Monday, July 28, 2014

Strolling through time in Zeyrek - Istanbul Itinerary

Fatih Mosque (Photo @Caner Cangul)
Fatih mosque, commissioned by Mehmet II to be built atop the Byzantine Imperial Chruch of the Holy Apostles is probably one of Istanbul's most important monuments. Situated on the fourth hill of the city, the Fatih complex and the surrounding area can be a very interesting itinerary for visitors to Istanbul. The neighborhood having been on the main processional way since the Byzantine Empire, contains an interesting mix of monuments and civic structures from the Byzantine and Ottomans as well as great possibilities for dining with the locals. 

Fatih Mosque, Interior View
Unfortunately due to a severe earthquake in 1776, the original mosque, built right after the conquest of the city in 1453, cannot be seen in the present structure. This is an 18th century reconstruction built in the Ottoman Baroque style. The name Fatih means conqueror in Turksih due to Mehmed II's success in conquering the city at the ripe age of 21. The mosque complex included eight medreses (educational institutions with dormitories) library, soup kitchen, hospital, hammam and market; the medreses and the library still survive to this day. 

Eski Imaret Mosque, Convent of Pantepoptes, 1085 (photo @Caner Cangul)
Eski Imaret Mosque gets it's name from it's function as a soup kitchen before the completion of the Fatih Complex. The building was the church of a convent built around 1085 by Empress Anna Delessena before being converted into a soup kitchen in 1453. Anna Delessena was the powerful mother of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus who ran the empire for twenty years while he was still a minor. She was also responsible for her granddaughter, the scholar, Anna Komnena's education. The empress spent the final years of her life in the convent of Pantepoptes - Christ the All-Seeing. 

Ottoman houses, Zeyrek (Photo via Flickr @SALTOnline)
Eski Imaret Mosque is located in the Zeyrek neighborhood of Fatih. Zeyrek is one of the World Heritage Sites of Istanbul contributing to its Outstanding Universal Value. The houses in this neighborhood, most of which are in a state of disrepair,  are noted for being examples of Ottoman timber architecture.

Molla Zeyrek Mosque, (Photo via @eric )
Zeyrek is also home to what was once the Monastery of Pantokrator built by Empress Eirene Komnena between 1118-1124. The monastery complex Eirene had built included the Chruch of St Savior Pantokrator, a library and a hospital. After the empress' death, her husband Emperor John II Komnenos, had another Chruch built dedicated to Theotokos Elousa (the merciful) 1120-1136. A chapel dedicated to Saint Michael situated between the two churches became the Heroon (the imperial mausoleum) for the Komnenos and Palaiologos dynasties. 
Molla Zeyrek Mosque, Monastery of Pantokrator, 1118-1136 (Photo @Caner Cangul)
During the Latin occupation of Constantinople, the complex became the see of the Venetian clergy and  parts of the altarpiece of San Marco, Pala d'Oro, is said to have come from here. The current name of Molla Zeyrek derives from the name of the first imam after it's conversion into a mosque. There is a cafe, Zeyrekhane, right in front of the structure with a magnificent view of the Golden Horn. If you can be there during the call to prayer, it is supposed to be a transcendental experience. 

View Overlooking the Golden Horn from Zeyrek (Photo @Caner Cangul)
If all of this sightseeing has got you hungry, then you can proceed to Kadinlar Pazari (Women's Bazaar) where you will find, among other things, an area referred to as 'Little Siirt' (because people who came from Siirt used to live here) If you are a meat lover, you will love the Buryan Kebap, baked in a pit, that is their specialty. I don't think mere words or even pictures can do justice to this experience: if you are not averse to salty drinks, I strongly suggest the ice cold Ayran (salty yogurt drink) which is the perfect accompaniment to the Buryan Kebap. 

Ruins of Church of St Polyeuktos, 524-527 (Photo @Sinan Dogan)
A short walk from here will bring you to one of my favorite (secret) places in Istanbul - the ruins of the Church of St. Polyeuktos. There is a great story associated with this Church involving another remarkable Byzantine Princess, Anicia Juliana (462- 528) who was connected to the Byzantine Royal family from both sides of her ancestry. Anicia Juliana lived during the regin of Justin I, and supposedly was bitter about the illeterate 'upstart' that sat on the throne. Built 524-527, Church of St. Polyeuktos was the most majestic church in Constantinople till Justinian had the Hagia Sophia rebuilt for the third time. She supposedly used all her wealth to cover the dome of her church in gold, in order to evade Justinain's demands for funds for his own projects.

Kiz Tasi, Column of Marcian, 450 -457 (Photo @Caner Cangul)
Standing a little awkwardly in the middle of traffic and apartment buildings on Kiztasi Caddesi, is what has been referred to by the locals as 'Kiz Tasi' (Maiden's Stone). Known by this name due to the figure of the Goddess Nike which can be seen at its base, this was actually the Column of Marcian, built in honor of Emperor Marcian (450-457) who was crowned by his wife Aelia Pulcheira Augusta, sister to Theodosius II. Pulcheria was another great figure from Late Antique Constantinople who foresaw her brother's education personally, ruled till he had his majority and was the biggest influence through this whole life. 

It seems this turned into a post about the great women of Byzantium - well, it can't be helped since there were so many great women who lived in these lands. But if this stroll through history has you hungry, I have another not-to-be-missed dining suggestion, only a 12 minute walk from Kiz Tasi, Oz Kilis. Don't be fooled by the humble storefront or the modest interior, this kebap restaurant has the approval of the people of Kilis (aka - my relatives) as the real thing. Besides the kebaps, they make the best lahmacun and their kunefe (shredded kadaifi) is out of this world (I sometimes go just for the kunefe) Best way to plan for this itinerary would be to get directions through google maps (see photo below) and then go in either direction, since it is actually a loop. 

Zeyrekhane (link)
Ibadethane Arkasi Sok. No. 1

Sur Ocakbasi (link)
Itfaiye Caddesi No. 27/1

Oz Kilis
Hirka-I Serif Caddesi, Bedrettin Simavi Sok, No.5
(212) 523 4457

Walking directions via Google Maps

Historic Peninsula 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Phaselis- a Lycian trading settlement that welcomes everyone with openarms

The Aqueduct greets visitors as soon as they arrive

The city of Phaselis, situated on the Coast of ancient Lycia, was a major trading port with three harbors.  It is thought that the settlement may have existed since the Luwians, the indigenous people of Anatolia. Strabo mentions Phaselis in Book XIV of his Geographica ...

    "Then follows Phaselis, a considerable city with three harbors and a lake.  Above it is the mountain of  Solyma and Temessus, a Pisidic city, situated on the defiles, through which there is a pass in the mountain to Milyas. Alexander demolished it, with the intention of opening the defiles.
About Phaselis, near the sea, are narrow passes through which Alexander conducted his army..."

The Main Street linking the two ports is thought to have been used as a Stadium to hold races.
Prometheus posing as a Roman Statue in one of the Bath ruins                            
Since Phaselis was the main stopover for ships on the naval trading route between the Aegean and the Mediterranean, it was a thriving city. They were mainly concerned with trade, so they did not feel the need for an army and chose to accede to the whoever was dominating the region - Dorians, Persians, Alexander the Great or the Macedonian-Hellenes. 

The 1,700-seat Theater
The remains of the Stage of the Theater

Alexander the Great was greeted so warmly and awarded a golden crown when he was leading his army towards Antalya, that he decide to stay here for the winter of 333 BC. The city became a part of the Lycian League after 167 BC and struck its own coins.  It came under Roman rule in 43 BC, after being invaded by pirates from the neighboring city of Olympos. Most of the ruins to be seen are from Roman and Byzantine periods. Emperor Hadrian visited the city in 129A.D, the ruins of the Monumental gate built in his honor for this occasion can be seen by the South harbor. During its Byzantine history, Phaselis was one of the cities that participated in the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Agora of Diocletian

                                                  Hadrian's Gate 

An hour drive away from Antalya, Phaselis is a magical place where nature and antiquities exist in perfect harmony. People come by boat and go swimming as well as exploring the ruins. We drove South on the main road from Antalya towards Kumluca - the site is 1 km away from the brown sign on the main road. We arrived due to circumstances, not by design, later in the afternoon and stayed until closing time at 7.30pm. It turned out to be quite wonderful, since towards the end we had the place all to ourselves. 

Phaselis Orenyeri 
Tekirova, Kemer

Apr. - Oct 9.00am - 7.00pm
Nov. - March 8.30am - 5.30pm 

For more information - 



Yaşar Yılmaz, Ancient Cities of Turkey: a Guide to 118 Ancient Cities From Anatolia to Thrace, YEM Yayin, Istanbul, January 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Antalya - top three must-do activities...

Antalya has been declared to be the third most visited city in the world after Paris and London in 2013.  This is not very surprising since it is the gateway to some of the most important ancient sites in the world as well as hundreds of world class resorts. No matter where your end destination, there are three things you should not miss if you are in the area...

Gaius Caesar Cenotaph Frieze, Limyra, 1st cent AD

Antalya Museum

Antalya has a spectacular museum that houses the archaeological artifacts recovered from the ancient sites of Turkey's Mediterranean region. With its huge collection of Roman statues, walking around the museum encountering emperors and Gods at every corner makes it feel like traveling through time and running into old friends -especially for lovers of antiquity. There is also a section devoted to Ethnographical collection which includes pieces from the time of the Ottoman and Seljuks. Although it is large, the museum is easy to navigate - youjust have to give yourself enough time. There is a Kids section with a timeline of history at the entrance of the galleries that my four year old nephew loved. The museumshop has a lot of gift and book options: I bought a children's book about the Romans for my nephew which entertained us all throughout the week-long road trip. There is also a lovely cafe in an inner courtyard where you can sit in the shade drinking Turkish tea surrounded by ancient statues.

Phrygian, Bayindir-Elmali tumulii, 7th century B.C.
Antalya Museum - Antalya Muzesi
Konyaalti Cad. No. 1 07050

Piyazci Ahmet

Kofte and Piyaz are a traditonal duo of Turkish cuisine. Kofte is a something between a hamburger and a meatball that all of my non-Turkish friends love and piyaz is a salad of beans, tomatoes and hard boiled eggs that complements it perfectly.  I was told before we left Istanbul that there was a famous restaurant, Piyazci Ahmet, in Antalya that we should not miss. At first I found it odd that it was called a Piyazci (place where piyaz is made) since most of these places are actually known as Kofteci (place where kofte is made). When the salad arrived I realized why it was known as such, I have never tasted a piyaz like it anywhere else. What makes this salad so out-of-this-world-perfect is its special dressing which has tahini and a vinegar made from local fruits. We knew the lentil soup was going to be excellent just by the fact that the waiter very confidently announced he would take it back if we didn't like it. Their kofte and piyaz is worthy of any self-respecting foodie's bucket-list. There is no website for the restaurant but it has gotten a lot of great reviews in tripadvisor. As we were leaving, my brother, who lives in LA and does not make it to Turkey all that often, remarked "Damn, now I am going to have to come back here for this!"

Piyazci Ahmet
166. Sok, No. 20/C Muratpasa, Antalya

Photo by @Agustus Chen 

Antalya's hstoric center is known as"Kaleici" (Inside the castle) since it is a citadel which has the remains of its Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman past. It is a charming array of narrow, winding streets, old wooden Ottoman houses and even the gate of Hadrian. For detailed information and great pictures about Hadrian's Gate, I suggest checking out The abundance of shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels in the area make it an ideal location for an extended stay. One word of warning though - do not under any circumstances go into the citadel with a car, even if they let you in. We made that mistake and barely made it out without getting any bumps or scratches.

Hadrian's Gate photo @Ingo Mehling
Antalya Kaleici Photo by @recepmemik
Also, for a really authentic experience, you should try Antalya's 'Yanik Dondurma" (burnt icecream) before you leave the city. We went in search of it and the reactions from our little group were mixed - the kids and I liked it but not everyone was as enthusiastic as us.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

My Summer in Turkey...

Istanbul, Boshporus, June 2014

We have a famous saying in Turkish "Insanoglu kus misali" which literally translates as 'humanbeings like birds', meaning here one minute there the next. Reflecting on my recent travels in Turkey last month and how I was there only last Sunday having fish by the Bosphorus, easily brought this phrase to mind.

Sigacik, June 2014
I spent fortyfive glorious day traipsing about in different areas of Turkey, visiting ancient cities, watching the sun rise and set over the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Marmara Seas, eating great food and interacting with the locals - all of these adventures waiting to be told, written and shared so that they may evolve into something more than someone's distant memories.

Ancient city of Myra, Demre, May 2014
I plan to share my photographs, experiences and know-how - the Love - here, so that others may do the same and hopefully discover the wonderful surprises Turkey has in store for any visitor to its lands full of history and natural beauty.

Fethiye, May 2014
For now, I will leave you with a few photos and a message to "stay tuned" for more...

As the Sun Sets over Teos, Sigacik, June 2014