You are currently viewing archive for June 2013

26 June 2013

Turkey: June 6, Istanbul, Chora Byzantine Church

Today is our first full day in Istanbul. Days begin early on Odyssey tours, we have a lot to do and see today. Tours are not relaxing like a "vacation", we keep moving so we can see a lot. I'm not complaining, just explaining!

So 7 a.m. finds us downstairs looking for the breakfast room. Wow. What a display of food. Sliced fruits and fruit salad. Yogurt with many types of preserves, honeys, and granolas. Buffalo yogurt in jars. Smoked salmon, various sliced salamis, sliced cheeses. Cereal. Dried figs and other fruits. Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. Olives. Tarts, croissant-like pastries, muffins, and loaves of bread ready to slice. Hot scrambled eggs that taste really good, along with potatoes and sausages. Borek, a traditional Turkish pastry of phyllo dough layered with eggs and cheese. I want to taste everything, I want this every day of my life!

After filling our plates we gather at white linen covered tables, and are offered coffee and orange juice. Conversation drifts back and forth between getting to know each other and the noises we heard from the Taksim Square protests last night. Then, ready for our first day's outing, we walk past the barricades to our awaiting bus. Our destination is Old Istanbul.

First a little geography. Below is a great map of Turkey from Turkey is all the green area on this map. Istanbul in the upper left corner (northwest). Note the waterways that connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. First is the narrow Bosphorus, then the Sea of Marmara, then the narrow Dardanelles. Strategically speaking, control of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles means control of trade between the two seas. Also, over the ages people could easily cross the narrow waterways to navigate between Europe and Asia Minor. It's easy to see why a city grew at this location.

map of Turkey

Old Istanbul is located on a peninsula formed by the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and the Sea of Marmara. The Golden Horn is an inlet of the Bosphorus, a natural harbor for the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman ships of yore. Today modern Istanbul spans both the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus.

Below is a map of Istanbul, courtesy of The Divan Hotel is on the western shore of the Bosphorus. I added three arrows: one marks our hotel, one marks a waterway called the Golden Horn, and one points to the area of Old Istanbul.

map of Istanbul

Old Istanbul was once a seaport named Byzantium, settled by Greek colonists. In 322 AD, Constantine the Great, a Roman emperor, decided to establish a new capital in Asia Minor. He chose Byzantium as the location. In 330, the city was renamed Constantinople, and it grew into a center of learning, prosperity, and culture, the center of the Byzantium Empire. It wasn't until 1453 that it was conquered and renamed Istanbul by the Ottoman Turks.

Today, Old Istanbul is rife with ruins of churches, mosques, palaces, and more. Tourist attractions, yes, but so interesting.

Our bus crosses the Golden Horn via the Ataturk Bridge. We see ruins of the walls that once surrounded the old city. I imagine how it must have felt living in the old walled city.

Our first destination is the Kariye Museum or, the Chora Byzantine Church. Our group follows Ali, carrying the umbrella. The umbrella helps us find him in the crowds. He gave us "whisperers", small radio receivers with headphones, so we can hear him talk about the sights. He can talk in a low voice, thus not disturbing the other tourists. Here we are, approaching the church:

walking to the Chora Church

Along our path is a multi-storied wooden building. I was intrigued by the pretty tiles that peaked out of a door of this decrepit building.

near Chora

tiles in old building

Nearer to Chora:

Chora Church

The Chora Byzantine Church was built in the 5th century, then extensively remodeled in the 12th century. It is one of the best surviving examples of a Byzantine church. The interior is covered with mosaics and frescos. The problem is that after Constantinople was conquered by the Turks in 1453, the Chora Church was converted into a mosque. Since Islam prohibits iconic images or any protrayal of human or animal forms, the mosaics and frescoes were covered with plaster. In 1948 it ceased to be a mosque and restoration of the original Byzantine interior began.

Here is another photo of the outside:

Chora Church

The tiles in the frescoes are smaller than I had expected. I took a few photos, but they are not really very good. It was difficult to get good photos because of the light and because it was very, very crowded! I'll just put a couple examples below, and advise any reader to check out the Wikipedia and museum links for professional photos.

(I didn't take my dSLR to Turkey, relying instead on a small, zoomable, pocketable, new Canon SX280 HS. Composing photos in the display instead of a viewfinder was often difficult, I'll apologize just this once for all of my photos on this trip. At home now, I am finding that I do appreciate the geotags on the photos. Win some, lose some.)

One of the frescoes inside:

Chora Church

A zoom in on the tiles:

Chora Church

This part of the church shows how the church looked when it was a mosque. It also shows the crowds of tourists.

Chora Church

And in this photo some of the frescoes have been uncovered from their layer of plaster:

Chora Church

I like this photo because it shows a girl with her neck craned up to look at the frescoes on the ceiling.

Chora Church

A fresco, normal size and then with part of it enlarged to show the details of the tiles:



One last photo of the church.

inside the Chora Church

We have more stops this day, so it's back to the tour bus. That's another blog post.

First Turkey trip post.
Next Turkey post.

24 June 2013


John and I traveled to Turkey in June. Why Turkey? Basically, we wanted to do a trip sometime in June, and a tour to Turkey sponsored by the CU Roaming Buffs was offered June 4-19. Odysseys Unlimited is the provider of the tour - "Legendary Turkey" - and we were quite impressed with their service on our African Safari. So we read a little about Turkey, thought it sounded interesting, and booked our tour.

Turkey spans East and West. The westernmost tip is in Europe, and the rest of the country is in Asia. Most Turks are Muslim, although the government is secular, and most women do not wear head scarves. Turkey is friendly with the US, a member of NATO, and is in membership negotiations with the European Union. On the east it borders Syria, Iraq, and Iran. This fact made us a little nervous about a visit, but we trust Odysseys, and our tour focuses on the western regions of Turkey.

Turkey also spans past and present. Ancient civilizations roamed and fought and settled across the land mass now called Turkey. Our tour will visit many of the ruins left by different societies over a period of 5000 years. The nation "Turkey" only came into being in 1923, founded by a forward-thinking man: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Turkey is a constitutional democracy, and fiercely proud of it. As we learned on our first day in Istanbul.

Our departure date approached. Then on May 28 protests exploded in Istanbul, sparked by the government's plan to bulldoze trees for new construction in Gezi Park, one of the last remaining public open spaces in Istanbul. In next-door Taksim square, violence erupted when tear gas and water cannons were used against the peaceful demonstrators. Buses and cars were burned. In the next days, things calmed down a bit, the polis pulled back, and the protests were allowed to continue without interference.

June 3 we received a voice mail from Odysseys: they have reviewed the situation and our trip will go on as planned. Good! We figure that Turkey is a big country and the chances of our being in the midst of a demonstration must be small. (Ahem. We should have google-mapped our hotel and the protests.)

June 5 we landed at the Istanbul Airport. We were met by our tour director, Ali, and I was busy trying to connect names with faces of our 19 other tour members as we walked out of the Istanbul airport to our bus. I (finally) learn at this time that our hotel is near the protests. But I am distracted by my first views of Istanbul and don't think about the protests too much. Instead, I look around at the large buildings of modern Istanbul.

Here is the first mosque that we saw:

mosque near airport

This symbol of Islam is juxtaposed with a rather sexy and scantily clothed woman in a billboard ad:

near airport

billboard ad

The drive from the airport to our hotel, Divan Istanbul, is about 15 miles and should take an estimated 45 minutes (in ordinary traffic). This photo was taken on Halaskargazi Cd:

street scene

Note the long, narrow street, the 3 story blocky buildings, the newish cars, the guy pulling a hand cart, the clutter of small stores, the display of vegetables.

street scene

Our travel is slower than predicted. The traffic is particularly bad, we are told the reason is the protests. Finally we near our hotel. This is the scene:


Rushing people, cars strewn across the road and divider, and there - a barricade constructed from junk. It was made by the protesters, I think to stop polis traffic. Here, you can see the barricade a little better:


Our hotel is just ahead. It's the Divan Istanbul, with orange and yellow horizontal patterns. Look at all the people milling along the street. OMG, we are going to be staying right at the doorstep of the protests!

our hotel

Our bus has to maneuver a U-turn just before the barricade. Ali directs us off the bus and gets the hotel valets to put our baggage on a cart. We walk the final block to the hotel.

our hotel

Note the taksi - I love Turk spelling.

We arrive at the Divan Istanbul. Here is the view from the front doors.

the crowd

Taksim Square. Gezi Park. We are there, right in the middle of it. Protestors have set up a mini-city in the park, under the trees. "Occupy Istanbul". The week before tear gas wafted up into the hotel we will be staying in.

Ali negotiates a change in our rooms: we will all be on the ninth floor. Safer. Turns out, the hotel has hardly anyone else in it but our tour group. It's a grand hotel, a luxury hotel, absolutely gorgeous inside. It feels weird staying in such luxury, with Turkish protestors camping across the street. That used to be us. Protesting the Vietnam War. Living as hippies.

We take a quick shower and walk a couple blocks to get some dinner at an indoor/outdoor restaurant. Many of the tour group members join us. We sit there at the outside tables, enjoying meze and kabobs. We discover our local beer: Efes. We try raki.

It's dusk. Streams of people come past, carrying boxes, bags, backpacks. Motorcycles squeeze between the tables and the edge of the sidewalk. The crowds are not rowdy, they are rather serious. (It is not a drunken crowd.) Many carry the red crescent and star flag of Turkey. The average age is young adult, but some are middle aged. Later, Ali told us that many families supported their young adult children by bringing food and supplies each day.


Diktator. This refers to the protester's view that Prime Minister Erdogan is not listening to his people, that he is acting like a dictator, that he is over-riding Turkey's constitution stating it is a democracy, ruled by the people. We are watching democracy in action. Fiercely-proud-of-their-democracy Turks. But will Erdogan listen?

I didn't take my camera to the restaurant, but back at the hotel I shot some photos from the ninth floor. I saw bonfires.


Camps of the protesters:


camps of the protesters

We hear big booms and worry that the polis are back but no, it is only fireworks set off by the demonstrators. As the night deepens, the crowd noises rise.

In the morning it's quiet and only the live-in protesters remain. Some are still sleeping, some have already worked to gather all the trash into bags. And so we begin our first full day in Istanbul, but that is another blog post.

If you are interested, here are links to two news articles published during the early days of the protests:

May 29 and June 5

Next Turkey post