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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Tulip Mania

Tulips are not from Holland

Tulips are NOT from Holland. The Turks are not from Turkey. The tulip was a wild flower that originated in the Central Asia.  Tulips were first cultivated by the Turks as early as the year 1000. The Turks were horse-riding warriors who also came from Central Asia.  They migrated west taking over Asia Minor as they gradually defeated the Byzantine Empire starting with their victory in eastern Turkey in 1071 and culminating in their conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Our word tulip supposedly comes from the Turkish/Farsi word for turban, which had a tulip-like shape. Tulips are called lale in Turkish.  When written in Arabic letters, "lale" has the same letters as Allah, which is why the flower became a holy symbol.  It was also associated with the House of Osman, better known to us as the Ottomans.  During the Ottoman Empire, the tulip was seen as a symbol of abundance and indulgence. 

It should not be a surprise that tulips are widely used as decorative motifs on tiles and textiles.  We bought some tulip tiles as gifts.  So if you think all those tulip-dominated arts and crafts are done just for the tourists, think again.

Sirkeci Mansion
Tulips are for Tiles

Tulip Exports

The first tulip export was made by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.  He gave some bulbs to the Flemish ambassador to Anatolia, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq in 1554.  Some of these were passed to Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius.  In 1593 Clusius became a professor at the University of Leiden, where he created one of the earliest formal botanical gardens in Europe.  Clusius laid the foundations of Dutch tulip growing industry today.  You never heard of Leiden U.?  Albert Einstein was a professor there.

Tulips are for Gardens
The tulip was different from every other flower known to Europe at that time, with a saturated intense petal colour that no other plant had.

In 1634, a speculative frenzy now known as the tulip mania began in Holland.  Clearly, tulips were only for the rich.  Some tulip bulbs became so expensive that they could cost more than an Amsterdam house!
Tulips are for Tiles

Around this time, the tulipiere and other tulip-themed ceramics became common.  Bouquets of tulips often appeared in Dutch still-life painting.

The gift of a red or yellow tulip was a declaration of love, the flower's black centre representing a heart burned by passion. 

Tulip Mania Act II

The tulip played an interesting role in the Turkish history. Tulips became an important element in the arts and could be found in clothing and carpets, paintings and pottery.  The period between 1718 and 1730 is called as the "Tulip Era", when the Ottoman Empire was at its peak of wealth and peace.
Fountain of Ahmed III

The Fountain of Ahmed III, the sultan of that era, is a classic example of Tulip period architecture.  It is a fusion of classical Islamic elements with European baroque.

Sirkeci Mansion
Okay, Sirkeci Mansion

Sirkeci Mansion

If the weather is dismal, the welcome at Sirkeci Mansion is always warm. On our second stay, we had many discussions with Okay, the manager, and his staff.  We got to know most of the staff at the hotel.  Plus we reconnected with the Ceyda and Damla, who work as "tourist facilitators" – provide an orientation, answer your questions, give directions, etc.  

Sirkeci Mansion
Dome of Verbosity

Afternoon tea is served in the incredible "living room" under the stained glass dome.   The room was beautifully decorated with Turkish crafts – including the tiles shown above

Sirkeci Mansion
Tea Anyone?

Did you know that one fifth of the population of Turkey are Kurdish?  This is no tiny ethnic group.  By the way, the Kurds speak an Indo-European language.  They are culturally and linguistically related to the Iranians, who along with the Europeans are descendants of the Aryans.  

Sirkeci Mansion
Sirkeci Mansion Breakfast

The coffee at breakfast is delicious. But this stay we went into the kitchen for a lesson on how to make Turkish coffee – and it was delicious. Needless to say, we went near the Spice Market to buy some Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi kahve beans to take home.  

Tulip Festivals

Tulip Mania or Tulip Festival

Most people associate tulips with the Netherlands.  There are even tulip festivals throughout the west.  The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa was started with bulbs provided each year by Netherlands in thanks for Canada liberating the Dutch from the Nazis.  The Dutch Queen Juliana and her children lived safely in the capital, Ottawa, during World War II. The Dutch princess Margriet was born in the Ottawa Civic Hospital in 1943.  Later, she studied at Leiden University how things come full circle and in 2002 came back to see the Canadian Tulip Festival. 

© 2011 Hansueli Krapf Creative Commons
Tulip Tails
Even today, the tulip is still considered the embodiment of perfection and beauty in Turkey.  If you thought the patterns on the tail and fuselage of the planes flown by Turkish Airlines are just  geometric designs, look again.  They are tulips.  

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Saturday, 18 July 2015

Bosphorus Odyssey

Bosphorus Odyssey | Turkey | Terra Encounters in-depth

Water Ways and Dreary Days

Taking a cruise along the Bosphorus is one of the quintessential things to do in Istanbul.  By cruise, I do not solely mean the overpriced tourist cruises.  Probably the best deal is the ferry that goes to Anadolu Kavağı near the Black Sea, Kara Deniz.  Here you can climb up to a hilltop Yoros fortress for panoramic views.  The stopover is long enough to eat lunch.  The boat trip takes about 5-1/2 hours return for TRY 25.

Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul
Bosphorus Cruise
However, one of the drawbacks of a March trip was that we had dreary cool weather in Istanbul. Therefore, it was not worthwhile spending so long on a boat with rainy weather.  We decided against going on the full-day cruise and opted to crisscross the Bosphorus on low cost ferries, looking for views of the cityscape.  The price was right but the photography, not so good. Of course, if you cross purposely to sightsee or eat in Asia, it is even more worthwhile. 

Sultanahmet from Ferry to Kadıköy
In our Kool Kadıköyexpedition, we enjoyed the atmosphere and food during an evening in this non-touristy suburb. However, the afternoon is poor for photography of the Sultanahmet area since it is back-lit.  It was beautifully lit up at night on our way back though.  

From Eminönü take the ferry to Üsküdar where you will arrive in a vibrant bustling harbour and market area.  There were still lots of people in spite of the rain.  There are also some old mosques to visi.
Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, Üsküdar
Mihrimah Sultan Mosque
Right at the harbour is the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, built in 1548 by Mihrimah Sultana, daughter of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the wife of his Grand Vizier, Rüstem Pasha.  It is decorated with colourful election flags in the photo.

Şemsi Pasha Mosque, Üsküdar
Şemsi Pasha Mosque
Take a short walk south along the quay to Şemsi Pasha Mosque.  It was built in 1581 by Mimar Sinan, the most famous Ottoman architect of Süleymaniye and Selimiye (Edirne) Mosque fame.  Şemsi Pasha has a much smaller dome than Süleymaniye Dome-ination but it does have a spectacular view over the Bosphorus. 

From here, you can take the ferry across to Beşiktaş and then back to Eminönü. The last trip passes parallel to the “Dolmabahçe Coast” but you are not as close as a cruise.  This area along with the Tower are the most attractive parts of the coast contrasted to the modern architecture of the rest of Istanbul.  The area is so urbanized you finally see the scale of this 18 million-person city. 

Dolmabahçe Mosque & The Ritz, Istanbul
Dolmabahçe Mosque

Dolmabahçe Mosque

The Dolmabahçe Mosque was built as part of the palace by the Valide Sultan, mother of the sultan.  It is very ornate and more like a palace hall.  Towering above it is not a sleek modern office building.  It is the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where one night will cost you anywhere from EUR 355 to 975.  The imposing building to the left of the Ritz is the ITU, the Istanbul Technical University. 

Dolmabahçe Sarayı

The Dolmabahçe Sarayı is the highlight of any trip on the Bosphorus.  Dolma in Turkish means “stuffed or filled”, bahçe means “garden” and sarayi means “palace”.  Dolmades are filled in delicacies of Greece and Turkey.  So why was this place called Filled-in Garden?  This used to be a bay where the Ottoman fleet was stationed.  The harbour was filled in.

Dolmabahçe Sarayı
For centuries, the Ottomans lived in Topkapı Palace Paradise.  But I guess it was no longer a paradise to the Ottomans since it lacked the splendour and comfort enjoyed by the European monarchs.  So this quintessential European (Baroque) style complex was built not only as a palace but also as the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 until the fall of the empire after World War I.  

Dolmabahçe Sarayı
The Ottomans spent about $1.5 billion to construct the palace.  This phenomenal amount – even today – was equivalent to one quarter of the Ottoman annual tax revenue!  The huge expense required extensive loans, which in turn led state bankruptcy.  This in turn, led the Empire to seek allies (the Germans) to protect their borders against the designs of the British and French, who won the war and divided the Middle East and North Africa between them.  

 Bosphorus Ferry at Night

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