Saturday, January 12, 2013

Learning in the Rain

Here are a few more images of the group at Topkapi Palace today.  Even though it was rainy, everyone was interested in exploring this fascinating Sultan's Palace.

Walking up to one of the gates.

Students listen attentively to our guide.
 Oh, wait, there's a cat walking through the group!  

One of the palace's many pavilions.  This one is specifically for reading.  I wonder if they could build one of these in Elon's Academic Village!

Topkapi Palace

On this rainy day in Istanbul, we visited Topkapi Palace, home to the Ottoman sultans for nearly three centuries. Though this was the only place we visited today, we definitely needed the full day, for the palace is a maze of land and buildings with treasures and beautiful rooms around every corner.

Topkapi Palace was built between 1459-1465 by Mehmet II after he conquered Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul. It was the main residence for the Ottoman rulers until 1853, when they moved to Dolmabahce Palace. We traditionally think of a palace as one huge dwelling, but Topkapi is more of a complex; it contains several buildings that are connected by large courtyards. We were able to go into many of these and see a variety of displays.
I think we would all agree that one of the most stunning showcases was the Treasury. We were absolutely in awe of the vast amount of  jewels that was exhibited. It seemed that everywhere we looked, something glinted in the light. From bejeweled water flasks to golden thrones to the famous Topkapi dagger, there were more precious stones on display then we ever thought imaginable.

Another incredible exhibit was the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, which contains many relics sacred to Islam. Among those that we saw were the mantle that the prophet Muhammed wore, as well as hairs from his beard. With Koran verses being chanted in the background, this display was quite humbling, which was an interesting juxtaposition to the extreme wealth displayed in the neighboring treasury rooms.
Though the day outside was quite rainy and dull, our visit to Topkapi Palace was anything but that. We loved being able to see the beautiful rooms and treasures of the palace and were able to better understand the relationship modern day Turkey has with their Ottoman ancestors.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Koc University

At the top of a high mountain, with a blanket of snow-kissed forest cascading toward a cosmopolitan area below, sits a cluster of unassuming complexes. From outside the gates of the estate, the buildings exude serenity and calm, but inside these facilities, hard at work, are the students, faculty and staff of the prestigious Koc University.

A private university with a student body roughly the size of Elon (4,924 students),  Koc (pronounced "coach") University prides itself on providing a unique higher learning experience for its students. In Turkey, where simply getting a degree is the main goal of most youth, the quality assurance of some institutions is lacking. At Koc, they go out of their way to make sure they provide the services and education that they promise their students upon entry. For at least the first year, students learn college-level English, where they are expected to read and write at that level, but also learn time-management and project management skills along the way. During this year, many students find themselves giving their first oral presentation or writing their first real paper. In all levels of the Koc University experience, faculty strive to fulfill the college's philosophy of "creative teaching and participatory learning," a rarity among most Turkish high schools and many traditional universities.

Founded by a highly philanthropic corporation, the university's main objective is "to set an example for excellence and to benefit the nation by creating sustainable and replicable models." Their first course of action is to convert their students from multiple-choice thinkers to free thinkers. By the end of their Koc University experience, graduates are expected to go forth into their communities, both domestic and abroad, as leaders in citizenship, awareness, and other important pillars within their fields of study.

As Elon students, we were also encouraged to consider the university's growing exchange program, which allows international students to study at Koc for a semester or a year, giving them the rare opportunity to learn about Turkish language and culture. During their time there, exchange students are set up with internships or other experience opportunities in the greater Koc community, which provides connections with peers and scholars worldwide.

In addition to our introduction to the university, a brief tour of its beautiful campus, and a lunch with some the Koc faculty, we listened to a lecture about the research of a sociology professor there, who is doing field work on the experiences of the Syrian refugees and displaced persons near the southern border of Turkey. Just the other day a group of us were watching a news story on the horrible conditions in the refugee camps as the bitter cold winter is setting in. Tent fires, burning of toxic plastic, and inadequate clothing are just some of the issues faced in these areas. The professor we spoke with has interviewed leaders in the town around the camps, as well as some of the displaced persons living there and in the refugee hospitals.

As the professor continued to speak, our group became more and more excited about our previous plans to start a movement on Elon's campus to send aid to these displaced Syrians. After sharing with her our ambitions of coat drives and fund raisers, the professor advised us to direct our aid provisions toward the displaced persons in Syria, as they are outside the camps and living in more dangerous conditions. Upon our return to Elon, we hope to form a student-led organization to help these displaced Syrians in any way we can.

Overall, our visit at Koc University was intriguing and inspiring, though it might have left some of us feeling of homesickness for our beloved Elon.

Koç University

Mike and Maureen with Ayşe Inan Director of International Programs
 We had a great day at Koç University.  We toured campus, listened to talks by the Director of International Programs and a sociology professor, and had a wonderful lunch.  Some of our students may be thinking about spending a whole semester in Turkey with our exchange partner Koç University.

Koç University

We visited the snowy and somewhat quite (it's finals week) campus of Koç University today, which is a little ways out of Istanbul.  Danielle will be blogging later, so that's all I will say, but here are some pictures from our visit.

The campus was still a little snowy, but very nice.

We enjoyed taking pictures in a "tea room" at the top of the campus tower.

OK, so sometimes we're silly.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Museums, mosques, and mosaics, oh my

Contemplative Danielle
Our third day was incredible.  As Sean noted, "I've never learned as much in my life as I learned today!"  Well said.
"Little Hagia Sophia"

Saba points out features of interest
Emma and Morgan

Sarah, Melina, Danae and Jacquie

Mosaic of Mary
 The group gazing at mosaics in St. Savior in Chora
 Had another good day with lots of time spent looking up...

 ...and posing in Hagia Sofia...
 ...snapping pictures...

 ...huddling together for warmth...

...and looking for unusual photographic opportunities...

 ...and of course there was more picture-taking yesterday at the Archeological Museum at the Topkapi Palace.

the Hagia Sophia, the Little Hagia Sophia, the Mosaic Museum, and the Chora Church

Today was a very busy day, and it’s hard to believe how much we packed in. We started off by visiting the Hagia Sophia, a beautiful architectural structure that we have seen everyday walking around Istanbul but had not yet been inside. The Hagia Sophia, which means “Holy Wisdom”, was a church built in 532 under the Byzantine Emporer Justinian. We learned that the Hagia Sophia we were standing in was actually not the first church to be built on that site, but the third. The previous two Hagia Sophia’s had been destroyed by an earthquake and a fire. The largest domed church in the world at the time it was built, the Hagia Sophia took only five years to be completed. I think I can speak for my classmates when I say that this was one of the most impressive things we learned today about the Hagia Sophia, because it is so big and beautiful that it is amazing that it was completed in such a short time.
The Hagia Sophia had once been covered in mosaics, but due to a period of Iconoclasm (destruction of icons) in the 8th century, the mosaics that included icons were destroyed, and instead empty frames cover the walls. This period ended in the 9th century and few icon mosaics were added. However, when the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, the church was converted into a mosque. Because the Islamic religion also forbids the use of icons, the icons in the Hagia Sophia were boarded up and hidden from the world until the mosque was converted into a museum in the mid 1900s. During this time of Ottoman rule, the four minarets were also added to the Hagia Sophia, as well as Islamic calligraphy and a mihrab that pointed southeast towards Mecca. However, it was kind of sad to see how bad the condition of the Hagia Sophia is, and to learn that the dome will probably collapse in about 200 years from now.

          We then visited the little Hagia Sophia, a smaller church-turned-mosque that is still a mosque to this day. I really liked this mosque because it gave us a new appreciation for the Islamic religion, and it was also beautiful and calming. We had to take our shoes off to enter and all the girls covered our hair with headscarves, and it was just a completely different experience than anything we have had in Turkey so far. Just like the Hagia Sophia, minarets, Islamic Calligraphy, and a mihrab had been added to the church to make it a mosque. These additions were really cool to see in both places, because they were placed in a way that threw off the symmetry of the churches. It was easy to see that they were added later and not originally placed there. 

          After this we went to the Mosaic Museum, where we saw many old mosaics that had once covered the floor of The Great Palace of the Byzantine Empire. Although there are many mosaics we could not see because they were built over by the Ottoman Empire by structures such as the Blue Mosque, which is still standing today, the mosaics we did see were fascinating. There are over 150 different characters of people, animals, and plants in all the mosaics, including those we couldn’t see. The ones we saw were extremely detailed, with shading and colorations that made them look like paintings not tiny pieces of tile put together.

   We then took a break for lunch, and then continued with the St. Savior Church in Chora. Chora means “outside”, named this because it had once stood outside the original city walls of Constantinople, but when the Theodosian walls were built it was within the walls, but kept its name. This church was magnificent, because it was covered in mosaics that depicted many stories from the Christian New Testament, including those of the Virgin Mary growing up and the miracles Jesus performed.

  Overall the day was very informative and impressive, and it feels like we’ve learned a lot in a very short time. It’s hard to believe our first week is almost over, but it has been amazing!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Day Two- The Anatolian Center and the Archeological Museum

Our day started with a quick bus ride to the Northern part of Istanbul, across the Golden Horn. There, we went to the Anatolian Center of Koc University where Dr. Scott Redford talked to us about archeology and his work in Turkey.The Anatolian Center, in addition to having amazing views, is a center for research where he brings 25 lucky fellows each year to do graduate and post-graduate research in archaeology, art history, language, etc. He also introduced us to a more "practical" and economic side to history and archeology that I found interesting: he mentioned how it was necessary to talk to the local people at excavation sites, educate the public about their history, focus on smaller and older sites rather than sites that simply demand attention due to their large nature, and to protect the excavated sites like Ephesus from looters, for example.

For lunch, we explored down Istiklal Cadessi (the picture to the right was taken while exploring down this road), which eventually led to Taksim Square, and found a small pastry shop. I also tried some pistachio baklava which was delicious!

After lunch, we gathered again to explore Istanbul's Archaelogical Museum (to the left). The museum features three smaller buildings housing one million artifacts. There were three major artifacts that we saw: the treaty of Kadesh, the Alexander Sarcophagus, and the Karaman Mihrab. The Treaty of Kadesh is the world's oldest surviving peace treaty and was between the Hittites and the Egyptians. The Alexander Sarcophagus, a carved marble sarcophagus for King Ahdalonymos of Sidon, features Alexander the Great's victory over the Persians. Interestingly, Alexander was depicted not as a great leader of the battle, but as a regular warrior. Lastly, we went to the Cinili Pavillion, a palace that housed the Karaman Mihrab. The palace was originally built to be a pleasure palace where emporers stored treasures to show off to visitors. The mihrab was magnificently tiled, but the entire building was a piece of art itself- wonderfully decorated and adorned. Today's explorations were full of beautiful Byzantine, Ottoman and Turkish treasures!

Koç University Anatolian Research Center and the Archaeological Museum

We had a great visit to the Anatolian Research Center and the Archaeological Museum today.  Here are a few photos, and we're anticipating Helen's post to the blog with more details on our experiences today.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Theodocian Walls, Hippodrome, and Underground Cistern

Today, we definitely hit the ground running!!
The Theodosian Walls were an awe-inspiring structure which connected the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn (a distance of more than 4 miles!).  In the Yedikule Fortress (where we walked and explored today, which is the southern section of the Theodosian walls), the Golden Gate stood as the entrance into the fortress. Theses walls have been inhabited from the time it was built until the 19th century with a variety of different uses such as a fortress to a dungeon to a girl's school and finally a tourist attraction.  
During the Hippodrome visit, we noticed that almost nothing is left from the original Hippodrome stadium due to the Ottoman conquest where they destroyed it because it lead to gambling, which is against their Orthodox Muslim religion.  In it's place stand a few interesting artifacts that the Ottomans built from the material of the stadium. The Egyptian Obelisk, brought to Constantinople from Egypt by Constantine, was built over 3000 years ago! This fact is astounding because there is nothing like this in the United States.  The Serpentine Column, shipped from Delphi, dates back to 479BC! It's just amazing to see pieces of history that date back so far in time standing right before us.  Finally, the Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus marks the end of the racetrack of the Hippodrome.
The Underground Cistern, our last stop of the day, was never supposed to be seen by people as the water went all the way to the ceiling.  In it lies two Medusa heads and three differently patterned columns which were all from other destroyed buildings.  Once again, we noticed that materials from old buildings were reused to make new buildings throughout history.  At that time, with the water all the way to the ceiling and the sections that weren't blocked off like it is today, the amount of water alone would have been enough to support the poeple of the city for a year!
Today was jam packed with so much interesting information! I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings! :)

What a fun first day exploring Istanbul with eager Elon students.  Here are images from Yedikule Fortress on the Theodosian Wall and some in the darkness of the underground Basilica Cistern.