The Basilica Cistern

This past week has been a very busy one as we hosted my wonderful sister Lizz and her friend Amy at our apartment. I had a fantastic time playing Tour Guide as I took them around Istanbul to see many of the main attractions like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Istiklal Street, the Grand Bazaar, and the Galata Tower, and fed them as many kinds of Turkish food as we could in the time we had.

We also visited several places I had yet to see. One of these was the Basilica Cistern. The cistern is located right next to the Hagia Sophia. Many people skip it. Since it’s underground, it’s not an obvious landmark. It doesn’t have any frescoes or mosaics. But it is a marvel of engineering.

The Basilica Cistern was built in 532 under Emperor Justinian to hold water brought by aqueduct from what is now the Belgrade Forest. It’s filled with water. There are walkways allowing you to explore the cistern from one end to the other. As my sinuses were congested, my senses were dulled and my mind was foggy, so I had forgotten to bring my camera. The pictures I took were done with my phone (the one I registered in Turkey).

The space is lit from below which gives it a tranquil and eerie feeling, a feeling which is easily shoved away as the masses of chattering, picture-taking tourists like us make our way around.

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There are now fish in the water. I’m not sure how they got there. My photos of the fish did not come out. There is a cafe in the cistern. No, it does not offer fish on its menu. I think they’re missing out an opportunity. They could be offering “fresh, cistern-raised” fish.

The two enormous Medusa heads are the most popular site inside. The heads were taken from some other structure and placed there when the cistern was initially constructed. No one knows why one is upside down.

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We also went to the Grand Bazaar that day. Lizz and Amy were overwhelmed with the scale and range of goods available for sale. It is an overwhelming place, in terms of size and intensity, and sometimes because of the prices. Good prices are there to be had for those who are willing to bargain.

They both bought several scarfs, doing a lot of bargaining. My sister also bought her husband a beautiful backgammon set that was inlaid with mother-of-pearl. She did some serious bargaining for that item. She works in sales so she’s rather good at it. I stood by, amused.

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My Wife Is Also a Blogger: A Year Without Bacon

Some of you might not know this, but my very smart and witty wife is writing a blog of our experiences in Turkey. It’s called A Year Without Bacon: Our Expat Life in Turkey.  She is a professor of Sociology at Michigan State University who was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach and conduct research in Istanbul. For a different perspective, below is a selection of some of her posts about her experiences here in Turkey. If you’re not following her take on our adventures, you should. Enjoy.

I Go to Asia to Bake a Cake, and Have My First Istanbul Car Wreck – The things a mother will do for her children.

Our Trip to the British Consulate – Sometimes we get invited to parties.

The Awesome Place We Will Never Go to Again – How we found an indoor playground.

Everything Is Paper, and Paper Is Everything – Her experiences getting a Residence Permit.

“It Could Happen to You!” Empathy and Scorn in Human Trafficking – The reason we’re here is so she can do research on human trafficking.

P.S. As we say in Chicago, if you can’t help your family, who can you help?

P.P.S. We have yet to eat bacon since we arrived in Turkey.

For Family, Friends, and Anyone Else Who Is Just Plain Curious

We’ve had several friends within the last 24 hours send us news reports about the U.S. State Department pulling people from Adana, Turkey. We’re grateful for all of the concern.

The truth is that my wife and I had to look up Adana on a map of Turkey. Just as we’re learning how to cross Istanbul streets like the Turks, we’re learning the geography and history of this country we’ve recently moved to.

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I’ve circled two areas on the map: Adana and Istanbul. Adana is in the south, near the Mediterranean coast. It’s also near the border with Syria. That area, and particularly around Gaziantep, have many Syrian refugees. Turkey right now is harboring at least 500,000 Syrian refugees. The war in Syria has put a lot of stress directly on Turkey.

Our plans for traveling around the country do not include that area, nor the southeastern part of the country that borders Iraq and Iran. We’ll probably go to Nevşehir (in central Turkey) so we can spend some time exploring the otherworldly Cappadocia. The rest of our plans (money-willing) will take us to the Aegean and southwest Mediterranean coasts to see ancient Greek and Roman ruins, and the beaches of Bodrum.

In the meantime, we’re keeping up on the news. But we’re more likely to be maimed or killed by a car or delivery truck heading down a crowded “pedestrian” street. And by pedestrian, I mean a street that’s filled more with people than cars. Any path wide enough for a truck, car, or scooter is considered drivable in Istanbul.

The other day, I saw two people on a motorcycle drive onto Taksim Square and then up the grass hillside that leads to Gezi Park. There were no police to be found. Even if there were, I’ve no doubt they wouldn’t have ticketed or cited the motorcyclist. When the police come to Taksim Square and Gezi Park it’s to make sure people don’t hold hands for peace. That’s considered more dangerous in Turkey than what Americans or Western Europeans might consider errant driving.