A trip to Istanbul is not complete without enjoying the timeless splendour and captivating magic of Hagia Sophia. Built on the orders of Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 537, it remained for nearly a thousand years the world’s largest cathedral. Turned into a mosque after the conquest of the city by the Ottomans and into a museum in 1934, it is now being turned again into a mosque with consequent controversies about this decision. The timeless splendour and captivating magic of this temple transcends religious differences and has been transpiring spirituality for almost two millenia to people of all creeds.
A spiritual and musical experience in Istanbul not to be missed is surely provided by the many groups of whirling Dervishes that perform this ritual also for the general public. Originally this was just a spiritual ceremony for the adepts of the Mevlevi Order, a sufi mystic group established by the Persian poet Rumi in the 13th century. To appreciate this ceremony in its real meaning one should keep in mind this is a form of remembrance and connection with God through music and physical exercise. The participants to the ceremony actually go in a state of trance and transfiguration while whirling around in a circle.
Turkey is a crossroad for various traditions between two continents, including also for food. The cuisine around Istanbul and other major cities in the area of the Bosphorus is influenced by Ottoman court cooking, with a great variety of vegetables and a lighter use of spices. Other parts of the country are the original places of origin for the diverse mezes (starters) and kebabs. Breakfast (kahvaltı “before coffee”) is quite rich, with cheese, eggs, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and Turkish tea. A typical breakfast preparation is the menemen which sees eggs cooked with tomatoes, green peppers and spices. A great start for a day of exploration in Istanbul.
A nice discovery of my latest trip has been that in Turkey as well there was a group of painters influenced by the French Impressionists who brought and interpreted the artistic movement to the context of the last decades of the Ottoman Empire. The painting on the left (Women with Peonies) is by Halil Pasha, one of the main exponent of the Turkish Impressionism. He spent a long period of time in Paris, and won a medal at the Universal Exposition of 1889. Many paintings of this period are collected in the Sakıp Sabancı Museum just north of Istanbul on the Bosphorus.
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