Review of Not Constantinople

Have you read Not Constantinople yet?The story in Not Constantinople follows a young American couple who come to Istanbul planning to work for a few years, save money and then go back home to buy a house. Fred and Virginia’s dream comes to an abrupt halt when they return to their rented Istanbul apartment one night to find a family of Greek squatters have moved in. Due to an anomaly in Turkish law they’re claiming ownership of the property, and Fred and Virginia, the paying tenants, are unable to evict them. What follows is a tense stand-off that evolves into an uneasy alliance.

I found Not Constantinople an unsatisfying read partly because the main character is an immature and half-formed boy/man who isn’t that likeable. He lives on the edge of other people’s lives and it’s almost as if he hopes a stint somewhere ‘other’ will fill in the blanks of his personality. Virginia, like most of the women in the novel, is incompletely written and quite two-dimensional.

Istanbul is the backdrop to their story, based on carefully selected places, people and moments in time. The European side of the city features heavily, home to foreigners who prefer to experience Turkey with a Western flavour. Most of the Turks Fred and Virginia meet are American educated wealthy hipsters who like to dabble in the dark side of city life by attending gypsy gatherings while remaining safe in the arms of family money. Mention is made of the 2013 Gezi Park protests, but here they are a form of initiation for young expat men fighting for democracy armed with and protected by their foreign passports, in a kind of Boys’ Own adventure story.

Unfortunately, Not Constantinople adheres to the myth of Istanbul as an exotic city in which everyone speaks a version of English and daily life fits into a recognisable Western paradigm. The author, Nicholas Bredie, wants us to believe the city is seductive and glistening but never really backs this up with scenes in the book. He tries to ramp up the notion of the city as a strange and somewhat primitive foreign place by using literal translations of local neighbourhoods so that it reads a little like a fairy tale. The aim is for the reader think of the city as somehow alien and unknowable but it comes across as bland and mundane.

Had the author taken the time to explore just what makes Istanbul so alluringly different through better developed versions of Fred and Virginia, and written that into the pages, Not Constantinople would have been a more compelling read. As it is, the flow of the story isn’t helped by the insertion of an unfinished script intertwined with their experiences. The people in these scenes are half described and the scenes they play out confuse, rather than add to the main story.

Although it won’t join my list of favourite books set in Istanbul, Not Constantinople is far from the worst book I’ve ever read and I’m curious to know what others make of it. If you want to be one of the first to comment, click here to buy a copy of Not Constantinople by Nicholas Bredie, and then let me know your thoughts.

 

Title: Not Constantinople
Publisher: Dzanc Books
Date: June, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-941088-75-3

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Aşure – Noah’s Ark Pudding

Have you tried the asure at Saray Muhabellicisi?

For a Turkish person, not having enough food to eat is as unthinkable as not being able to breathe. So imagine Noah’s delight when the ark finally came to rest near Ararat in eastern Turkey after the great flood, in finding enough leftovers to create the gourmet delight known as aşure. Also called Noah’s Ark Pudding, it’s made from a combination of chickpeas, walnuts, apricots, barley and sultanas. I first came across aşure more years ago than I can remember. After only one spoonful of this mix which resembles congee in texture, I was hooked on the combination of healthy grains mixed with dried fruit.

Much as I love it, even I have my limits as to how much of it I can eat. When I lived in Kayseri, in central Anatolia, in 2002 I worked at a large government university. Everyday I’d eat lunch at the yemekhane, or dining hall, with my husband and colleagues. The menu changed every week and one day I was excited to see they had aşure on the menu. When I told my colleagues how much I loved it they offered to bring me some. By the end of the week I had five enormous jars full of aşure. There was so much we started to give it away to our neighbours rather than see it go to waste.

Luckily we didn’t have any children, because we might have got more than we bargained for with each gift of aşure. In the past, Turkish women with marriageable daughters made Noah’s Ark Pudding in spring and then sent the girls out to give it to neighbours with unmarried sons. It was an unspoken form of matchmaking everyone knew about but never mentioned.

Aşure also has an important place in religious history. In the 17th century, the great Muslim traveller Evliya Çelebi observed that it was always cooked on the 10th day of the Muslim month Muharrem, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar. In Islam it honours the prophet Moses, and it is a special day of observance in Shia Islam. In addition, members of the Alevi sect cook and share aşure after fasting and abstaining from eating meat in commemoration of the Battle of Karbala. On this 10th day of Muharrem in 680AD, their leader Mohammed’s grandson Hussein ibn Ali and his followers, were murdered.

Have you heard of the famous traveller, Evliya Çelebi?Known as The Day of Aşure, this date also figures in both non- and pre-Islamic beliefs. In early Christianity it’s connected to the idea that Adam was accepted by God because he repented. In Judaism it’s related to the story that the sea was divided because the nation of Israel was delivered from captivity and Pharaoh’s army was destroyed. Then there’s the name, which celebrates the belief that Noah’s Ark survived this great flood.

More generally, aşure is considered an offering of peace, safety, and spiritual nourishment. In a table of desserts rich in dairy products, aşure is one of the few Turkish puddings that contains no animal products. Consequently, it’s suggested that serving aşure is a statement against violence and bloodshed.

Whatever its origins, aşure is delicious. I’d like to eat it more often than I do, but I have to confess I’m a much better eater than I am a cook. I don’t have the patience for recipes with more than five components and I read once that each aşure ingredient has to be added separately and carefully stirred round to ensure the resulting mix is clear in colour, not murky or grey. The home cooked version is the best, and I can highly recommend Ozlem Warren’s recipe if you want to make it for yourself. Get cooking!

You can find more information about holy days in Turkey here.

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Istanbul Apps & websites – useful ways to navigate the city

Don't get lost - use one of these great Istanbul apps!Getting to know Istanbul can be overwhelming. It’s a huge city, inhabited by people from all over the country and the world, with diverse neighbourhoods, confusing street layouts and a language most foreigners find hard to master, at least at first. Feeling at home and comfortable in your everyday life can take some time, so I decided to come up with a list of useful Istanbul apps to help speed up the process. Some are available for free while others you have to pay for.

Food

You'll never go hungry with Yemek SepetiTurkish food is wonderful, there’s no doubt about it, but you don’t always want to have to go out to eat. After a long day at work, when the weather is bad or you just don’t feel like cooking, Yemeksepeti is just what you need. You can order from your favourite restaurant or tempt your tastebuds by searching by food type. Best of all, you can pay on delivery.

 

Language & communication

Getting beyond the basics in Turkish can be hard work. It’s stressful wondering if you’re getting the words right, especially when it’s essential you do so. That’s where Seslisozluk comes in handy.

Use this great Istanbul App to stay connected, wherever you go.

 

These days, going anywhere without an internet connection is as likely as going out naked. When you first arrive in the city RentConnect is a good way to go. You can choose a package that suits you and have it delivered to your hotel. This gives you the time to roam wherever you want and always stay in touch.

 

Another useful way to get around Istanbul!

Making sense of Istanbul’s transport routes is a life time undertaking. Luckily there are a number of useful apps to make it easy to get from A to B, leaving you free to do other things. For those who prefer taxis, Bitaksi lets you book online, track its progress and pay by card.

Once you’re more familiar with your surroundings, you’ll know that public transport is fast, efficient and cheap. Navigating the Metro, Metrobuses and ferries is quite easy, but the buses are more challenging.

However, even with the most basic Turkish, you’ll find the IETT app really helpful. It not only has the bus numbers, but route maps and bus stop names too. What I love is that you can see which buses intersect at particular stops, giving you a much wider network of buses to use.

As any local will tell you, Istanbul doesn’t have a peak hour, it’s peak all day long. Knowing all the different ways of getting where you want to go is vital if you don’t want to be stuck in traffic forever.

An Istanbul App that keeps you in the loop.That’s where Trafi comes into play. Although only in Turkish, this easy to use site lists all forms of transport in Istanbul including a comprehensive list of all the minibus and dolmuş services across the city. You can learn the routes, frequency, and last daily services of whichever form of transport you plan to take, making this site one of the best I’ve seen.

 

 

 

 

Free time

After all the hard work of settling in is over, it’s time to go and explore the city. Check out the latest talent on the streets of Istanbul.Discover a hidden Istanbul on these state of the art audio walking tours!These audio guides show you where to view some of the best street art , discover Kadikoy’s multicultural past, and see Galata through a camera lens. They’re a great way to experience the city.

 

I hope these Istanbul apps and websites help you get the most out of your time in the city. If you know of any other handy links, let me know by writing the information in the comments section below.

Iyi geziyor!

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Yerebatan Basilica Cistern

Do you know how many columns there are?It’s hard to believe now, but the Yerebatan Basilica Cistern, once the major water supply of Constantinople, was lost to Istanbul until the 16th century. As recorded by Ogier de Busbecq, a visitor to the city heard rumours of locals fishing from their basements and went to see. The visitor, French scholar Petrius Phyllius, found an underground cavern dating back to the 6th century, full of rubbish, detritus and corpses.

The first time I visited the cistern, I had a mammoth hangover. It was 1990 and just before the Gulf War started. I’d spent the previous night discussing the state of the world while drinking Black Sea brandy with other travellers. At £1 a bottle, we finished way more than one.

Undeterred I let the energy of Istanbul revive me and headed to the small ramshackle hut that served as an entrance to the cistern back then. Its modest appearance did nothing to prepare me for the eerie space below. 336 columns formed seemingly endless rows of stone, casting rippling shadows into a space that once held nearly 100,000 tons of water. Even though the water level was only a few inches and the space crowded with other people, the atmosphere was striking. There was no sound and light show then as is today, and in the silence I realised there was no echo. No sound at all.

Beware the wrath of Medusa.I followed the mossy stone paths to the far walls and gazed upon the two snake-covered heads of Medusa, one laying sideways and the other upside down. In Greek mythology Medusa was one of three Gorgon monsters, and the only one who was human. She was killed by Perseus who cut off her head. No one’s certain where these heads came from and why they aren’t displayed upright, but one theory is that the Christians placed pagan heads upside down to affirm their own faith.

A visit to the Yerebatan Basilica Cistern should definitely be on your list of things to see when you come to Istanbul. It will never cease to astound.

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Turkish e-visas and residence permits – the basics

Come explore the city of Istanbul!

E-visa – for tourist purposes

Most people, when they come to Turkey for a short holiday, will need an e-visa. Once you know you should get one, go to the official Turkish government website and enter your details. Here’s the link to the official government website.

You’ll need to have your passport handy, and make sure you enter all your details correctly. If your passport expires less than 6 months after you plan to enter Turkey, you won’t be given an e-visa. It’s a pretty straightforward process so I think it’s a waste of money pay an agent to do it for you, unless you really have trouble with computers.

Once your payment has been processed and you receive your e-visa by email, download it onto your phone or laptop. By law you should always carry your passport and a printout of your e-visa with you at all times, but this has been overlooked in the past. Now, under the current state of emergency laws in Turkey*, you will be fined if you can’t produce your passport and the e-visa printout when asked.
Remember, the days of popping over to a Greek island and getting a new e-visa to stay in Turkey are long gone. You’ll need to stick to the terms of your e-visa, or be prepared to face fines and possible a ban if you overstay for a very long time.

Residence Permits (ikamet) – for people planning to live in Turkey

Most people arrive in Turkey on an e-visa, and then apply for a residence permit or ikamet so they can stay longer. If you arrive on a 90/180 e-visa, you must make an appointment before you’ve been in Turkey for 90 days. That way, if your residence permit appointment falls after that time, you’re legal to stay in Turkey until your appointment. In Istanbul in particular there are delays of several months in getting an appointment.

Here’s the link to the official government website. You can only make an application once you’re in Turkey. The site comes in Turkish, English and several other languages, and there’s detailed information about the paperwork you need to submit. Be aware that there can be delays and technical difficulties when using the site. If you’re having trouble ring 157 and talk with an English speaking advisor who will try to help you with any problems.

Your passport must be valid for the length of the residence permit you want. So if you want a two-year permit but only have one year left on your passport, you’ll only get a one-year residence permit. The amount you pay for your permit will depend on the number of months you want and the country you are from. There are agents around who can help with the process of making your computer application. Depending on your level of computer skills and their fees, some people choose get help in this step of the process. However an agent can’t help get you an appointment if you’ve been in Turkey longer than 90 days or need to get an early appointment because you have to leave the country.

Until you have had your appointment, submitted all your supporting documents and paid the fees, you are not allowed to leave Turkey. If you have to leave unexpectedly you’ll be considered to have overstayed and be fined accordingly.

This is just a general guide on how to visit and stay in Turkey legally. There are numerous expat groups on Facebook and the internet you can join for more detailed information. Enjoy your stay!

 

*correct as of 2.9.17

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Kemal Sunal – Turkey’s best loved fool

Kemal Sunal - Turkey's favourite clown

Even if you don’t know the name of the actor with the elastic face who played the bumbling character of Şaban (Turkish for bumpkin or clot), the simple villager from a poor background, in numerous films in Turkey during the 1970s and 1980s, the face is instantly recognisable. It belongs to Kemal Sunal. Born in Istanbul on the 11th of November in 1944, Sunal started getting minor roles in the theatre soon after he graduated from Vefa Lisesi (Vefa High School). He worked at a number of council and state run theatres before his talent was noticed and he starred in his first film, directed by Ertem Eğilmez.

Kemal Sunal in Salako

Over the years he appeared on screen in many notable parts in movies such as Çöpçüler Kralı, where he played a garbage collector who falls in love with a municipality officer’s fiancee, and in Doktor Civanım, in which he was a former hospital janitor who pretends to be a doctor when he returns to his home village. However the most famous of all his roles would have to be that of Şaban in Hababam Sınıfı (The Outrageous Class). Although his name is simply Şaban, most of his class mates call him inek (cow) Şaban. In the film İnek Şaban was constantly bullied and humiliated by his friends, but this never kept him from thinking the unthinkable, like digging a tunnel to escape from the school grounds, which ultimately led to the vice-principal’s office) or smoking in the school attic.

Kemal Sunal in his most famous role as Saban

Most of his films were billed as comedies and they were and continue to be, enormously popular. However it is not just the hilarity they induce, but the fact they addressed many of the problems faced by the urban poor in Turkey during the 1970s and 1980s. In almost all of his films, Kemal Sunal plays a poor man, trying to make something of himself. Even today his character in films and the sayings he uses reflect the problems Turkish people and the country face.

People who knew Kemal Sunal commented on how serious he was in real life, in contrast to the comic roles he played in his films. When he was at the peak of his career, he decided to finish university, a dream that had been disrupted in 1980 by the military coup. Despite his fame, he attended the university like a regular student and stated “that was the way he liked it to be”. He was awarded a Bachelor Degree in Radio Television and Cinema Studies from Marmara University in 1995 and then decided to pursue a Masters degree at the same university. When he completed a thesis on himself as an actor in 1998, the media covered his graduation with headlines like “İnek Şaban Master Yaptı” (Şaban the Bumpkin Awarded a Masters Degree). They also included comments from his Hababam Sinifi classmates such as Profesorluk Bekliyoruz (We expect full professorship). At the ceremony, Sunal made a speech where he joked that his path of working first and attending university later in life was better as it allowed people to gain real life experience earlier.

Kemal Sunal’s last film, Propaganda, was a drama directed by Sinan Çetin. In it Sunal plays a customs officer on the Syrian border, who falls into despair as he tries to tread a fine line between his duties as an officer of the law and his duties as a friend. According to public opinion this film wasn’t one of his best and isn’t fitting as the last work of a great master. That is likely because it wasn’t meant to be his final film. Kemal Sunal died on July the 3rd in 2000, as a result of a sudden heart attack aboard a flight to Trabzon. He was reported to be afraid of flying and he died suddenly just before take- off. News of his death was greeted by shock and mourning that swept the entire nation and dominated news coverage for many days. He was interred at the Zincirlikuyu Cemetery in Istanbul.

 

For more on the history of Turkish cinema I highly recommend “Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging”, available here.

 

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Modern Turkish Weddings: At the Registry Office

A bride in my street in Istanbul.Visitors to Turkey often stumble across colourful wedding celebrations in small towns and villages. They are great fun to attend. But what about the legally required civil ceremony, do you know what goes on there? Find out in this extract from my memoir “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

“I have passed the two large round buildings where all civil wedding ceremonies are held many times but have never really paid them much attention. I’ve only ever seen the crowds from a distance, and often cursed the cars, minibuses and vans double parked along the road which cause traffic jams that delay my bus. Today, as we plunge through the groups of people milling in the forecourt dressed in formal evening wear, for the first time we notice weddings can be held in either of the two round buildings, marked Salon A and Salon B. Betül had said she would be by the door looking out for us, but we hadn’t known to ask her which salon door that would be. To make matters worse, each salon has two doorways. We walk through the first doorway of Salon A trying to find her, into a large waiting area packed with brides and their parties decked out in all their finery, standing around before they go into the main auditorium where the actual wedding ceremony takes place. We go back outside and then into Salon A again, but this time though the door on the other side of the building to where the newly married couples emerge from the auditorium and wait to receive congratulations and gifts of money. We walk through both buildings in the same way without seeing anyone we know. Back outside under the slanting rays of the strong afternoon sun we become caught up in the frisson of nervous brides, heavily made up with bouffant hairstyles circa 1960, decked out in metres and metres of tulle, ruffles and lace.

Finding Betül among the hundreds of people around us is impossible, so I ring her. She instructs me to head for Salon B. When we reach the waiting area we are just in time to see Hanife being swept up by a huge group consisting of her mother, mother-in-law, sisters, aunties, cousins and other female relatives and friends. Her entourage is trailed by the less important male members of their party, including the groom. As we all enter the auditorium, wedding guests from the previous marriage ceremony are still dribbling out through the opposite door. By the time we enter the hall Hanife and her husband-to-be are already seated at a long table on a raised stage. Betül takes us to where Dilara is sitting, and then asks me to mind her handbag before she goes and joins the bridal couple up on stage. She is appearing as Hanife’s witness and she sits by her side looking very nervous, as do the groom and his witness. In contrast Hanife looks as if she can’t wait for the action to begin. Despite wearing make up that looks like it has been applied with a trowel her natural beauty and excitement shine through. The four of them are quickly joined by a wedding official who wears a red silk robe over her conservative knee length skirt, white blouse and string of pearls.

She begins by making a speech in Turkish which is too quick for me to follow. The audience applauds and then she continues by asking a series of questions. All present speak loudly and clearly into a microphone, and at each answer the audience applauds again. Both witnesses give a response to what sounds like the same question, and then it is the turn of the bride and groom. When it comes to Hanife though, I don’t need to understand the words to understand the meaning. She smiles broadly and shouts a deafening ‘Evet’, which is greeted by shouts of laughter. It is evident she is more than happy to accept Metin as her new husband.

The minute the documents are signed a corny but sentimental Italian song comes over the loudspeakers and everyone applauds the newlyweds. I applaud too, surprised to find I have tears in my eyes. Kim and I aren’t married and don’t feel the need to be. I don’t really understand why the most logical of women often seem to become completely irrational and almost demented over their weddings. Nonetheless, Hanife looks so beautiful and is clearly so wrapped up in her groom that it’s hard not to be overcome by the moment. Next to me Dilara cries openly and loudly as the newlywed couple innocently kiss each other on either check in the Turkish fashion and then begin to make their way out of the auditorium. I am still holding Betül’s handbag as I wait for her to help Hanife down the steps so her massive bridal train doesn’t trip her up. Almost before we are halfway out the door the next party arrives, the music changes, and another marriage is underway. This goes on from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon all weekend, from spring to autumn, with each ceremony taking no more than fifteen minutes.”

If you’ve enjoyed reading this I know you’ll enjoy my memoir. Click here to buy your copy today.

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Zeki Muren – Turkey’s songbird

Discover the world of Zeki Muren in his museum in Bodrum, Turkey.

Although he left the world stage for the last time more than twenty years ago, Zeki Muren will always have a special place in the hearts of Turkish music fans. Born in 1931, he auditioned for Turkish Radio when he was only twenty. Even then he knew a huge range of musical standards off by heart and is believed to have sung for hours. He claims he learned to sing by listening to his father and grandfather, as well as performers on the radio, on records and in travelling theatres. He got the job and became so well known that according to one joke, when people bought a radio they asked for the one that played Zeki Muren.

Zeki Muren film starDuring his life he made over 600 recordings and 18 films. They mostly told the same story, of a young musician called Zeki Muren, overcoming obstacles to find love and fame, all giving him numerous opportunities to burst into song. On screen he wore neat suits and did his hair in an understated pompadour. In person he flaunted flamboyant, multi-coloured outfits such as feathered capes, shiny miniskirts and platform heels. Many were of his own design and he liked to give them names such as, “Purple Nights”, “The Prince from Outer Space” and “The Lover of Dr. Zhivago”. He performed in popular Istanbul gazino, nightclubs and cabaret halls, earning thousands of fans with his emotionally wrenching performances. At the Maksim Gazinosu he made a dramatic entrance on a swing and had simulated snowflakes flutter down onto the stage in a style similar to Liberace. His death was as dramatic as his performances.

Zeki Muren performing liveHis death was as dramatic as his performances. He took the stage on the 24th of September 1996 for the first time in years, at the Izmir Turkish Radio and Television Studios. Resplendent in a rhinestone-spangled shirt and shiny purple eye-gloss, the show’s host handed him a microphone. It was the same one he’d used for his first radio performance, 45 years earlier. Sadly, Zeki Muren died abruptly of a heart attack. His death caused the greatest public grief seen in years and his state-sponsored funeral drew tens of thousands of mourners. According to one of his fans, there were long queues in front of every liquor store as people tried to come to terms with his loss.

He still makes his presence felt today. The Zeki Müren Art Museum, established in Bodrum where he used to live, has been visited by more than 250,000 people since it opened in June 2000. All his worldly possessions were donated to the Türk Eğitim Vakfı (Foundation for Turkish Education) and the Mehmetçik Vakfı (Foundation for Disabled Veterans and Families of the Martyrs). His money was used to help young boys complete their military service.

Frustrated by the public persona of Muren as presented by the state, in 2016 film maker Beyza Boyacioglu decided to document what he had meant to his fans. In order to gather stories from them, she set up the Zeki Muren Hotline. The first thing callers hear when they ring is the man himself saying, “Hello, Zeki Muren speaking”, taken from a sound clip from one of his films. They can then record their responses to the role he played in their lives. Some sing his best-loved songs, others talk about the excitement and joy of being at one of his performances, while younger people talk about his status for them as a queer icon. However they remember him, he will always be the man known as “Pasha” and “the sun of Turkish music.”

The ever original Zeki MurenLike köçek dancers, Zeki Muren garners a huge and diverse fan base. Devout grandmothers’ treasure his original vinyl albums while LGBT Pride marchers hold up posters showing pictures of his perfectly manicured eyebrows, glittery eyeshadow, mascara and beautifully varnished nails. This well-spoken man with an extensive vocabulary, gained popular acceptance on his own terms and is symbolic of the complex and often contradictory nature of gender and identity in Turkey.

 

 

 

 

 

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Salacak, more than the Maiden’s Tower

Enjoy a glass of tea at the Maiden's Tower, Istanbul.Located on the Asian side of Istanbul, the neighbourhood of Salacak runs along the edge of the Bosphorus from Üsküdar all the way to Harem. Frequented by courting couples and curious tourists drawn by the myth of Kız Kulesi, Leander or the Maiden’s tower built fifty metres from the shore, the area’s name has a much darker origin. In Turkish the word salacak means “the bench on which the corpse is washed”. According to rumour, Fatih Sultan Mehmet was concerned about where the ritual washing of soldiers killed in battle would take place before they were buried. When he saw this gentle slope leading to an open expanse of water, he determined Salacak was the place for it to be done.

Before you let this put you off visiting, it’s also said the name comes from a more innocuous combination of words. Sala meaning “village” in a language that hasn’t been determined, with the Turkish suffix -cık, meaning small, added to it. Like many waterside suburbs in the area, Salacak is very much like a little village, so this explanation is quite plausible.

Which story do you believe?

The Maiden’s Tower – photograph by Dorota Yamadag.

Reportedly dating back to 24 BC, as with many historical sites in Turkey, there’s more than one legend associated with Kız Kulesi. According to one tale, Hero, a virgin priestess of Aphrodite lived in the tower. Leander, a young man who lived opposite the tower, was captivated by her beauty and fell in love with her. Every evening he swam across to see her, guided by a lantern she lit for him. Using sweet words and entreaties he convinced her that Aphrodite would scorn the worship of a virgin and Hero allowed him to make love to her. Throughout that balmy summer he continued to visit her until one night a fierce storm blew up. The wind blew out the candle and Leander drowned. On seeing his lifeless body washed up against the tower Hero flung herself into the sea to remain forever with the man she loved.

Turks might argue that the real story of the tower relates to Battal Gazi. Battal Gazi is a mythical Muslim figure reported to have taken part in the 2nd Arab siege of Constantinople in the 8th century. The then ruling Byzantine Emperor placed his daughter and family in the tower to keep them out of harm’s way. Unfortunately for him, Battal Gazi raided the tower, set fire to the Emperor’s ships and made off on horseback with the emperor’s daughter. He married her in the end but this event gave rise to the Turkish phrase “Atı alan Üsküdar’ı geçti”. Literally meaning ‘He who rides the horse has already passed Üsküdar”, the more familiar English version is “Closing the barn door after the horse has bolted”.

In another story, the tower gets its English name from the Byzantine myth about a beautiful young princess. According to palace soothsayers she was doomed to die from the bite of a serpent on her 18th birthday. Her father, the Emperor, had her removed to the tower for safe-keeping. Sadly the prophecy was fulfilled when she was killed by a snake that made its way into the tower in a basket of fruit. Her father sent it as a gift to celebrate being able to prevent the prophecy.

Fruit, along with stylised forms of plants, was used to inspire the design of çatma, a delicate fabric produced in Salacak in the 17th century. Known as the “Çatma of Üsküdar”, the main fabric was made from woven silk or linen thread produced in various colours. Ornamentation based on nature, such as leaves and flowers, would be embroidered onto this cloth in gold and silver fibre, resulting in a raised relief pattern. Generally these patterns would be recurring in line with Islamic beliefs about the purpose of decorating items with patterns without beginning or end. According to some experts, by focussing on the reality underlying the art, the pattern becomes a window into the infinite. Çatma fabric from Üsküdar attracted international attention in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly for a design called Turkish Rococo. The fabric was popular for use in clothing and furniture.

Kubağlidere painting by Hasan Vecih BereketoğluIt’s well known that Turks in Istanbul love to walk and picnic by the water and enjoy beautiful waterfront views. Less well known is that this passion was also shared by Turkish artist Hasan Vecih Bereketoğlu. Born in 1895 he studied law and as soon as he graduated he took his first painting lesson from Halil Paşa,a famous Turkish painter and teacher. In 1923 young Hasan went to Paris where he studied at the Julian Art Academy. On his return he worked on painting the effect of the light on the landscapes of Istanbul. In particular he liked to capture impressions of Salacack, Kubağlidere, Moda and Fenerbahçe. Although he eventually moved to Ankara where he died in 1971, you can see his work “Salacack in the Morning” in the Istanbul Resim ve Heykel Müzesi.

I hope you’ve enjoyed discovering Salacak and the Maiden’s tower. You can read more about my favourite places and thoughts about Istanbul, in my book “Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City”.

 

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Recommended blogs & websites on Turkey

Come and explore Turkey with me!

I’m a member of a Facebook group for travel writers and I recently asked for suggestions of blogs and websites about Turkey and neighbouring countries. Surprisingly, at least to me, there were few suggestions. Naturally, I decided to compile my own. Listed below, in no particular order, are some but by no means all, my favourites.

Janey in Mersin
The fact that Jane is from Sydney, Australia, like me, doesn’t affect my judgement of her blog at all. Not a bit. It’s simply brilliant, because unlike most starry-eyed “I came to Turkey as a village bride/novice English teacher, everything’s always wonderful” blogs, she writes as she sees it, warts and all. Jane moved to Mersin in 2012, and she writes about the everyday battles of the typical (not) Turkish housewife – getting on with the neighbours while plotting to kill their cockerel, learning to make salça even a Turkish mother-in-law will approve of and my favourite, how to drink too much wine and walk through fields safely, a skill Jane sadly and hilariously lacks. If you’re sitting at home after yet another argument with the family and thinking life must be better elsewhere, this is the blog for you.

Adventures of the the lost and found!

Katrinka Abroad
Katrinka lives in Istanbul and uses it as a base to travel deep into Turkey and the Middle East, as well as making regular incursions into Eastern Europe. Her main focus in photography but as with most people who want to capture the spirit of a place, she always shares the story behind the image. Useful for those who want to hone their photography skills and explore interesting corners of the city.

The Turkish Life
Expat and journalist Jennifer Hattam hails from San Francisco and moved to Istanbul in early 2008. Her blog is a mix of random observations of everyday life, cultural differences and politics, and her articles cover arts, culture, politics and much more. She offers readers a much more realistic picture of contemporary life in Istanbul as she ventures out to the far flung suburbs to investigate the boom in housing construction, or writes about the effect of terrorism on everyday life in the city. Recommended for those living in Istanbul wanting to learn about more than the usual tourist spots.

With the right advice, you'll always know the way!

Turkish Travel Blog
Founded by the inexhaustible Natalie Sayin, the Turkish travel blog is the perfect go to guide for planning your travels in Turkey. From practical advice on how to get around to brutally honest reviews of must-see or better left off the itinerary places, Natalie has left no stone unturned in her quest to entice visitors to Turkey. Unlike many similar websites Natalie always goes to the places she writes about and tells you exactly what she thinks, making it easy to make up your own mind on whether to visit a particular place. Highly recommended.

Ozlem’s Turkish Table
Although I’m not a bad cook, the kitchen isn’t my favourite room in the house. I rarely cook from a recipe because I usually get bored before I’ve even finished reading it. However, I do like food and Turkish food in particular. For this reason I love Ozlem’s page, because she writes so carefully about the history of the food she makes, and her recipes are so delicious even I can use them. Her site is great for people who want to expand their Turkish cooking repertoire, no matter where they live in the world.

For a complete list of the blogs I follow, look at the list called “Blogs I love” on the right hand side of this page. If you know a good blog about Turkey or a country to the east I’ve missed, put the link in the comments section at the end of this post. I’d love to see more!

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