Eva Collins : Photographs and Writing

Words

ISTANBUL WAS ONCE CONSTANTINOPLE

“So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul…”

This popular song, which reached the Top Ten Hits in the ‘50s, light heartedly reminds us of how history has changed this ancient city.
The Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman ruins and relics pop up among the meandering streets and lanes which are packed with restaurants, cafes, boutiques and hardware stores, often interspersed with burnt-out shells of buildings.
It’s not uncommon to stumble upon an ancient wall, often overgrown with weeds and strewn with rubbish.
Istanbul is the only city in the world that spans two continents: Asia and Europe. The Asian side is mainly residential whilst the European one is further divided into the ‘New’ and the ‘Old’ cities, connected by bridges over the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn straits.
The ‘New’ Beyoglu district echoes with European grandeur with its 19th and 20th century Parisian style buildings and arcades. It is regarded as the Bohemian quarter of town and is studded with galleries, bars, jazz clubs and designer label stores. Although considered to be more European than the Old City, much of its splendour has faded and is now being restored. It feels like Istanbul is coming out of something that has held it back for some time.
Istiklal Cadessi is its main high fashion shopping mall that stretches for miles. As far as you can see, the road pulsates with the bobbing heads of pedestrians above which hang the red Turkish flags. These flags hang all over the country as if to remind you that you are in Turkey, in case you’ve forgotten.
Across the water, Sultanahmet is the heart of the Old City. A UNESCO listed World Heritage site it has many of the city’s attractions, such as the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace within walking distance. It is a seductive city with its skyline of domed mosques and piercing minarets.
The Eminonu harbour bustles with ocean liners, boats and ferries manouvering around each other. Above them, on Galata Bridge, men standing shoulder to shoulder, cast their lines, and manage to catch fish in these busy waters. Below on the roadside, vendors rhythmically call out their wares of fried fish, roasted chestnuts, grilled corn and pickles.
It is mesmerizing to watch their stalls glimmer in the black of the night, their chorus competing with that of the muezzins’ unsynchronized wails, summoning the devout to prayer.
It is an open-air living theatre and by being there you become a part of it.
The inexhaustible spruikers try to entice you into their restaurants. They follow you, menus in hand, trying to engage you with friendly banter.
“Please, let me help you spend your money,” they joke. But once you decide to eat there, they relax and become polite and attentive waiters.
For about $10 you can enjoy a decent meal of fresh salad, kebab and their signature lentil soup, which is often the only one on offer, though others are listed on the menu.

Close to the waterfront under a vaulted roof is the famous Spice Bazaar.
In each archway, the stalls glitter in a kaleidoscope of patterns and colours of traditional ceramics, pashminas, sweets and jewellery.
Each stall a work of art, a page from a picture book of exotic tales.

Open sacks peak with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, aniseed, paprika, and those spices, which are labeled only in Turkish, add to the mystery of their ancient powers.

Honey-dripping baklavas, apple and pomegranate teas, figs stuffed with walnuts, dates, nougats and of course Lokum - the aromatic Turkish Delight – pink, green, white jelly cubes, clear or with pecan nuts, beckon you knowing you won’t resist.

Much larger is the Grand Bazaar, a labyrinth of interconnected lanes, several kilometers long. The range of merchandise is wider including up-market clothing, gifts and jewellery. It is the world’s oldest shopping centre teeming with people, colours and lights. You know that others have walked there before you over hundreds of years and that now you are also part of its history.

Right outside the Grand Bazaar is a welcome surprise, oddly, one not listed in the guidebooks. It is the Nuri Osmaniye Caddesi – a leafy, elegant, European style street with smart cafes and shops frequented by tourists and locals alike.

Young women with covered heads walk arm in arm with their girl friends whose heads are often uncovered. They sip coffee, smoke cigarettes and at night it’s not unusual to see them walking alone, giving the impression that the city is safe and that they are in charge of their personal lives.

Whenever you stop to talk to people – on the street, in the market, on the bridge, everyone is courteous and helpful. Even some rough looking youths, when thanked for providing directions, reply that it is a pleasure to be of help.

But be on your guard. Some of those who approach you genuinely offer assistance, whilst others try to do ‘a little business’ or ask for ‘a loan’ backed up with the customary hard-luck story.

The much-maligned Turkish drivers are actually quite considerate, though the red traffic light is only a recommendation and you must rely on your own judgment when crossing the road.

Well-known landmarks aside, make sure you see the underground Basilica Cistern. Built in 532, this water storage hall looks like a sub-terranean nocturnal palace, lit by dim red lights. Its 336 marble columns stand in water in which colourless, ghost-like carp swim without ever being exposed to sunlight or plant life and have done so for centuries.

The Whirling Dervishes are a must-see. These Sufi mystic performers begin their dance by slowly spinning whilst unfolding their crossed arms, like a bud opening to blossom, their skirts undulating, their heads tilted and their arms raised in gentle surrender to Allah.
This dance of meditation has formed an important part of their 800-year-old tradition.

Photographs, busts and statues of Ataturk, the most revered leader who modernized Turkey, appear everywhere and it is a crime to say anything against him. But then, I doubt that there would be many world leaders who would pay tribute to their fallen enemies, as did Kamal Ataturk.

At Gallipoli, there is a monument inscribed with his words which address the mothers of fallen Anzac soldiers, asking them to wipe away their tears for their “…sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” Ataturk 1934.

 

A quote by the side of the street reads:
Life is a joy,
Enjoy your life.