This is my Istanbul

The things that shape how I experience the city

This is my Istanbul: Ortakoy July 10, 2010

Filed under: Places — Rebecca @ 8:02 pm
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When I wake up to a gorgeous sunny summer weekend morning, my first instinct is to throw on something with a skirt, grab a pair of oversized sunglasses, and take a stroll down to Ortakoy. With sun, water, beautiful views of Asia and the First Bridge, and a great little waterfront café-and-handicrafts-bazaar area, Ortakoy is ideal for a weekend wander.
Ortakoy is just up the shore road from Besiktas – there are busses that regularly trawl the waterside, passing Ciragan Palace, the Four Seasons, and the Kabatas Erkek Lisesi in agonizingly slow traffic before clearing up a bit right at Ortakoy. It’s easier to just walk from Besiktas; unfortunately the road past Ortakoy has better water views, but the Besiktas-Ortakoy bit has decently wide sidewalks and a billboard installation of early eminent Turkish arts luminaries.
I’m always surprised by how relatively uncrowded Ortakoy is on weekend afternoons. Generally, if a spot in Istanbul is anywhere approaching a decent place to spend a few hours, and outdoors to boot, it is teeming on the weekends. See Sultanahmet, the Islands, Istiklal, the beaches up north, etc. But in Ortakoy there’s enough space to wander, stop, check out a bauble or interesting print, and meander on without coming remotely close to knocking in to anyone.
In addition to its warren of al fresco restaurants and weekend handicrafts market, Ortakoy is known for its waffle and kumpir stands and its secondhand booksellers. I’ve not tried the waffle and kumpir in Ortakoy, as I’m not the biggest kumpir fan, but their secondhand book stalls are treasure troves, and have decent selection of English-language Great Literature. Last week, I picked up a Wodehouse novel there for 7 lira. There’s also a really great print shop tucked away in a back street where I get all my early-20th-century Orientalist poster prints and Constantinople map copies. They have a surprisingly affordable selection.
During Ottoman times, Ortakoy was a fairly mixed neighborhood, and you can see remnants of that today: if you find the right spot, you can see a mosque, synagogue, and an Orthodox church by pivoting around. One of the neighborhood’s highlights is the Ortakoy Mosque, which Wikipedia tells me is actually named the Buyuk Mecidiye Camii. It’s striking because it’s done in a neo-baroque style, very singular in Istanbul, and dates from the 1850s. The mosque juts out over the water, with the First Bridge in the background, creating a pretty iconic image of Ortakoy.
For weekend afternoons or really any lazy free time I have, Ortakoy is one of my favorite places to while away a few hours. If you can stop by on a weekend it’s a great mix of laid-back shopping, leisurely lunching, and beautiful Bosporus views. What more could anyone want?

 

This is my Istanbul: The Marmara at night April 19, 2010

Filed under: Places — Rebecca @ 11:43 pm
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Photo credit to Kevin, thanks Kev!

Photo credit to Kevin, thanks Kev!

Living in Istanbul can be frustrating. After a day in cubicle land bookended by particularly rank municipal bus rides with 90 of my bestest Turkish male friends (the combination of a diet heavy on garlic sucuk and an exuberant love of cologne can be literally breathtaking in the summer months), I can get a little run down by the less-easy bits of living in the city. Whenever I do, though, it doesn’t last long because invariably I have what I call a “moment of perspective” – something that makes me stop and go “I cannot believe I get to live in a place this incredible.”

One of my chief moments of perspective comes late at night when I’m in a car heading down Kennedy Caddesi – the shore road on the Euro-side Marmara. Unlike the Bosporus, there’s almost no traffic so the driver can zoom along, curving in and out along the parkland and coastal hotels. Also unlike the Bosporus, there are very few buildings between the road and the water, giving a nearly uninterrupted view of the vast sea and the hundreds of ships moored out in the water, waiting for their turn to go through the Bosporus and on to the Black Sea. At night, they’re all lit up, and the water, the shoreline, and the distant shore beyond are all so dark the contrast is beautiful. It’s like a city on the water. Every time I end up on the shore road at night, I am awestruck by the sight of this floating city, directly between the two halves of Istanbul itself. I take the road more or less weekly, and it never gets blasé.

The Bosporus is a major transit point for global shipping, especially for the oil industry. Throughout history, it was pretty darn strategic, and figured prominently in more than its fair share of wars. I’m having a bit of difficulty finding hard facts on this online, but I’ve heard that ships have to wait at either end for somewhere around 3 weeks, in the queue to pass through the Bosporus (because there are so many ships passing through). The ones on the south end all gather in the Marmara, off towards the Euro side near Yesilkoy. Apparently there’s a thriving commercial aspect to the waiting ships, as they all have crews of a dozen-ish, waiting around with not much to do, so small boats ply the water between the tankers with snacks, DVDs, and other random things the crew might want to help pass the time.

It’s quite nice to look out on the sea full of tankers and cargo ships during the day, but at night the lit boats are just tranquil and magical, and the visual impact reminds me of how lucky I am to live in Istanbul. Burasi Istanbul (“this is Istanbul”), and the Marmara at night is a vital part of my Istanbul.

 

This is my Istanbul: Yerebatan Sarnici March 21, 2010

The cisterns are pretty dark. As is this photo.

Once you live in a city for awhile, the things that typically draw the tourists become a  little less of a personal draw. Yes, the Blue Mosque is a must-see, but it’s not a five-time or 10-time must-see. It’s not even the best of the big Mimar Sinan mosques (I’m sure that will be a later post).

My personal exception to the diminishing utility of major Sultanahmet sites is the Yerebatan Sarnici, or Basilica Cisterns. I drag all my visitors through, even though it is not covered by my hard-won MuzeKart.

The cisterns were built somewhere around 500AD, or somewhere around 200 years after the Hagia Sophia. During the Byzantine period, they supplied water for the palace that was brought down from the Belgrade Forest via a pretty impressive network of aqueducts.

After the conquest, the Ottomans used the cisterns as well, although apparently for a while they were completely forgotten: According to lore, people in the neighborhood found out that they had neato magic basements, with small holes that one could drop a fishing line down and actually catch fish from. Eventually a visitor to the area climbed down one of those small holes and realized that actually the houses were on top of a giant subterranean water storage chamber.

The cisterns today are just gorgeous – they were restored in the 1960s and the 1980s, and have been lit with dim, colored lights with ethereal classical music piped in. There are still shoals of fish busying themselves in the water. The columns used to build the cisterns were repurposed from other projects around 6th century Constantinople, so as a result there’s quite a variety. My favorite is one with little spirals all over it; it’s a greeny-blue color.

One of the big draws of the Basilica Cisterns is the Medusa heads. At the foot of two pillars in a back corner of the cistern are large marble Medusa heads. One is sideways, while the other is upside down. It’s pretty incredible that they’ve survived so long, and in such decent condition. No one really knows how they ended up shoring up columns in a cistern, but as this is Turkey there are dozens of theories to choose from.

I enjoy the mood of the Basilica Cisterns. In the summer, it’s a cool, welcome respite from the utter havoc that is Sultanahmet. It tends to be quieter than the other big tourist sites nearby (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque), with fewer touts to boot. It’s a great place to chill mid-sightseeing, or to just stop by just because. The Yerebatan Sarnici is my Istanbul.

Yerebatan Sarnici

Yerebatan Caddesi 13

Sultanahmet

Admission TL 10 / TL 3 for Turkish students or those who speak enough Turkish to convince the ticket sellers that they’re Turkish students

Official website (English, Turkish, etc)