Last day overseas: a Turkish Delight

June 2nd, 2013 by

Turkish Delight: or how I paid homage to Jules Verne

I’ll get to the explanation for the title if you’ll read to the end, but since this is the last day of my adventure, I tried to do a lot.

One thing I wanted to do was “trek” in one of the many valleys here.  There are trails, and I started on one of them when I arrived, but mid-day heat, and the 5 am departure from Istanbul made that one pretty short.  As part of our tour today, I walked a very pleasant 2.5 miles today in a narrow canyon that contained walnut and apricot trees, grape vines—and old stone houses, churches, in the old caves still used for storage and pigeon raising even today.  Pigeons get locked in one room for a month (phew!) and get the idea they need to return; their manure is harvested (phew!), though our guide noted that since the area became a UNESCO site in the 1980s, chemical fertilizers had replac the pigeons to a large degree.

Second, I had a chance to see an old Greek village.  There is a poster here touting the “first declaration of human rights,” a 1463 announcement from Mehmet the Conqueror that his newly-acquired subjects in Bosnia were free to practice their religion.  Though it was honored on and off in Ottoman history (people of the Book—as they referred to Jews and Christians—were usually tolerated, but I think paid extra taxes and could not serve in the military.  Captured Christian children, however, were frequently raised Muslim, and became the shock troops of the janissaries, the infantry of the Ottomans), the 20th century relations with Greeks (perhaps beginning with the war for Greek independence in the 1820s), Armenians, and Kurds was and is troubled.  When Turkey was carved (that was the pun in the 20s) into spheres of influence after World War I (the French, for example, wanted a mandate over the Levant, the area close to Lebanon), the Greek government went to war (backed by the British and the French) to create a protectorate over the Greek cities in Asia Minor, particularly Smyrna.  Ataturk mustered Turkish forces to fight for a Turkish state that has the boundaries Turkey now has.  There was, however, a massive exchange of Muslim Turks in Greece for Orthodox Greeks in Turkey.  One result was the city in the area that still has the abandoned Greek area on a hill.  Word is that the Greeks were offered compensation, but have refused, hoping they could return “home” and that was 1923!

Third, I had a chance to test my claustrophobia. There are 36 “underground cities” in the area—which says something about the neighborhood!  I expected people to be living in cities underground, but these were, in effect, defensive bunkers.  The one we visited had 8 layers that went down about 90 feet, but only  two of those were open.  Populations (4000 could be housed in this one; the biggest “city” accommodated 10,000) could simply hide underground when enemies approached.  The defensive mechanics were ingenious. Huge stone doors could block entry to a tunnel, but could only be shut or opened from the inside; air shafts made ventilation possible, and residents could fully function, with a church (the area, as I said, was Christian, even after the Muslim conquest).  Tunnels connected everything, and some were pretty narrow, though living quarters were “duplex”, and any case at least three times the size of a room in London.  Many of the tunnels were pretty narrow and not very high—which tested my claustrophobia, but the peek holes where the locals could attack the invaders reminded me of the Viet Cong area called Cu Chi tunnels.

Fourth, I wanted to climb a peak, and while the 13,000 foot volcano that caused this landscape was out of reach, the 4300 Uchisar fortress, right behind my guest house (I didn’t realize I was living in the expensive real estate—the fortress commands views, and views command room rates), was convenient.  At the top, there were shallow graves for the Byzantines, but apparently the fortress had tunnels that connected with the underground cities.  After 7 or 800 years of being attacked, I suppose the Byzantines got pretty good at defensive strategies.

My mouth is closed in the balloon, proving it wasn't powered by my hot air!

My mouth is closed in the balloon, proving it wasn’t powered by my hot air!

Finally—and this was the Turkish delight—at 5 am, a van picked me up to take me to a field strewn with hot air balloons.  The Lonely Planet suggestion was, “If you’re ever going to do a hot air balloon, Cappadocia is the place.”  I took that to heart.  There were about 70 that took off today, taking advantage of the relative calm in the morning, with the light wind.  The captain was hilarious (which was helpful since I was nervous), and took us close up and up and over.   What a great view from the air, and what a smooth ride.  We landed on the trailer, and celebrated with champagne.  It was 7 am.

That was my homage to Jules Verne.  When I was younger (notice that!), a picture that really moved me was around the world in 80 days.  That may well have been inspiration realized, not just in the hot air balloon trip, but in the wanderlust that’s captivated me the last 20 years.

I hope you find a book, a movie, a friend, who will inspire a similar quest for adventure and self understanding.  Bring on the next adventure.

Views from Cappadocia

June 2nd, 2013 by
This is the entrance to a cave church in Cappadocia. Dates from 11th century.

This is the entrance to a cave church in Cappadocia. Dates from 11th century.

Great views in Cappadocia

Great views in Cappadocia

On top of the world, or at least the Uchisar fortress, the highest point around

On top of the world, or at least the Uchisar fortress, the highest point around

Cappadocia Means “Land of Well Bred Horses” in Persian

June 1st, 2013 by

I am beginning to understand why 6 million visitors choose to come to Cappadocia. Part of it is the weather—at least in the 7 months of the year when it’s not snow covered. We’re at 4,000 feet, which makes evenings temperate (in the 50s), with warm days (in the 80s), and apparently it’s like this until the snows come—and it gets bitterly cold, our guide says, with lots of snow. Some of that is obvious when I look out my window at the volcano largely responsible for the eruptions that created Cappadocia—it’s over 4000 meters, or over 12,000 feet, still snowcapped, and betraying that volcano shape that hides the fact that the last eruption was 2 million years ago, and the guide assured me it was dormant.

The second attraction may well be the scenery. As I mentioned, it’s a combination of the Badlands, Wyoming, Zion-Bryce, and maybe the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park because it is pretty green in some places. The volcano created lava flows and a variety of rocks and minerals that have eroded in various ways; the scenery consists of “fairy chimneys” and rock formations that could be in the Great Sand Dunes, hoodoo type formations with balanced rocks on top; I think the description of one valley is “like the moon,” and another is called imagination valley, where our guide was able to point out formations that looked like “Napoleon’s Hat”, etc.

Probably the third reason—though not in my order of importance—is the human history of the place. If I were to go to the museum in Kayseri, the main place, I’d probably find evidence of settlement for at least 4000 years, including the Hittites (can the Sox get one to bat!), whose legacy is partly in the pottery the locals reproduce and sell to Scout leaders who are enjoying their first trip to Cappadocia. Then the Persians were through here, and we’re far enough east to have the Persian armies tramp through here several times on their way to fight the Greeks or the Romans.

Most of the ruins, however, date from the Roman/Byzantine period—from the 3rd century AD until the area was conquered in the 13th century by first the Seljuk Turks and then the Ottomans. During that period, for some reason, Christianity took root in Cappadocia, and most of what we looked at today was what remained from that period. Because the rock could be worked relatively easily, people made homes in the caves—in fact, the guest house where I’m staying is a modified cave house. They created whole villages in the “fairy chimneys,” rather like the Pueblano in the Southwest—except the homes were individual, and not communal, though we did see some communal kitchens. Like the native Americans at Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde, the Cappadocians could clamber up the staircases to their cave homes and wait out the invasion. The churches==bear in mind that people were illiterate==had to be decorated with scenes from the bible for education. The frescos were painted in natural ingredients, including pigeon white (I said they created dove-cotes so they could get dove manure to fertilize the vineyards), and because the caves were covered (apparently, this area is not susceptible to earthquakes), many of the frescoes survived both time and the Muslim conquest; because Muslim art does not feature people (at least not in mosques), the Muslims tended to deface (literally) the frescoes, but there were still some magnificent churches, partly because of the importance of Cappadocia in church history. I had Eusebius as bishop of Caesarea, which he was—in Palestine—but there were three local Saints that were featured in the churches here.

I’m glad to be one of the 6 million visitors this year, but I do hope they’re not all 6 million will be here tomorrow.

I am Bursatile

May 31st, 2013 by

Bursa tility.

Back in the day, Bursa was an important city, linking up with Chang’an and the Tang dynasty on the Silk Road. Back in the day, it was the gathering ground for the Ottomans to begin to tighten the noose; it was where Osman’s dream of being Sultan started taking shape, and he and son are buried in the city. Osman died shortly after he conquered the city of Bursa and moved his capital there. That was in the early 15th century.  Those two reasons were why I wanted to visit Bursa.

Today, it’s better known as the fourth largest city in Turkey, and a major center of industry. Most of the automobile plants are located there.  In addition, although only 60 miles from Istanbul (straight line!) the ferry across the Sea of Marmar adds time and leisure, though the road to Bursa (which continues down the coast and passes Ephesus/Pergamon, where I’ve take it) is a first class highway. It also has a 7500 foot mountain, called “Great”, and ski runs—near a market of over 15 million people.  There was still snow on top.

The only major site we saw was an unusual Green Mosque and a Green Tomb, both belonging to Sultan Mehmed I, 1421 or so, which confirmed the shift from the more traditional Seljuk style to the more showy Ottoman.

I got back from that trip around midnight—and had to be ready to catch the plane for Cappodocia at 5 am, which made me glad I had nothing else scheduled today when I got to Ushidar, one of the “cities” in the area.  The gateway to Cappodocia is Kayseri, a town the Romans called Caeserea.  Yes, the empire stretched from London through Asia minor, and through much of north Africa.  One of the prominent early Christians in the biography of Constantine I’m reading was Bishop Eusebius, and tomorrow I guess I’ll get to see remains of the old Churches.  What’s interesting is the landscape, sort of like being in the Badlands—except that people carved homes and churches and hid from authority, especially for about 700 years.

Today, though, I wandered around dazzled by the scenery.  There are a lot of trails through the valleys and I walked about 2 hours on the Pigeon Valley trail—so named because locals used to cultivate pigeons for their manure, which they then used for agriculture.  The region is known for grapes, and my hike took me through vineyards.

As I said, I have two days of tours of the scenery and the history over the weekend.  I’m looking forward to it.  After yesterday, I’m very Bursa-tile.

In Cappadocia

May 31st, 2013 by
Scenery is kind of a cross between the badlands and the Grand Canyon. Lots of hiking possibilities.  I'll get the tour tomorrow.

Scenery is kind of a cross between the badlands and the Grand Canyon. Lots of hiking possibilities. I’ll get the tour tomorrow.

Where in Western Europe was this taken?

May 31st, 2013 by
the winner guessed the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul

The winner guessed the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul

On my own

May 29th, 2013 by

My day began at 3 am, when I woke up to wish our students a pleasant flight home.  They’re probably in Chicago by now.

Here’s what I did on my own:

My touring began at 8: 15, when I headed for the tram to finish at least three more checklist items in the morning. The first was at the Archaeology Museum of Istanbul.  The guidebooks said it’s a good museum partly because it doesn’t attract the throngs who flock to the big attractions the way crowds do to the Forbidden City—or the ball games of some teams in Chicago.  The information was accurate about the lack of crowds, but the articles on display had some world class items.  The most important (bear in mind the museum has artifacts primarily from within the Ottoman Empire, which included the “Orient”—the near East) items were sarcophagi from Sidon, which were the reason the Ottomans built the neoclassical museum in the first place.  Huge burial boxes, well preserved, the tomb with the sculptures of Alexander the Great drawing the most attention; the King buried in it had battled on the side of Alexander, and the frieze commemorates their relationship.  The other outstanding area was a look at Greco-Roman statues, arranged chronologically—all from places that had been either Byzantine or Ottoman, and I’m happy to say that not all the Pergamon relics are in Berlin (and yes, there are some in Pergamon; Turkish antiquities required even in the 19th century that some of the Sidon sarcophagi had to stay where they were.  The exhibit on Troy did note part of an ongoing archeological battle over ownership we’d seen elsewhere: that materials in one museum “ought” to be somewhere else—in this case not the New Museum in Berlin!  And one exhibit righteously noted that the mosaic, pictured in Istanbul, had been given back to its rightful ruler.

The other part of the museum I especially enjoyed was “Istanbul through the Ages,” an exhibit that featured what was and what is, with some wonderful explanations of what happened.  I learned, for example, that Bosphorus means “ox ford,” and it came to prominence when Darius and the Persians used a series of boats as a bridge to advance to battle the Greeks; I think one of the monuments to the Greek victory eventually wound up in Istanbul.  (Is it time for Greece to get indignant? Unfortunately, part of the museum with Byzantine relics was closed—for earthquakeproofing (I keep forgetting the Mediterranean is a ring of fire), and perhaps as part of Turkey’s bid for the 2020 Olympics.  Actually, it was fortunate, because if the Byzantine materials had been there, I would not have gotten to the other “must sees” on my checklist.

Second on my list for the morning were the Byzantine Cisterns, but on the way, I detoured when I passed Hagia Sophia and saw a sign that said the Sultan tombs were there, and “free.”  That’s one of my favorite trigger words, and you don’t see it much in Istanbul (not even special prices for seniors!) There are only a few, but one was designed by Sinan, quickly becoming my favorite Ottoman architect; whole families are usually buried together, but Murad (III, I think) had over 100 children; the family had a second tomb with a lot less decoration.  Interestingly, one of the tombs occupied the former baptistery. One of the tombs had an interesting art story. The Turks shipped the ceramics to France for restoration. The French copied the items and gave the copies to the Turks.  The originals are in the Louvre!  So much for honor!

The cool cistern (in more ways than one) was the result of an effort on behalf of the emperor Justinian to guarantee a water supply for the palace area, obtained from an area 18 miles away via a series aqueducts—another indication of the superior technical state of Byzantium over Western Europe at the time!  520 feet long, 100 feet wide, the “holding tank” is supported by a series of columns that would have done a temple proud.  Two pillars had wonderful heads of Medusa –on the bottom, not the top.

I also wanted to see what was left of the hippodrome, never having spent any time at what was the athletic complex of the Byzantines.  What’s left essentially are boundary markers—the Obelisk Theodosius brought from Egypt and the pillar Constantine brought from Delphi. An added treat was finding the “Million”—part of a triumphal arch from which all distances in the Eastern Roman empire were measured.

For the afternoon, I joined a Grey Line tour going through the former Pera area on the other side of the Golden Horn to the Dolmbahce Palace. I was not prepared for the 1850s neoclassical and rococo palace Abulhamid built to replace the Topkapi Palace and indicate Turkey was a European power at a time when the Ottomans were desperately trying to modernize to keep the empire together. Greece had already sought its independence; I think Egypt had gotten its; Turkey, England and France were fighting Russia in the Crimea—and Abdulhamid had spent money building a palace that rivaled the big ones in Western Europe.  My favorite room reflects the efforts of German to woo the Ottomans—a vase from Kaiser Wilhelm, with his picture on it, and a statue and picture of Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor during the last half of the 19thcentury, as Germany and the Ottoman Empire forged the ties that helped bind them in a death dance in World War I based on their common enmity to Russia that would topple both the German and Ottoman Empires (as well as their Austo=Hungarian allies)

I treated myself to dinner in a restaurant I’d spotted last night in the Suleymaniye mosque area.  Adjacent to the mosque, the restaurant was built by noted court architect Mimar Sinan, and the menu featured “Sultan’s Delight,” a lamb and eggplant dish I don’t think I’ve seen at home—but then, we don’t have any Sultans in Bloomington-Normal.

A Free for all (half) day

May 28th, 2013 by

My 27 new best friends and I will be saying goodbye early this morning as they head back to the United States, leaving at 3:30 am for Munich and thence to Chicago.  Perhaps it was appropriate that we spent half the day together, viewing still more of the attractions that bring 10-15 million visitors to Istanbul, then the other half of the day in a free for all, doing some of the other things that bring 10-15 million visitors to Istanbul.

All three of the sites we visited reflected the past of the city.  The visit to Aya Sophia represented the oldest visit.  The church, built on a previous church site, was constructed in the 6th century during the reign of Justinian, who was responsible for many of the great works (and great expenses) of the Byzantine Empire; during his reign, the boundaries were at their greatest, including the reconquest of the Western Empire, i.e., Rome. Justinian (and his consort, the one- time courtesan, Theodora) were, for example, builders of the wonderful chapels at Ravenna, Italy, with their likeness.  Justinian’s efforts in Istanbul, however, led to the creation of the largest Church in the world at the time.  Emperors received their crowns in ceremonies in the Church, which was one of the last holdouts in 1453.  Of course, after the conquest, Mehmet added mosques, plastered over the mosaics, and for the next 400 years, Aya Sophia was a mosque.  During the Republic, Ataturk turned it into a museum, partially Christian, partially Muslim.  Some of the mosaics survived, but so did the mithrab and the camelskin panels praising Mohammed and Allah.  It remains, for me, one of the most impressive sights in Istanbul, partly for what it has meant over time.  When you come to see it, it may have more of its original features; about half the building now is being renovated.

Across from Aya Sophia, we visited a still-used mosque, from the 17th century.  Western guidebooks usually call it the Blue Mosque because of the plethora of blue tiles in the stunning inside, but it’s really the mosque one of the sultans commissioned to be built (as our guide said most mosques were) in 7 years.  Indeed, the sultan ordered the mosque to have 6 prayer towers (minarets), because, at the time, only the mosque in Mecca had 6 minarets; most have only four, but the sultan of Turkey, defender of the faith, was, I think, at the time the overlord of Saudi Arabia, and wanted to demonstrate his authority. Enraged conservatives added three minarets, and now the mosque in Mecca has nine, but the Blue Mosque is the only one with 6.

Not many noticed it, and our guide did not point it out, but connecting the two religious institutions was what had been the center of Byzantine social life, the hippodrome.  At one time, it could seat 100,000 people, and was THE place for the Reds, Greens, and Blues and Whites to cheer on their teams, much as soccer fans still do today.  There’s not much left from the Byzantine days, save for a few obelisks (the Romans brought them to Rome, too).

The other site was a visit to a 15th century business location, the so-called “Spice Market”, where merchants from Egypt and other exotic places brought their saffrons, teas, and other foodstuffs  that makes Istanbul a far more interesting place for me to eat than, say, London.  This was where I parted company with the group and began my own “free for all,” because there were a few places I thought I would hit because they were not on my after-trip itinerary.

The first was the Archeology Museum of Turkey, but it was closed, so I wandered toward the Great Palace mosaic museum.  One of the problems Turkey finds with any building in the historic district is that the builders invariably find something they need to excavate before they build.  That was the case when they discovered the floor of the great palace which had housed the Byzantine rulers.  The mosaic covers about 200 feet, and is one of the largest in the world, as befits one of the largest empires in the world.

From there, I wandered the streets of Istanbul, going in the direction of a mosque I really wanted to see for two reasons: it contained the grave of Suleyman the Magnificent, the Sultan who brought Islam into central Europe, being turned back (by rain and snow, said our guide) only at the gates of Vienna, by a combined European force (that was a good application of the European Union!) when the Polish army under John Sobieski turned up in the nick of time.  Plus, the architect of the mosque was the famous Sinan, and I wanted to be sure to see one of his monumental buildings.  Both expectations were rewarded, and more.  To get there I had to pass one of the institutions that brings many people to Istanbul, and many Istanbul people into the streets—the Grand Bazaar, another post conquest institution, a covered market of 4,000 shops that would do China proud—everything from copperware to clothes, utensils to jewelry—low to high prices.  The streets were pretty crowded with shoppers and tourists (sometimes one and the same), but every so often would be a gem—the column Constantine brought to Constantinople that once stood in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi; Istanbul university, with its combination of classical/Islamic/modern buildings; and tombs of the former Sultans, including Bayazit (the second emperor, who sent his fleet to Barcelona in 1492 to bring Jewish refugees from the expulsion in Spain to the Ottoman Empire),and the late 19th century sultan who courted (and was courted by) Kaiser Wilhelm, whose gift of a fountain is still on the tour routes—especially for German visitors.

Photos from Istanbul

May 27th, 2013 by
Arriving back from a Bosphoros Tour in Istanbul

Arriving back from a Bosphoros Tour in Istanbul

Gateway to the Topkapi Palace

Gateway to the Topkapi Palace

At the Nurol Group tower overlooking the Bosphorus

At the Nurol Group tower overlooking the Bosphorus

In the executive suite of the Nurol group in Istanbul

In the executive suite of the Nurol group in Istanbul

In front of the only mosque with 6 minarets: the Blue Mosque in Turkey

In front of the only mosque with 6 minarets: the Blue Mosque in Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom: Justinian the Great  built this church in the 6th Century.  At the time, it was the largest church in the world.  After the conquest in 1453, the Ottomans turned it into a mosque.  It became a museum in the Republic period.

Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom: Justinian the Great built this church in the 6th Century. At the time, it was the largest church in the world. After the conquest in 1453, the Ottomans turned it into a mosque. It became a museum in the Republic period.

It’s Istanbul not Constantinople

May 26th, 2013 by

Those of you who have followed my blogs over the years know how fond I am of noting that Xi’an in China was the capital for over 1000 years, most recently 1000 years ago.  Imagine my joy in being in Istanbul, which for over 1000 years was the new “Rome” (under the name Constantinople), and for the next  nearly 500 years, as Istanbul, was home to the “Scourge of Europe.  It’s pretty obvious that whoever wrote the song which gave the title to this blog entry was drawing on the creation of the Turkish Republic from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.  All three parts of this brief history are apparent in this city of 15 million that spans two continents (East of the Bosphorus is Asia Minor, which as I told a student is like Asia Major, but with 4 fewer classes; that’s an IWU joke).

The efforts of Kemal Attaturk, who fought to reverse the Allied partition of Turkey after World War I are obvious in his efforts to secularize a Muslim state.  He abolished the Caliphate when the last religious leader of the Muslim world died in the early 1920s, and as we walked the city today, while some were in traditional garb, most Turks wore more European dress; also, it was Sunday, the day of rest in Turkey, but not much of the Muslim world.  Many of the mosques, which Mehmet the Conqueror (the 21 year old Sultan who led the troops that captured Constantinople in May 1453) turned into Churches (including Hagia Sophia, which we’ll see in the next few days) became museums.  And people smoke and drink (though the pastry shops far outnumber the bars), which again is not common in the Middle East.  Turkey is a secular Muslim country.

The Byzantine period lasted over 1000 years, from Constantine, the Roman Emperor who founded it early in the 4th century, through 1453, when Constantine XI Paleologous died fighting the Turks.  The remains abound, and one of the purposes of my aftertour is to visit the Byzantine remains.  One of them is obvious from the ride in from the airport—much of the massive fortification is still present.  Indeed, the conquest of the city required a major siege, some subterfuge (the Byzantines chained the river to prevent the Ottoman navy from joining the battle; Mehmet hauled the ships overland and bypassed the chains); and some strange behavior (a Christian cannonier offered his services in making a huge cannon to the Byzantines.  Broke—partly because  of the fourth crusade, when the overzealous crusaders sacked and occupied Constantinople—the source of much of Venice’s wealth, including the famous horses in St. Mark’s.  Byzantium never recovered, and by 1543, the Eastern Roman Empire had pretty much been reduced to the city of Constantinople and its environs. Rejected by the Byzantines, the Christian cannon builder offered his services to Mehmet, who thus acquired the firepower needed to breach the walls).  Many of the churches and mosaics remain from the Byzantine period, and I am especially eager to see the Chora Church and the Archeological museum (the Hittites were here, too), and the underground cistern system.  The old aqueduct still stands—a testimony to Roman engineering.  Indeed, one of the major accomplishments of the Byzantine Empire was in keeping the barbarians out of Europe, with the exception of the Mongols; Greek scholars also keep alive Greco-Roman philosophy and literature at a time when Europe was in the Dark Ages.  When the Turks actually bore down on Constantinople, the Emperor offered to convert to Catholicism if the European countries would send troops  Perhaps if there’d been an EU in 1450, it’d still be Constantinople!  I saw another reminder of the cosmopolitan nature of the city under the Byzantines—the Galata Tower and the Yoros Castle (at the end of the Bosporus—more later on that) which were defended by the Venetians and Genoans who lved in the city, and whose trade was so important to the Byzantines and to the West.  Indeed, Constantinople at one time was one of the termini of the Silk Road to China.

The role of the Osman family (Ottoman) is the most pronounced in terms of tourist sites, and the history and culture of contemporary Turkey.  At varying times cosmopolitan (the Ottomans welcome Jews driven from Spain, and the physicians to the Sultans were usually Jewish), it’s sometimes difficult to remember how rich the country was—though it is easily remembered how powerful it was.  Suleyman’s defeat at the gates of Vienna marked the westward limits of Turkish conquests, but I’ve seen battlefields in Poland and Russia, and indications of the occupation of the Balkans, Greece, and Hungary that are neither forgotten nor forgiven.  We will be seeing the Topkapi Palace tomorrow, which should give our students some insight into what being rich meant in the 16th and 17th centuries. It helped Professor Pana and I to understand it when we went to a “traditional restaurant” whose recipes were based on the cookbook of Mehmet II.  As we sat in the shadow of Hagia Sophia, we ate like a king for a night.  We’ve set up a “farewell dinner” in a similar restaurant tomorrow, near the Chora Church with its world famous mosaics.

We got a look at the city and the Bosporous on a tour today, a four hour ferry ride to the Black Sea.  The importance of Constantinople/Istanbul, economically, is that it links the Russian breadbasket and the Mediterranean worlds.  The progression of the summer palaces north of the city—built by Sultans and grand viziers, mostly—showed the increasing wealth of the country.  The forts along the way revealed the importance to Turkey (and the Ottomans and the Byzantines) of guarding this “competitive advantage”.  Russia’s quest for open ports to the south framed much of Russian history certainly from Catherine the Great (who captured the Crimea from Muslims, thereby depriving the Ottoman armies of the best cavalry in the world) to Putin today.

Speaking of Russia (and the EU), Putin, when asked whether Russia would join the EU, reputinedly said, “The EU should join us”.  We hope to get more information on Turkey tomorrow.

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