Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rumeli Fortress and Ortakoy

So today's original plan was for us to go to Taksim Square and the Taksim Republic Gallery but things changed and we went to the Rumeli Fortress and an area of Istanbul called Ortakoy instead.

We had walked through Taksim last Tuesday when we had visited the Neve Shalom synagogue so we were able to experience the abundance of art galleries, restaurants and shops that are along the main street. There is also a a small trolley, similar to the ones in San Francisco, that ends at this large square where there is, of course, a large statue of Ataturk. It is the "Monument of the Republic" that stands to remember the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

Since we had already spent a decent amount of time here last week, our professors decided to take us to the fortress instead. We had seen it from the water when we were on the Bosphorus cruise last Monday, and a lot of us showed interest in learning more about it.

The Rumeli Fortress was built in 1452 at the narrowest part of the Bosphorus strait (it is only half a mile to the other side!) in order to control sea traffic and trade. It was also constructed here so Sultan Mehmed II could conquer Constantinople. Shockingly, it only took 4 months to build! And that is including the 5 main gates, the 4 large towers and the 15 smaller watch towers that connected all the main towers. All the stone that was used was recycled from Roman remains.

There used to be a small mosque in the fortress but only the minaret remains. The amphitheater that is right next to the minaret was recently reconstructed and is actually used today for concerts. Fun fact: the highest seats in the theater are actually more expensive than the seats that are closer to the stage because the top seats have a beautiful view of the water.

As we walked and climbed (very carefully!) up and down the fortress walls, we not only got an unbelievable view of the sun reflecting off the water, the bridge, and the rest of the fortress, but we all saw that this was not a castle for a princess. It was a place for soldiers to control the sea; there were cannons, watch towers and dungeons all around.

This fortress is incredible and not just because of its size and design, but because of its durability. Istanbul has experienced several earthquakes since 1452 that have destroyed many buildings and structures, but this looks untouched. I'm so glad that it was added into our schedule.

After leaving the fortress, we took the bus to Ortakoy, which is a nice neighborhood area along the water that has small shops and cafes. It is known as an "area of tolerance" because there is a Greek Orthodox Church, a synagogue, and a mosque all within 50 meters of each other. All have been open and practicing for years with no issues. It is a wonderful thing to know that places like this still exist in a world where we see religious differences cause tension.

For lunch most of us ate "kumpir" which is very popular in Istanbul, but especially in this area. It is a baked potato that you fill with any available topping. What started off as a normal sized potato turned into a mountain of cheese, peas, corn, black and green olives, mushrooms, some meat and, sour cream. And you still had more options to choose from! The fact that it only cost 10 TL was definitely a plus.

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