Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Story of Eyup Sultan Cami - Istanbul, Turkey

The front view of Eyub Mosque
The front door to the mosque
The last time I visited Istanbul I missed this mosque. With almost 3,000 mosques and 600 of them built during the Ottoman period, it is impossible to visit all. You just have to be selective! I think there is no other city in the world with so many mosques like Istanbul. Every where, every corner you turn to, you'll find a mosque. And they all look almost alike, reminding us how imposing was the influence of the famous Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan. 

This time I am determined to visit Eyub Sultan Cami, not just for its amazing architectural delight but also for its historical values. From the bus station near Galata bridge, we took bus No.99 to get to Eyub precinct. The bus fare is very cheap, about 3 lira for a return. They won't take money on the bus so you need to buy the ticket from a booth near the fish restaurants. It is a nice feeling to get on the bus because it gives a different feel to be among the locals. The 15 minutes drive along the Golden Horn was very scenic. We asked the driver to stop us near the mosque and he nodded upon hearing the word Eyub Sultan Cami. 

In Solitude

Abu Ayyub al-Ansari was a close companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was an Ansar with whom the Prophet stayed upon arriving in Medina in 622. The mosque is built in honor of Eyub who fell ill, had to withdraw and passed away during the battle in Constantinople. His last wish was conveyed to Yazid and he requested to be buried at the walls of Constantinople. 

Ironically, after he was buried outside the walls, his tomb was venerated by the Byzantine. In 1453, Mehmet the Conqueror besieged Constantinople and he built a grand tomb and a mosque on the site of Eyup burial ground. The 1766 earthquake destroyed the building and on the same site Sultan Selim III constructed a new mosque in 1800. This is Eyub Sultan Cami that we see today.
The mosque is frequently visited by foreigners and locals, Muslims and non-Muslims. We arrived in the early morning and there was much lesser crowd than it used to be. The surrounding was very peaceful and as we approached the interior of the mosque...Masyallah, it is such a beautiful mosque. It gives a sense of tranquility and inner peace!
The interior
The blue chandelier matches the center piece of the carpet
The simple interior of the dome 
Cool and calm
The cemetery next to the mosque
Foreign visitors preparing themselves before entering the mosque
The sheeps for Kurban
The Mihrab
The Sultan's signature engraved on the tap

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tea and Simit - Turkey

Hot apple tea
Interestingly, when you visit the carpet shops or any other shops in Turkey, you'll be offered glasses of tea in the process of closing a deal. The shops owners would come up with a list of choices, "What would you like? Apple tea, rose tea or black tea." Of course, the most popular choice among the tourists would be apple tea as Turkey is known for it. I had the pleasure of sampling several types of Turkish tea and my favorite will always be the apple tea.

Apple tea and rose tea
If the shop owners are too busy to serve their customers, in a few minutes, the tea boy would come running from no where, to serve you the hot aromatic apple tea in tiny tulip shaped glasses. I think, drinking tea is a way of life and part of the Turkish culture. It is a sign of hospitality by the host and to refuse would be an insult. I enjoyed every glass of tea I had in Turkey and even after a stomach busting dinner, a glass or two will not hurt. 

In the morning, I like to have my tea with the light, crunchy, golden brown Simit topped generously with sesame. Simit is a famous street fast food and it can be easily found on streets in Istanbul or any cities in Turkey.  It can be eaten with jam, tahini, butter or cheese but I love Simit just on its own. So the next time when you're in Turkey indulge yourself with tea and Simit!
Popular Simit vendor at Sultanahmet Square
Enticing Simits
Warm Simits

Monday, November 7, 2011

Avanos Ceramics at its best - Avanos, Cappadocia

Interesting fish design
Ceramics Factory in Avanos
From Cavusin, we headed straight to the town of Avanos about 8 km from Goreme. Set on the banks of Kizilirmak (Red River), Avanos is famous for its ceramics in the Cappadocia region. We visited the Guray Ceramics Factory to have a closer look how ceramics are produced  in this region. The factory is run by the 5th. generation of the Tusyuz family with 70 other employees.

Here, they produce two types of ceramics; the white clay ceramics which contains silica and the red clay ceramics which is high in iron. The river is the source of the red clay, while the white clay is drawn from the white volcanic soil.

The tour began with a briefing on how the clay are shaped, drawn and painted.  Then, an artisan demonstrated how a pot is made using the traditional kick-wheel technique. Although, it looked easy and effortless but it was not so when one of us was given a chance to make one. Simultaneously kicking the wheel and shaping the clay is not an easy task! But today they used automated wheel and mould to shape their clay.

As usual, towards the end of the visit, we were brought to the amazing showroom and were shown the collection of ceramics produced by the factory. Extremely beautiful and they make wonderful souvenirs but very expensive.  The finer the design and quality, the more expensive it gets. They can cost thousands of US dollars!

Goblets made from white clay - ready for painting
Loads of red clay
Lovely collection of the Hittite designs
A collection of several pieces with tulip motifs
The tulip motif is a famous design
Again the tulip motifs decorate the center of the plate

In Iznik style
My favorite is an intricate family-design on the plate
An artist hand-painted the Hittite jug
She paints the white clay
Making a pot using the kick-wheel technique

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Old Greek Village in Cavusin - Cappadocia, Turkey

The Ruins of Old Greek Village in Cavusin
Since morning, it was drizzling but that had not stopped us from wandering around the ruins of this abandoned old Greek Village. All equipped with umbrellas, raincoats and plastic wraps we ascended the highest point of the rubble.  Along the way, we visited an old mosque in the village. Not a working mosque anymore but the place is well maintained as a historical site for visits. There was once a small chapel in the village and houses were carved on the hill close to each other.

According to our guide, this place was once occupied by the Greeks and overtime the erosion and harsh weather condition had made it unsafe to live.  The government relocated the inhabitants and the village was abandoned. As we moved up higher grounds, the dwellings around this hillside village become visible and the surrounding landscape depicts a deep red ochre tones, giving Cavusin a distinct look.

Soon the cold wind and the heavy rain forced us to leave this place and we had to reschedule our visit to a much warmer location. We headed to the Pottery Cave Factory in Avanos.
It was freezing 
Shades of autumn colors
Approaching the mosque
A non-working mosque with all the basics intact
The abandoned ruins
Wandering around the ruins
Clad in blue raincoat, some of us explored the village
The peak of the hill
Rocks formation around Cavusin spotted from the hill top
Ochre tones landscape
Vine trees in late autumn
A view from the hill top
The 'new' Cavusin from the hill top 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eye Candy - Turkish Carpets

Wool, cotton and silk ready to be woven into a masterpiece
We were on our way to Pamukkale when the guide asked if we wished to take a detour to a carpet factory. Though some tourists felt such stopover has devilish intention but no one can dig into our pockets unless we lost our senses. In consensus, we opted for the visit, craving to learn something new for the day.   

Working diligently on her piece
Alighting our vehicle, we were ushered by one of the factory staff to the weaving room. Here, we watched how the young Turkish ladies working on their pieces diligently and attentively. Nothing distracts them. They were working on several materials of wool, cotton and silk and the vibrant colored materials were neatly weaved into carpets which may take few months to few years depending on the size and the complexity of the design.

Next, we were taken to the silk room where a worker demonstrated how the strands of silk threads  are spun from the silkworm cocoons. Surprisingly, the thin strands of silk are very strong  indeed and the next stage is to dye them according to the required colors. 

Strands of silk thread from the cocoons
Now comes the finale... and we were brought to a huge room with beautiful carpets wall to wall; and the man started sprawling several carpets on the floor to attract our attention.  Like fools, we crawled on the carpets to feel the softness of the wool and silk hand-made carpets. Let’s just enjoy the beauty and not think of the price at the moment. As usual cups of apple tea are served as a gesture of hospitality which is pretty much common in this culture.

While the weaver’s salary may not be that much even by Turkish standard, the owner would definitely make a fat profit of pricing the merchandise in USD. Prices can range from US $3,000 to $25,000 and obviously they are not within our budget. Some of us bought a few pieces from Goreme and Konya for the price of US $1800 per piece and they had no intention of getting any here. 

I’m not getting one as that will make my old pedigree feline happier to stretch her manicure routine indulgence while I will be looking at her with tears in my eyes. Although the man made all efforts to entice us into buying the merchandise, he never succeeded. We appreciated his kindness and effort, much so when we were shown the replicate of the oldest carpet in the world which they claimed to have paid for the copyright.  That's an awesome piece.

Sprawling session
The weaving equipment
Weaving silk-on-silk piece
Silk worm cocoons
Silk threads 

Interesting design
The walls are covered with carpets