Imagine a 90 minute journey from the airport to the city centre. No one knows the whereabouts of your stop and you are lucky if they speak your language. Minarets are sticking out from behind the business buildings and the man standing next to you looks like a terrorist form Al Jazeera news. It is best to read a book and hope that your friend will be waiting at the final stop.
Istanbul, or originally Constantinople, was part of the Roman and Byzantine Empire. Ottoman Turks captured the city in 1453 and changed Hagia Sophia orthodox church into a mosque. Now it is a museum, where you can see the interior: cats walking around as if they were the sacred animals, and mosaics that depict Christian saints. They are from the Byzantine era. Islam is reminiscent only by the inscriptions below the ceiling, as it is forbidden to depict the Prophet and other figures.
The city is big but you can walk around the main sight in a day. From Hagia Sophia we crossed the Sultanahmet Square and arrived to the Blue Mosque, Before entering, you have to put off your shoes in order not to profane the place. The same applies to the Suleyman mosque, named after Suleyman the Great, who expanded the Ottoman Empire to the present day Hungary. He is even mentioned in some folk stories from that period that we used to learn at school. In Turkey, he is a respected person, like Ataturk.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was actually a dictator who established democracy in the 1920’s, after the world war. He turned Turkey into a secular state and since that time men can have only one wife and the women do not have to walk the streets in full cover. Actually, people dress quite normally and mosques that are in central Europe considered typical for orient are almost lost in the modern architecture, even if they count about 1,400 in Istanbul. You can spot the minarets everywhere.
An Imam was giving a lecture in the Suleyman mosque. The woman who works there told me that he is talking about the limited power of the mankind. Using the example of Titanic, he told that we can never claim that something is unsinkable or eternal and the people listened to him as if he was Dicaprio.
I took an English translation of Quran, freely available in the Mosque. It is the ‘Final culmination of and fulfilment of the same basic truths that the God revealed through all His prophets to every nation.’ (Quran 3:84) I knew that all three religions have common basic foundations and the Quran was in content identical with the early verses of the Bible, including serpent and the sin. It is also written in a manner that enables various interpretations and you can pick a particular verse and ponder over it for hours. It tries to encourage people to disseminate and analyse deeply what they read, which, as a former teacher, I like. People often act in emotion and it results in no good. Recently some radicals tried to beat up some Chinese at the Sultanahmet Square but instead they beat up a Korean girl.
Armoured vehicle in the city centre
Recently, die Zeit wrote that the attack at the Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul merged the two faces of Turkey – that of tourism and terrorism – into one. Turkish people are in nature hospitable and friendly. It is not only my personal experience from Istanbul and international events but also the words of my cousin, who lives there for two years and when in London, I lived for about three months in a hostel owned by Turks. However, they do not give away their willingness, usually frowning, and this might be the clash with the European culture of good first impression.
We were passing the Taksimim Square on Saturday evening, when several armoured vehicles and police commando arrived. Later we could see them blocking the access to the nearby street, fending of the gathering that voiced their dissatisfaction with the government. People are used to such gatherings and do not mind walking into the middle of the crowd to withdraw money from ATM.
People in Turkey divide the terrorists into two main groups: Kurdish, who fight for freedom in the south of the country and do not hesitate to attack even mosques, and the ISIS affiliates who strictly abide the religion of Islam. Government is trying to suppress the efforts of the Kurds, resulting in the unrest in the south, which helps the other group.
Turkish drink tea from glass glasses and if you add milk, your give away that you are a tourist (as if you ordered a cappuccino in Italy in the afternoon). I hoped that the original Turkish tea will be really unique but when I saw advertisement of a tea brand known in central Europe, I lost all hopes and decided to buy my take-home-box according to the colour and state-of-art design.
After that you can enter some of the Bazaars – big markets, where you can get clothes, porcelain and food for cheap. Some of the Turish sweets are too sugary and stick to your teeth but I recommend chocolate, Simik – sesame bakery product –a and ayran, which is similar to Slovak dairy drinks made by the shepherds.