Saturday, January 19, 2013

Laodicea and Hieropolis

Today we continued our exploration of ancient cities visiting Laodicea and Hieropolis! Although it was a gray and gloomy day, we were very lucky and avoided the rain during our outdoor adventures. We didn't let the weather get us down! We began the day with a nice relaxing three hour drive to Laodicea.

Laodicea was an ancient city founded in the 2nd century BCE by the Seleucids as part of the Pergamon Empire. It later fell under Roman control, becoming a very prosperous city. It is located in a valley and was positioned between the two cities of Colossae to the west, and Hieropolis to the south, making Laodicea an important trade city. It was known for producing a very special type of wool which was used to make white garments for the sultans. The city contained the meeting point of the melting waters from Colossae and the snow waters from Hieropolis, creating a mixture that was unsafe for human consumption, but safe for sheep. The wool grown by the sheep that drank this special concoction was used to create these famous garments. They also created a very effective eye salve from this water.
Due to the wealth of Laodicea, the city often had a reputation for being snobby and thinking that they were better than everyone else. Saba, our tour guide, described one instance of this attitude when, in 44 CE, an earthquake rocked the city and its surrounding areas destroying many of the structures. Instead of gladly taking the money that was offered to them by the Roman Emporer Nero, they refused the help saying that they didn't need it.

As we drove up to the site we could see the remains of what used to be a theater, which was one of the most spectacular sights there. The ruins at Laodicea were beautiful and although not many of the structures had been reconstructed like they had been in Ephesus, it was amazing to see all of the pieces of marble and other rocks that they had unearthed, including a specific piece of marble that contained an etched menorah and cross, showing the clash of two of the major religions of that time. While we were at the site, we were fortunate enough to witness a group of workers rebuilding a column. We felt as if we were a part of the uncovering of Laodicea because it was just recently found and is very much an active archaeological site. We were witnessing the discovery of an ancient city.

After having a big lunch together, we headed to Hieropolis, "the Sacred/Holy City." The mountain that somewhat hides the ruins of Hieropolis was covered in white. It wasn't snow, but calcium that had been deposited by running water that has flowed over the mountain for over 14,000 years. Unfortunately, due to the rain we weren't able to see the ruins behind the mountain, but I think we were all content with the days excursions! Our full day left us tired but pleased, and we all took nice long naps on the way back to our hotel.

Laodicea: Research in action

Michelle reads from The Book of Revelation

Lynn points out the original columns below us

Treasure Hunt

Restoration in progress - how cool is that?

At Ephesus


Friday, January 18, 2013

The Dolmabahçe Palace and the Whırlıng Dervishes

Last Saturday we visited the Topkapı Palace, where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived and ruled for 400 years, before times began to change through "Westernization." In the 1800s, the rulers of the Ottoman Empire realized that the Topkapı was outdated, both in modern comforts and the style that the Western world favored. Therefore, the Empire's 31st Sultan, Abdülmecid I, ordered that a new palace in the European style be built along the Bosphorus.

Throughout our time here in Istanbul, we have been talking about how this city (and Turkey as a whole) is a crossroads between East and West. Seeing the vast differences between between the two palaces solidified this idea for us further. Although both have their own type of beauty and splendor, the Dolmabahçe was endless stone, countless crystal chandeliers, high-ceilinged rooms, and expensive European furniture compared to the Topkapı's sprawling buildings, shining tiles, and stunning courtyards.

On Monday, we had a splendid view of this new palace from our boat as we took a cruise on the Bosphorus. Getting to explore the inside of the palace, however, was mind-boggling. The palace has a strict security however; only 3500 people are allowed in by appointment each day, they have to follow a red carpet path through the palace, no large backpacks are allowed, and, unfortunately, no photography is allowed either. This is all to ensure the safety of the original furniture and decor on display throughout the rooms.

The palace was built between 1843 and 1856 - it took thirteen years to build because at this time the Ottoman Empire was in a period of financial hardship. Construction had to be stopped several times, and taxes had to be raised more than once as well, making public opinion of the palace less than favorable.

We, however, were more impressed than the public at that time. Although we only saw about 2/3 of it, the palace has a remarkable 286 rooms, 600 paintings, 6 ballrooms, and the world's largest collection of Bohemian crystal chandeliers. There was an audible "woowwwwww!" from our group (okay, maybe it was just me) as we stepped into the largest ballroom, with its huge dome high above us, its chandelier weighing six tons, and its intricately designed columns and walls. One of the most interesting parts of our tour was when we walked through the passageway to the harem, which was up above this ballroom. We got to look down into the ballroom through semi-circle grates just as the concubines would have done when the Sultan hosted parties.

After leaving the palace, we had the opportunity to explore the beautiful gardens a little, and then we returned to the hotel to eat and pack for our travel to Izmir tomorrow. This evening, we reconvened to attend a Mevlevi Sema Ceremony, more commonly known as the Whirling Dervishes. We learned about this ritual and Sufism when we visited the Sufi lodge yesterday, so it was incredible to be able to experience it in person tonight. A common misconception about the Whirling Dervishes is the belief that they are dancing. In fact, this "is a ritual, a spiritual journey which the soul makes to God as it becomes mature and attains unity." The ceremony was accompanied by four traditional instruments and three chanters.

At the beginning of ceremony, the dervishes wear a black coat that represents a tomb, a tall fez (sikke) which represents a tombstone, and a long white garment (tennure) that represents a burial shroud. The death images in the costume symbolize the death of the ego, and taking off the black coat represents leaving this world.

As they begin to rotate, both arms are extended, but one hand faces upward, and the other downward, which symbolizes a transfer of love from God to man. The dervishes spun in this ceremony for over thirty minutes, going into a trance-like state. It was an entrancing experience, unlike anything we've ever seen before.

After an incredible day, we are getting up bright and early to hop over to Izmir. We'll be officially blogging again from Asia!

Ephesus: Reconstructing History

(Above: A panoramic view of the theater at Ephesus.) Out of all the incredible sights to see and sites to visit in Turkey, the one for which I was the most excited was Ephesus. This city has been around for over two thousand years, although it spent most of the past millenium underneath several yards of dirt, rocks, and the erosion and time. Even today, after over a century of excavations, only about ten percent of the city has been unearthed. Imagine the priceless knowledge awaiting this and future generations of archaeologists and lovers of history, just under the surface.

(Above: A major Ephesian street.) I was fascinated to discover that the rows of columns lining the ancient streets were not discovered like that at all. Archaeologists found the columns, broken and buried in the ground, and reset them in their original positions. As much effort is put into reconstructing these historic sites as there is into discovering them.

(Above: The Library of Celsus.) And these sites were incredible. There was a huge theater, used for performances and public events, that could hold twenty-four thousand people and stood for a thousand years. The hyrdreion, a fountain, was used in conjunction with the ingenius underground sewer system as both a source of water and a street cleaner for special occasions. We saw the odeon, a small concert hall; the Roman baths; the gorgeous Library of Celsus; and so many other beautiful remains.

(Above: The theater.) The stories behind these places truly made Ephesus come alive for me. I stood in a spot where, almost two thousand years ago, thousands upon thousands of Ephesians rioted over the actions of the apostle Paul. This city is rich in Biblical history, as well as other interesting tidbits of information. I learned that at certain hours of the day, the public toilets would have musicians playing inside - one gig that I, as a musician, would almost certainly turn down.

(Above: The temple of Hadrian, which was actually just the facade of a temple.) I don't have the time or the energy after such an exhilarating day to write about everything I saw or experienced. But I can say that walking down the great streets of Ephesus is like walking through the fabric of time itself. This is one visit that I will certainly never forget.

(Above: Sean is the Greek god of making the rain stop.)

(Above: The symbol for a hospital in ancient Rome, along with our guide Saba and one of the many stray cats roaming around Turkey.)

Thanks for reading, and keep checking back for more awesome posts by the other students on this trip!

Addison Horner

St. John's basilica, Isabey mosque, and a nice country home

Merhaba from Izmir! We're mostly settled in here after a quick flight yesterday, and I don't think anybody has any complaints about the amazing Susuzlu Hotel (the first thing people noticed seemed to be the fact that the mirrors in the rooms are also flat-screen TV's). We're all moving in, actually. My blog post is just breaking the news to all of the families trapped in America.
Anyways, Addison will be on here later to tell you about Ephesus, our first and largest activity today, but I'm going to share information about the other sites we visited during the afternoon. Unfortunately my camera is dead because I took so many pictures (therefore I dot have any to share) but that should just make you even more thrilled to read this post, because that just means we saw a lot of amazing things today.
After lunch, we went to St. John's Basilica, a 6th century church (churches couldn't be created here until after the 4th century) built by Justinian, whose work we've seen a fair amount of since our arrival. The basilica was built on top of St. John's tomb, and if it was in its original condition even today, it would be one of the biggest churches in the world. It was converted into a mosque in the 1300's and in 1402 it was pillaged for building materials and eventually destroyed. Perhaps one of the most interesting things thy has been unearthed in the restoration of this magnificent basilica is a large baptistery set in the marble in the shape of a cross. The baptisms which occurred during the church's operation would have been more private than most are today, and a great deal would have happened on Easter Eve. The fact that the baptistery is shaped like a cross is significant not just as a symbol of Christianity, but to remind those being baptized that they are passing through death (the old life) and entering into a new life (with Christ) as Jesus himself was crucified by the sins of the world and later resurrected.
A short walk away from the basilica is the Isabey Mosque. It is the oldest known mosque with a courtyard. Though the weathered walls and cracked facade may suggest otherwise, it's still an operating mosque and it has been since its restoration in the early 1900's. The original building was constructed in 1375 out of ruins from Ephesus and even the basilica (I mentioned just a few lines above this one that the basilica declined in importance and was ransacked in its last days) so you can actually see the columns holding up the mosque are marble and have some Greek lettering on them. Yet another resourceful use of ruins! The man responsible for this mosque was actually named after Jesus, so if you Google "Jesus mosque Ephesus" (like I just did to make sure I spelled Isabey right)  it's the first thing that comes up.
The last stop we made was an old house tucked away in the hills of Ephesus. The owner hasn't been there in awhile, but people still come to visit her every day. Her name was Mary, but you may know her better as the woman who immaculately conceived, gave birth to, and raised Jesus Christ according to many different religious traditions. There wasn't much to see other than the small, single room dwelling where it's said John placed her so she would be safe in the last years of her life, but naturally it's become a pilgrimage place for Christians and Muslims alike who come on August 15th every year to celebrate the date of Mary's ascension.
That's it! That's my blog. You should be waiting with bated breath for Addison's post, because we did even more in the incredible ruins of Ephesus. It's actually storming pretty bad here - out mirror TV keeps losing signal. What else are we supposed to do here?! All I see is a big X on the screen with the sound of broken Turkish commercials about Fiats. It's like being in a third world country! Save us!
Xoxo Danae, room 208 (so you know where to rescue us from).

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Turkey's Mount Rushmore: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, looking down on the city of İzmir!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Istanbul as Religious Crossroads

Happy Birthday Danae!
 Michael's post highlights our explorations today.  Here are just a few photos:
Hidden synagogue in Balat

Galata Mevlevi Lodge (Museum)
Cemetery at Galata Mevlevi Lodge
The names of those killed in bombings of the Neve Shalom Synagogue

Religious History in Istanbul

Hello, world, this is Michael Nedvin reporting from Istanbul! Blogger seems to have mislaid my authorship permissions, so I'm using Lynn's account to summarize the day.

This day started with an excursion to Balat, which had been the old Jewish quarter in the time of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, Balat was the area where the poorer Jews lived, along with the Greek Orthodox Christians, and it's still not a wealthy area today. Walking through the narrow streets, it was as if we were in a completely different city from the Istanbul we've seen for the past week. There was no English on any of the signs, and we were not invited to look at anyone's shop or restaurant. The aggressive salesmen who seem to line every other street in the city were nowhere to be found.

Our first stop in Balat was outside of the Yanbol Synagogue. I would not have recognized it as a synagogue unless our guide had pointed it out to me, as all we can see from the street is a plain metal door, squeezed into the tiny space between a telephone office and a bank. So few Jews are part of Yanbol's congregation that it is only open on the High Holidays--which means that there was no access for us today.

The next stop was outside of the Ahrida Synagogue. Here, there is a sign of Judaism--a Hebrew inscription above the gate. The gate opens into a courtyard which is surrounded by a high wall. Our group had originally planned to visit Ahrida, but it was only upon reaching Istanbul that we learned that  due to the threat of terrorist attack, Ahrida is not open to tourists. The general public enters only on holidays and the Sabbath.

Leaving Balat through a small fruit market (the first fruit market where no one tried to stop us and sell us fruit), we returned to the bus and crossed the Haliç to the Pera district. This was the area where the wealthier Jews had gathered in Ottoman times, and we set off to find a Mevlevi lodge that had been converted into a museum.

The lodge had once been a gathering place for practioners of Sufism, a mystical spiritual practiced derived from the teachings of the scholar known to the west as Rumi.  Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi was a teacher in the great schools of the Seljuk Empire, and his subject was philosophy. He taught a method of thinking through which one could come to love everything, and thus be closer to the Divine. The Galata Mevlevi lodge contains many artifacts of the Sufi practice, and is an extremely peaceful place even though it is at the end of one of the busiest streets in the district.

After leaving the lodge, we trekked towards the Neve Shalom synagogue, which we had chosen to visit  instead of Ahrida. "Neve Shalom" means "Oasis of Peace", and it is the largest synagogue in Istanbul. That doesn't mean that security is relaxed, though; Neve Shalom has been attacked multiple times, and as a result, tourist entry is very controlled. 

We arrived at 12:40, but were told to come back at 1:00, our appointment time. After waiting in the shade of the Galata Tower, we returned to the synagogue, and the gate guards unlocked the door. We passed through several security checkpoints, and once everyone was through, we proceeded to the sanctuary. It is a beautiful room, with an ornate scroll cabinet and a floral arch at the entrance--the latter was due to the fact that Neve Shalom is used for weddings extremely frequently.

There were some things that we found strange, of course. The most memorable was the list of names above the main door to the sanctuary, which served as a tribute to those who died in the terrorist strikes on Neve Shalom. The most unexpected would have to be the hard hats kept under each seat. With these helmets--emergency protection for congregants in the event of a terrorist attack--we could see how a history of violence continues to affect the area today.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Honors Fellows Cruise the Bosphorous

Sean can't resist a Titanic image.

Jacquie takes notes for the blog.

Not sure about this cruising in January,  Addison?
Turkish tea, and perfectly timed service

Sean holds court.

Helen, Jacquie and Olivia

Sarah soaks up some sun.
Michael enjoys the view.

Blinding sun better than snow?

Turkish breakfast

If you're wondering how the students are starting their days in Istanbul, here's a glimpse of the view from breakfast room and a few choices from the breakfast bar. As you can tell, we get an early start most days!

Investigating Ottoman Istanbul

Whole gang plus tour-guide at Topkapi Palace

Morgan contemplates life as a Sultan

Helen, Jacquelyn, Melina, and Danae
are workin' their pashminas at the
Blue Mosque

Thanks Danae

Saba explains the principles of Sinanian
architecture at the Suleymaniye

Blustry winds, beautiful sights and breathtaking smells

      Our day began with the Bosphorus cruise that took our group along the European side of Istanbul then down the Asian side. While on the boat, we sat on the top deck and got to see the beautiful sights while our tour guide explained the history of some of the buildings.

      But first about the Bosphorus. It is about 400 feet deep and anywhere from half a mile to two miles wide. Two bridges that span the two continents of Asia and Europe sit on the more narrow part of the strait. The sixteen mile long strait from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea plays a crucial role in Turkish economy, as many trading ships use this passage. Additionally, each boat passing throught must have a pilot captain to help with navigation on the strait. These pilot captains must be paid and are often very expensive.

      We started the cruise near the Golden Horn, which is the body of water that cuts into the European side of Istanbul. From the deck, we could observe the buildings and bridges around us. Although it was windy out on the water, the sights were fantastic. Some highlights included the Queen Mother's Mosque, the New Galata bridge and the Dolmabahçe Palace.
Rumeli Hisari

      Turning onto the Bosphorus and moving between the European and Asian sides of the city, we passed the fortress constructed by the Ottomans in 1452 called the Rumeli Hisari. The location, now within the Istanbul city limits, once sat outside the Theodosian walls that surrounded the city before the Ottomans took control. It was built by Sultan Mehmed the Conquerer as part of his efforts to conquer Constantinople.

      After returning to dry land, the group proceeded to the spice market. Here, our senses were bombarded with aromas and sounds of people calling to us in many languages. The shop keepers are anxious to have customers and it is customary for them to ask where you are from and offer you tea or Turkish Delights while they show you the many treasures within their stores.

      Orginally built to support the building of the nearby mosque, the spice bazaar traditionally contained spices from Egypt, though now the spices come from all over the world.  Today, local people shop in this bazaar, so haggling is not as prevalent because  prices are not as inflated. Overall, today presented a great opportunity to oberve the growth and changes in Istanbul over the years.