25 November 2009

When All Else Fails

Tell a story. I was i n the middle of a pilgrimage to Istanbul a few weeks ago, and then news and life and stuff all came along. Now it is the day before Thanksgiving, and while I could rant at the weird transformation of Ben Stein into the a shill for the ranting right, I will instead return to that more entertaining saga of Fred in Istanbul.

Besides, there are pictures to share. So where was I?

Evading my first rug merchant by slipping out of the Blue Mosque by the side door and exploring the old circus maximus and Museum of Islamic Art and Culture. There were lots of exhibits and it was not crowded, so I could linger over things like these carpets and Qur'ans, set in a room that was once the audience hall for Ibrahim Pasha, the grand vizier of the Sultan.

On my way out of the Museums there was, in a hall opposite the main entrance, a special exhibit on the confluence of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, titled "Plurality in Unity," and brought objects from all three culture together. Not large, and not heavily trafficked, the selections were not only religious but medical, cartographic, and artistic. Lables were uneven, but each showed the influence of one of the other faiths in how it was decorated or what it depicted. I wish there was a website I could point to, but sadly no.

Next I made my way through the narrow streets of the Sultanahmet quarter to two other mosques off the beaten track. My aim was to encircle the neighborhood and arrive back at the great Ayasofya in the mid afternoon. The two mosques along the way were worth visiting, but the walk to them was every bit as engaging.

The first was, like so many mosques, built by a benefactor. called the Sokullo Mehmet Pasha. Photos were forbidden, but its claim to fame is that three small (olive sized) fragments of the Kaaba from Mecca are enbedded in the inner side of the entry door. Barring my conversion to Islam and thence making the Hajj, it is as close to the Kaaba as I am ever going to get. (Only Muslims are allowed in Mecca.)

I did, however, take this picture of the cemetery near the outer wall. As you can tell, the abandoned washing machine tells you this is not an official museum but a working mosque in a poor neighborhood.

Like most mosques, it was enclosed in a courtyard created by a madrasa, school, in the center of which was a fountain for washing hands and feet prior to making salaat. I could not help but notice how the architecture of the fountain, very typical, migrated west and become the pattern for kiosks of all kinds, but especially those in parks. It could easily be an ice cream stand or ticket booth in an old fashioned amusement park. Evidence of Victorian interest in 'the exotic east' due to its colonial network, it was later adopted by America which aped all things British as it tried to look more sophisticated in the world.
Outside the mosque, which was enclosed in a larger wall that took in the cemetery as well, I walked down a hill, pausing to gaze at ships in the harbor again. Now that I live in the heartland I treasure seeing the sea. And as I have noted before, how full the harbor was with ships waiting to make their way up the Bosphoros toward Russia.

Down the hill, surrounded by the warrens of narrow old streets, I was struck again and again by the immediacy of people and poverty.

Clotheslines hung from sagging balconies strung across narrow streets. Children were all about, and their mothers in windows or doorways but not on the streets. Old men occasionally walked by, and it was possible to think that the rhythms of life here were not far removed from a century or more ago.

But right next door was a new house, in the old style, and right next to that a burnt shell of a house. Compact trucks wobbled down the streets now and then, and satellite dishes were lashed to roofs and eaves wherever they might fit.

1 comment:

sultanahmet said...

Sultanahmet is a delightful place.