The defining geographical feature of Istanbul is its position astride the Bosphorus, a slender waterway which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and, in doing so, separates the continents of Europe and Asia. If you spend any time along its coast around Galata bridge the constant calls of Bosfor Bosfor Bosfor from the tour barkers will become etched in your memory. These shots were all taken from Galata Tower, which overlooks the point where Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus.
What makes a work of art great? I feel explaining the merits of a masterpiece is anticlimactic, like explaining a joke. I’ve found that my response to any art I’ve enjoyed is an ‘aha’ feeling, an emotional resonance. If the resonance is there, all else is merely commentary. It is always easy, however, to find and list faults of imperfect and flawed works. As I’ve mentioned before, all these recent shots from Turkey are several years old. I can’t help but pick them apart now with my more experienced eye; this implies that I could do better now, which is a dubious proposition.
I’m not entirely unhappy with the lot of my Istanbul pictures. That said, they needed more editing than I’d care to admit; after you’ve cropped, adjusted contrast, and endlessly fiddled with the color, you’re left wondering if you’re just polishing a turd. As always, the final judgement lies with the reader.
A distinctive feature of Istanbul is a particular style of townhouse, usually three stories tall with windows that look like drawers half-pulled from the dresser. If they have a name, I’ve not been able to find it; perhaps their ubiquity makes them anonymous. The buildings, by my guess, date to the nineteenth century and are of wooden construction. They are often being rehabbed now, so that it is not uncommon to see a freshly stuccoed and painted house next to one which seems on verge of collapse. I’d like to see if gentrification has caught up to some of these neighborhoods.
My guidebook listed something called the “Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople” as a suggested stop on a walking tour. I had no idea what that was, but being a fan of big words, I decided to check it out. Down a nondescript street, I followed a plain brick wall until I came to a gate, which led to a courtyard. Within, people were milling about, and nobody paid me any mind. I might have left, but decided to press my luck and duck into the building which seemed to be the focus of general activity. What I had wandered into was essentially to the Vatican of the Orthodox Church. It’s not a great analogy; most orthodox churches are organized along national lines and are headed by their own bishops, or Metropolitans, and don’t have a single pope figure who would lead them all. But the Patriarch of Constantinople is regarded as “first among equals” (Primus Inter Pares) and is the de facto spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million orthodox christians. It was my dumbest stroke of luck to stumble, unknowingly, on such a religious center. With no tripod and the worthlessness of flash photography, I was limited in the shots I could get, but I you’ll get some sense of place from these.
The Wikipedia page for the Patriarchate is here. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the byzantine history of this institution (pun fully intended) and its relationship with the Ottoman and, later, the Turkish states.
One of the most remarkable sights of Istanbul are the fisherman lining the bridge, shoulder to shoulder, at all times of day and night. I only wish I had had a tripod when I was there, I think there would have been some great night shots to be had. Always an excuse to go back…
This “castle” is actually a prestigious Greek school located in the Fener neighborhood of Istanbul. Its presence illustrates some unique aspects of the Greco-Turkish history of this this city. As Constantinople, it was the capital of a huge Greek empire for a thousand years. After it fell to the Turks in 1453, many Greeks stayed and continued their cultural and linguistic traditions. Ottoman rule was enlightened compared to medieval European counterparts, and cultural minorities were tolerated. Though the Red Castle itself was built in the late 19th century, the school itself dates to 1454, just a year after the Greek Byzantines’ fall.
The school, whose proper name is Phanar Greek Orthodox College, is built into a hill, and surrounded by a dense residential area. As a result, the castle alternately looms into view and disappears around corners as you approach. These shots were all taken the same clear January day.
As I mentioned a few months ago, I had found a trove of pictures from a trip to Istanbul which I had thought I’d lost. The task of editing them has been sporadic, so related posts have been random and occasional. The recent lull in fresh photo trips has given me a bit of time to catch up, so hopefully I can put up a few of the better shots now. Incidentally, this was the last trip I took with my old film camera. Given digital’s instant results (at least on a small LCD screen), I don’t miss the Schrodinger’s box aspect of film photography, where you are uncertain of your results until long after taking the shot. So maybe I’m deluding myself, but I found myself really enjoying the grain in these photos. The digital counterpart to grain, noise, seldom adds anything to a shot. But I will leave it to the viewer to decide whether the pictures below have a pleasing graininess, or are just tourist-level soft-focus snapshots.
These images are all from inside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, commonly called the Blue Mosque for the predominant color of Iznik tiles which decorate its interior. It was built in the early 17th century, partly to provide an Ottoman answer to the Hagia Sofia, a massive Byzantine church the victorious Turks converted to a mosque after capturing Istanbul (then called Constantinople, just like in the They Might Be Giants song) in 1453.
Remember, if you were truly thankful, you’d commission a giant church containing a mosaic showing you presenting said church to St. Mary. Just saying.
What may be most remarkable about this feat of Roman architecture to American eyes might be just how accessible the walls are. We are fussy about our history, perhaps we haven’t as much of it as others. In Istanbul today, the Theodosian walls are as much part of the city as surrounding roads and homes. It’s not uncommon to see an alcove or former garrison quarters being used as a garage or storefront. In one case, a newer residence has been built right into a section of the wall.
The photography equivalent of finding a twenty in the pocket of a pair of jeans you’ve not worn since May. I’ve recently found a batch of photos from a trip to Istanbul a few years back on a little-used laptop. I’m not sure if there’s anything great, but it’s all raw material I’ve not gone through and edited yet. Here’s a shot from St. Savior in Chora, built in Byzantine times when it was outside the city walls, and as such called St. Savior in the Fields. Subsequently it was turned into a mosque by the conquering Ottomans, and more recently into a museum (an arc that many ancient churches in Istanbul have followed). This mosaic was perfectly lit by the morning sun coming through the doorway.
The Bosphorus is a slender waterway that connects the Mediterranean with the Black seas. It also a continental boundary, Europe being on the west coast, Asia on the east. Istanbul (née Constantinople), once the capital of the Ottoman empire, straddles this waterway, making it the only (to my knowledge) city to span two continents. The shore is lined with the distinctive Turkish villas that were often the townhomes of distinguished nineteenth century Pashas. The view here is of the Asian side shortly before sunset, in the January of 2010.
The people watching in Istanbul was fun. We Americans tend to congregate only in designated areas, and then mainly for consuming something or other. So I was delighted my first night to see a group of people in the street, dancing. Near as I could tell, they were all passers-by that were sucked into the music.
One of my favorite scenes was at Galata bridge, where scores of fisherman lined up to fish. At night, with the lights of the city catching their fishing lines, it was a sight to behold. Unfortunately, without a tripod, this was the best I could do.
The Grand Bazaar is a great place to wander around for a while, if not to shop.
A boat tour of the Bosphorus was a great way to spend the final afternoon.
I visited this city some years back. It is a photographer’s dream. Unfortunately, I barely qualified as one back then. After some reediting recently, I’ve found a few I think are worth sharing.
From inside the gate of Topkapi palace, where the old sultans resided.
Also at the palace.
The Hagia Sophia seen from Topkapi.