Friday, January 4, 2013

Counting Down

Well the countdown to our departure has started.  We've had class on campus the past two days and now we're making final preparations to head out.  We leave campus together on Sunday and we will arrive in Istanbul on the morning of Monday the 7th.  Everyone is pretty excited.  Moreover, it looks like we might be greeted by  . . . SNOW!?!?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Basilica Cistern

It was so hard to pick just one place to talk about! I’m excited for this entire trip; it’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to experience a new city and culture as well as study the historical significance of all the palaces, mosques, etc. Only a few more days!
The Basilica Cistern was built during Emperor Justinian’s rule in order to provide the city of Istanbul with enough water. A cistern collects and stores water and this particular one is the largest of several hundred cisterns that are under Istanbul. It is 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophia and is 453ftx 212 ft, giving it the ability to contain 10,000 tons of water. However, today it only has a few feet of water along the bottom.
It was built around 532 AD under the Stoa Basilica Square, which explains the name. It is also known as the “Sunken Palace” or in Turkish, “Yerebatan sarayi”. 
 There are 336 large marble columns supporting the ceiling and 52 stone steps that lead into the entrance of the cistern. In one corner, there are 2 columns that have Medusa’s head carved into the base, one that is upside-down and one that is sideways. The reason for these orientations is still unknown. 

            It is considered one of the top tourist attractions in Turkey and has even been in the James Bond movie “From Russia with Love”.
            I can’t wait to hear the dripping water, see the beautifully designed columns and learn more about its history. It is such a unique place; I have never seen a cistern before and I’m happy that this one will be my first. 

Ahrida Synagogue

Although I’m looking forward to the entire trip from a traveler’s perspective, as a student I am interested in seeing the Ahrida Synagogue in Balat. The synagogue was founded in Constantinople, before the Ottoman conquest, by a group of Greek Jews.

One interesting thing about the synagogue is that is has been used by multiple rites of Judaism, as the Greek Jews were absorbed into Sephardic culture after the Sephardic Jews arrived from Spain. Religious philosophies often appear in architecture, so I will be interested in seeing if the old building matches the current beliefs.

I like seeing older synagogues, and especially foreign synagogues, because it really allows me to see how Judaism has changed through geography and time. I don’t have the same experience with churches or mosques, but I’ll be seeing many of both during this course, and I really can’t wait to be off!


            Ephesus was one of the most influential and important cities of the ancient Greek and Roman world. At its peak in the first century B.C. it had more than 250,000 inhabitants. It’s home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The city also features prominently in the Bible: the apostles Paul and John each wrote a letter to the church there, and the Gospel of John and 1 Corinthians were likely written there. The city has gone through dramatic rises and declines throughout the last few millennia, and today it is a prominent tourist attraction in northern Turkey, in the Izmir Province.
            I am very excited for this particular part of the trip, as I have always been a fan of exploring ancient ruins. The rich cultural and Biblical history of the city fascinates me, and I look forward to personally experiencing Ephesus.  -Addison

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What the Hagia Sophia Have to Do with the Louvre?

I just came across this article about some of the tiles in the Hagia Sophia that are now on display at the Louvre.  We should definitely look for this and have a conversation about while we are there.  It raises a whole host of questions.

And, just so you know, the Hagia Sophia is actually going through an extensive renovation.  I don't think this will have a negative impact on our experience, but it is interesting to note.

Hagia Sophia and Topkapi

There are two places I am looking forward to the most this trip. I know we had talked about not all writing about the Hagia Sophia, but it is genuinely what I am looking forward to the most and the reason I wanted to go on this trip. The first is the reason I was initially interested in Istanbul in the first place – the Hagia Sophia. I took art history my senior year of high school, and we were learning about the Hagia Sophia around the same time as Fellows Weekend when they introduced the idea of this trip. The Hagia Sophia had originally been built as a church during the Byzantine period, but then was converted into a Mosque when the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453. 
The Sultans that ruled in the years that followed added on to the newly declared mosque, adding minarets and geometric designs. The Hagia Sophia was then converted into a Museum in 1935. In my Art History class the Hagia Sophia had been one of the buildings we discussed the most, so I had learned a lot about it. I got really excited that we would be going somewhere where I would be able to visit a beautiful architectural structure that I actually knew about. Now I can’t wait to see it in person!
            The second place I am really looking forward to is the Topkapi palace on January 12. It had been the home to Ottoman Sultans for 400 years before it became a museum. Not only is the palace itself a beautiful piece of history, but it also holds some of the most important Muslim relics, and many amazing pieces of Islamic art. Islamic art rarely portrays human faces, except in the most secular pieces, but instead uses geometric shapes and calligraphy to create their pieces. This gives the art that can be found in this palace and other museums in Istanbul a completely different quality than any of the art from other cultures. These art pieces are able to convey meaning and a sense of beauty without any faces. I’m really excited to see many of the pieces of art in the palace, such as the ivory belt pieces, engraved boxes and plates, mosaics and clothing.  

Grand Bazaar and spice market

       The New Year brings many exciting adventures. As I look at the schedule for our time in Istanbul, I find so many amazing moments ahead of us. One experience that I am particularly looking forward to is our day at the Grand Bazaar and spice market. The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered spice markets in the world, and being able to stand amidst the many people as we all peruse the many trinkets, spices, and surprises of the shops will be a unique experience. The market is huge and covers an area of roughly 20 square miles that include over 3000 shops, 17 inns, 61 streets, 4 fountains, 10 wells, 2 mosques, 22 gates and several cafes and restaurants. A wonderful place to explore.
       Being immersed in the culture, sounds, smells and colors is something that will be a pleasantly overwhelming experience. Walking though the many streets and shops will allow me and my fellow classmates to get lost in the moment and really take in the experience of being fully part of another culture. Another new experience will be the process of haggling. Learning how to utilize the process and social custom of haggling will allow me to have a better grasp of the thought processes and ways of life in Istanbul. I am quite excited to study abroad in Turkey and am so glad to be going with such a great group! I cannot wait :)

Bosphorus Cruise

I hope everyone is having a relaxing break and is getting excited for Istanbul! 5 days!

Although I am excited about the whole experience in general, one thing that I am most looking forward to is the Bosphorus Cruise. The cruise takes place through the Boshporus Strait which separates the European and Asian sections of Turkey. We will all be able to say that we were in two places at once!

 While on the cruise we will be able to see many amazing sights and landmarks, including six Ottoman palaces.The first palace that we will see from the water is the Topkapi Palace, which we will have already seen the inside of on one of our previous days. We will also get to see Selimiye Barracks where Florence Nightingale worked. Some of the other palaces that we will get to see include the Dolmabahce Palace, which we also get to visit another day, the Ciragan Palace, the Yildiz Palace, and the Beylerbeyi Palace. We will also get to pass under the Bosphorus Bridge, opened in 1973. We will also get to see Cengelkoy, a picturesque Bosphorus village.

From our ferry we will be able to see the Rumeli Hisari, or the Fortress of Europe which was built in 1452 under orders of Mehmet the Conqueror. Bosphorus University shares the hillside with the fortress.  The sixth palace that we will get to see on our Boshporus Cruise Kucuksu Kasri, the Sweet Waters of Asia.

Rumeli Hisari
I am excited for the Bosphorus Cruise because we will be able to see a variety of sights and get a brief overview of that area of Turkey. Although this is more of a sightseeing adventure rather than an indepth study of these locations, it allows us to see different aspects of the past and various types of architecture. We will be able to see the modernization of the area by comparing the older sights to the newer structures.

The Whirling Dervishes

Hello everyone! I hope you’re as ready for the trip as I am!

As someone intrigued by dance and dramatic performance, my interest was piqued when I saw the Whirling Dervishes on the calendar. After reading more about the origin and in meanings behind the ritual, I am even more interested.

The Whirling Dervishes is part of a belief system called Sufism, the pathway followed by Sufis, believers in the mystic sector of Islam. This group of Muslims participates in rituals to symbolically cleanse the spirit and become closer to God, resulting in a believer that lives not for worldly pleasures, but to satisfy the will of God. According to The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi, the many definitions of this belief system can be consolidated to mean this: “Sufism is the path followed by an individual who is seeking to free himself or herself from human vices and weaknesses in order to acquire angelic qualities and conduct pleasing to God.” In addition, the Sufi who completes this process becomes one with himself and his God in a way that is life-changing and purifying.

This process seems to be incredibly eye opening and spiritual. The Whirling Dervishes is only one branch of Sufism, but it is truly the physical manifestation of the Sufi way of life – loving and servicing others, rejecting one’s ego, striving to be one with Allah, the Truth. The Mevlevi Ritual Dance, or Semi has multiple stages, each of which has a different meaning:

1.     Naat-i Sherif: a eulogy giving praise to Allah
2.     Taksim: an expression of the divine breath of life, through an improvised flute performance
3.     Devr-i Veled: a procession that included the whirling dervishes that represents three phases of knowledge: (a) ilm-al yaqin, the knowledge received from study or other people, (b) ayn-al yaqin, knowledge through observation, (c) haqq-al yaqin, knowledge received from actual experiences.
4.     Sema: the dance itself, which includes four movements, called selams: (1) human birth to truth, (2) the human witnessing the omnipotence of God, (3) the expression of total submission to God, (4) the renewed and pure spirit of the whirling dervish, now a servant of God.

At the end of this process, a scripture is read and the dervishes disperse for a time of solitude and reflection on God. I would imagine that witnesses of this deeply religious performance would experience feelings of spiritual awakening and reflection. When I was a bit younger, I participated in the liturgical dance ministry at my church and I remember that as a very moving experience. My memories of those performances fuel my interest in the Whirling Dervishes. Hopefully the experience will be as spiritual and intriguing for all of us as I anticipate them to be.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dolmabahçe Palace

Hello, everyone! I hope preparations to head back to Elon are going well, and that you're all as excited as I am while getting ready for Istanbul!

The Dolmabahçe Palace
One place that we are visiting that I am looking forward to is the Dolmabahçe Palace. It was built between 1843 and 1856 on the Bosphorus Strait. Abdülmecid I, the 31st Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, ordered the palace to be built because the official palace of the sultanate at the time, the Topkapı Palace, was rather outdated. It was used as the official administrative palace for the Ottoman Empire (except between 1887 and 1909) until the Republic of Turkey was founded and the capital moved to Ankara. Even so, Atatürk still used the Dolmabahçe Palace as his summer home. 

The Crystal Staircase
Not only am I excited to visit this palace because of its unique history, but also just glancing through pictures online, it is extremely stunning in architecture and design. All of the original decorations, furniture, curtains, and carpets are still intact. Additionally, the Dolmabahçe Palace is where the famous Crystal Staircase made of Baccarat crystal is located. In fact, the Dolmabahçe is home to the world's largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers, including the world's largest Bohemian crystal chandelier. Overall, the palace just sounds very beautiful as the walls and ceilings are covered with paintings by famous artists of that time, and in all the important rooms and halls the furnishings are differing shades of the same color. 
The Deathbed of Atatürk

Additionally, the room where Atatürk died is located in the Dolmabahçe Palace. When he died, every single clock in the entire palace was manually stopped and set at the time of his death, 9:05am. Although, most of the clocks in the palace have since been changed to different times, the clock in the room where Atatürk died is still set to 9:05. 

I am very excited to visit this exquisite palace, as well as everywhere else on the itinerary, and I've loved reading all the blog posts. See y'all soon! 

(Information taken from: 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Eating in Turkey

I know that we asked you all to calculate what it might cost to eat while in Turkey, but here are some helpful articles on what you might want to eat if you're on a budget and different things you might want to try.  Remember that part of immersing yourself in the culture of Turkey and the experience of studying abroad is to try new things, especially food.  We will encourage you to avoid U.S. chains and restaurants to eat Turkish.  Also, remember, eating out in small groups (no more than 5) is highly, highly encouraged--you will have a better experience if you don't overwhelm a place.

Eating on a budget:

Eating on a budget:

Brief guide to some major Turkish foods:

A blog just on food in Istanbul (follow the "blog" link):

A 2010 article on food in Istanbul that qualifies as "food porn:"  The pictures are fantastic!

More "food porn" and some dining suggestions:

And, suggestions on tipping:


Hi everyone!

Like Sarah said earlier, I'm also really excited for our day trip to Ephesus.  Originally, I was looking forward to this because in religion class last year I had to do a project on the Book of Ephesians.  I thought it would be so cool to walk among the ruins of a city that once had a book of the Bible addressed to them.

I find the whole religious aspect of the city fascinating.  For example, two councils of the early Christian Church were held in AD 431 and AD 449 in the city, but even further back in its history are the gods of the Greeks and Romans.  This is demonstrated by many of the ruins, like the Temple of Hadrian, which was built in honor of one of the five good emperors of the Roman Empire, Emperor Hadrian.  It really interests me to see how religion and politics interact, and this ruin is a perfect example of that.

I also think that ancient ruins are interesting- it amazes me that the buildings have survived for so long and have weathered so much.  It makes me feel so small to think that we will be walking where people thousands of years ago walked as well.  I do not know exactly what we will be seeing, but I read about The Library of Celsus, and it seems like such a beautiful ruin.  Apparently, the statues in the niches each represent a certain trait: Sophia (wisdom), Arete (virtue),Ennoia (intellect), and Episteme (knowledge).

I hope everyone's having a good break!  Can't wait to see you all!


Hello All!
        I hope your break has been relaxing and enjoyable as mine was. But, now I'm just about ready to go back to school and on to Istanbul!  While I'm sure all aspects of our journey will be intriguing and mentally stimulating, I'm most excited about going to the University.  Even though I have traveled out of the country before, I have never really considered the amount of similarities and differences in the educational system between the United States and other countries or had a chance to visit one.  Last year in French class, I briefly compared and contrasted different aspects of French and American universities such as cost, level of difficulty, and manner of education (like the amount of people who go in to trade school).  It should be really interesting to study the differences between the United States and a country such as Turkey where the yearly schedule is completely different due to different celebrated holidays and a culture that is almost independent of the United States unlike France.
        Koç University was founded very recently in 1993 due to the resources of the Vehbi Koç Foundation which has won many philanthropic awards such as Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy (the equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize for Philanthropy). While the University has only be around for 19 years, it has quickly become of one the best universities in Turkey. So far, I have found many similarities between Elon University and Koç University.  For example, they practice many "green" actions such as all lights, heating, and cooling is controlled by motion sensors where they turn off after 15 minutes of inactivity.  Also, the University is a liberal arts college where they encourage and require courses outside of the major while also demanding a specialization in the chosen field so that the students may be well-rounded.  Finally like at Elon University and many other colleges in the United States, social media is an important factor in the Turkish education system where they encourage all students to like, comment, follow, etc on a variety of networks such as Facebook and Twitter.  
      I can't wait to learn more about this incredible university!! For more information, visit their extremely easily navigable website. Enjoy the rest of your holiday! See you all next year. ;)