Underground in Istanbul - Simpson Prize 2014
Day two of this experience and we were lucky enough to visit some of the most amazing sites of Istanbul. One in particular, Chora Church Museum gives a particularly interesting window into the layered history of this city. The more time we spend looking into this city and its treasures the more I hope we can start painting a picture of the Turkish people for the students. These are a people with a much longer and in some respects, more complicated history than white Australia and it makes all the more interesting the shared experience of the men at Gallipoli.
What I always find intriguing is how these young people respond to this trip. What they see and how they are influenced by the sights and sounds that I have been lucky enough to experience many times makes my visit different every year.
When I say Turkey, you may say... Bazaar, kebab, baklava, Turkish delight, Bosphorus. Maybe if you're a history buff you can list the five names this city has been know as: Byzantium, Nea Roma, Constantinople, Stanpolis and Istanbul. I doubt the images a simple description of Turkey conjure are those that most epitomise the culture and chaos of inner Istanbul. Let's see... I would say that calls to prayer from minarets, haggling shopkeepers and cigarette smoke haze are actually more fitting descriptions. Even today the most mezmorising experiences for us have been those small snippets of Turkish life, that are hard to describe, and I'm sure even harder to imagine.
This morning there was a lull in the buzz of city life as we went for a pre-breakfast walk. But not everyone was quiet. By the end of the walk we had amassed an entourage of seven public dogs (living in the city streets but cared for by the local authorities) and a local friend or two. Then even our first Turkish breakfast was a learning experience. I mean, pizza, chocolate and lettuce salads are generally not typical Aussie breakfast fare.
The Chora Church Museum blew us away. The intricacy of each fresco and mosaic was amazing. Each individual tile had its own place, every one telling its own unique part of the Biblical story. When the church was converted to a mosque, the respect shown by the Islamic community towards these artworks reflects the magnanimous attitude towards all foreigners and minority groups that we are experiencing today. Rather than being destroyed, the Christian iconography was sealed behind decorative wooden boards.
Next was a brave foray into the dim and dangerously slippery underground Cistern. Our guide Orhan mysteriously managed to skip the hour long queue and soon we were beneath the city surrounded by enormous stone columns- all over 1000 years old. It still seems odd to us that we can touch these pillars without it being seen as detrimental to their ongoing conservation.
The warmth of the people is best felt in the Bazaar, or so I have found. While many shop keepers lay out prayer mats to face Mecca five times a day, their enthusiasm to welcome us and our customs while overcoming any language barriers is extraordinary. I find it totally incongruous that here we are, clearly alien visitors, being acceptted and welcomed when less than 100 years ago we were fighting on their soil. It is pretty hard to fathom.
Overall, our first two days in Turkey have been hectic, overwhelming, fast paced, immersive, fascinating and hilarious... but I wouldn't have changed a thing.
Olivia Brown (Victoria)