Istanbul Green Spaces – Gülhane Park

Gülhane Park (Gülhane means House of Roses), once a favorite garden of Ottoman sultans, is one of Istanbul’s oldest parks. The large green space wraps around the west and north sides of Topkapi Palace on the historical peninsula in the old city. Originally, the park was part of the palace gardens. The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern and the Archaeology Museum are all located within a short walk away.
The Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam is on the park grounds, housed in the former stables of Topkapi Palace.

Gülhane Park is a serene oasis in the midst of the busy, dense Eminönü-Sultanahmet area. Broad paths meander through flower beds, lawns and groves of mature trees, some hundreds of years old. In April, it’s one of several locations of the annual Tulip Festival, with over a million tulips in bloom in this park alone. In the summer heat, it’s an especially welcome retreat. The park is clean and well maintained, with benches, playgrounds, and fountains, which are illuminated at night. It’s popular with locals and is a hang-out for some of Istanbul’s famous and well-loved street cats,

At the end of the park, there are exceptional views of the Bosphorus Strait and the Asian side of the city from a hilltop café.

The Gülhane tram stop is right next to the park. Entry is free of charge.

Foto Friday – Merry Christmas!

Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Chora Museum, Istanbul

Chora Museum, Istanbul

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Church of the Holy Sepulchre , Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Church of the Holy Sepulchre , Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Jerusalem Old City walls, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Jerusalem Old City walls, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Chora Museum, Istanbul

Chora Museum, Istanbul

Chora Museum, Istanbul

The Chora Museum, also known as the Kariye Museum or Church of the Holy Savior (or St. Savior) in Chora, is a Byzantine church in the Edirnekapı neighborhood near the Byzantine walls, about 3 miles from Sultanahmet (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome etc.)

The building itself is unassuming, you might walk past without even noticing it. Please don’t! In my humble opinion, it’s one of the best sites in Istanbul, and that’s saying a lot. Inside is a collection of the best Byzantine art in Istanbul and among the best anywhere.

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NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 79

The fresco pictured above is one of nearly 50 vivid biblical scenes that wrap the interior walls, domes and vaults of the Chora Museum (originally a church, then a mosque) in the largest city of our mystery country. The existing 11th-century structure was built on the remains of a 4th-century Byzantine church. When the original church was built, it was outside the city walls, hence the name Chora, which means “country” in ancient Greek. Most of the frescos and mosaics are from the 14th century. After the Ottoman conquest, the church was converted to a mosque and the figurative art, not allowed in Islam, was covered in plaster. Restoration of the mosaics and frescos began in the 1940s.

Can you name that country? 
See below for answers.

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It’s Fig Season in Turkey!

photo by Capucine Fachot-Charbonneau, The Istanbul Guide

photo by Capucine Fachot-Charbonneau, The Istanbul Guide

As you walk down almost any street in Istanbul, save for the main arteries, there’s a distinct perfume of late summer afternoons. The figs have arrived and so has their sweet, heady aroma. Though dried figs are available all year round in Istanbul, there’s nothing like biting into a fresh one, as its perfume hits the back of the throat, and the crunchy seeds heighten the pleasure derived from its sweet chewiness.

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Love Yogurt? Thank Turkey.

There is a Turkish saying, “Zemheride yoğurt isteyen, cebinde inek taşır” – “The one who wants yogurt in midwinter carries a cow in his pocket.” We’re lucky to be in the heart of summer, as our pockets aren’t big enough for cows. In fact, Istanbul natives know that yogurt is the ideal antidote to the city’s sweltering heat. With its powerful health properties and addictive taste, yogurt is a fermented friend to rely on: slurp down some cooling yogurt soup, dollop it on the side of bulgur pilav, drizzle it with garlic over crispy mantı, or sip it in the form of salty ayran.
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How the Hodja Saved Allah: a Turkish Folktale

One day, a wise old Hodja (teacher, scholar) in Istanbul was leading his young students as they committed a passage of the Koran to memory. The Hodja himself knew the sacred book backwards and forwards. So many years had he taught it, he could recite it in his sleep without a single error. Although he had recited and listened to that day’s passage countless times before, this time he was seized by the message like never before: “Those who spend their money in the service of God are like a kernel of corn, from which grow seven ears, each containing one hundred kernels. God bestows manifold gifts on whom he pleases.” As he spoke the words, a brilliant light switched on in the mind of the Hodja and he knew he would be secure in his retirement.

He sent his students home for the day and proceeded to count his life savings. Careful figuring based on the compound appreciation promised in the verse would result in a payout of 1,000 piastres, a fortune! The Hodja immediately went into the streets, handing a few coins to each needy soul he encountered, until every last cent was gone. He was flat broke but thought himself a rich man, certain that 1,000 piastres were already on the way. Having helped a good number of destitute neighbors felt pretty good too.

That night, he was grateful for his simple dinner of bread and olives, but found himself dreaming about the occasional roast he would enjoy with his pending wealth. The next day, he had only bread to fill his stomach, and still no 1,000 piastres, but he did not despair.

On the third day, there was still no money and his cupboards were bare. Hungry and weak, his faith tested, he walked into the open fields beyond the city walls, reached to the sky and beseeched the Lord to take pity on His good servant. He cried and moaned and shook his fists.He was preparing to throw himself to the ground and wallow when a fearsome howl stopped him cold.

It was the voice of a certain wandering Sufi monk, who was quite out of his mind and terrorizing the area. Normally, wandering Sufi monks were welcome guests. This one was unpredictable, even violent, and from the sound of it, he was just over the horizon, and heading toward the Hodja. With surprising speed and agility, considering his advanced age, the Hodja climbed high up into a tree, there being nowhere else to hide.

The crazy monk came right up to the tree and sat down beneath it. He was wailing and lamenting, not only for himself but for the whole world. He cried out to God, “Why is there so much pain in the world? What’s the point? Why was I born? Why was anyone born only to suffer and die? Why?? Why?!! All my life, I have prayed for relief but to no avail. Now, I know what I must do to avenge the misery of mankind!”

He reached into a leather pouch at his side and pulled out a small figure, which he addressed as Job. He said, “down through the ages, you have been held up as a great example of patience and faith. In your name we are taught that forbearance brings reward. But this is not true. Many suffer with no end. I will punish you now for your bad counsel.” With his sword, the monk cut off the head of the figure he called Job.

Then he took another figure from his bag. This one he called David. To David he said, “you wrote songs of peace and love, but lived a sinful life. For misleading mankind with your pretty words, I will punish you.” And he cut off the head of the David figure.

The third figure to come out of the bag represented Solomon. The monk said, “Solomon, for centuries, you have been revered for your wisdom and vast knowledge, but you were not always wise. You did some bad things that brought suffering to countless many. I shall cut off your head.” And he did.

Next, the monk pulled a figure from his bag which he called Jesus. “Jesus, you came into the world, suffered and gave your own life so that mankind would know peace. You were a great prophet, yet the church founded in your name brought war after war. All that misery must be avenged.” Off came the head of the figure called Jesus.

The next figure from the bag was Mohammed. The monk said, “Mohammed, like Jesus, you were a great prophet, but so many suffered and died the world over in your name, you also must be punished.” Off came the head of the Mohammed figure.

Then the monk touched his forehead to the ground and stayed there in silence for several minutes. When he rose, he brought another figure from the bag. “Allah, you are all powerful. Mankind is your creation, all the good and all the evil in the world ultimately comes from you. I cannot punish your prophets and not also punish you.” As he raised his sword to chop of this final Ultimate Head, a shout came from the tree above, “STOP! He owes me 1,000 piastres!”

The monk was so startled, he dropped to the ground in a dead heap. The Hodja sat motionless in the tree for a good 30 minutes but the monk did not stir. The Hodja tossed a few twigs down at the monk and got no response. He climbed down from the tree and checked for a heartbeat. Sure enough, the monk was dead.

When he put the Allah figure safely back into the monk’s pouch, he discovered that it was full of gold. He poured the coins on the ground and counted out exactly 1,000 piastres. He looked toward Heaven and said, “Allah, I never doubted you would keep your promise, but,” he added, “not before I saved your life.”

How to Visit a Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Most Ya’lla Tours itineraries include visits to one or more mosques. These are some of the most exquisite buildings anywhere, must-see sites for their artistry as well as their cultural importance. Like all sacred places, mosques have certain expectations around attire and behavior. Here are some things to know: Continue reading