items for sale is better here, too—and vacuum cleaners exist here, unlike Vietnam. I’ve not seen any cordless models, but at least you don’t have to sweep with those wimpy brooms. Garbage is a better system—though Turks throw garbage in the gutter, the streets are cleaned every day. There are also trashcans on the sidewalk and on the corner of many residential streets there are large dumpsters. That’s where I throw my trash every day. Otherwise things are fairly clean with little graffiti.
I like the weather—it is variable, unlike VN. You can’t believe how much you miss cool mornings or gentle rain or even an overcast sky. The “sameness” just got boring. Two seasons: wet and dry. Two temperatures: hot and hotter. And the heat was oppressive. Here in Istanbul, it’s cool enough that I can find clover–and four leaf clovers! (My favorite pastime) It’s spring now and things are blooming, including winter pansies and lots of bulbs. There’s a Tulip festival coming up soon. It rains often, but it’s mostly a gentle sprinkle.
The Metro system is new—most of it less than a decade old. It’s in good shape and the buses and trams run very often. But they are all very full because there are so many people here using the system. I usually have to stand when I take the metro bus 8 stops to school. There are actually two bus systems. There are conventional buses that run with traffic and there are metro buses. The metro buses run in dedicated lanes in the middle of the highways–what would be the median in the US. They are surprisingly fast. Plus, there are underground metro systems, tramways and funiculars in addition to trains. All of these a paid with the same card system. Only the dolmas–which run from the metro buses around neighborhoods–are paid separately, in cash.
One of my co-teachers has railed about the rudeness of people on the metro, but I’ve not noticed it. Occasionally, some youngster won’t vacate a seat for an older person, but it’s less than I’d expect in NYC. And most of the time someone will step up and tell the youth to get up, which they do, sheepishly. Hopefully, I still “look” young and healthy enough that they don’t feel the need to get up for me all the time.
(I recently had a student who I took to be old enough to be my father. Turned out I was 2 years older than he! I just don’t feel old, even though I am by many standards. My students tell me that when a woman here is my age, she just stays home since she is old. LOL)
The big downside here is smoking. It’s everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Men smoke almost constantly. Women smoke too, but not always in public. It shocks me to see smoking at the level of 1950’s USA. My students even argue that smoking isn’t THAT bad for you. They are not allowed to smoke in the classroom, fortunately, but they do smoke in most cafes and restaurants and trying to get into a doorway can be impossible in the rain–all the smokers are crowded just outside. The 10 minute break every hour is a requirement for the smokers in my classroom. I don’t have to look at the time. They will tell me!
The worst things in Istanbul are caused by too many people and a (currently) conservative government. I experienced my second power outage in Istanbul yesterday. The first was a few days ago and lasted just an hour. I’m told that’s common and affects part of the city every weekday, though there doesn’t appear to be a schedule. It’s a way to force reduced electrical use. Yesterday the outage was 8 hours and affected most of the country!
I’d taken a new teacher and roommate, Trudy, to see the Sultanahmet area (see photos below) and we couldn’t get the tram back because none of them were running! No one could speak enough English to explain the problem to us, but we eventually figured out that none of them were working and the stores that were open had generators. I had an appointment at 1p, so needed to be at school. We tried to take a taxi, but the driver wouldn’t use the meter–he wanted us to pay 100TL (about double what it should have been)! I didn’t even try to bargain, I just walked away. We eventually found a bus that went to our destination. Felt pretty lucky to have figured it out. Welcome to Turkey!
I made it to my appointment only 10 minutes late—AFTER walking up 9 flights of stairs to get to the Şirinevler (SHEAR EE NEV LAR) classrooms (this is a neighborhood in the district Bahçelievler BAH CHE LEEV LAR). Tuncay (TOON JAI) was not there yet—he’d had the same problem with trams. He’s much younger, but since he’s a smoker, the stairs nearly killed him! LOL He took me to buy another cell phone to replace the one that was stolen over the weekend. I paid 660TL for a used iPhone 4S, case, charger, and SIM card. Seems like a lot of money for an older model phone, but I have to have one. And then we walked back up the stairs a second time.
After, I planned to stay at school and do my lesson plan for that night, but Edgar (a new teacher) simply wouldn’t leave me alone, so I decided I’d brave the steps AGAIN. Got a metro bus to my apartment, which, surprisingly has limited power. No elevator, though, so up 5 flights of stairs. The limited power means that we have no hot water, can’t shower or do laundry, but we have lights, can charge phones, wash our faces and cook. Better than much of the city. (These restrictions were lifted the next day)
At 5p, I got back on the metro bus and walked up the stairs again to school. Still no power. They were just about to cancel classes when the power came back on at 6:15! I only had 6 students for my 7p class—and three of them left at the second break. We all agreed that it had been a difficult day. If I could have, I would have gone home too. The three students that stayed are actually some of the lowest level English speakers—Murat (who seems to have just broken up with his Russian girlfriend, Natalie), Gökhan (who recently learned how to properly use “This is,” There are,” “but” and “so”) , and Serhat (a poor but adorable student, who will never pass level 1, but has a good attitude and a wonderful smile.) Though their skills are low with English, they are very nice. I think of them as Turkish good-old-boys, and they are improving, though they never study outside of class and never do their homework. (They even leave their books at school in an empty cabinet in our classroom). Despite this, I can still see a lot of improvement in a month. I spent the last hour just talking with them—I’d placed a few simple questions on the board and we discussed them. Easy Peasy (as my students have learned)—this activity does more to make them think and speak in English than anything else. But it only works with small groups that are at the same level so that everyone can participate.
I started Turkish lessons, but everyone else in the class had been here for months and had a lot of basic vocabulary. I don’t, though I work at it every day. I simply could not keep up with the class, so I’ve dropped out. Also, the teacher, though a great guy, simply has a different style that doesn’t work for me. I need more structure. But I am continuing on my own to try to learn this language. Here’s what I know so far, after 4 weeks of living here.
Turkish is a language that developed heavily from Persian, Arabic and French. In 1928, the Ottoman script was replaced by the Latin Alphabet, mostly by the innovative leader Kemal Atatürk. He was a brilliant man who gave his life, his resources and his health to his country—dragging them kicking and screaming into the 20ith century, mostly by sheer force of will. An amazing man, by all accounts. There are statues, photos and death masks of him everywhere. If you look in the dictionary under the word “beloved” you will see his picture. Want to commit suicide? Go to a public place and start saying bad things about Ataturk. You won’t last long.
Anyway, back to Turkish. In the early 1980’s, English was established as the second language, with less emphasis on French and German—one of the reasons I can come here to teach.
The Turkish Alphabet has 29 letters to our 26. Vowels are a, e, i, o, u (the ones we are familiar with, called and pronounced ah, ay, ee, oh, oo) plus I (that’s an I without a dot, called and pronounced eh), ö, ü (referred to and pronounced as ea as in early and u as in nude).
There are also a few new consonants: ç (Called chay, pronounced like ch in chair), ş (called shay, pronounced like the sh in should) and ğ(called yumasak gay, it is not pronounced). And they don’t use q, w or x. Every letter has its own sound. Most are similar to English but there are exceptions: for example, c is pronounced like j. You get used to it.
With the exception of ğ, every letter is pronounced in Turkish. If you can say it properly, you can spell it and vice versa. For example the word Mine (a common name) is pronounced MEE NAY). There is very little emphasis on any syllable, and often every syllable is pronounced with the same stress.
You will never see the –th sound. If you find a word that has these two letters side by side, assume that the syllable break is between the letters and pronounce them separately. The name Beth is impossible for them to say.
Forming words: The Turks form words mostly by adding suffixes—letters on the end of the root word. Sometimes a word will have several added to it and be a complete sentence in itself. It’s logical and completely foreign to English. Endings are added one my one to the root word to produce the desired meeting and letters are added to create verb tenses. An English phrase such as “you should not have to go” will be expressed in Turkish as a single word “go” (git) as the root. For example: gitmek means “to go” or “going.” The single root word git is like the imperative form for English: Go! Or to make a noun plural, you add either –lar or -ler. It’s really very logical.
To Be/Articles—”be” is a verb that we use constantly in English (am, is, are, was, were) but isn’t seen in most languages. Same with articles (a, an, the). It is a constant struggle for Turkish speakers to comprehend how to use them and why on earth anyone would bother. Once you understand that other languages don’t use them you begin to see what a hassle they are! Grammar rules in Turkish always apply, particularly those of pronunciation. English rules only work about 80% of the time. All of my students quickly learn the phrases: “most of the time in English…..” and “English is not fair.”
Vowel Harmony: I have much to learn on this subject, but it’s safe to say that Turkish is very concerned with vowel harmony. Words have to sound right and you can’t just stick any vowel in a suffix. All the vowels in a word have to be of the same “type” which I’ve learned is “thick” or “thin” though I can’t quite figure out why one is one way or another. It matters and I’m figuring out how. Always lots to learn. I do know that ğ, yumasak gay, is only found between vowels and is used as a kind of spacer—since they don’t like vowels side by side. Again, it isn’t pronounced.
It’s hard. But I think I have a shot at eventually being functional in Turkish. Not sure that was even possible in Vietnamese.