After leaving Fatih mosque, I headed off back towards the Beyazit area, intending to head home to the hotel, but curiosity intervened.
I went up the steps near Istanbul University, curious about the people peddling knives, watches and bric-a-brac. Close to them many people were selling books, mostly computer software manuals translated into Turkish, and I think, a look of bootleg software (bad luck Bill!).
A bit further on, in the plaza out the front of the University, and next to the Beyazid mosque, was the biggest open-air market I have ever seen. Clothes, cutlery, you name it - on sale from people who looked like they had come from all over Turkey and Central Asia. The market appeared to spread for hundreds of metres, and I wondered if it was legal. I heard back at the hotel that the police moved in every now and again to clear things up, and sure enough, I saw a van. They made sure the siren and walkie talkies went off every now and again, just to make their presence felt.
It was getting near dusk, and dirty great rain clouds were rearing up overhead, right behind the resplendent Ottoman gates of Istanbul University. I headed for the Beyazide mosque and took shelter in the marble courtyard. Unfortunately, I was unable to enter the mosque as it was closed to non-Muslims at the time. With the pitter-pat of rain on the marble, sheltered under the enormous porches on all sides, in the failing, stormy light, were groups of people. It would have made a great photo for a professional photographer.
"The mosque was built right at the start of the 16th century, part of a whole complex with the medrese, schools, kitchen etc. Freely says in his book "the mosque marks the beginning of the great classical period which continued for more than two hundred years." There you go! And even more technical - but an accurate description of the beautiful courtyard: "One enters Beyasit Camii through one of the most charming of all the mosque courtyards. A peristyle of twenty ancient columns - porphyry, verd antique, and Syenitic granite - upholds an arcade with red-and-white or black-and-white marble voussoirs. The colonnade is roofed with 24 small domes and three magnificent entrance portals give access to it....The harmony of proportions, the rich but restrained decoration, the brilliance of the variegated marbles, not to speak of the interesting vendors and crowds which always through it, give this courtyard a charm of its own."
I couldn't have said it better myself. Look out in particular for the Arabic or Ottoman dedictory inscriptions in black on red marble in the portals. They are truly masterworks. I went back there on Sunday morning, and a very quiet coin and money and watch market takes place. In the middle, of course, tea urns boil away, and people (all men, I think, bar a few LOUD American tourists), sat and talked quietly.
Suleymaniye Camii and various markets
The next day, the Sunday morning, things were very quiet - the official day of rest, and not Friday, as in other Islamic countries. I went to visit the Suleymaniye mosque via the Beyazit area - the commercial hub of Istanbul it seems, with thousands of shops selling not that great fashion along the main stretch of Yeniceirler Caddesi - I also went into the Grand Bazaar Kapalicarsi). If you like shopping and aggressive shopkeepers, it is the way to go...if you want to just enjoy the magnificent internal architecture of internal covered streets - and that is what they really are - it is hard to enjoy oneself with all the noise around. Freely has a very detailed description - and map -of the covered market. There is also a good map on the map of it on the map of Istanbul that can be bought for about $2.
Upon reflection, I would have like to read the background first, and seen if it was still possible to identify the different artisan and selling areas. There were definitely many workshops around the place, but to use a bit of Hebrew slang - the place is a balagan - an absolute teeming mess, full of greenhorn tourists. The whole trading area extends all the way down to Galata bridge.
However, I see from Freely's book that I did identify at least one quarter - that of the Secondhand Booksellers, the Sahaflar Carisi. As Freely says, it is a very pleasant courtyard (though I didn't see the vines). When I visited there it was dusk, and the different shops, specialising in different areas of publishing all had their lights on, and these reflected into the courtyard area.
Freely says that the booksellers guild goes back to the days of Byzantium...I even found one shop full of second-hard archaeology, Hittitology, and Assyriology books, but they were quite expensive. I wonder how he made a living, and the few foreigners who came here would have to know Turkish, as I don't think the sellers knew English or German. A few of the shops were selling pages of illustrated Ottoman books such as the story of Noah. I should have bought one. And of course, there were the inevitable computer books.
In the general covered market I did try to find a new leather backpack for my wife to take home, but no luck. There did seem to be a limited range of styles, and I am not one for gold shopping!!
To get to the Suleymaniye one has to walk around the back of the University through some nice tree-covered streets. This was very pleasant, as there was virtually no traffic, and it is only a few hundred yards down the boulevard from the craziness of the covered market (which also serves as a bus and autocar terminal).
I noticed a banner advertising internet training courses over the road - I couldn't escape (I work in internet services).
When I entered the complex gardens, I noticed a group of men, in their Sunday best, Italian jackets, and new winter overcoats. I assumed that they were secular, and just looking at the mosque. But in they went, off to pray. I suppose that Sunday is easier sometimes than Friday.
I used the word 'humongous' in my diary to refer to the internal size of the mosque - and that is the truth. Walking around the outside (and the usual, beautiful, ordered garden is overwhelming enough), but the interior makes it a clear winner for architectural splendour. There appear to be acres of open space. It was there I noticed one man checking his mobile phone after praying, too.
I walked right around the mosque - few tourists appeared to, and lo and behold, I had walked onto the back terrace, that overlooks the Bosphorus. The view is just stunning, and well worth going to see. It also appears on some copies of the Blue Guide (the older edition). Dropping away from the side of the mosque are the little chimneys of a medrese - sort of like tiny minarets.
Topkapi Sarayi, the Great Palace
Unlike other tourists, I really hadn't thought much about Topkapi before visiting Istanbul, and really, one could spend a full days being overwhelmed by the grant Ottoman architecture, the incredible jewels, and the beautiful gardens.
The pavilion architecture, with exaggerated porticos is clearly the antecedent of the amusement part towers at Luna Park, near where I live.
The view from the back terrace -the Marble Terrace of the 4th Court is as good as that from the back of Suleymaniye Camii, and there is a little pavilion under which to stand. Some ceremony used to take place there. I could see lines of smog hugging the different valleys of the 7 hills of Istanbul. I haven't mentioned it before, but there is a smell of kerosene everywhere, probably from stoves and lamps. I took a photo of a family - all the women in full chadors, and a little boy jumped in front.
Within Topkapi - properly Topkapi Sarayi, the Great Palace, there are many , many courts, chambers and rooms. The nomenclature gives a sense of the deadly humour which existed: for example, an execution area has the 'Example Stones' where heads were displayed.
The Pavilion of the Holy Mantle contains all sorts of Islamic relics. I never realised before that relics were important in (popular) Islam, and ordinary people stood praying around various bits and pieces- swords attributed to the first 4 khalifs, extracts from the Koran on palm leaves, part of the prophet's mantle, bits of bone and hair as tourists swarmed past at the same time. The cynic would say, "of course, this has nothing to do with the rise of reliquaries in Byzantine Christianity, and it just kept going after the conquest.." This was traditional folk religion, I think, similar to the praying outside the turbes (tombs) of different sultans.
I was most impressed with wooden and silver water spouts from the Kabaa at Mecca - probably the closest that I will ever get to there.
Topkapi housed the royal bureaucracy, and it got me thinking about 'total systems' which cannot see outside their own way of thinking and world. We can make value judgements about the right and wrong of the use of Janissaries - Christian boys stolen from the Empire - for the Civil Service, but in medieval or ancient terms, it probably wasn't all that cruel.
Unfortunately, the portions of the palace where the royal costumes and portraits were closed, but I saw a great display of folk shadow puppets - karadog.
After the palace closed at 4, I continued walking, down to the Royal Mint. The buildings look Italian, as if they were built in the 18th century. Up in the corner of one is a cute little bird roost, with a roman facade. Some of the buildings look as if they are converted into local history and art display spaces, but all the signage was in Turkish. I saw through a window a serious-looking Sunday afternoon seminar with lots of serious-looking middle class intellectuals facing a serious-looking panel, and another exhibition appeared to be on the history of various families in Istanbul. Men were in the inevitable sports coats.
The laneways there lead down into the Gulhane Park (next to the Archaeological museums). I had walked past there before, down Sokukcesme Soguk - where you can see the huge walls of the old palace looming above the shops and tramway.
There were a couple of junkies hanging around the entrance to Gulhane Park, and near them, a man had a trained pigeon or dove that read people's fortunes by picking out lucky numbers from a tray. If only I had taken a picture. The junkie woman was behaving much like (and looked like) one of the junkie hookers near where I live in Melbourne - pretty sad stuff.
The long and thin park was crowded with families in their Sunday best, stopping at kebab stalls, tea stalls, kids riding on amusements, and just having fun. The kebab places made me hungry for MEAT, but I resisted...
Their was what only the inveterate publicist would call a zoo, and some poor camels were kept in a tiny enclosure, and I dared not look at what was happening to other animals.
By this time, I was dog tired, but I picked up my laundry at a little place run by an Indian and checked my email in a rug shop near Hagia Sophia. There were a couple of the inevitable over-financially endowed Americans buying rugs, and I could not help but listen in on the conversations She was living there with here husband, and the friend was just passing through on his way to Kazakhstan on business. It reminded me so much of the snobbery that I used to see working at the Harvard Coop of people who were just a bit too comfortable and consumerist in their lives (yes folks, I went to Harvard too!!).
As I mentioned above, I was having a meat craving, and went to one of the restaurants on the Divanyolu Caddesi - the place with the jolly chef spouting "meat, non-meat" as he banged his spoon on the different tubs of foot. It was delicious - and $12! How do they stuff vegetables so well? And so off to bed, with a Bosphorus cruise lined up for the next day...