Remember Ancient History class? All those facts about 100 BC, or 400 AD or the Greeks, Romans and Constantinople? Just thinking about it puts you to sleep, right? Me too, except I woke up real quick when I recently spent 2 weeks in Turkey walking around the ancient sites, on which a cornucopia of peoples, from civilizations past, have tread.
Take the Hagia Sophia mosque for example. Built in 4 years, this enormous mosque, filled with tiled mosaics, can hold the Cathedral of Notre Dame inside its immense walls. They even built cobblestone ramps inside so that horses could reach the second floor! If you feel small when you look out over the Grand Canyon, try tilting your head skyward in Hagia Sophia. Your neck will ache from looking upward for so long.
From one of the windows on the second floor of Hagia Sophia, I spied the mosque rooftops of both Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque). I’ll show more images of The Blue Mosque in another post but for now, I wanted you to get the feeling of mosque rooftops doting the sky in Istanbul and other cities and smaller towns all over Turkey. Five times a day the people are called to prayer and reminded that Allah is the one and is with them always. While men and women pray in different sections of the mosque, they can be found inside mosques at any time of day. The first call to prayer was around 4:45 a.m. and the last around 8:30 p.m. I came to appreciate and welcome, the shivering chant that echoed out via microphone.
As we learned about the deep history of Turkey and I talked with local people, I began to get a sense of how intricately they are rooted with the land/history there. They know where they came from. With my “merhaba” (hello) or my ‘luften photo’ (please – photo), I came to venture forth and communicate with them. While many people speak some English in the cities, that was not always the case in the smaller villages.
When words failed between us, body language became useful. Most men welcomed the camera but more women said ‘no.’ I came to learn that it was a cultural difference of which Islam has its influence over. Nonetheless, you will see in future posts that I had lots of fun with the people, especially in the smaller towns!
Very early in our tour, I came to understand the role that religion has played in Turkey’s history. From the Christian times of the Constantinople Empire and the walled city of Istanbul, to the breach in the wall by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and the rule of Islam, many of the mosques were churches and vice a versa. In one Turkish Antiquities museum we saw Qur’ans that must have taken two people to open, to tiny pocket versions, where the man who did the writing went blind after working with such small print.
The Chora Church Museum is one such ancient building that has changed hands over time. The gorgeous mosaic tiles that depict the Christian story of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus where whitewashed over with plaster when the Turks came into Istanbul. Over time it was discovered what was underneath the falling plaster and history simply revealed itself! I was humbled by all of this history of empires, religion, and architecture. In that land of history, I would think its good to know where you come from.