Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Interesting Things In Istanbul PART 1

Etsy Artist 

[Kelly had a break from school, so I met her and a few other of her teacher friends in Istanbul for 5 days. Over the next few weeks I'll share our adventures.]

1. Cats (and dogs)… But Mostly Cats

Cats seemed to rule the city in Istanbul. But they weren’t your typical stray cats. They seemed healthy, well fed, friendly and affectionate. I saw multiple people pull out plastic bags of cat food and feed them; it was like this joint effort between the population to keep these felines happy. 

There is a famous story about Muezza, the Prophet Muhammad’s cat. Muezza killed a venomous snake that had slithered into the Prophet’s sleeve. In return for saving his life, Muhammed blessed the cat with the ability to land on its feet. Cats are revered in Turkey. There’s a saying that if you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God. Besides the story about Muezza, there are many other stories about the luck that cats bring. 

There were also many dogs frolicking about the city, however they are considered more of a nuisance and sanitation threat than cats, and Islamic tradition labels them unclean. Either way, the animals are taken care of. Turkey introduced an animal protection law in 2004 and the state policy is to catch, neuter and release the street animals. Meow. 

2. Call to Prayer

Or adhan, is the Islamic call to worship recited by the muezzin (a person at the mosque that leads the call to prayer over the loud speakers so the entire city can hear). The call to prayer happens five times a day summoning Muslims for worship. Our tour guide said that 95% of people in Turkey are Islamic, and while it’s not required that prayer take place in a mosque, it’s felt to be more appropriate. (There are over 3,000 mosques in Istanbul alone).

There are 5 calls to prayer a day. They are performed at times determined by the sun, so salat (prayer) times vary at different locations around the world. The five times are Fajr (pre-dawn), Dhuhr (midday), Asr (afternoon), Maghrib (sunset), and Isha’a (night). I quickly got used to hearing the call everyday, and actually found it quite beautiful. Below is a loose translation of what is said over the speakers.

Allahu Akbar (x4)
Allah is the Greatest

Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallah (x2)
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah

Asha-hadu anna Muhammadar Rasulullah (x2)
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah

Hayya alassalah (x2)
Come to Prayer

Hayya alal-Falah (x2)
Come to success

Allahu Akbar (x2)
Allah is the Greatest

La ilaha illallah
There is none worthy of worship except Allah

**The morning prayer has an extra line that translates to “It’s better to pray than to sleep”

Istanbul is probably one of the most exotic and unique places I have been. Hearing the prayer and getting an understanding of the Muslim prayer process was fascinating.

3. Ilhami Atalay Art Gallery

Ilhami opened his gallery over 30 years ago originally as a protest art haven. His paintings use unusual colors, mixed media and abstract statements to tell beautiful stories. They were stunning and I regret not picking one out and taking it home. It’s a small gallery with thousands of different pieces; we could have spent hours going through all of his work.

4. Turkish Carpets

These carpets are among the most well-known and established hand crafted art works in the world. They were developed during the medieval Seljuk period, with the many styles of design reaching their maturity during the early Ottoman Empire. They are made it a wide range of styles originating from various regions in Anatolia.

They are handmade and can take anywhere from 1 month to several years to complete. The Turkish people are crazy proud of their rugs. There are many different materials, styles and knot tying for each one (it seems very complicated to me). As part of our tour, we went to a Carpet manufacture. They sat us all in a large room, brought us tea and coffee and then threw down probably 100 different carpets of all sizes, styles and prices. I’m not sure if they expected anyone in our group to buy one, but they were putting quite the hard sell on us. Some of these carpets were upwards of $30,000. 

I asked the tour guide if she had any, and she told me “ohhh yes, of course, I buy one every couple of months” and then went on to say how usually at least one person in her tour always ends up buying a carpet. This led me to believe she gets commission if that happens. Towards the end it got a little slimy for me, but I was happy to have the carpet buying experience.

**All pictures are thanks to Kelly, Miki and Google Images. 

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