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May 032013

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The melodic wail of the Azan, the call to prayer, pierces my jet-lagged sleep. “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!”God is great! God is great!, calls the amplified muezzin in a high tenor. Quickly following sings a second muezzin in a resonant baritone. Before the first begins his next phrase, a third chimes in, another tenor but with faster tempo. 
Somewhere more distant, a fourth Azan rings forth and maybe a fifth. I can’t tell. The melodious call to prayer reverberates along the dark, narrow streets and alleys of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s old city. The sounds echo off walls and buildings, rising to a glorious cacophony until each muezzin finishes in his turn and once again quiet rules the dawning day in Sultanahmet.


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I have returned to Turkey with a contract for a book from a Turkish publishing house. Seeing my previous work, an editor felt there was a place in their catalog for a book by an American photographer/writer that could reinforce the bridge between Western misconceptions and the reality of his dynamic country.

They’ve invited us for lunch today. Their office is somewhere in Asia, that is, the Asian side of the legendary Bosphorus dividing not just Istanbul, but Europe and Asia as well.



 Nothing like trying to do a photo shoot on a breezy day in a rocking boat at the entrance to the Bosporus Strait.



“Take a ferry from Eminönü to Üskudar, then a taxi to my office.”, wrote the editor. On the ferry, address in hand, we meet a kindly, English-speaking Turkish gentleman who takes us under his wing. “Don’t take a taxi. They’ll drive you around and cheat you.” He finds the right bus, even pays our fare, hands me his phone number saying, “Call me when you’re done and I’ll show you the fantastic view from Çamlıca Tepe.”

Following our course on googlemaps shows me where to get off but when I get to the location shown on the app, it’s not there. Quizzical gestures with the address to a passerby points me to the building two blocks away.

The meeting goes well. We’re shown warm, Turkish hospitality and the impressive variety and quality of books they publish. When finished, the editor calls our new friend and we agree to meet at the ferry. How can one pass up such serendipitous hospitality.

Weather has turned. It’s overcast, not an afternoon to photograph a spectacular, mountain-top view. He suggests a ferry ride through the Golden Horn, the body of water separating old Istanbul from the more cosmopolitan Beyoğlu district. First though, he takes us around Üskudar and introduces us to a friend of his who owns an historic kebab restaurant where we sample some wonderful fresh-baked bread.




After passing beneath the famous Galata Bridge, we zig-zag from shore to shore, dropping people off, picking others up. Dusk descends, a glorious sunset spreads behind the city silhouetting mosques and their minarets against a crimson fire. We take the funicular  to the top of the Pierre Loti cemetary where the lights of the Golden Horn are spread beneath us. Exhausted from the day, jet-lag and the cold, it is after-all, winter, our friend sees us off in Eminönü promising to meet another day for the view from the mountain.

Golden Horn Night Pano

The next day we spend wandering the streets of Sultanahmet and at Istanbul’s archeological museum where millennia of human habitation and creativity is on display.





The incredibly crafted Alexander Sarcophagus from the 5th century BCE. A masterpiece of ancient sculpture.

If there is one thing that dominates your awareness in Turkey, it is history. Vast expanses of human history pervade the Anatolian landscape. The Tigris and Euphrates, those rivers of legend that cradled civilization, have their source high in the mountains of Northeastern Turkey.



 A Seljuk mithrab from 1432, made twenty-one years before the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453.


The massive bulwark of the aspe on the exterior of the Hagia Sophia built by the Emperor Justinian I in 537 CE.


The remains of a Byzantine triumph arch, the starting point of the Via Egnetia. This Roman road led to the cities of Europe and was the point from which distances were measured.  4th century CE

Evidence of humanity extends back 65,000 years! Civilization though, doesn’t begin until the Neolithic, around 8,000 BCE, when mankind evolved from its hunter-gatherer lifestyle and learned to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. The Anatolian Peninsula, which makes up the 97% of Turkey not in Europe, is chock full of Neolithic sites.

The neolithic was only the beginning. Cities sprang up. Bronze replaced stone, iron replace bronze. Armies conquered. Empires grew. clashed and disappeared time after time over the thousands of years before the Greek roots of our civilization appeared.
The entire panoply of early civilization and much of the history of the past two millennia can be seen. So here, in two short days, I experience a summation of my book; the incredible warmth and hospitality of a Muslim culture firmly rooted in history.
Before I really get to work though, we’ll escape winter and head south to Israel, returning in a few weeks to southern Turkey where spring will have begun.

Copyright 2013 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Dec 052010

Istiklal Caddesi

Bidding our new friends goodbye, Yolanda and I set out on our own. We remain in Istanbul for a couple of days to decide how we’ll spend our final two weeks and are astounded that no hotel room is available in the city! We end up on the fifth floor of a hostel, ninety steps up, (I counted them), in Beyoğlu, Istanbul’s most fashionable area.

View of part of Beyoğlu from our rooftop terrace

Beyoğlu is a different world. The crowded, narrow streets below our rooftop terrace are wall to wall with restaurants and bars. It’s Friday and they bustle with life.

We enjoy a delicious, shrimp dinner at one of the hundreds of sidewalk cafes, people watching throughout the meal. Afterwards, unawares, we set out to explore the area, stumbling headlong into the teeming hoards promenading Istiklal.

Along one of the many narrow streets leading to Istiklal Caddesi

The cramped, café-lined alleys contrast dramatically with Istiklal Caddesi, Independence Avenue, probably the busiest walking street in the world. Istiklal is a broad, cosmopolitan avenue, several miles long. It is flanked wall to wall by architecture from older eras; Ottoman, Neo-Classical, Neo-gothic, Beaux-Arts and Art Noveau. Brightly lit, fashionable, stores, theaters, boutiques and restaurants line the street.

Istiklal is visited by as many as six million people over a weekend. I can believe it. Day or night, people throng it’s length. Night though, brings out the masses, a constant, unceasing, never slacking parade between the Galata Tower and Taksim Square. A quaint, iconic, historical tram plows daringly through the crowd, passengers hanging out its doors.

Things really don’t get started in Beyoğlu before nine and don’t stop until sometime around four or five in the morning. Music and conversation fills the streets. Amazingly, we sleep, waking only briefly to the loud, weekend festivities below.Istiklal Caddesi during the day

A fish monger displays today’s catch along one the narrow streets of Beyoğlu

I found this beautiful display of produce at one of the many narrow intersections in the maze of alleys

An outdoor cafe, crowded even early Sunday morning

A cobbler plying his trade near the Galata Tower

We decide to catch a plane to the northeastern city of Erzurum. The mountains to its north with their thousand year-old Georgian monasteries and churches beckon. The city lies at over 6,000 feet and happens to be at the foot of Mt. Palandöken, Turkey’s premiere ski area, though it’s to early for skiing.

The Atatürk memorial in Erzurum’s main intersection

The ornately decorated 14th century Seljuk mosque in Erzurum with it’s beautiful and unusual minaret

Even though Erzurum was an ancient stop on the Silk Road and contains over 320 cultural landmarks, it is quite modern with broad, tree-lined avenues and colorful apartment buildings. Atatürk University provides a youthful air. The streets are filled with students. We are approached several times by students wishing to help us and practice their English.

Something else that surprises me is the pedestrian crossing lights. They’re snowboarders! What fun! I also notice a huge ski jumping venue under construction close to the university. It seems that Erzurum is to host the 2011 Universiade, the winter university games, the winter “Olympics” for college students from around the world.Advertisements like this for the Universidade are embedded into the floor of the waiting room at Erzurum’s airport

The most enormous cabbages I’ve ever seen in my life!!!

I’m surprised that headscarves aren’t more in evidence. This is after all, eastern Turkey, a very traditional region. Two reasons may account for this: first, Erzurum is where Atatürk, in 1919, laid the foundations for national unity and a modern Turkey: second, the secular state Atatürk established, banned the wearing of headscarves in government buildings and universities.

Devout students wearing headscarves must remove them before entering the gates. This is a cause of much anger within the Muslim community and also denies government employment and an education to women who feel it their duty as a devout Muslim, to cover their heads. This issue was addressed through a referendum process that took place just prior to our arrival in Turkey but any changes have yet to be implemented.

The height of Islamic fashion displayed in a store window

Erzurum and the surrounding region have played a significant role throughout history. Not only was it main stop on the Silk Road, but archeologists have found evidence of occupation going back 8,000 years. The Erzurum museum has impressive displays of artifacts and pottery from prehistoric through Byzantine times. A side room displays a number of carvings and a beautiful, decorated bell from the Georgian churches we hope to visit in the mountain valleys.

An Eastern Anatolian, Transcaucasian Ceramic pot from around 2,000 BCE

Stone ornament from an ancient Georgian church

Detail of one of the Georgian bells

We spend two nights in Erzurum before heading north to the town of Yusefeli deep in the mountains of the northeast. I want to rent a car. That makes Yolanda nervous so we opt for a three-hour trip on a thirty-passenger bus, overcrowded with at least forty-five people

Taking a break in the mountains between Erzurum and Yusefeli

Once again, I’m surprised at the treeless slopes. Ancient, tectonic activity is obvious and everywhere. The mountains are a tortuous jumble of volcanic rock cut deeply by water-worn valleys. I meet a mountain guide on the bus who speaks excellent English. He describes his life guiding groups of trekkers from around the world. Not only does he guide in the Kaçkar Mountains with Kaçkar Dağı, the highest peak at 12,917 ft, but he also leads multi-day treks up Turkey’s most famous mountain, 16,854 foot, biblical Mt. Ararat, of Noah’s ark fame, ten miles from the Iranian border.

Our ultimate destination is Barhal, a tiny village the guidebook describes as a jumping off point for trekking, rafting, kayaking and hunting. Arriving in Yusefeli, we catch a minibus to Barhal. Bumping along the one lane, gravel road, barely attached to the mountain with precipitous drops to the river, Yolanda is terrified as the driver races to pass a car. Fortunately, this lasts only a few minutes and the driver slows to a reasonable speed for the rest of the hour and a half trip.

I swear, this must be the Garden of Eden. Lush orchards and terraced gardens rise steeply up the mountainsides and line the river. Every type of fruit, vegetable and nut grow in profusion. Perhaps this is the source of the enormous, seven-foot diameter cabbages we encountered in Erzurum.

These rich valleys have been occupied for thousands of years. Sadly, a dam is slated for construction in the next few years, shutting off this Eden and displacing the tens of thousands living in these spectacular, mountain valleys.

It’s getting dark as the van deposits us at Karakan Pension. The owner’s nephew puts our bags on a flying-fox type of contraption, bangs on the cable, and they disappear up the mountain into the dense foliage.  He guides us in the gathering gloom up a steep series of paths and stairways to the terrace of the farm/pension.Climbing even more steep flights from the terrace restaurant, we are shown a clean, sparse, perfectly adequate room. Dinner that evening is one of the best of our trip: fresh, organic vegetables, fruits, rice, delicious, grilled fish and baskets, overflowing with bread. Again, way too much food.Barhal. There were lots of newly constructed homes around the valley like the one in the center

Morning brings another huge breakfast and we’re off to explore. Adjacent to the pension is a deserted, thousand year-old Georgian monastery. Across the valley on a high ridge, the ruins of a small church sit stark against the sky. Here, finally, coniferous trees fill the mountainsides.

A farmhouse sits perched above the road in a magnificent setting

It’s a beautiful, late summer day. Yolanda and I spend hours walking the deserted roads, down one valley and up another. In the afternoon, we relax in the village and enjoy tea on a tiny veranda restaurant situated over a small brook. The owner insists on showing me the hunting licenses of people from around the world he’s guided along with photos of the animals they’ve bagged; a few bear and several ibex, one with horns so large they tower over the hunter standing beside his kill.A farmhouse typical of the region

The market in Barhal

The Barhal Skyline

Late in the day, even though tired, I’m determined to hike to the ruins high up on the ridge. The owner describes the path and I’m off.

The Karahan Pension with the 10th century monastery.

It’s steep, but the trail is obvious. The views get better the higher I go. The long, steep valley the pension is in comes into focus and is more populated than I realized. It is a bit disconcerting to run across fresh bear scat in the middle of the trail. I’m used to this at our cabin in Colorado and take my precautions but I am after all in Turkey, alone and way out there.Yup, bear scat all right. And it’s pretty fresh!

The ruins sit on a broad, cleared point at the conjunction of three valleys with 360-degree views. Higher mountains surround me. It has clouded up. Rain and lighting cross a range not unlike the Gore Range above Vail at home. The sun briefly breaks through, allowing me a few decent photographs. As it sets behind a peak, I descend in the gathering twilight to marvel at the opportunities I’ve been afforded.

Barhal is far below. Yusefeli is down the valley some twenty miles away. This is will all be covered with water when they build the dam.

In these remote, ancient mountains, surrounded by such deep, rich history, and so far from the intense bustle of one of the world’s most venerable cities, I recall the warm, selfless hospitality of the people we’ve met. I am so fortunate to have been able to dialog with people from such an age-old culture and whose religion is at the heart of the world’s conflicts.

What is evident is that, on a personal level, their hopes and aspirations for their much-beloved children and their country are no different than ours. They wish for peace, desire it intensely, that the succeeding generations, male and female, may grow up in a world that fosters their abilities and provides opportunities to achieve their human and spiritual potential.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Nov 272010

Checking out the gold in the Grand Bazaar

We have to beat feet to Ankara. Our plane leaves for Istanbul at nine and it’s a four hour drive from Cappodocia.

Unfortunately we arrive after dark in Turkey’s capitol city. I can’t see much. It appears from it’s highways, a very modern capitol. The freeway to the airport is broad, with bright, blue, neon displays every kilometer or so.

The airport itself, with its architecturally stunning and spacious, marbled public areas, is worthy of any capitol city in the world.

We arrive at the Sabiha Gokcen Airport south of Istanbul in Asia rather than Atatürk International on the west and in Europe. On the bus from the plane to the terminal I meet a Turk who speaks excellent English. He’s a colonel in the Turkish army and a graduate of West Point. We chat only briefly but after reading several book on Turkish politics I yearn for a real conversation to gain his unique perspective.

It takes another hour and a half to reach the Grand Anka Hotel where we will spend our last three nights. At this late hour the trip is long and uneventful other than crossing the beautiful Bosphorus Bridge as the tens of thousands of colored lights ringing its cables and superstructure put on an ever changing light show.

Our final days with the group, who is now more family than simply co-travelers, are spent meeting with various media, charitable and professional associations as well as exploring Istanbul’s famous bazaars.

Our first stop after breakfast, is Fatih University, an inter-faith college and the alma mater of Serkan’s wife, Nooran, who we finally meet. She needs to pickup some paperwork for their upcoming three-year sojourn in America.

Serkan and his lovely wife, Nooran

Mustafa Yücel of Fatih University

We meet with one of the administrators and, true to form, our erudite group peppers him with questions about education at the university level in Turkey and Fatih in particular. Fatih is a Gülen inspired institution and draws students from around the globe. I believe seventy-five countries are represented. Classes take place in English.  The university is young and only now providing graduate-level courses.

Our group at Fatih University with gifts, more books.

Our next stop is Zaman, one of Turkey’s leading newspapers and the only with an English language edition. Zaman’s modern building is architecturally interesting with a visually stunning interior atrium rising seven stories to an open skylight. Offices circle the brightly-lit interior while floor to ceiling windows allow a view into the bustle of the newsrooms.

The stunning interior of the Zaman building

Meeting with Karim Balcı, one of the editors

A view into a part of the newsroom, some with headscarves, some without.

Security measures at Zaman’s entrance

An interesting point that opened my eyes to the danger Al Qaeda poses beyond the U.S. we learned from our conversation with the editor: Because of Zaman’s stance as a moderate Islamic newspaper and its vocal condemnation of terrorism, the military recommended security measures be taken. Zaman’s building is now surrounded by high fences, cameras and guards; it’s underground parking protected from car bombs by moveable barriers.

In one of the main corridors of the Grand Bazaaar

Amazingly, we have a free afternoon to spend in the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. Several of us spend hours wandering the maze of over 4,000 shops lining the crowded, noisy corridors and narrow alleys of the ancient bazaar. Certainly it’s touristy, with trinkets and geegaws alongside finely-made leather jackets, quality silks, beautiful, hand-made carpets and exquisite fabrics.

The entrance to a shop in the section of the Grand Bazaar devoted to fabrics

If you can’t find it inside, then it’s likely sold in the warren of streets we encounter while trying to find the Spice Bazaar. Thousands more shops bustle with with activity; Turks here rather than tourists.

The two bazaars appear much closer on the map than in reality and after a few wrongs turns we stumble upon the entrance and unmistakable aromas of the Spice Bazaar. It is a delight to the senses, even more than its larger cousin. Elaborate displays of colorful spices, nuts and candies line the aisles, each stall competing for eyeballs and noses. Signs proclaiming “Iranian Saffron”… and “Turkish Viagra” vie for our attention.

One of my architectural clients in Vail told me I must look up a friend with a shop here. I find it without much trouble, opening its door, one of only a few stores with doors, and step from the noise and crowds into the quiet, lightly-scented interior. I find a store selling much higher quality merchandise than most.

I ask for Tahir but am introduced to his brother, Ibrahim, instead. Tahir is out of town, he tells me, visiting their family’s home town of Nigde! Nigde of all places!! The small town in central Anatolia where we received such an overwhelming reception only two nights before! Talk about coincidences.

Ibrahim invites us downstairs into a basement world of fine carpets, fabrics and clothes where, true to form, we share tea and customary Turkish hospitality.

Esra Tur at Kimse Yok Mu explains in excellent English some of the programs undertaken by the charity

Our last day together begins with a visit to a Gülen-inspired charity, Kimse Yok Mu, “Is anybody there?”, the name based upon a cry from a victim trapped in Turkey’s 1999 earthquake.

Afterward, we stop at Samanyolu, among Turkey’s highest-rated TV networks. Here, we are told, they strive to provide quality programming that is in some way uplifting or family oriented. As well, they over-dub popular shows from other countries including America. No gratuitous violence, certainly no profanity. A brief tour finds us in the kitchen of Yesil Elma, Turkey’s Emeril, just prior to broadcast.

A brief lesson in Turkish Cooking as Yesil Elma prepares for his show

Chef Casey and his eggplants

Yolanda can’t resist a photo with the chef

We receive a quick lesson in Turkish cooking from the gracious host while indulging our questions. Cem, our “assistant guide” from LA, phones his wife, a big fan, handing the phone to the chef. She is thrilled.

The dessert counter at Kanaat Lokantası in Üskadar

It’s now lunchtime. We’re in Asia and Serkan directs us to a restaurant owned by a friend in Üskadar, across the Bosphorus from the Golden Horn and Istanbul’s prime historical attractions. The restaurant has been around for ages and specializes in dishes from the Ottoman Era.

Feelie making a point to the owner, Serkan’s friend, Mehmet Ulutürk, during lunch.

During lunch, smoke rises from the upper floor of a bakery across the street. Fire has always been a severe threat in Istanbul due to the crowding of the wooden buildings, many, very old. The city has suffered huge conflagrations in the past.

Fire trucks arrive promptly, the smoke diminishes and all is well is Üskadar.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in Asia. We visit Bakiad, the Atlantic Association of Cultural Cooperation and Friendship, one of the sponsors of our trip and meet with Osman Baloglu, the General Secretary. Their mission statement reads: Our ultimate goal is to serve and maintain global peace and harmony by building bridges towards a long lasting friendship between the peoples of Turkey and North America, including transatlantic countries, through educational, social, art and cultural activities.

At Bakiad

I must say, and I believe I speak for the other members of our group, they achieved their goal with us. We have learned so much about Turkey’s history, people and culture. We have experienced unparalleled hospitality. We have engaged in deep, rewarding dialog, gained insights into Islam and it’s unique practice in Turkey’s culture, and I believe we also provided those we met with a tiny window into our culture, beliefs, values and lifestyle. Clearly, the goal of building bridges was achieved. We hope too, that lasting friendships were formed.

Meeting with Dr. Ahmet Atliğ at the Journalists and Writers Association

Our final meeting is with members of the journalist’s and writer’s association. Our group is ushered into a bright, spacious meeting room whose broad windows open to a lush, terraced garden. The de rigeur tea is served and our dialog with two, well-dressed gentlemen, one, a former Imam, both writers, begins.

Much of what is discussed focuses around their interest in ways to get the message of the moderate Gülen Movement out, especially to the US, and who to invite on these exchanges. Our ideas surround inviting Buddhists and Hindus; the smaller sects, in addition to those of the Abrahamic traditions; also, inviting artists, ministers of mega-churches and young people, so that they might live with an understanding of the warmth and love we experienced and that this understanding might influence their future.

Additionally, we talked about Wahabbism and the power it exerts over America’s perception of Islam. Succinctly, the former Imam described it in these terms: Taking a cup of tea he said, “This is tea and this is sugar. Sugar is spirituality. Tea needs sugar. When you take the sugar out of the tea, here, you have Wahabbism. No spirituality, just pure religion, dry knowledge.”

Later, in summing up the purpose of these cultural exchanges he cites a story about Rumi: “One day Rumi was asked the meaning of love. He struggled, but couldn’t define it. Instead, he said this: ‘I can’t express to you the meaning of love, just taste it.’. You came here, we’ve been to America and we tasted. Our duty is to say just taste it.”

Dusk is now descending. Still in Asia, Serkan has one last surprise. We find ourselves in a park, high above the Bosphorus, the colorful lights of Istanbul’s two famous bridges shine far to the west. A large, palace-like structure looms in the gathering twilight, floodlights playing across its ornate facade. We enter the high-ceilinged, tastefully, ostentatious rooms for our last dinner together. This is a restaurant few tourists would ever find.

Outside the Beltur Hıdiv Restaurant

Capping our meal as well as our trip, we each attempt to share our feelings about our time in Turkey, each other and especially our warm feelings toward Serkan. Little do we suspect that Serkan has a final surprise up his sleeve. Cem’s wife, Noor, joined us at lunch and spent the afternoon with us. It’s her birthday and Serkan has ordered a birthday cake complete with sparklers shooting into the air.

We all sing happy birthday and Noor is overcome with tears. Such a fitting ending to not only a wonderful day, but to an incredible journey filled with warmth and surprises.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Oct 062010

The entry to the European style Dolmabahche

I’m near exhaustion. Serkan, though, shows no signs of slacking. It’s been two days of intense touristing and after rising at 4:30 am, our group is on a plane bound for Izmir. Serkan, our guide, is the energizer bunny. His shiny pate matches his disposition. He exudes hospitality.

Serkan Yildirim

Yolanda and I are touring with eight others; Allan Grinnell and his wife Feelie Lee, both professors at UCLA: Frank Sanitate, a speaker on time management and his wife Terre, who works with interfaith groups: David Finkel, a retired judge and constitutional law professor and his wife Israeli-born, Bruria, an accomplished artist www.bruriafinkel.com:  Cem Eruyan, born in Turkey and now living in LA: and Casey Crosbie, the youngest of the group who grew up herding cattle on a ranch in South Dakota, now traveling the world. We are on a cultural exchange sponsored by California’s Pacifica Institute; a group of Turkish Americans seeking to build bridges of understanding between peoples. During an introductory dinner we learned that our proposed itinerary, along with our preconceptions about Turkish customs, could be thrown out the window.

We rise early the first morning for a typical Turkish breakfast of tea, bread, honey, olives, cheeses, tomatoes and cucumbers, and are to tour the Dolmabache Palace before the hoards of tourists arrive.

This is our first taste of Ottoman opulence. Built in the mid 1800’s it is an entirely European edifice: think Paris Opera. The palace is an enormous complex of lavishly decorated state and private rooms, 285 of them, set majestically along the Bosphorus. The Ceremonial Hall is an eye-boggling work of decadence. Its vast dome supports the largest crystal chandelier ever made, weighing 4.5 tons and containing 750 lights. Three thousand artists spent 3-4 years completing the gilt, faux marble and elaborate flourishes of this gigantic room alone. And yes, the Sultan mortgaged his empire to build this architectural masterpiece.

The small part of the south facade outside the Ceremonial Hall, facing the Bosphorus

In front of one of the opulent gates, the first of many group photos. Serkan, I and Yolanda, Alan and Feelie, Casey, Terre and Frank, Bruria and David. Cem’s taking the picture.

The Jewish Museum is next on the itinerary. 700 years ago, when the Spanish were driving out or forcibly converting Jews, the Ottoman Sultan welcomed them to his empire. Jews from around Europe and Russia found refuge over the centuries. A thriving community exists today. The museum, in a lovely, old synagogue, documents Jewish life in Ottoman and contemporary Istanbul. It is an eye-opening look at religious tolerance under Islam.

The interior of the old synagogue now the Karakoy Jewish Museum

Jews from around Europe sought refuge in Ottoman Turkey. The 1492 decree of Bayezed II in the upper right reads: “…the Jews of Spain should not be refused but rather be welcomed with warm feelings, and those who move against this decree and treat the immigrant bad or case any damage, however small it may be, shall be punished with death sentence…”. Referring to the king of Spain, the Sultan also stated: “You venture to call Ferdinand a wise ruler; he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!”

An afternoon of perfect weather calls for a tour on the Bosphorus. For several hours we cruise between Europe and Asia. High hills, covered with dense forests of trees and apartments, rise on both sides. Tiny, quaint harbors dot the coast.

We pass beneath the impressive Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges like San Francisco’s Golden Gate but for the elegant mosques, high, labyrinthine, stone walls of Byzantine fortresses and the fact that they connect the continents of Europe and Asia.

The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge

The Bosphorus Bridge

Afterwards, we want rest, but are to join a local family in their home for dinner. We also need to gather the gifts we’ve brought for them. But no, we’re late and traffic is terrible. Arriving around 8 pm, the family of four; father, an engineer, mother, a German teacher and their two beautiful daughters, fifteen and ten, show us true Turkish hospitality. Though they speak little English, we smile, laugh and share as Cem and Serkan translate. Loving-kindness abounds. Following Turkish custom, everyone in turn tells a little about themselves.

Vuslat and Hatice Aygun with daughters Zeynep and Zehra

Dinner then begins with a delicious, spicy, lentil soup and ends with sweet, sticky baklava and copious amounts of tea. It’s now 10:30. I’m very tired, others seriously jetlagged. Presents though, are a must before we leave. Each of us receives a heavy bag of five, beautiful books about Turkey and Turkish arts and crafts. We’re overwhelmed and feeling badly that we hadn’t the time to pick up flowers let alone our presents for them. As we leave, they load us even more with boxes of Lokum, Turkish Delight.

The next day begins early as well. We have to beat the hordes to the Topkapi Palace, for hundreds of years the traditional home, harem and administrative center of the Ottoman emperors.

A five or six hundred year-old fountain outside the Topkapi Palace

The Imperial Gate and main entrance to the Topkapi Palace

Entering the second courtyard of the palace through the Gate of Salutation

The Divanhane, where the Imperial Council met

Inside the Divanhane

A multitude of magnificent marble buildings, each beautifully decorated with elaborate carvings and elegant, Arabic calligraphy, are spread along a hill overlooking the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The kitchens prepared as many as 6,000 meals a day!

The hordes lining up to get into the rooms displaying the crown jewels

A map showing the extent of the Ottoman Empire at its peak

Here lie the crown jewels of Turkey. Displays of magnificent, emerald, ruby and diamond-encrusted golden chalices, swords, jewelry, dinnerware, and toiletry sets line hall after hall. A highlight, the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, is an eighty-six carat monster the size of a small egg set in silver and surrounded by forty-nine multi-carat diamonds.

Grilled kebap served on a plank with a view of the Sea of Marmara

A vendor makes me a candy on a stick

Weaving a rug in a Sultanahmet store window

The immense interior of the 1,700 year-old Aya Sophia

For over 1,000 years, the Aya Sophia was a church. Converted into a mosque after conquest by the Ottomans in 1453, the beautiful mosaics were covered over. Islam does not permit humans or animals to be depicted in a mosque. These have recently been uncovered.

The afternoon and evening become a blur of too much good food, impressive ancient sights like the Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque,  the 1,500 year-0ld Aya Sophia, and exhaustion. Getting to bed too late again, I don’t fancy the 4:30 wake up call. Ephesus though, south of Izmir, where St. Paul preached, beckons.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Sep 302010


Like its famous Dervishes, Turkey is a whirlwind of culture, history, people and color. It is at once ancient and modern, traditional and sophisticated, religious and secular. A land of contrasts united under one religion, Islam, with a history reaching back to the dawn of civilization.

Istanbul, Turkey’s greatest city, is our introduction into the country’s deep, fascinating history and famous hospitality. It is a bustling megalopolis of 17 million. My first impression is of a clean, modern, city of broad avenues, low hills and a skyline punctuated with the needle-like minarets of numerous mosques rising out of the surrounding masses of multi-level apartment buildings.

Looking east toward the Bosphorus and the Bosphorus Bridge from the Topkapi Palace

Along the Golden Horn

The highway runs east along the north shore of the Sea of Marmara. This broad sea, along with the Bosphorus, separates Europe from Asia as well as dividing Istanbul. The narrows of the Bosphorus, leading to the Black Sea lie in front of us. A broad, tree-lined park with recreation path extends for miles along the shore leading us to Sultanamet, the age-old quarter of Istanbul.

Turning off the highway, we pass through Istanbul’s 1,700 year-old Byzantine walls into a maze of crooked streets lined with restaurants. Men, appearing as timeless as the walls, sit in groups around low tables smoking nargiles, the classic Turkish water pipe.

The timeless lobby of the Turkuaz Hotel in Sultanahmet

Our driver deposits us in front of an Ottoman mansion from the mid-nineteenth century, the Turkuaz Hotel, appropriately painted bright turquoise. Walking down a level through a cool, tree-shaded courtyard, Yolanda and I enter the lobby, stepping into another. Here we find the esthetic of exotic Turkey; marble floors, walls tiled in colorful, geometric designs, dark, wooden pillars supporting a low paneled ceiling, pillowed benches lining the walls. Ottoman lamps, like large jewels, hang from the ceiling.

Marilena, the manager, speaking lightly accented English, shows us to our room, The Sultan’s Room. It is beautiful in its decadent thick, velvet drapes and crystal chandelier. Though not a large or expensive room, it is richly appointed with frou-frou chairs, lamps, dark-wood cabinets and a curtained window seat which Yolanda immediately usurps for a jetlag induced nap.

Our room, The Sultan’s Room

Two delicious hours later, we are awakened by the first, of what will become innumerable Ezans, the calling of the faithful to late afternoon prayer. Rising and washing, we set out for some sight seeing and later dinner at a nearby restaurant Maria recommends.

A vendor sells pomegranate juice outside the Aya Sophia, built almost two millenia ago.

The enormous interior of the ancient Aya Sophia built first as a church in 537 CE converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. They are just now uncovering the angels in the corners and other beautiful, Christian mosaics after hundreds of years. Islam does not permit the depiction of humans or animals in their mosques.

Tahiri Cesme, meaning historical fountain, is a find. The street-side tables beneath the shade of a broad grape arbor quickly fill with tourists and Istanbulus alike. The restaurant’s namesake fountain sits beside the street while an ancient, Byzantine wall forms a backdrop.

The Tahiri Cesme restaurant

Perhaps ten different Meze, Turkish appetizers, are brought on a tray. We pick a spicy eggplant dish and another of a yogurt-based sauce similar to Greek tzatziki. A scrumptious, flat bread puffed and piping hot from the oven appears and we begin our first meal of renowned Turkish cuisine: chicken kabap for $6 and the house special lamb kabap for $8.

Traffic flows sporadically along the cobbles of the ancient, narrow street barely wide enough for two cars. The occasional truck or bus stops to negotiate the sharp corner, clogging traffic and causing honking and much entertaining arguing. As night descends, we finish our meal with the traditional, small, glass cups of hot Turkish tea and head up the winding street to the old, Roman Hippodrome and Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque.

A few of the 336 columns of the labyrinthine Byzantine cistern built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in 532 CE, filled in over the centuries ago and discovered in 1545. Fish still swim in the waters.

The Romans recycled columns of various styles from earlier periods for the cistern. Here, a sideways Medusa capitol serves as a base. After all, everything was going to be underwater. No need to pay attention to style.

The long, narrow, well-lit plaza of what had been the city’s chariot racetrack two millennia ago, is quiet. A few couples stroll between the monuments. An ice cream vendor fills an infrequent cone. Men, sitting among large pillows along the thousand-year old walls talk quietly, drawing an occasional breath of pungent tobacco from a large nargile.

Meandering along, we find ourselves in the entry courtyard to Istanbul’s largest and most famous mosque. The Blue Mosque or in reality, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque built by the sultan in 1616, is a sublime structure. Six elegant minarets rise high above the multiple domes, dramatically lit against the night sky.

The quiet, exterior courtyard of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque with four of its minarets.

The sacred silence is punctuated occasionally by the click of high heels on stones. Several tourists murmur in a far corner. The occasional shutter clicks. Suddenly, the Ezan, the call to prayer, explodes in the courtyard; one long, loud, unbroken phrase: Allahu Ekber-Allahu Ekber-God is great-God is great.

It is spine tingling! Then the night turns magical as the Ezan is echoed from a distant mosque. The two Muezzin trade phrases back and forth until once again, silence reins over the ancient city. We could not have had a more beautiful and appropriate introduction to Istanbul.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging