COLUMN-Must-see that is Istanbul
I had promised in my last article to write on Istanbul, a wonderful city in Turkey that has the unique geographical location of being part of Europe and part of Asia at the same time. At the time of promising to write on Istanbul I was unaware that Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, and one of the most influential leaders in the Christian world today, would be visiting Istanbul as well. He was there during the last week on an official visit.
This was my second visit to Istanbul, and I was there this time (just last month) at the invitation of the Directorate of Religious Affairs of Turkey (perhaps their equivalent to the Ministry of Religious Affairs) to attend the First Summit Of Latin American And Caribbean Muslim Religious Leaders.
Since my first visit to Istanbul back in 2009, I had always admired this city. Apart from its geography, Istanbul is one of those unique cities in the world marked by its history. Mosques, churches and synagogues have stood side by side throughout this city for centuries. Especially at a time when dialogue between cultures and religions is sought, Istanbul, the cradle of civilizations, constitutes a bright example.
Istanbul has a long, rich history from its colonial period to New Rome, from Byzantium to the Ottoman Empire and from Constantinople to Istanbul, the city has been ruled at varying times of its history by the world’s two major religious faiths –– Christianity and Islam.
Istanbul today is a metropolis, home to almost 15 million and growing. The skyline echoes the city that straddles Asia and Europe, both ancient and modern with its pleasing outlines of mosques, palaces and minarets alongside jutting tower blocks of offices, hotels and apartments.
Although much is made about “old” Istanbul and its rich Ottoman history and architecture, there is a lot of new set against the backdrop of the old. And with Turkey’s economic boom, one of the few countries in the world today experiencing such, Istanbul seems set to make its future as glorious as its past.
The mayor of Istanbul told us over breakfast that the city welcomes close to one million tourists every month –– a staggering number, but not impossible, as the many and varied historical and cultural sites that this large city offers is a must-see for people who can afford to travel there. I saw persons of all nationalities and faiths as we toured some of those places.
Among those historical sites is the Hagia Spohia Museum. It is considered one of the most visited and most prominent museums in the world, in terms of art and the history of architecture. The current Hagia Sophia is the third construction, done in a different architectural style, even though it occupies the same location as the previous two.
The original building was constructed by the most important architects of the period (527-565) under the order of Emperor Justinianos. It was used as a church for 916 years but, following the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Afterwards it was used as a mosque for 482 years. Then under the order of Ataturk, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum in 1935.
Another prominent place visited by many tourists to Istanbul is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Blue Mosque. This mosque was built between 1609 and 1617 upon the order of Sultan Ahmed I, who ascended the throne at the age of 14 as the Sultan of Ottomans. He was only 19 years old when he commissioned the building of this great mosque, and showed his dedication to the construction by personally working as a labourer.
He reigned over the Land of the Ottomans (included three continents) for 14 years and he passed away at 28 years of age. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque is a masterpiece and is unique in Turkey with its six minarets. Pope Francis visited the Blue Mosque this last weekend and was observed in silent prayer there.
Other places of interests include the Topkapi Palace, now a museum, built after the conquest of Istanbul, and occupying 700,000 square metres; and the Grand Bazaar, founded in 1461, with approximately 66 streets and 4,000 shops.
Pope Francis’s decision to visit Istanbul at this time is an interesting and welcome one. Despite Turkey’s being 99 per cent Muslim, the pope chose to visit Istanbul. He has made it a point while there to stress the very important need for dialogue among the various faith traditions as one tool in the fight against extremism and hatred.
Turkey represents today a modern country steeped in history, many times turbulent, but progressing rapidly into the future economically, socially and in science and technology. I have found that several opportunities exist for us here in the Caribbean to benefit from Turkey. In education, scholarships are being offered in a wide variety of subjects with English as the medium of instruction in many cases. Please feel free to email me for further information.
In terms of job opportunities there are possibilities. The daughter of my friend from the Bahamas who was attending the summit is teaching English in Istanbul and enjoying it. Turkey also has several economic possibilities as they are a major producer of many goods. I understand some companies here are already looking at these products.
Tourism is also one area that Barbados can further explore. With the Turkish economy doing well, attracting Turks who can afford to travel would be a new market for Barbados. Turkish Airlines is among the few airlines in the world that has a great deal of destinations on its schedule, including direct flights between Istanbul and both North and South American cities.
While I acknowledge many Barbadians’ concern about travelling to Istanbul due to turmoil in the region, I personally saw many tourists enjoying the city. It is a safe city and at present untouched by the calamities being faced by other cities in that part of the world. Istanbul is certainly a must-see city and one I would encourage Barbadians to put on their “bucket list”
of places to visit.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)