May 12, 2013

Why Constantinople got the works, that's nobody's business but the Turks

So first of all let's talk about the cats. The Internet has an inordinate fondness for cats, right?

So too does Istanbul. In the evening it is not uncommon to see three or four feral cats perched or prowling along any given short stretch of street. Black, ginger, chiaroscuro and (mostly) patchwork, in the Sultanahmet and Taksim districts alike1 they wander into and out of cafes, they walk straight down the middle of streets like they own them, they trade glares with the two-toned crows that roost here, they rest beneath cars and on windowsills. I do not doubt that some of them have ascended the minarets of the Blue Mosque, climbed into the galleries of the Hagia Sophia, patrolled the harem of the Topkapi Palace, descended into the cistern built for Byzantium 1500 years ago, and even crossed the bridges across the Bosphorus to Asia Minor.

(It's also possible that given my, um, idiosyncratic authorial history, I notice urban animals more than most. But everybody notices all the cats here. My travelling companion did too, I'll have you know.)

At times it seems almost as if this is a feline city in which we humans are grudgingly permitted cohabitation. Have they their own hierarchies, their own districts, their own histories and vendettas? Does the Constantinople of cats live on, almost six centuries after the human Constantinople fell? Do they await a long-prophecied messenger from the East, with word of the newborn Emperor, or a new prophet of the One True Feline Faith?

Probably not. But when you're here it's hard not to wonder. This is a fairytale city. It's also a huge, teeming, surging, very modern city. "Crossroads of the World" is a cliche but not without reason. My first reaction, actually, was "Edinburgh meets Bangkok, with mosques" -- Edinburgh because of all the monuments and castles and ancient walls, Bangkok because of all of the new skyscrapers and new shopping malls and construction in progress everywhere, including the old city. As put it (paraphrasing due to poor memory) "People have probably been lamenting for more than a thousand years that this city is basically a huge building site."

You ever been to 'Stanbul?"
"Couple days, once."
"Never changes," she said. "Bad old town."

 -- Neuromancer

Gibson is a prophet but he sure got that one wrong. The overriding sense one gets here is that, outside of the actual monuments, pretty much everything is changing, all the time, and always has been. This feels like a city defined by flux.

1I haven't yet ventured much into any of the many others.

Anyway. Have some pictures.

cistern-pillars-1
The ancient Basilica Cistern.

medusa head
legal notice: this author is not responsible for anyone turned to stone because they were foolish enough to crane their neck so as to see the medusa right side up.
 

painted-globe
A magnificent zodiac in the Museum of Islamic Science and Technology.

bicontinental-view
That's Europe to the left, Asia to the right.

sultans-mosque
A relatively minor mosque.

half-doorway
Another view thereto.

perfect-symmetry
The ceiling of this relatively minor mosque.

minaret-tree
Tree and minaret.

reflecting-selves
T. and I reflected in the latest hijabwear.

faded-mosaic
A knight marred by bandits.

golden-flag
View from the Golden Horn.

finger-spires
The Blue Mosque.

blue-minaret
One of the Blue Mosque's six minarets.

blue-ceiling
The Blue Mosque's magnificent ceiling.

pious-direcktorate
(blink) (blink)

warning signs
(blink) (blink) (blink) (blink)

hagia-sunset
The Hagia Sophia by sunset. For more than a millennium this was the largest (manmade) enclosed space in the world.

hagia-spiral
Aforementioned

hagia-dome
enclosed

hagia-signs
space.

backs-turned
Asia behind them.

ships-shore-shawls
Shawls by the shore.
 

right-angles
A diver by the port.

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