Hi, I’m Jessica Berkmen. I was born in the United States. But I have some family members living in Istanbul, Turkey. And I would come to visit from time to time. Each time... ...I would become more fascinated by Istanbul and the people, and the special traditions that they still have. So, I decided to make a trip over to Istanbul, and discover what really makes Istanbul unique. I am sitting here with Serif Yenen. He is a specialist on travel in Turkey. -Hi Serif. -Hi Jessica.
-How are you? -Thank you, how about you? -Welcome to our beautiful city. -Great, it is very beautiful. -So you are here for a discovery, and let's do that together. -Although I have been living almost all my life in Istanbul, there is still a lot to discover here, and let's do that. Istanbul has earned a unique place in history as a former capital of three great empires: The Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. Although it is not the official capital anymore, today it continues to be a great city – in size and influence. It is the largest city in Turkey, and at 13 million people, among the largest cities in the world.
It is the cultural center of the country, and its leader in commerce and industry. Ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim, and yet people have freedom of religion in Turkey. However, Istanbul has not always been Muslim. Formerly known as Constantinople, Istanbul was the capital of the first Christian Empire. Of the many landmarks to see in this city, the Hagia Sophia is the most important. It has dominated the city for nearly 1500 years.
For many centuries, it was probably the largest church in the world. After more than 900 years of Christianity, in 1453, the Turks declared Constantinople as their new capital... ...and converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. For nearly 500 years it went on to serve as a mosque, and many Ottoman Sultans prayed here. In 1934, the Hagia Sophia was once more converted into a museum open to visitors. Mosaics are a major attraction here. They cover an area of 19,000 square yards.
Supposedly it is the largest existing mosaic installation of any edifice in the world. Facing the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque, built eleven hundred years later, in the 17th Century. It is another masterpiece, combining the Byzantine, Turkish and traditional Islamic architecture. It is considered the last great mosque of the Ottoman Classical period. I’m sitting here in the Blue Mosque, which Turkish people never refer to it as that... ...but as its true name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. And next to me is Emrullah Hoca, who is the imam of this mosque.
-How is being an imam different from being, say, a priest or a monk? -First of all, there is no clergy in Islam. We do have people working in religious services. -That does not separate them from other people. There is no clerical institution that makes them superior to ordinary people. -Do you have a family of your own? -Certainly. I got married when I was 33, and God bestowed 3 children upon us... ...Two sons and a daughter. -One of my sons is in the United States working on his PHD. Marriage with only one woman is encouraged in Islam. Marriage is an order from God.
A Muslim can marry a woman of any Abrahamic religion. Christianity and Judaism have sacred books revealed by God too. So, a Muslim can marry a Christian or a Jew.
Ottoman Turks were known to be tolerant of other religions; instead of demolishing churches, they converted some of them into mosques. A fine example is the Kucuk Ayasofya Mosque, formerly the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. More than a mosque, Süleymaniye is an important historical symbol for Turks, as it unites architect Sinan and Suleyman the Magnificent. The architect Sinan, also built the very beautiful, though smaller mosque, the Rustem Pasha. Sixteenth century Iznik Tiles nearly cover most of the interior. -We know you are a very busy man that you wake up early and you lead five prayers a day starting at sunrise.
-Do you ever have time for yourself during these days? -A man has a duty to spend time with his family... ...go places with them, visit friends, and so on. -We may go to the seaside or have a picnic in a wooded area or go to a hilltop for the scenery. -It’s refreshing to be out in a green environment... ...and to see what God has created. -There are countless beauties to be seen in nature.
-And now, we hear these calls to prayers five times a day throughout Istanbul. Are they played out of a tape or are they live? -Calls to prayers are always done live. The person who does this is called a müezzin. -I know some people only have a couple of days to spend in Istanbul... ...for these people, what would you recommend them to see? -A unique place to visit is the Topkapi Palace. -There is no other place in the world like the Topkapi Palace. It is so different, it is so large, and it is so interesting. -Not only with the museum collections, the building itself is like a museum, much worth seeing.
The Topkapi Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultan and his court as well as the center for state functions... ...and administration for nearly 400 of the total 624-year duration of the Ottoman Empire. The 25 sultans who resided here from the 15th to the 19th centuries added parts to it... ...leaving us very rich examples of architectural styles spanning 4 centuries. Contrary to popular belief, the Harem in the palace was not a prison full of women kept for the Sultan’s pleasure. It was actually dedicated to the royal family. It was in these special quarters of the Palace that the Dynasty lived.
Nomadic Turks, as they settled into life in Anatolia, adopted many cultural features from the Romans. Among these is the Turkish Bath or Hamam. Sinan’s 16th century Suleymaniye Bath still functions. But unlike many other traditional-style hamams, it is a unisex complex in which all the masseurs are male. I’m sitting here with Erol who gave me a very pleasurable and a little painful experience in a hamam; and the Turkish bath. Now, I’m feeling very relaxed.
We have the very opportunity to ask him a couple of questions and learn about him and what it’s like to work in a Turkish bath. I am asking him: "Did he have to go to any kind of special school training to work in a hamam?" -There are massage courses, but usually one learns this through apprenticeship like other professions in our culture. -That is how I started. Later on, I took massage courses to improve my skills. -Is working in a hamam, is it a well-paying job? -Pretty good.
I’m asking him, when he tells people what he does for a living, what’s their reaction? How is it looked upon? -People ask me what I do in the hamam. When I say, "massage", they sometimes ask if I work with Turks or foreigners. -In the past only Turks went to the hamam. Now foreigners are interested too. When I say foreigners, they get surprised a little. A lot of pretty girls probably come in here. And does his wife ever get a little jealous knowing what he does for a living? -I suppose she may be a little jealous. But she has a good sense of humor. -When she sees foreign travelers strolling around, she says, “They will get tired and come to you for a massage later on”. -Turkish Whirling Dervishes are world famous. Is there a place where I can still see them perform?
-Yes, there are a few places. Actually, we do not take it like a performance. They don't whirl to entertain people. -It is a religious sect. These are the sufi people. There is a great deal of philosophy lying behind that. -They do whirling dances as a part of their ritual. What they aim in their ritual is a unification with god. -When I tell people that my family is from Turkey, they say "oh that is where they have the whirling dervish". And I realize, I don’t know anything about these people, and why they do what they do.
And I’m lucky enough to be sitting here with Özgür, who is a whirling dervish. -Is being a dervish, is it like being a monk or a priest? -Do you consider yourself a dancer, a performer? -We lead ordinary lives just like anyone else. -"Sema" is an activity for us outside our business, home or school life. -I graduated from the university and work for a company. I’m married, have friends, and a regular life.
-After work, before going home, I practice "Sema" just like meditation. Then I go home. -During "Sema" we leave aside all worldly thoughts. -Problems at work and other stresses disappear for an hour here as we take part in this religious ritual. -When it’s finished, we put on our regular clothes, go home, and continue with our lives. -Approaching the physics part, have you ever measured how fast you go and how many times you turn in a minute? -The maximum number of turns per minute is 60. In fact, it is the music that determines our pace. -A special instrument, a pair of drums called a "kudüm", is the lead instrument.
-It sets the rhythm, and everybody follows it. -You wear a very special wardrobe, with a long white gown and a tall felt hat, does that symbolize anything? -We do wear special clothing for the ritual... ...to visually engage others and encourage them to become a part of the mystical journey. -However, we can practice "sema" in regular clothing. -The hat symbolizes our tombstone. The black cloak represents the ego. -The white gown symbolizes the shroud. -We renounce our ego and start out on a journey practicing "zikir", remembrance of God.
-We have no outside thoughts during this time. -We repeat the name of God "Allah, Allah, Allah", as a dying person would. -Now how do you stop from falling down? Because I know, when I keep spinning I get really dizzy.
-One of my favorite parts of travelling, of course, is shopping. What places should I go to in Istanbul? -What is special here that I can't find anywhere else in the world? -For a sustainable tourism you need to contribute to the local economy. So, congratulations on that. -Different style shopping is available here.
Istanbul is a treasure-trove for shoppers... ...especially if you’re interested in local culture and want the opportunity to interact with locals and take part in their customs. Bazaars of Istanbul offer unique goods, crafts, spices, and many other selections. -For instance, if you are looking for traditional style shopping the right address is going to be the Grand Bazaar. -As a part of the culture, in the Grand Bazaar there is still kind of haggling, negotiating. As the Turks made Istanbul “Turkish”, Istanbul made them “Istanbulian”. One of the outcomes of this mutual transformation is the Grand Bazaar.
We could say the Grand Bazaar was one of the earliest shopping malls... ...but that would not describe its enormity or greatness today. There are 67 streets lined with approximately 4400 shops, covering an area more than 74 acres. You may come across a former inn for caravans, a fountain, or a small mosque among the shops. Cafes are there to re-fuel you. During exploration of the narrow streets, you’ll be drawn from one shop to another. -This, wedding ring. And I show you. It goes like this. Easy.
-Thank you so much. -Thank you very much. Shops selling the same kind of merchandise tend to be congregated together, as this was the original Ottoman system. Approximately 2500 shops sell jewelry. This may be the biggest jewelry bazaar in the world. Many others sell rugs, textiles, ceramics, metalwork, leather, antiques, etc. It is customary for every artisan in the bazaar to know just enough of every language to make a sale. -Cat hair brushes and real gold leaves. 24-carat gold leaves, painted with.
-And these are all hand painted and signed. You don't see any Arabic letter. It looks like a design. -This is my last design that I painted. The subject is water. -What is so special about Turkish rugs that makes people from all over the world come here to buy them? -Actually we shall maybe go back to history of Turkish rugs. -That is, we have tradition of producing these beautiful rugs, works of art for the last 2000 years. -So the variety of colors and designs is so rich that everyone will find something that will go well in his place. -Besides, technical details, like quality of material, dyes and densities are so good with Turkish rugs.
-Some Turkish rugs are so high in value; are they good investments for people to make? -Certainly they are. Rugs are like good wines. -If they are well made at the beginning, with good materials and dyes, they will have higher values over the years. -Besides, rugs are very important part of our culture, Turkish culture.
-We do not take rugs as items that we use, but as work of art that warm up our places, we pass them to the next generations. -You have been expecting two pieces of good news from far away. -You will eventually get the news in about 6 or 7 months. -There is a sea journey awaiting you.
-Somebody owes you money and you think it is impossible. But it will surely come because the obvious sign is here. Sengul just told me some very exciting things that are to happen in the future for me, and I hope they come true. Artisans in the Grand Bazaar at first presented competition for Genoese merchants, then bon marches, passages of Pera... ...and the department stores, and finally today, they compete with imported goods. Many master artisans who emigrate to other countries had their start at the Grand Bazaar. -If you are in the market for food, of course, the Spice Market. It was also named as the Egyptian Bazaar. -It goes back to the 17th and the 18th centuries.
We just got our shopping in the Spice Market for some of our ingredients that we are going to be using today. -What are we making? -Oh, yes, we mentioned about this fish, bonito fish; the baby version of the tuna. -We call it bonito in English but in Turkish? You tell me in Turkish. -Palamut. -Palamut, yes. -We did a very good job. That's delicious. -Lovely.
-Once in a while, I come accross these hookah bars, is that something that really exists in Istanbul? -We call it nargile or waterpipe or hookah. And it's been also a part of the traditional lifestyle. -We used to have many coffehouses with wooden chairs, and there would be men enjoying their waterpipe. -But for a while it disappeared. But recently it has become popular among the young generation. -We have started having coffehouses specializing with these waterpipe experiences.
-First of all, you need quality ingredients for good baklava. -You can tell good pistachios by their smell. You need real masters for making good baklava. -We will first make the dough thin. -Now hold it like this. Look, you see?
-It takes 6-7 years to become master. Now we will make baklava together. -It takes three hours to make a tray of baklava. -Quickly. -At least I am doing this right. -We place the layers one by one, so air can enter between them and the baklava will puff. -Now, we add pistachios. Smell the pistachios.
-Come on, sprinkle them over. -Again. -We don’t want it to overflow the tray, or we’d have burnt pistachios in the oven. -Now, we will pour butter, hot butter.
-Do you get the wonderful smell? Smell it. It is butter. -Now let us see the oven. -It is out of the oven now. The top must be in golden color. The pistachio inside must be green. -We will add the syrup while it is still hot.
-We will let it rest for at least one hour. Then it will be ready to sell. We all know that one of the most beautiful and traditional aspects of Turkish culture is belly dancing. To learn more, we have come to the very best, sometimes referred to as the queen of the belly dancers: Asena. -Thanks so much for inviting us to your studio, to talk to us.
-By popular demand, I started a belly dancing school, better to say studio. -We have been actively teaching belly dancing for three years. -I studied tourism management, which seems to have nothing to do with belly dancing but, I do make...
...my living by dancing at hotels, so you might say my work is somewhat related to travel business. -After school, I got a diploma from LCC modeling and charm academy. -After various jobs, incidentally, I was discovered as a dancer, and that’s why I started belly dancing. -Asena, has there been any positive or negative outcomes from had being a belly dancer? -Until recently it was perceived somewhat negatively. People didn't respect you, as you were scantily dressed. -But, I have never been treated that way. I get more applause than the popular singing stars.
-You only get what you give. If you represent belly dancing negatively, it comes back to you negatively. -I’ve danced for Mick Jagger, President Bill Clinton, and many others. I was invited to Tina Turner’s birthday party. -I believe it all has to do with your attitude. -You know, we have a saying? A hungry bear won’t dance. -Hungry?
-Yes, a hungry bear won’t dance. Likewise, a hungry musician won’t play. -Would you play that rhythm? -Let us play a little, eat a little, and then play some more. -Easy, easy. No high volume. Easy doesn’t necessarily mean decreasing the tempo. -Lower the volume a little more.
We are playing with three distinct techniques. He has one, that one has another, and I have yet a different technique. -Sounds like rain falling. I like it. -Try to play any beat. -Just play two-four or four-four. -One two, one two three four. -Jessica, very nice to meet you. Cheers. -Cheers to you too.
Throughout Byzantine history, freshwater was essential to Istanbul, especially when the city was under siege. Many underground cisterns were built, and water was brought in by aqueducts, and then stored in cisterns. The largest, and by far the most ornate of these is the Basilica Cistern. -How long has this museum been open? -The museum project started in the late 80s, with the Istanbul Biennial for Contemporary Art. -In production, it is high quality. The techniques used like the new media, photography or digital arts, Turkey is in big progress. -Contemporary art or art can be very provocative and it has to be, that is what art is for.
-Many artists deal with the nudity or woman rights or gender issues like gay rights, etc. here in Turkey. -I can say that when it is visual arts it is even better tolerated than if it is a movie or if it is a book. -Oh really? -Turkish contemporary art has a good reputation and it is getting even better. -We see more Turkish artists in international art biennales, art fairs and exhibitions in the US or Europe or all around the world. -In the history of the city, before the arrival of the Turks, much before actually, it was the Byzantines who lived here. -So together with the Byzantines we have lots of artifacts dating back to those times.
-The Chora Monastery which is filled with beautiful mosaics and frescoes inside, is a must see place. The Chora Museum, formerly the church for a monastery, is among the most important must-see places in the world. The mosaics and frescos of Jesus and the Virgin are so realistic that the face of Jesus even conveys a look of compassion. I’m here with the beautiful Tülin Sahin who is Turkey’s internationally-known top model. -You chose Istanbul as your home base. What made you choose it all over the other cities?
-All these copyright magazines which I’m working for are here. From Elle to Marie Claire, to Bazaar, and to Vogue. -And then, we have all these international designers. Why not? I love this city, it's a beautiful beautiful city. -I’ve travelled around the world like two times now, and there is so little left that I haven’t seen. -This is an amazing city. It’s spicy. There’s so much. I mean, it’s never the same, one day to next day. -You’ll never get bored here. There’s a lot of action going on.
-The field of fashion, and especially design, has undergone a great change in Turkey in the past decade. -The textile business is my family’s tradition. I have been a part of it for 20 years, so I have observed the changes closely. -Turkey was formerly considered for sub-contract manufacturing. Patterns from abroad were only sewn in our factories.
-Recently there has been a great change. Design consciousness has come about in Turkey. There is serious research and design. -There is another very interesting feature about Istanbul; it is located on two different continents. -Half of the city is on the Asian continent and the other half is in Europe. -This is unique in the world, and in the middle of the city is the Bosphorus Strait connecting the Black Sea to the Marmara. In ancient and medieval times nearly all commerce between the Black Sea and the Marmara was routed through the Bosphorus.
It is still an important trade route, with an average of 55,000 ships passing through it annually. The Bosphorus is also famous for its luxurious "yali" residences. These are among the most expensive in the world, with prices ranging between 20 and 60 million US dollars. We’re used to seeing the palaces, and fortresses along with the yalýs which is waterfront homes on the Bosphorus. But we’re always looking onto them from outside. And we have an opportunity to see what they look like from inside. Ms Demet was so kind to invite us inside and tell us more about these beautiful waterfront homes.
-Do you actually live in here? -Yes, I am living with my family more than 12 years. -Do you have children? -Yes, I have 3 children. -Everything is just impeccable, and I assume these are antiques. How do you stop the kids from breaking everything here?
-Actually, now they are older. -What exactly made you want to live in one of these yalis on the Bosphorus, besides that amazing view? -I was brought up in yali. Not this one but another one in Beylerbeyi. My parents were living there. -So I used to live in yali. And when I got married, my husband and I wanted to live in a yali as well. -Then we bought this yali around 12 years ago. -This belonged to the Zarif Mustafa Pasha family. So, it’s a very traditional old house. -Was it like this when you got it? Was everything already here? Or did you decorate? -No. We decorated with our decorator, but generally the building was more or less the same.
-Being in such a rare yali, there is only about 600 in Istanbul, you might attract some influential people in Turkey. -Yes, actually. We have many international celebrities: Oprah Winfrey… -No kidding! -Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Princess Ira von Fürstenberg, Princess Michael of Kent. Designers like Roberto Cavalli. -Oh, my gosh! My favorite. -Diane von Fürstenberg, Elie Tahari.
-She’s my favorite. -Yes, we have many celebrities. -Did you host them in this room? -In this room, and we have downstairs a dining room, in there. Generally in this room actually.
-So, very interesting friends that you have. -It must be exciting for you. Great!