Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Market
This was a true Istanbul tourist's day! We started off with a visit to Hagia Sophia, which is a truly magnificent museum. Once a Byzanine Cathedral, then an Ottoman Empire mosque, it is quite a testament to interfaith co-existence. While the Muslims took it over after the Byzantine Christians, they did not destroy the Christian art. They simply plastered over it to make the space work for Muslim worship (which does not allow for any images of God or saints or the like.) Now both the Christian and Muslim religious symbols are visible - Christian mosaics alongside Muslim calligraphy with phrases from the Qur'an and Hadiths. It is truly a unique building to visit, steeped in centuries of both Christian and Muslim spirituality.
Then we crossed the street to visit the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is a magnificent structure, very reminiscent (for good reason!) of Byzantine Church architecture. Our three Muslims prayed while we were there, while the rest of us simply soaked up the prayerful atmosphere of the Mosque and took time for our own meditation.
THen we enjoyed lunch in a lovely cafe, with a rooftop seating area which accommodated our crowd quite well. After lunch we hit the Grand Bazaar, and that is truly an experience! I set off with my co-mentor in the EFM group at St. Paul's and we bargained hard for scarves, both for our group and for our own personal purposes. Neither of us particularly care for bargaining, but we got a very gentle shopkeeper, who schooled us in the art of bargaining. We actually did quite well, all things considered! The Grand Bazaar is about a 15 minute walk from our hotel, but we took a few detours (??) on the way back and got to our hotel just minutes before the group was leaving for a boat ride on the Bosporus.
The boat ride was terrific. We were the only ones on the boat, and our guide was a young, 24 year old boy from Anatolia, who moved to the big city to try to make a living and taught himself English so he could do these boat tours. He was very, very sweet and amazingly helpful and well meaning. We had a wonderful time talking to him and finding out about his life in Turkey and his views of world events. This was one of those times when you really appreciate the excitement of traveling to foreign lands and speaking with people from widely differing backgrounds. The city was spectacular to view from the water and as the sun set and the lights came on it was truly magical. And I've spent a lot of time on boats in New York Harbor, and I'm here to attest that Istanbul has New York beat hands down in terms of volume of traffic through the harbor. Istanbul is truly a wonderful, exciting, sophisticated, trendy, "happening" city. I hope to spend much more time here in the coming years.
The news here has been full of reports about the confrontation between the Israelis and the human rights activists on Turkish vessels that were stormed upon by the IDF and on which some number of activists lost their lives. It has been hard for us to watch these unfolding events, having just left Israel. Unfortunately, as I listen to the news reports on the BBC, I must say I sympathize and empathize with those condemning Israel for its overreaction and excessive use of force. Once again, I see the bunker mentality at work, where they try to justify everything as if they were the victims, the ones being attacked and they are merely defending themselves, It is simply not true now and hasn't been true in the past when they've tried to claim self defense. I wonder if the strong international sentiment against their aggressive response will do anything at all to make them think twice about how they handle such situations. I fear it won't make a difference and I despair that the United States stays silent in the face of this incident, once again giving at least tacit approval to this bullying, over-reactive Israeli action. Many of our party have gotten e-mails from home worrying about us, but I am here to say that while demonstrations are happening in Istanbul, we have not seen any evidence of those demonstrations. They are happening by the Israeli consulate, and are not widespread around the city. The disgust and dispproval of Israel's actions, however, is being voiced all over the place.
Now its off to our last dinner on the rooftop overlooking the Blue Mosque and then pack for a very early departure tomorrow. By tomorrow evening, I will be back in Rochester.