From Hagia Sophia to Aya Sofya Cami

Just read the news that Hagia Sophia Museum has been reconverted into a Mosque through a Presidential order in Turkey. Hagia Sofia or “Holy Wisdom” is also known as Ayasofya Cami or Aya Sofya Mosque in Turkish. It is one of the most prominent cultural and religious landmarks in Istanbul or perhaps whole of Turkey. My mind raced back to 9 August 2019 when I along with my family visited this historic building along with my guide Serkan. We were part of small group which had only two families, mine, and a British couple. The British couple were with us during the first half of the tour which included visit to Ayup Sultan Turbesi, Pierre Loti, Spice Bazaar and Cruise on Bosphorus Strait. In the second half was included the Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and Aya Sofya. However, the British couple had already been to Aya Sofya earlier, so they decided to give it a skip effectively making my tour a private one. We had a very knowledgeable guide entirely for us. The queue outside Aya Sofya was serpentine but one of the privileges of having a guide in Turkey is that you jump queue, hence we were inside within 2 minutes.

It is one of the oldest standing religious structure in the world. It was the pride of Nova Roma or Constantinople and was a church for whole of Christianity for almost half a millennia before the divide between Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholic Church. It was founded in 537 which makes it almost 1000 years older to St. Peters Basilica in Vatican.  It was built in 537 during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. For centuries it was the largest dome in the world and the largest interior space in the world. It is justifiably considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It is said that on the completion of the Hagia Sophia when Justinian visited the Hagia Sophia for the first time he exclaimed with pride that “Solomon, I have outdone thee”.

Hagia Sophia was constructed first as a Church in 360 A.D by the Roman Empire. It was burned and reburned several times during uprisings. The present structure was constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century on the orders of Emperor Justinian I. Over the years it was destroyed several times due to earthquakes and by Crusaders and was rebuilt several times. The structure is witness to the changes in history and its fortunes have also changed with the changes in power structure. It was a Byzantine Christian Church from 537 to 1054. From 1054 to 1204 it was Greek Orthodox Church. In 1204, it was converted into a Roman Church. In 1261 it was reconverted into Greek Orthodox Church and remained so till 1453 when it was converted into an Imperial Mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans who also renamed the city from Constantinople to Istanbul. It was given the name of Ayasofya Cami (Mosque of Ayasofya) by the Ottomans and minarates were added to it. It remained a Mosque from 1453 to 1935 when it was converted into a Museum during the time of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. It has been converted back into a Mosque on 10 July 2020. Today it is also a final resting place for 5 Ottoman Sultans and their families.

After its conversion back to Mosque the entrance fees has been cancelled. It will still be open to all faiths. According to Erdogan “Like all our Mosques, its door will be open to everyone, Muslims or non-Muslims. As the world’s common heritage, Hagia Sophia with its new status will keep on embracing everyone in a more sincere way”. The first prayers in the Ayasofya Cami will be Friday prayers on 24th July 2020. It would not be out of place to remember that it was 24th July 1923 when the treaty in Switzerland’s city of  Lausanne ended the hostilities between the Allies and the Turkish state.

However, the debate continues whether this is a right decision or not from religious point of view and whether this was the right time for this decision? Those who know their history and have sense of today’s geo-politics can only be amused at the assertion of those who believe that the next step is the establishment of Ottoman Caliphate.

For references and more details, please see:

Magical Cappadocia: Two Amazing Days in Central Anatolia

After spending two hectic days in Istanbul it was time to move to Cappadocia. It was a comfortable 1 hour 35 minutes flight from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen International Airport to Keyseri Airport by Turkish Airlines. Our stay in Cappadocia was in a small city called Urgup. It is capital of Cappadocia province. Urgup is about 50 kilometers from Keyseri Airport. The drive was about 1 hour 15 minutes from Keyseri Airport to our hotel in Urgup. The landscape on the way dry and mountainous somewhat like outskirts of Muscat. There is nothing of importance between the two cities.
Urgup is town in the historical region of Cappadocia. In Turkey it is also known as the town of the Librarian with Donkey. Mustafa Guzelgoz was a librarian in Urgup. He used to travel to nearby villages with books on donkeys to lend books so as to inculcate the habit of reading in the people. Hence the name “Librarian with Donkey”. Today Urgup is a major tourist town in Cappadocia and is known for its trademark cave hotels. There are cave hotels everywhere. It’s all related to geology. Millions of years ago there were active volcanoes in this region. The lava flow of the erupting volcanoes left porous stones called Tuff everywhere. Because these stones were not very hard, people started carving homes in them. Later on when people shifted to concrete houses some of these dwellings were converted into what are today called as cave hotels. Today Cappadocia is full of cave hotels. These are fitted with every possible luxury and very comfortable as well as naturally very cool. Today Cappadocia region is known for its cave hotels, fairy chimneys, hot air ballooning, pigeon holes and ancient underground cities. Some of early Christianity’s most important landmarks are in the region thus bringing in a lot of tourists.

Urgup City Square at Night. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Hundred Year Old Turkish Hamam at Urgup

Urgup City Bath is an Urgup Institution and Landmark. It is more than 100 years old family run Turkish Hamam near city center. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

We spent two days in Cappadocia. Our hotel in Cappadocia was Roca Cappadocia. It was a cave hotel. There was every modern facility inside the cave. The rooms were naturally cool and there was not need for Air Conditioning. The staff of the hotel was very polite. Most of the staff were female and used to call my wife as hurram (the word hurram is often prefixed with female names in Turkey as a sign of respect. It actually means ‘the cheerful one‘). Special thanks to Canan and Yasemin for taking good care of us.

Roca Cappdocia Cave Hotel, Urgup

The Courtyard of Roca Cappadocia boutique Cave Hotel. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

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Exterior of our room at Roca Cappdocia. Photo Credit & ©Mohsin Aziz

 

Our tour operators in Cappadocia were HtR- Hit the Road. They were arranged by our main tour operator in Istanbul (True Blue Tour). I found them to be extremely professional with vehicles in top condition and excellent multilingual tour guides. First day our tour guide was Kezban. She was fluent in Spanish and English. Our group besides my family included two Spanish couples and one Singapore couple. As our guide explained every detail in both Spanish and English it gave us plenty of time to appreciate the finer points and take photographs. It was very relaxed tour and not rushed at all. Our first stop for the day was Rose Valley. Rose Valley is an isolated valley near Urgup. It is known for its rock formations with different colours. I was expecting to see lots of rose thinking that the valley must have got its name from presence of rose flowers. It is not so. The name is given because of presence pink and red colour rocks in the valley. We trekked the whole valley which must be anywhere between 3 to 4 kilometers. At many places we saw farms of grapes, apple and apricot. I also saw many almond trees but our guide told us that they were wild almonds and were poisonous.

Sweet Melon along the walking track at Rose Valley

Sweet Melons along the track in Rose Valley. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Road to nowhere at Rose Valley

The road to nowhere. Our track in Rose Valley. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

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A general view of Rose Valley. Hues of pink colour can be seen, hence the name. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

From Rose Valley the next stop was Devrent Valley near Cavusin Village (Pronounced as Kavushin). Unlike other valleys in this region, Devrent valley was never inhabited by humans. It is basically a group of rocks which have naturally got different animal looking shapes due to years of rain and wind. Just like shapes of clouds no two people agree what animal or shape a particular rock looks like. One can see rocks looking like double humped camel, dolphin or even a group of rocks looks like dancing dervishes. It is also called imagination valley. It’s fun for kids and even adults were acting like kids trying to identify and arguing among themselves whether a particular rock is shaped like a dolphin or something else?

Cavusin Village

A view of Cavusin village in Cappadocia. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

Is that a Camel or Llama. Keep Imagining @ Imagination Valley

Is it a double humped Camel or a Llama. Keep Imagining @ Devrent Valley a.k.a. Imagination Valley. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

By the time we finished from imagination valley it was time for lunch. I was a bit apprehensive as to what type of lunch are we going to get in a small village restaurant. But to my surprise the restaurant was really huge. There must have been at least 200 people already dining and still our seats were reserved. The variety of food was amazing. Of all the places I never expected to see Shahi Tukda as one of the sweet dishes. I must have eaten at least four or five pieces of Shahi Tukda. I think after 4 kilometers of walk I deserved this.

Our next stop for the day was historical underground city of Kaymakli. Kaymakli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many underground cities in this region. Some have better defense system, some have more floors but Kaymakli is the largest one. Cappadocia lies on the silk route and other historically important trade routes hence various kings have tried to capture it. The present day Cappadocia has been at the center of some of the greatest civilizations and military power and their jostling for power. These cities are supposed to be built around 3000 B.C. during Hittites and Phrygians.  The inhabitants of this place built whole cities under their houses and would go underground to escape the marauding armies whenever their was attack.  Later on Assyrians, Akkadians, Romans, Seljuk’s,  Iranians and Byzantines vied for power in the region until the Ottomans established their rule in the region. Early Christians during the 4th century used these cities to escape religious torture. It is estimated that around 3500 people once lived in Kaymakli. There is a maze nearly one hundred tunnels in the Kaymakli underground city. It has eight floors of which four are open to the tourists.  The underground spaces are arranged around ventilation shafts so as to supply fresh air. Each floor used to serve a particular purpose. The first level was used as stable for animals. Another level was used as grain storage, winery and oil presser. One floor was used as living place. Another one has churches, chappels, graves, communal kitchen etc. We went up to four floors which are allowed for tourists. The path downwards is very steep. Although some people in our group came out from the first floor itself feeling claustrophobic. I went to the fourth floor underground and found it surprisingly well ventilated. Today these underground cities of Cappadocia are a must do for tourists to this region. 

Inside Kaymaki underground city

One of the underground tunnel at Kaymakli Underground City, Cappadocia. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

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Big Round Stone carved in Second Floor Underground. It was used as defense mechanism to close the tunnel in case of attack from outside. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz


Second day in Cappadocia was Eid Al Adha. I had already found a mosque named Merkez Mustafa Aga Camii near to hotel and prayed Isha (last of the obligatory five prayers. Prayed around 1 and a half hours after sunset) so as to get an idea of the place. The Eid prayer was at 6.15 a.m. I reached the Mosque at 6.10 with a prayer mat which i had brought from Muscat anticipating huge rush at the Mosque. However i was surprised to find attendance at the Mosque to be thin and i found myself in the fourth row. I counted 68 people including myself and the Imam. There were very few youngster. Most of the people who gathered for Eid Prayer were elderly. The imam was dressed in trouser and shirt with tie thrown in for good measure. The first Khutba (Sermon) was in Turkish while the second was in Arabic. The prayer was short. It was a unique experience for me. Just opposite the Mosque is a Urgup Landmark. Its Urgup Baths which is a traditional family run Turkish Hamam. 

Merkez Mustafa Aga Camii Mosque, Urgup

Merkez Mustafa Aga Camii Mosque where I prayed Eid Al Adha on 11 August, 2019. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

In fact second was supposed to begin very early as we booked hot air balloon ride for that day expecting the Eid to one the previous day. However, when the Eid was not on first day, i got my ride cancelled as hot air balloons fly only early morning. Next day we found out that anyway all the balloon rides that day were cancelled due to unfavorable wind conditions. 

Our guide for second day in Cappadocia was Mr. Murat. He was also multilingual and besides Turkish was fluent in English and Spanish. Group members were same as previous day.  

Our first stop on second day was Goreme Open Air Museum (pronounced as Goreymey). It is outside Goreme city. The region is known for fairy chimneys. Fairy chimneys are naturally carved out rock formations. They change colour at the sunset. As I have mentioned somewhere, this was active volcanic region. The lava and ash which erupted millions of years ago blanketed the whole region in thick ash. With passage of time this ash solidified as soft rock and is called Tuff. With the natural elements like rain and wind striking them for millions of years, the softer parts were eroded away and only the harder parts remained. This process resulted in extraordinary rock shapes which go up to more than 130 feet high and are called fairy chimneys. When early Christians were persecuted by Romans, they fled to this region and realised that living quarters can be carved out of the soft rocks. They assembled in Goreme and carved not only living quarters high up in the rocks for themselves but also carved out innumerable churches. Goreme is perhaps the biggest collection of such churches at one place in Cappadocia. Christian monks built a maze of interconnected living quarters, stables, grain storage facilities besides churches. They also built individual prayer chambers high up in the rocks with steps carved out of the rock itself. Today Goreme Open Air Museum is a huge open air enclosure which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is visited by tourists from all over the world. It is particular high up in the order of Turkey’s religious tourism ladder and is almost a must see attraction for tourists on Christianity trial in Turkey. 

The churches in the Goreme Open Air Museum are also known for well preserved Fresco Art which has survived the test of time. One of the most important churches with Red couloured Fresco paintings is the Dark Church. 

Some of the older cave dwellings have also been converted into luxury boutique hotels thus providing opportunity to tourists to partly experience the life inside rocks. 

The Road Inside Goreme Open Air Museum. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Dark Church cut inside the mountain at Goreme Open Air Museum. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

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Fresco Paintings can be seen in this close up picture of the outside part of the Dark Church at Goreme Open Air Museum. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

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Residences of Monks at Goreme Open Air Museum. Photo Credit& ©  Mohsin Aziz.

 

We spent around two and half an hours at Goreme Open Air Museum. It was time to move to our next destination. Before leaving the complex we went to Museum Shop at the exit and had some snacks and tea at the Museum Shop Restaurant. Our next destination was a Small Village called Avanos in Cappadocia. Its an old village which was called Venessa in old times. It is along river Kizilirmak which is also called Red River. Red River is the longest river of Turkey. It is popularly called Red River because it carries red silt with it and deposits on its banks. Avanos is also known as pottery town of Turkey. The red silt deposited by Kizilirmak river has been used since the times of Hittites to make pottery by the people of the town. The red silt in river side mud gives a unique texture to the ceramics produced here. Today the village is dominated by numerous pottery making factories. Pottery is made using traditional method. Ceramics produced here are not only sold all over Turkey but are exported all over the world. To make the visit more interesting we were given a live demonstration of pottery making at a local factory. We were shown the different stages of pottery making up to the last step of hand painting of ceramics. We saw workers hand painting various designs on ceramics before they were put on display or were packed to be transported all over Turkey. For bigger pottery and ceramic items, most of the workshops have courier facility to all over the world.  

Kizilirmak (Red River) passing through Avanos Village

River Kizilirmak (Red River) flowing through the village of Avanos. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

Entrance of Sultan Ceramic at Pottey Village of Avanos

Sultans Ceramic where we saw a pottery making session and bought some ceramics as souvenir’s. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Ceramics inside Sultan Ceramics

Ceramics on display at Sultans Ceramics, Avanos. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

After enjoying our visit to the ceramic workshop it was time for lunch. We were taken to a restaurant next to river river. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant but it was food at the restaurant was the best Turkish food that we had in our entire stay in Turkey. It was a small but very modern restaurant. After lunch was our drive back to our hotel in Urgup. Tonight was our flight back to Istanbul. On the way back to hotel we passed through Pasabag monks valley and also saw the pigeon valley. Pasabag valley contains some of the most striking examples of fairly chimneys some of them having two or some cases even three caps. Since they look like mushrooms they are also called mushroom chimneys.

 

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An Aerial view of the Pasabag Valley. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz.

 

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Monks chamber up in the rock can be seen in Pasabag Monks Valley. Steps cut in rock can be seen leading up to the chamber. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz.

 

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Moonscape can be seen on the way back to hotel in Urgup from Avanos Village. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz.

 

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Fairy Chimney with chamber for Monks Meditation in Pasabag Monks Valley.  This  Fairy Chimney has three caps at the top. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

The hermits of Cappadocia in ancient times used to lead reclusive life. In order to be away from the masses so that they can meditate and contemplate they used to live in these chambers which they carved 10 to 15 meters up in the Tuffs. They used to get down for food and would go back in their chambers. On the way we also passed through what is called as Guvercinlik Vadisipigeon valley (pigeon valley). It has got its name from the innumerable dovecotes that have been carved at height in the fairy chimneys. Although such dovecotes are found in the whole of Cappadocia, they are nowhere as numerous as pigeon valley, hence the name.  In old times, these dovecots were carved to attract pigeons to sit in them. Over period of time their droppings got collected and were taken down by the farmers to fertilize their barren lands. Though pigeons don’t play important role in modern agriculture now, still many dovecotes have been maintained by the people in the Cappadocia region.

On the way back we also passed by Uchisar Castle and saw it only from outside. Uchisar Castle was used as a defense mechanism in the past against invasion. As it is the highest point in Cappadocia, the Castle provided vantage point to keep an eye on the whole region. In the past it was on the busy and vital silk route. At present Uchisar Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, nobody in our group had energy to climb up to see the place. Everybody just took pictures from below and we moved on to a small bazaar (market) with some restaurants and lots of souvenir shops. Most of the shops were selling either different varieties of scarf or Nazar (evil eye) amulets. Evil eye beads or Nazar Boncuk is a glass bead usually of blue colour and filled with a blue or black dot superimposed on a white center in the form of a tear drop. Nazar Boncuk are quite popular in Turkey. When I inquired about them from Murat he categorically stated that it has nothing to do with Islam and is only a cultural thing. Still i was surprised to see so many Evil Eye Beads being sold everywhere in Turkey.  

 

Dove Cots at Pigeon Valley

Dove Cots can be seen in this Fairy Chimney at the Pigeon Valley. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz

 

Uchisar Castle atop a rock on the way to Hotel. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz.

Sovenier shop selling evil eye

Souvenir Shop selling Nazar Boncuk (Evil Eye Bead) near Uchisar. Photo Credit &  & © Mohsin Aziz

By the time we reached hotel it was time for dinner. We decided to take dinner at Urgup market. We found a nice hotel named Urgup Restaurant near city square. It was usual Turkish fare and i ordered a few items. However, the old owner of the restaurant came to us and insisted that we try Adana Kebapi. Also called Kiyma Kebabi, it is made from hand minced meat of only male lamb. Mincemeat is hand mixed with lamb tail fat and charcoal grilled on iron skewers. It is served with coal charred peppers and tomato. It’s named after fifth biggest Turkish city of Adana. On his insistence, Adana Kebapi was ordered and boy did i regret ordering it? Not at all. it was worth every lira spent on it. It was the best Kebap in my entire Turkey Tour. What a nice way to end our day and tour of Cappadocia. We returned to hotel as tonight we had to fly to the coastal city of Kusadasi in Izmir province. Thus ended our two absolutely wonderful days in Magical Cappadocia. 

 

 

 

 

A day trip to Bursa from Istanbul

When I started planning my Turkey visit and started searching for information and reading reviews and blogs about must do places in Turkey, I read about Bursa for the first time. As I gathered more information, I decided that it’s going to be on my itinerary. It was a decision well made as I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Bursa.
It was capital of Ottoman Empire before the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Bursa is the fourth most populous Turkish city lying on the foothills of Mount Uludag in the Marmara region of Turkey. It is about 150 kilometers from Istanbul. It’s a city well known for its mosques and buildings from early Ottoman Empire and hence holds a special place in Turkish history. It is also called Yesil Bursa i.e. Green Bursa due to presence of lots of trees in the city and the magnificent background of Mount Uludag which is covered with lush green trees. Bursa was first major Ottoman Capital and hence the presence of Ottoman buildings and mosques from that era. During Ottoman times, the city was called Hudavendigar or “god’s gift”.

There are various methods of reaching Bursa from Istanbul. However, I preferred a private tour which was arranged by my tour agency. Although a bit costly it allowed me complete control over the day’s itinerary. It also allowed us to explore whatever we wanted at leisure. It was our luck that the driver was not well and the tour agency gave us a trained tour guide, Mr. Yilmaz Ozluk, as a driver which really made the day tour to Bursa much more interesting. Yilmaz was right on time. We left our hotel at 8 a.m. It took almost 1 hour from Hotel to Pendik (Asian Side of Istanbul). Our hotel was in the European Side of Istanbul as all the important Istanbul landmarks are there.

Istanbul Asian Side

Asian Side of Istanbul. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

From Pendik we took a Ferry to cross Marmara Sea to reach Yalova. Ferry from Pendik to Yalova took around 45 minutes.

[caption id="attachment_166" align="alignnone" width="6000"]Parking Car in the Ferry Our Ferry from Pendik to Yalova. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Ferry from Istanbaul to Yalova

Yalova city from Ferry. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Marmara Sea

View of Marmara Sea from the Ferry. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 Once in Yalova, it took another 10 minutes to take the car out of ferry. In Yalova, we stopped at a famous shop called Safranbolu Lokumcusu. It was a nice break and we bought some Turkish Delight, had some Turkish Apple Tea and moved on.

A View of Yalova City

A view of Yalova City outside the Port. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Turkish Delight inside Safranbolu Lokumcusu

Stacks of Turkish Delight inside Safranbolu Lokumcusu, Yalova. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

Spice Counter at Safranbolu Lokumcusu

Spice Corner at Safranbolu Lokumcusu, Yalova. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 From Yalova it was another one hour drive to Mount Uludag in Bursa. Mount Uludag means Great Mountain. It is covered with lush green trees and has sky resort at the top. People come here for winter sport such as skiing. There is a national part also in Mount Uludag. The top of the Uludag can be reached both by car as well as Cable Car which is called Teleferik. There are two stations of the Teleferik. We decided to go to the second station with a small break at the first station. It starts at Yildirim in Bursa and goes upto Oteller as end station. Sky resort and hotels are present at Oteller. The ticket cost was 93 Turkish Lira per person for up to second station. The queue for both the ticket as well as for the cable car were quite long but because we were with a certified guide (Mr. Yilmaz), we were able to jump both the queues thus saving precious time. The total length of the cable car is 8.8 km which makes it the longest in Turkey and among the longest in the World. It was a different experience as compared to Cable Cars at Gulmarg (India) and Langkawi (Malaysia). Each has its own challenge and joy. The view of Bursa city from the Teleferik was fantastic and we could see people having picnic at higher reaches of the mountain with their families.

On the way to Mount Uludag

Bursa City. On the way to Mount Uludag Teleferik. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Ground Station of Teleferik

An Outside View from Teleferik Ground Station. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

View of Mount Uludag from Teleferik

A view of Mount Uludag from Teleferik. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

View of Bursa City from Teleferik

Aerial View of Bursa City from the Teleferik. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

Long shot of Teleferik

From First Station to Top Station of Teleferik. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

A short video of Teleferik ride can be seen here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQfsW558u2o

 
After enjoying our Teleferik ride we straight away went to Yesil Camii or Green Mosque. It is also known as the Mosque of Mehmed I. The name Green comes from the green tiles which are part of interior decoration. The Mosque is actually part of a large kulliye (complex) which consists of turbe (mausoleum), Madrasah, Bath and Kitchen. It was commissioned by Sultan Mehmed I and his turbe is part of the complex just opposite the Mosque. Yesil Camii is a fine example of early Ottoman architecture. Today it is one of the most important tourist destination not only in Bursa but in the whole of Turkey. It is also UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The entrance of the Mosque is a very fine example of Muqarna or honeycomb vaulting which is an important feature in Islamic architecture. Immediately after entrance and is the Office of the Mosque and the prayer hall is divided into two parts. One is lower part and other is upper part. One of the highlight of the lower part of the hall is the very beautifully carved Marble fountain in an octagonal pool. Today it is used as a Sebil. I also drank water from the Sebil. After climbing a few steps is the upper part. The mihrab is in the upper part of the hall. The whole hall is decorated with Arabic calligraphy depicting verses from the Qur’an. The mihrab itself is a fine example of architecture. The mihrab was constructed by experts which were called from Tabriz in Iran as clear from the inscription in Persian just above the mihrab. It reads “amal-i-ustadan-i-Tabriz” meaning the “work of the masters of Tabriz”.

Entrance of Yesil Cami

Entrance of Yesil Camii with Muqarna (Honeycomb Vault) at the top. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Mihrab of Yesil Cami

Mihrab of Yesil Camii decorated with Green and Blue Iznik Tiles. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

Sebil inside Yesil Cami

Richly Carved Marble Fountain inside Yesil Camii. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Calligraphy on stone inside Yesil Cami

A fine example of Calligraphy on Stone inside Yesil Camii. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

However there are two incidents that are the highlight of my Green Mosque visit. First is the honour of being invited to the Office of the Mosque and given a demonstration of Azaan. Mr. Recep Uyar is the Muezzin (the person who calls for prayer) of Yesil Camii since 2002. It was the effort of our tour guide Mr. Yilmaz who introduced me to Mr. Recep Uyar. Mr. Recep was kind enough to invite me and my family to the Office of the Mosque and give a demonstration of five different styles of Azaan. He called it Makaams and told us that this is how Azaan was given in Ottoman times. He recited for us the first line of Azaan i.e. Allahu Akbar in five different styles for each of the five daily obligatory prayers. As told by Mr. Recep, the styles for various prayers are as follows:
Fajr – Suboh or Sabahi
Zuhr – Ijaaz or Ejaaz
Asr – Raast
Maghrib – Qaseer
Isha – Ushaqi
Listening to him explain with passion and reciting the Azaan with so much love really made my day. It was one of the highlight of my Bursa tours. A short video of Mr. Recep Uyar giving Azaan in five different styles can be seen here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY7czSeQ_Z4
The second highlight of my Bursa tour was my meeting with the keeper of the washroom at the Yesil Camii Mosque. Since it was time for Zuhr (second obligatory prayer of the day prayed at noon time), we all decided to combine Zuhr and Asr  (third obligatory prayer fo the day prayed at afternoon) and pray at Yesil Camii itself before moving to our next stop in the city. I made wudhu (ablution) outside the Mosque. However my wife and daughter went to the washroom to make wudhu. Washrooms in Turkey are mostly paid. The same was true for the washroom outside the Mosque. I paid the required amount to the person sitting outside the washroom and my family went inside to make wudhu. In the meantime I realized that the person collecting money outside the washroom knew English (he was reading a book in English at that time). I struck conversation with him. The moment he knew that I am from India he asked me whether I know Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri or not. Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri has written a Sirah (Biography) of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) by the name of Al-Rahiq-Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar). Fortunately I had read the book so I replied in affirmative. Safiur Rahma Mubarakpuri was from Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh. His next question was how far is Azamgarh from Delhi. When I told him that I am also from Azamgarh, he became very happy and started talking about other books which he was reading at that time. During the course of our conversation I was surprised to know that he not only knew English besides Turkish but he was quite fluent in Arabic as well. More surprising was that he had a large personal library. Since we had to go back to Istanbul same day and there were other places to visit in Bursa, I took his leave. Unfortunately I have forgotten his name but this fruitful meeting made me realize that we should never judge anybody by his appearance or work. Here was a man watching over a washroom in a Mosque but was not only well read but was investing his hard earned money in buying books on various subjects and had already created a decent library. I wish I remembered his name. I wish if only we had more people like him in our community. Whenever I think about him I feel really happy.

By this time we were really hungry as we had taken our breakfast quite early in Istanbul. It was decided to go to a popular restaurant. We ordered vegetable pizza and Iskender Kebap (that’s how Kabab or Kebab is pronounced and written in Turkey). Iskender Kebap is one of the well-known dishes of Bursa and takes its name from its inventor Iskender Effendi. It is layer of various ingredients. The base is pita bread. On the top of pita bread is thinly cut grilled lamb meet. It is further layered with tomato sauce and fresh yogurt. At the top is the piping hot melted sheep butter. The melted butter is poured over the dish at the table. It just melts in the mouth. Yeah I should not forget to mention that the vegetable pizza was one of the best that I have eaten anywhere so far. We ended our lunch with nice Turkish Tea.

After lunch we straight away proceeded to our last stop in Bursa i.e. Koza Han. It is situated in the Osmangazi area of Bursa between Bursa Grand Mosque and Orhan Mosque. Koza Han is century’s old silk market built in 1491. In recent times it was in news because of Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Philip visited the Koza Han in 2008. The Ottoman architecture of the market is spectacular. In old days it was market for Silk pods. Today it is one of the well-known Silk markets in Turkey. Bursa Silk is known all over Turkey for its high quality and finesse. Koza Han is a two storey market with a rectangular courtyard. There are 95 shops, all dealing with silk products. At the center of the courtyard is a beautiful fountain with water tank. There are steps which lead to a very small Mosque above the fountain. The Mosque-cum-fountain is surrounded by small restaurant famous for Turkish Tea in the charming cobbled stoned courtyard. Like any traditional market there is fair amount bargaining involved while buying silk at the market. After visiting several shops and lots of bargaining and some purchase was the time to return back to Istanbul.

Ottoman Era Mosque near Koza Haan

Ottoman Era Mosque near Koza Han at Bursa. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

Outside Koza Haan

Outside View of Koza Han. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Arches inside Koza Haan

Arch inside Koza Han. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Ground courtyard from first floor at Koza Haan

Mosque cum Fountain cum water Tank in the ground courtyard of Koza Han. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

The return journey was full of fun as our guide Mr. Yilmaz started telling stories of Mulla Nasruddin to my daughter. Stories of Mulla Nasruddin are quite popular in India and we all have heard his stories in our childhood. I always thought that Mulla Nasruddin is a fictional character but I was wrong. He was born in 1208 in Anatolia, Turkey. After finishing education he became Qazi (Judge) and held the post off and on till his death. He is very popular in Turkey and known as Nasreddin Hoca (pronounced as Hodja). Hoca means teacher/master in Turkish. Over the centuries his witty tales full of satire have traveled far and wide and today he is known not only in Turkey but all over the world. All his tails look like harmless fun with wit and humor but his parables always hold some underlying lesson of abiding wisdom. It is true that all the tales attributed to Mulla Nasruddin have not originated from him but are collective wisdom and humor of not only Turkey but so many countries from around the world. So much so that year 1996 was celebrated as the Nasredin Hoca Year by UNESCO. Mr. Yilmaz is a master story teller and we enjoyed his tales of Hoca Nasreddin and we did not realize when we reached our hotel in Istanbul. Thus ended one more well spent day in our lives.

Note: My tour agency for the Turkey tour was True Blue Tour, Istanbul. They arranged the car and the driver. Their website can be visited at http://www.truebluetour.com

For more information see the following:
Daily Sabah (26 April 2019) Turkish muezzin’s adhan recitation dazzles tourists. Available at: https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/2019/04/26/turkish-muezzins-adhan-recitation-dazzles-tourists. Accessed on 12 March 2020
Wilco van Herpen (25 April 2012) Bursa’s Koza Han: A center for silk trade. Hurriyet Daily News. Available at: https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/bursas-koza-han-a-center-for-silk-trade-19158. Accessed on 18 March 2020.
Scott Sherman & Bharati Sadasivam (22 Apr 2017) Bursa: Old is gold. Available at: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/WnxxvqHjoVAuDTIhENhvWK/Bursa-Old-is-gold.html. Accessed on 21 March 2020.
Ugur, Ulu (17 September 2017) Turkey: Ottoman-ear silk bazaar draws visitors. Available at: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/WnxxvqHjoVAuDTIhENhvWK/Bursa-Old-is-gold.html. Accessed on 19 March 2020.

Gravestones and Sebils of Istanbul

Before visiting Turkey, I had no idea about the importance of either gravestones or sebil in the history and culture of Turkey. However, while strolling on the streets of Istanbul, particularly in Sultanahmet and Eyup districts, I saw a lot of graves with unique tombstones. Similarly, I saw a lot of Sebils, some still functional, some dysfunctional, some broken and some with great design depicting the architecture of their times.

Gravestones

Most schools of legal interpretation in Islam do not look favorably either at concrete grave or gravestones. However, during my recent visit to turkey I found out that gravestones are an integral part of Turkish culture. In turkey there is a whole culture and tradition of tombstone art. Most of them are like a mini biography of the diseased. According to the French Novelist, Andre Malraux, Ottoman tombstones make “death warm up to life”

One of the most iconic is the tombstone of Ibrahim Pasha who died in 1725. He was a Kaptan i Derya (Naval Captain). His tomb shows a captain with an anchor, rope and broken mast. It is symbolic of captain entering a ship that will take him to his destination in next life the way it took him to his destination in this life.

The graves of different Sufi orders and their dervishes can also be distinguished from different colour of clothes and coverings on the grave. For example, round hat on the gravestone signifies Sufi of Bektashi order. Different colours are also used to signify different professions such as green colour is used for scholars and leading scientists. Similarly, broken rosebud signifies a young female.

It’s not only the design of the gravestone and the art on it but what is written is also important. Sociologists and historians can decipher a lot from the writings on gravestones. Here is a small sample of some of written words on the gravestones of Istanbul.

  • See, what these gravestones tell you,

          One lie ended here and one truth has begun

 

  • “Oh visitor, this young women lying beneath this stone was one of those cleanest, purest and smartest. The fate laid her on the soil that you are beholding now. This rare flower, which death picked when she was young, was one of the finest examples of intellect and chastity. Recite Al Fatehah for her innocent soul. 26 January, 1910. Wednesday.”

 

  • “It is He who is permanent

         Come, oh my Effendi, fix your gaze on my gravestone

         If you are smart enough, act wisely

        I used to wander all around, see what happened to me?

       I died in the end, a gravestone erected upon me”

 

  • I hid, I didn’t say, I secretly put my trouble to sleep

          Every life shall taste death”

 

And the best one which I liked a lot is this one:

  • “WHY! Are we killing each other? If we wait for a while, we’ll all die!”

 

Most of the gravestones not only mention the name of the deceased but also the date of birth and date of death. And yes, please don’t be confused when you find that according to their birth and death dates on their tombstones you end up calculating the age of the departed soul as 200 years or more. This confusion is because on many tombstones different calendars are used for writing the date of birth and date of death. It is common to find the date of birth mentioned according to the Hijri Calendar while the date of death mentioned according to the Gregorian Calendar and vice versa. This creates confusion regarding the age of the dead. I asked my guide but he could not give me any satisfactory answer. Newer gravestones don’t have this confusion.

 Sebil

Turkey has a long tradition of Sebils (in Urdu also the word sabil or sabeel is used for the same meaning. It may be one of the many Turkish origin words in Urdu). A sebil is a kiosk where drinking water is distributed to the passerby for the purpose of getting sawab. Sometimes sweetened drinks are also distributed. The earliest of example in Istanbul is Efdalzade Sebil constructed in 1496. Sebils were traditionally constructed at the gate of the Mosques or at important road crossings to help the travelers. It is said that Istanbul had well over 1000 sebils before piped water was supplied to the residents. Sebils served an important social function as the whole neighborhood gathered to collect water from them. Once piped water was supplied, sebils lost their importance.

Sebils were constructed either by Sultans or their viziers or their mothers, wives, daughters and sisters. Rich people and their household also participated and contributed generously in the construction of sebils. Despite losing their utility over the years, still some beautiful sebils are present all over Istanbul. These sebils not only supplied clean drinking water to the residents but are also great pieces of architecture in many cases. Their architecture reflects the changing styles over the centuries. Some of the more well-known and beautiful sebils (cum fountains. Fountains are called selsebil or Cesmesi) of Istanbul are:

  • Uskudar Ahmet III: It was constructed by Sultan Ahmet III in the year 1728 situated at Uskudar square of Istanbul. It is made of marble. It is decorated by calligraphy of verses from famous Diwan poets.
  • German Fountain: Also known as Alman Cesmesi (does it sound like urdu word chasma for fountain?). It was gifted by the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, to mark his visit to Istanbul to meet Ottoman Sultan, Sultan Abdulhamid II in October 1898. It was actually built in Germany and transported to Istanbul piece by piece and reconstructed in 1900. The interior is covered with the tughra (symbol) of Sultan Abdelhamid II and Wilhelm II.
  • Ahmed III Sebil: It is situated in front of the Bab-i.Humayun of the famous Topkapi palace and has really unique architecture. It was built in 1728 by Sultan Ahmed III. It has floral motifs and calligraphy on it.
  • Tophane Square Sebil: This is another historical sebil with beautiful architecture in Beyoglu District. It was constructed by Sultan Mahmut I in 1732. It was restored in 2006.
  • Saliha Sultan Cesmesi: This fountain was built by Saliha Sultan, wife of Sultan Mustafa Han. It was built in 1732. The story of Saliha Sultan and the building of the fountain is stuff of fairytale.

Besides these there are many small sebils at many places. Most of them are nonfunctional but each one has a story to tell of the years gone by.

For references and more information please see:

  • Sumner-Boyd, Hilary; Freely, John (2010). Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City. New York: Tauris Parke Paperbacks.
  • Kahraman, M. (2018). The causes of the formation of sebil and fountain in Istanbul and the effects of these constructions on the city of Istanbul. The Journal of International Social Research, Vol. 11, Issue 59, October. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/37628292/THE_CAUSES_OF_THE_FORMATION_OF_SEBIL_

AND_FOUNTAIN_IN_ISTANBUL_AND_THE_EFFECTS_OF_THESE_CONSTRUCTIONS_

ON_THE_CITY_OF_ISTANBUL. Accessed on 22 November 2019.

The tomb of Hazrat Abu Ayyub Al Ansari (RAA) at Eyup Sultan

Istanbul has lot to offer to a tourist. Very few cities in the world can claim history and display history the way Istanbul does. There are innumerable places of historical importance from Byzantine era to Ottoman era. One such place is Eyup Sultan or Eyup (that’s how Ayyub (RAA) is written in Turkish). Eyup Sultan is a municipality and a district of the city of Istanbul extending from Golden Horn all the way to the shores black sea. It is an historically important district for Turks. It is also one of the important stop on the itinerary of most tourists to the city of Istanbul. Eyupsultan district derives both its name and importance from the presence of turbe (Turkish for grave) of Hazrat Abu Ayyub Al Ansari (RAA). In Turkish it is called Eyup Sultan Turbesi (meaning the grave or tomb of Abu Ayyub). I realised that the Urdu word turbat meaning grave or tomb has come from the Turkish word turbe. Allama Iqbal’s poem “Syed ki lohe turbat” is a good example of that. Here Syed refers to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. During my recent visit to Turkey, I visited the Eyup Sultan on 9 August 2019.

Hazrat Abu Ayyub Al Ansari (RAA) was a companion of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW). His name is Khalid ibn Zayd ibn Kulayb. He was a prominent Ansar (Helper) who hosted the Prophet (SAW) after Prophet’s Hijra (Migration) from Mecca to Medina. The story of Hazrat Abu Ayyub Al Ansari (RAA) becoming Prophet’s host is interesting one. When the Prophet (SAW) migrated from Mecca to Medina, it was the wish of every Ansar to host Prophet (SAW) at his house. While the companions were eager, the Prophet (SAW) declared that he will stay in that house where his She Camel (Qaswa) will sit. Qaswa stopped and sat in front of the house of Hazrat Abu Ayyub Al Ansari. Thus he became the Prophet’s host in Medina till Prophet (SAW) got his own house built.

Hazrat Abu Ayyub Al Ansari (RAA) participated in the campaign to capture Constantinople. It was the first Arab siege of Constantinople. The year was 670. He died during the campaign. At that time his age was about 80 years. During that campaign Muslim armies were unable to capture Constantinople. It was later captured and renamed Istanbul. On his deathbed Hazrat Abu Ayyub Al Ansari (RAA) wished to be buried as near to Constantinople as possible. As per his wish the Muslim army buried him deep inside enemy territory near the walls of the then Constantinople city.

Today his trube is an important place for many in Turkey. The words “EYYUB EL ENSARI (Hz.) TURBESI” are written above the entrance door. There are dresses available for ladies to cover themselves before entering the turbe. On entrance one finds a glass enclosure which contains the hair of the Prophet (SAW). I am not sure about it. There are many places all over the world which claim something similar. I saw something similar at Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar also. After the Prophets (SAW) relics is the turbe and next is the exit door. I saw lots of Turks, particularly, standing and praying in front of the turbe. 

Once the Ottomans captured Constantinople, the turbe of Hazrat Abu Ayyub Al Ansari (RAA) became an important place in the Ottomans scheme of things. It is outside the city walls near the Golden Horn. A mosque was built next to the tomb and it is called Eyup Mosque. The Eyup Mosque was built by the famous Ottoman Architect Mimar Sinan during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror. The main entrance to the Mosque carries the Quranic Verse “The Mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as who believe in Allah and the Last Day” (9:18, Al Qur’an). There is a courtyard in between the mosque and the tomb. The mosque of Eyup was used to host the coronation ceremony of the Sultans. Today the area surrounding the tomb and the mosque is called Eyup district. I was told by my tour guide, Mr. Serkan (True Blue Tour) that every Friday, a marching band plays Ottoman military music. It would not be out of place to mention that Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest version of marching bands in the world. I was also told that during the month of Ramadan people from various parts of Istanbul come to the Mosque for prayers and lot of shops come up and whole place becomes lively.

Besides the tomb and the Mosque, the Eyup district is also known for its graveyard. The graveyard is in the vicinity of the tomb. It was the ardent wish of those higher up in Ottoman hierarchy to be buried near the companion of the Prophet (SAW) thus making it the most sought after cemetery not only in Istanbul but in the whole of Turkey. Today it is not only the oldest but also the biggest cemetery in Istanbul. One peculiar feature of graves in Turkey is the tombstone which is specially carved according to the profession and the position of the dead. There are different types of tombstones in the cemetery. The path behind the mosque leads to the cable car. A 2-3-minutes ride of the cable car will take you to another important Istanbul landmark – Pierre loti hill.

Note: I personally don’t visit individual graves. However, this was the grave of one of the most important Sahabi e Rasool (SAW). I do visit graveyard as per the hadith of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW). The visit allowed me to understand the importance of the place for Turks and its importance in the history of Turkey.

For reference and more details see:

Azaan in Istanbul

One of the highlights of any visit to Istanbul is to listen to the Azaan (Muslim call to prayer) or Ezan, as they call in Turkey. Istanbul is a city of Mosques with their distinct architecture. The city has more than 3000 Mosques.

Different places have different traditions of Azaan timing. Some cities, Azaan is given at the same time in all the mosques. Some cities there are differences of 10 or 15 minutes between different Mosques. Istanbul has a tradition of giving Azaan in continuity. Azaan will start in a Mosque and before it finishes, it starts in another Mosque and before that finishes it will start in some other and this continues reverberating the atmosphere for long time. This can be experienced in any part of Istanbul. However, the two most sought after places to experience Azaan in Istanbul are the Galata Tower and the area between Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia or Haagia Sofia. Many tourists to the city define these as their most memorable moments of their visit to Istanbul.

Azaan from Galata Tower

Azaan at Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia

Listening Azaan from Galata Tower

Galata tower is a medieval nine story tower in the Istanbul’s Galata / Karakoy district near the junction of Golden Horn with Bosphorus. The tower was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian. At that time, it was known as Christea Turris or the tower of the Christ and was also called Melagos Pygros or the Great Tower. At present the tower has a restaurant and café at the top from where one can enjoy the skyline of Istanbul. Listening Azaan from Galata Tower is a unique experience. Azaan comes from different directions and then there is Golden Horn on one side with sun setting in the distance in the waters. Tourists wait for long time to climb the tower to be there at right time to experience the magic.

Listening Azaan at Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia

Istanbul has lot to offer to a tourist. There is plenty to choose from Blue Mosque to Aya Sofia to Princess Island to Hazrat Ayyub Mosque to Pierre Lotti Hills. I had no idea that there is a sort of synchronized Azaan between Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia (Aya Sofia was a church built by Emperor Justinian I, later Ottoman Mosque and presently museum since 1935). Presently Aya Sofia is a museum and no prayers take place there but Azaan is still given five times a day. However, Azaan is given from a place just outside the Aya Sofia and not ftom inside. It was my tour guide Mr. Serkan ( True blue Tour) who drew my attention towards it. First the Muezzin at the Blue Mosque started the Azaan and stopped after first line. Immediately after the Muezzin at Aya Sofia started the first line and waited for the Muezzin at Blue Mosque to say second line. This continued till the complete Azaan was said. Because both are synchronised with each other and both the Muezzin’s wait for each other, the Azaan continues for many minutes. There were literally hundreds of tourists between the two historical places just waiting for the Azaan to start. I was there at time of Maghrib Azaan (Azaan given for prayers offered at sunset). Somehow that time lot of seagulls also came flying all over the place. Maybe because they get leftovers from tourists to eat. Seeing them circling over the Blue Mosque while listening to the beautiful Azaan was like seeing Angels descending on the Mosque to pray. It was a beautiful and surreal experience. This was, no doubt, one of the highlights of my tour of Istanbul.

On the lighter side, me and my family did pray Maghrib in Blue Mosque afterwards.