Return to Turkey

I returned to Istanbul in September 2011. Baha meets me at the airport, all smiles. Back at his hotel, he’s printed out a stack of Islamic designs for my hats, and I show him the hats he asked me to make for him, to sell at his hotel. We start discussing price points and promotional plans.

It’s EID and the city is lit up like Disneyland. His hotel was full, so he has reserved a room for me at the Kybele Hotel, where I spend the night admiring what must have been 30 lanterns that hung above my bed.

I wake up the next morning to a landscape that has changed. Sidewalk cafe tables have been banned by city ordinance. The old hotelier is gone, as is Cihan. Baha arrives but there’s a cloud over him. He walks me through the fashion district near the Galata Tower before we hop public transit to the Rumeli Fortress. It’s a long trip, and the door to the Rumeli is being locked just as we arrive.

I look for the Chora Church, which Baha had suggested the last time I was here. The directions fail me so I hail a cab, but even the cabbie has trouble finding it, and drops me a few blocks away but points in the direction I need to walk to get there.

  • Built in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Justinian, it was converted into a mosque in 1511, and became a museum in 1945. Unlike other church to mosque conversions, the original mosaics and frescoes were not plastered over.

The mosaics are incredible, with tiles the size of my smallest fingernail and not always square, allowing for fine shading and shaping of the human faces.

The domed and vaulted ceilings of Chora Church brought back memories of the Basilica in Venice, but with the addition of windows in the tops of the domes, reminiscent of the Salute Cathedral. I was surprised by the intensity of the colors.

I always think of mosaic as a smooth surfaced art form, but I’m proven wrong here. The textures are amazing…

Afterwards, I wander through a residential area of old Ottoman homes, and finally end up at the water’s edge, where I hop a ferry with the intention of going north to Eyup. But I get onto the wrong ferry and we head south instead.

Rumeli, and now Eyup. I wonder what plan will fail next…

Back at the Hotel Han, plans to go to Bodrum have fallen through, and Baha suggests alternative destinations for me to visit solo. “See what is outside of Istanbul for a couple of days. Cappadocia perhaps. Or Ephesus.” I chose instead, the city of Bursa, the ancient Ottoman capitol.

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