The Turkish Challenge: Part 1
No, my visit to Turkey wasn’t marked by hardship —Istanbul was amazing. The title of this blog post refers to the motto that Metrohm Turkey gave to my visit. Every day, our colleagues gave me new challenges to master to get to know Istanbul and Turkish culture. They ranged from quizzes about what we’d seen, done, or eaten to bargaining at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to belly dancing.
Let me start with a short historic introduction to Istanbul: Archeological findings suggest that humans have settled in the location of today’s Istanbul as early as the 6th millenium BC. But the birth of the city of Istanbul is often dated to the 7th century BC, when Greek colonists settled here and named the place Byzantium. The city changed hands various times since then: it was taken by the Persian Empire in the 6th century BC, taken back by the Greeks in the 5th century BC, and became part of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century AD. During this time, the city was renamed Constantinople, after Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who had built a new imperial residence in the city by the Bosphorus and had made the city a «New Rome». In the 15th century AD, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans and, after a long era of Christian reign, became an Islamic city.
«The Turkish Challenge» began on the Historical Peninsula, where Istanbul (or rather Byzantium) was born back in the day. This very touristic part of town tells the story of the city’s various conquests and reconquests. It’s where many of Istanbul’s historical landmarks, like Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace are located. It was Hagia Sophia in particular that left a deep impression on me. The 1500-year-old building, which is a museum today, was built as an Orthodox church under the reign of Emperor Justinian, who wanted to remind his people of the power and glory of his Empire in the face of uprisings. To do the job, Justinian’s church had to be bigger and more impressive than any building on the face of the Earth. And that’s how the construction of Hagia Sophia began.
Hagia Sophia, whose name means «divine wisdom» in Greek, covers the area of a soccer field. No building like it had ever been built before, so its construction was a huge experiment. The architects had to adjust their plan continuously during the construction and add supporting structures because they had underestimated the forces at work, especially underneath the giant central dome. In the end, they managed to build a church that would remain the largest one in the world for the next 1000 years. Hagia Sophia has lasted almost 1500 years so far and has even survived earthquakes during this time.
While the empires in Istanbul came and went, Hagia Sophia remained. It was turned into a Roman Catholic church under the Latin Empire and was converted to a Mosque (and received minarets) during the Ottoman Empire, until it was eventually turned into a museum in 1935. Inside Hagia Sophia, there are remnants from each of these epochs, and there’s not a single stone that doesn’t tell a story.
On our exploration of historic Istanbul and old Turkish customs, the Grand Bazaar was another important stop. The Bazaar, which was built from the 15th century AD onward, is still in use today. But, as almost everywhere in the world, most people in Turkey shop at supermarkets and malls these days. Nowadays, it’s mainly tourists who stroll Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar looking for souvenirs like traditional carpets, ceramics, and gold jewelry. And of course me, bargaining for a jingling belly dancing belt, which I needed for the next challenge that night at Metrohm Turkey’s anniversary party … (blog post coming soon!)
During a coffee break, I was introduced to the old traditions of Turkish coffee and fortune-telling by interpreting the coffee grounds. Traditional Turkish coffee is prepared without a filter or sieve. Water and grounds are simply heated together. After drinking the coffee, the grounds remain in the cup. Application specialist and hobby fortune teller Elif (in the picture below) took a glimpse at our futures for us and it looks like there’s a payraise coming my way (… are you reading this, boss?)