The literal meaning of it is somewhere along the lines of the mosque is a ruin but the mihrap is standing – however, as many of other proverbs, the words carries far wiser gist.
It describes an older woman who retains her charm and beauty. It portrays the mysterious allure of all things matured. Mind you that the second description is just of my own interpretation.
But let’s say that it is, then that would be the perfect depiction of how Istanbul was when I visited.
With each step I took, layers of history unfolded. Distinctive and strong cultures lied around every corner that has witnessed changes of regimes from as far back as when the Roman empire, Emperor Constantine, built his new capital, Nova Roma, in where Istanbul is today. His legacy, Hagia Eirine still stands proud and beautiful in the outer courtyard of Topkapi palace – thou not in its original state because of Nika revolt. A revolt that destroyed the imperial palace, the Senate house, public baths, and many residential houses and palaces, but fortunately enough was the event that brought us Hagia Sophia – a church so grand no one would dare destroy.
Several successors and crusades later, the empire and the city were left vulnerable and Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered it in 1453 – a date sometimes used to mark the end of Middle Ages.
What used to be Constantinople was then referred to be the Ottoman empire – an empire which eventually flourished into the largest and longest lasting empires in the history; one that was inspired and sustained by Islamic ruling. This was the time when many churches – such as the famous Hagia Sophia – turned into mosques
The empire reached its peak under Suleiman – a man so great that the Europeans referred to him as ‘Suleiman the Magnificent’ while his own people called him ‘The LawGiver.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
The empire was declining when it failed to conquer Vienna and effectively ruined by the First World War and Balkan Wars. Somewhere along this ride, the word Turk had become synonymous with cruelty to some.
Some historians thought that this was one of the reasons that made Kemal Ataturk repelled by the Ottoman Turkish Political system – and eventually led the nation to a new identity that was modern and secular.
The empire ruling was abolished and Turkey was declared a republic through his hands in 1923.
Istanbul’s old beauty today is echoing through its well-preserved ancient structures and completed beside hums of rich narration of the past. The combination that has made the whole city feels like one huge museum – a museum that stands along with the reality of real life.
Istanbul is also beautiful because of its people. People that have made me fall in love fast for its grand gestures of hospitality and their ease of extending hands of friendship that is far more than superficial – ones that are usually offered through a cup of cai or kahve served in a cup without a handle.
Like when my Airbnb’s host who I communicate with only hand gestures took my hand and led me to her kitchen to make kahve.
“Best way!” she said with a wide smile.
She hugged and kissed both my cheeks in the morning of my last day in a manner similar to how my late grandmother used to hug and kiss me.
Or like how the people I first met in Istanbul through a traveling app have given the saying of strangers are just friends you haven’t met a profound meaning.
There is one other interesting about the country when I was there.
With the failed coup attempt happened relatively recently, there was a rather thick book given in each seat of Turkish airline explaining what happened.
I feel that the country is yet again undergoing a drastic alteration of a political system with Erdogan, the current president, campaigning for greater power and employing stricter policies for self-expression, especially ones opposing to his believes. The country is also – thou not so much like crusades – battling terrorism from multiple ends where one of them is coming from inside the country itself as there is a seemingly even split of pro- and anti- Erdogan.
So what would happen next in the beautiful city of Istanbul or Turkey as a whole?
We’ll see in due time I suppose.
In the meantime, here are some pictures of the city that made me want to come back.