Apologies for the blog silence! It’s been a hectic past couple of weeks here in Istanbul. We had some more Minnesota visitors (by way of the Netherlands): Cynthia Lapp and Randy Larson, we had a full day of reviews, we took a day trip to Bursa, climbed up to the top of Büyük Valide Han (and some of the landwalls) with another friend and guide (the intrepid Waverley), and are still going strong – lurching inexorably toward our final three weeks (hard to believe) in Turkey. We’ve had an absolutely packed last little while and by the looks if it are going to continue an intense pace right up to the end. I’ve lost track of the sequence we did things in, so you’ll have to forgive our jumping around with the blog posts to follow.
In no particular order then, some posts on the goings-on about (and outside of) town. First: Green Bursa.
We left at 9 am from Istanbul (I think it was last week…) for a day trip to Bursa – the first Ottoman Capital before Edirne and Istanbul. No (shoveling) digs at Minneapolis, but it was beautiful day – bright, sunshiney, warm. The promise of Bursa – and perhaps most importantly – of Iskender Kebap – lay before us. We blitzed through Istanbul (past the Galatasary stadium – where the requisite boo-ing commenced; I’ve forcibly indoctrinated all our students to support Beşiktaş – the PEOPLES team) and out into the western part of the city, to get the slow ferry to Topçılar, on one of the shorter crossings of the Marmara Sea. The drive into Bursa was uneventful but relatively quick and we were into the city by about noon. We disembarked at the equestrian statue of Osman – the founder of the Ottoman Empire – and walked through the Saturday market throngs to meet Deniz – our historian – at the entrance to the Ulu Çami – one of the earliest Selcuk mosques built in Bursa between 1393 and 1399. It’s an amazing space – a kind of proto-mosque of the Ottoman courtyard type – with an ablution fountain on the interior, below a skylit dome. The mosque is enormous, re-built in part by a student of Violet-le Duc in the 18th century, but recent renovations have restored the massive calligraphic panels on the building’s enormous piers – many of those calligraphic designs were written by master calligraphers of the Ottoman world. Our studio theme is program and Bursa offers some pretty great precedents in thinking about multiple, layered, parallel and juxtaposed programs – and the Ulu Çami is no exception – the fountain in the center effectively smooshes the courtyard and mosque typologies seen in later mosques into one space – compressing social, spiritual, and religious activity into one incredible space.
We lingered for a bit here and then trekked through to the beautiful Emirhane – one of the many hans that populate Bursa’s urban fabric. For those of you out there unfamiliar with hans; they are like a kind of mixed use (program!) motel and storage facility – usually with a little mosque and fountain to boot. Goods and animals on the bottom floor (no windows) + people on the top in courtyard spaces. The Emirhan is beautifully preserved, a gorgeous oasis of palm trees and green surrounding a marble fountain in a space now occupied by jewelry sellers and restaurants. We popped into the Koza Han – another beautiful han and wandered through the silk sellers and retailers before stopping for lunch.
So, in Istanbul – in Turkey, actually – Iskender Kebap is a hotly contested dish. Basically, it’s a layer of thinly sliced veal, on a bed of tomato sauce over some freshly baked pide bread, accompanied by a healthy dollop of yoghurt on the side. Lest the yoghurt indicate a modicum of healthy eating, THIS Iskender Kebap comes with a healthy dollop of liquid butter poured over the veal. The place we ate at is the original Iskender Kebap place – where this epicurean masterpiece (oh, it also comes with grape soda… and çay of course) was initially conceived in gastronomic ecstasy no doubt – by Yusuf Iskenderoğlu. With apologies to vegetarians and vegans, I have to say it was glorious in all its buttery, veal-ly, tomato-ey and yoghurt-ly goodness. With arteries hardening, we finished up and headed out for more Bursa exploration.
Following lunch, we moseyed on over to the Hudavengir Çami; another great example of mixed programming extraordinaire. The byzantine spoila in the facade still visible, the Hudavengir mosque incorporates a whole series of monastic and ascetic meditation rooms – a working mini-school and university at the time – within the upper level of the mosque itself – almost completely hidden from the interior. The building was also recently renovated and we had it almost to ourselves – before a swarm of Turkish women surrounded our students to pepper them with questions and conversation. We also visited the tombs of Osman and Orhan Gazi – the founder and his son – of the Ottoman Empire; both spaces functioning not only as tombs, but venerated by many turks as the sites of holy men.We continued on to the Muradiye complex – the burial site of many Ottoman sultans and members of their family but were, alas, foiled. Given the constance cycle of renovation, restoration and preservation projects and the sheer number of buildings requiring attention, we lucked out at the Muradiye, but were able to get a sense of what the complex was like – when our historian (demonstrating great pluck it seems), managed to finagle us into a part of the complex so we could see glimpses of the setting – tombs and türbes, a mosque and burial facilities seeded between a leafy, wooded site.
Our second last stop of the day was the Green Mosque and Green Tomb – a project that blew Corbusier’s mind when he travelled to Turkey during his Voyages en Orient. Two years ago it was in a throes of an almost complete renovation and restoration. I was lucky enough then to talk with the heritage conservation architects and see the drawings of the proposed restoration project. I was also able to (two years ago that is), get up to the Sultan’s chambers to see the space from above. Like many of the cleverly planned and programmed spaces of Ottoman Architecture, the Green Mosque is multi-spatial and multi-programmed. Like the Ulu Çami, it has a fountain on the interior, but that fountain was conceived as being part of an imperial court. Judges would moderate disputes from specific chambers and alcoves in the forecourt of the mosque, the sultan would preside over proceedings from above, classes would be conducted in the larger iwans to the north and south, and a series of small steps would take you into two more secure rooms (each with fireplaces), with the large elevated platform of the prayer space in front. It was a beautiful renovation – one of the best I’ve seen in Turkey in the past 7 years. The Sultan’s chambers looked particularly beautiful from above, but alas were locked and we were denied entry.
Cue the networking contacts made over the past 6 years. Each time I’ve come to Bursa, I’ve stopped in at a store near the green mosque to buy one or two things and made the acquaintance of the owner – who continues to remember the Minneapolis professor and his students. Yunus was away this year (selling some carpets in Italy), but his brother Taner remembered me. We hounded a local sipping some coffee to reluctantly gave over one of the keys to the upper court and – all stealth-like, because we had to avoid the guards of the building – made our way up to the upper floor. My apologies to those who weren’t around to ninja their way up with us, but a small group of us got to the upper floor to check out the Sultan’s chambers and his prime view of the Green Mosque below. It was stunning.
Flush with our sneak-itectural successes, the students celebrated their victories by some pre-departure shopping at Bursa’s saturday bazaars. Me? I could have used another Iskender Kebap.