Istanbul is Constantinople is Byzantium and I love this city. I’m trying to figure out why it rings such an emotional knell with me. It must partly be the layering of history that’s almost staggering in its depth and complexity. When you go to the Hippodrome area of Istanbul and discover that the three columns from the Roman era have been excavated about 14 feet into the ground below your feet, you think “old.” Then you begin to realize that 2000 years ago is actually recent history to this city. That’s when it really hit me. This country is the definition of ancient – like the “cradle of civilization” old.
Poetry, myth, and legend
Maybe it’s also poetry like “Sailing to Byzantium” by W. B. Yeats that started this thrill I experience. The first lines of the third stanza make sense to me now that I’ve begun to explore the monuments of past civilizations remaining in Istanbul.
The deep allure of this country for me also involves the mythology and legends that have informed western literature and culture for centuries. Throughout this complex runs the intertwining history of Greece and Turkey, unfolding as they do on both sides of the Aegean Sea.
In today’s world, Turkey is building dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in order to make their southeastern desert area blossom into fertility. It’s also a country where democracy is new and sometimes shaky. For example, on the way out of town we passed a prison full of generals and journalists, so we were told. [Of course, these days the 45th US president also growls about those groups!]
The Spice Market
The Spice Market is located a few blocks from the Legacy Ottoman Hotel where we stayed. On entering, I inhaled deeply. I wanted to hold inside me the combined richness of the scent. We found teas of all sorts and bins of every imaginable spice. We learned how to detect fake saffron from the real thing. Here’s how: Put a few stamens into cold water (or on an ice-cube). The fake saffron turns the water red; the real saffron turns the water yellow. Don’t use hot water since both fake and genuine will turn the water yellow.
We saw piles of Turkish Delight candy all lined up in stacks of tidy logs. I had no idea it was so completely delicious. Don’t even think about those bars of sticky red stuff dunked in weak chocolate! It’s not like that at all. Maybe a little closer analogy would be to imagine a mouthful of soft gummy bears rolled together with dried fruits and nuts of all sorts.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar has all the Spice Market does, plus jewelry of every quality from pot metal to enameled brass to gold and silver. Famous for their silk rugs and everything possible that’s made from leather, I had a hard time resisting. So I didn’t! Their website assures me that when I return home I can order Online everything I saw first person in Istanbul, from Ottoman-style water taps in brass or gold plate (beautiful!) to the rolls of Turkish Delight I find so delicious.
So far, the thing I’ve enjoyed most about being here is the genuine good nature the Turkish people exhibit toward tourists. The funniest pick up line we got in the Grand Bazaar was, “Hey lady! Let me help you spend your money!” It struck my funny bone at the end of a long day. I turned to the man grinning at me and we laughed together as I walked swiftly away.