I recently revisited Turkey, the first time in more than 20 years. I have traveled a lot and I would add Turkey to my list of favorite countries. Nowhere, I think, can you find the level of history along with such momentous new construction that you get in Turkey. From ancient Hittite ruins to the airline with the most reach on the planet. From incredible agriculture that feeds much of Europe to luxury cruises for the lucky few, Turkey can be all things.
Istanbul is beautiful, old, new, growing, or rather, bursting. I was surprised at how little hassle I got in the touristy areas (some to be sure) and how lovely the Turkish people are.
How to describe the history, the impact of God, the desire for power, and the quest for knowledge that Istanbul represents. The architecture of the Hippodrome, a place that saw sport, success and huge amounts of blood covers centuries of ancient history. According to records Justinian had 40,000 people slaughtered there that is one way that we know the sheer scale of the place. The Haghia Sophia held so many secrets and our guide let us in to many of them.
Istanbul is a city with so many stories that it would take years to hear them all but there would never be a dull moment. Topkapi Palace was courtyard after courtyard of passageways, stunning tile, fountains, eunchs quarters, gardens, glass, and at one time porcelain, books and silk. If one can ignore the thousands of tourists, Americans, Germans, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish, posing like smirking statues for their cameras, then one can envision how sumptuous life must have been. There were murders, intrigue, scandals galore, but then again, Western Europe in the 12th to 19th centuries wasn’t a cakewalk either. Plenty of heads on spikes in both places.
While not as ornately decorated, at least in the way that Western Europeans and Americans are used to, some of the 16th century Mosques exhibit interesting architecture, colorful tiles and old traditions. Shoes off, headscarves on, the mosque feels slightly less formal than a basilica or cathedral. The niche toward Mecca, which is mostly accurate, sits slightly off center while the stairs to the Mithrab seem like a pathway to a religious throne. Shops on the first level pay for the upkeep of the mosque.
A true melting pot, Istanbul still has a vibrant Jewish, Orthodox, as well as Muslim population and they by and large tolerate each other. And they tolerate their city dogs too. A campaign to limit the wild dog population has done very well. Turkey sterilizes the dogs and the Turks feed them. In a city with wildly unnerving traffic, I didn’t see one dog lying dead by the side of the road or even injured. They cross the streets in the crosswalks with the pedestrians (yes I actually saw this). Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? But whether it is errant humans or cunning canines, Istanbul is a city that doesn’t yet accept, but accommodates.