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.
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.
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.