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Echoes of the Ottomans: Arnavutköy, Istanbul

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North of Beyoğlu along the western shore of the Bosphorus is the large district of Beşiktaş which incorporates several neighborhoods that were once separate villages before they were absorbed into the expanding metropolis of Istanbul. Ortaköy, Arnavutköy, and Bebek all sounded fascinating but it was unlikely we would be able to visit them all on this trip and after much research and deliberation I settled on Arnavutköy as the village that had the greatest appeal for us.

Once we had finished our lunch at the Karaköy fish market we realized that we were ahead of schedule and we had ticked off all the major sights in Sultanahmet except for the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern. We were already on the north side of the Golden Horn which seemed like a perfect jumping off point to head north up the Bosphorus. The only problem was that despite the profusion of boats along the shoreline none of the Bosphorus ferries seemed to stop in Karaköy at all. Everyone we asked pointed us back to the main hub at Eminönü. We were so sick of walking across the Galata Bridge at this point that we just hopped on the metro for one stop south. Our troubles didn't quite end here as no one seemed to be able to direct us to a ferry to Arnavutköy. We kept getting pointed to one building where the only agent was selling tickets for private boat tours. He would impatiently gesticulate to the other side of the building where the entrance was roped off with no one around to answer questions. We would proceed onward to the next building and get directed back to the previous one. After a couple of cycles like this someone showed up to the roped off area and opened it. Apparently the ticket agent for Arnavutköy only shows up fifteen minutes before the boat departs. We bought our tickets and spent the remaining time enjoying the view of Galata on the other side of the Golden Horn.

Once we were on the ferry we had a complete new perspective on the city. The Bosphorus was a wrinkled green carpet in front of a glorious mural of buildings that lined the shore, continuously unfolding and changing as the ferry moved northward. First was the familiar sight of Galata Hill followed by new territory as we sailed past Beşiktaş. One immaculate white complex stood out among the others and I realized we were looking at Dolmabahçe Palace, the residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1856 until the end of the caliphate in 1924. I had this on my list of the most important sights in Istanbul but I knew it would be too much to visit the interior after we had already been through Topkapı. I had still been hoping to see the exterior and now we had a perfect view of the palace in all its majesty.

The next landmark was the majestic span of the 15 July Martyrs Bridge, once known as the Bosphorus Bridge. When the bridge was completed in 1973 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world outside of the United States. After a second, even longer bridge was completed further north on the strait in 1988 people began to call the original bridge the First Bridge. The bridge was given its ponderous official name in 2016 to commemorate those who died fighting for the government against an attempted military coup. Close to the European side of the bridge is the exquisite nineteenth century Grand Mecidiye Mosque which stands out not for its size but its detailed carved stone decoration.

Not long afterwards we arrived at the ferry terminal at Arnavutköy. Why had I chosen to bring my family here, instead of the better known and more proximal village of Ortaköy? Probably because of the passionate way it was represented in the articles and blogs I encountered during my research. Arnavutköy was named for the community of Albanian craftsmen that was established here by Mehmed the Conqueror in the fifteenth century. The Albanians may have given the area its name, but it was wealthy Ottoman dignitaries and merchants who built the iconic wooden yalı that make Arnavutköy instantly recognizable from the Bosphorus. These tall, slender waterside townhouses painted in bright whites and pastels were constructed in a mixture of Ottoman, Victorian, and Art Nouveau styles. One mansion bucked the trend, looking to have been painted very recently in a deep navy blue.

By the mid twentieth century most of the Albanians, Greeks, and other ethnic minorities had left Arnavutköy but the diverse, offbeat character of the village remains. We completed our exploration of the commercial center of the village fairly quickly. There were just two pedestrianized streets inland from the Bosphorus which were mainly occupied by cafes and a few boutiques. It was colorful and atmospheric but not very busy on a Monday afternoon. A little further inland we found a barber waiting for customers and we decided to get Spenser's hair cut. As I ambled around the street watching Cleo and Ian play backgammon outside the barber shop in this beautiful but untouristic neighborhood I began to feel like an Istanbul native for the first time.

In general when you're walking inland on the European side of the Bosphorus you're going to be walking uphill. We moved westward from the center into a distinctive residential neighborhood of gently sloping cobblestone streets and wooden houses with second story overhangs.

Further up the hill the slope became steeper and staircases took the place of streets. We went as high as the top of a rainbow-colored flight of stairs but we never reached the crest of the hill. A paint and hardware store had been transformed into a literal urban jungle with vines, ivy and planters. There was hardly anyone in the streets but as we walked back down to the center we came across a woman walking a dog with a large crow on her shoulder. We couldn't tell if it was her pet or if she was so familiar with the neighborhood birds that they would alight on her fearlessly.

We arrived back at the ferry terminal a few minutes ahead of schedule, which we spent in a small square with a monument to Kemal Atatürk. It's impossible to understand modern Türkiye without appreciating the impact of Atatürk on the nation's history. Imagine every American president on Mount Rushmore rolled into one, with FDR thrown in to boot, and you might have a single figure approaching the stature that Atatürk has in Türkiye. In the first phase of his heroic career he was a commander in the army of the Ottoman Empire who is considered the architect of the Empire's military victory over the Allies at Gallipoli in World War I. When the Ottoman Empire was eventually defeated, Atatürk led the Turkish War of Independence against the decrepit Ottoman sultanate, which was now propped up by the Allied Powers, and emerged victorious. Once president, Atatürk successfully unified, secularized, and modernized the nation and his influence is still felt tremendously throughout Turkish politics and society. Atatürk's own name is a symbol of the modernization he championed. Like most Turks, Mustafa Kemal did not have a formal surname but rather took the second name Kemal while he was a secondary student. In 1934 a new law made European style surnames mandatory for all Turks and Mustafa Kemal adopted Atatürk, meaning father of the Turks, as his own.

The ferry brought us back along the same route we had come, giving us another chance to admire the Grand Mecidiye Mosque from a different angle. We will definitely spend time in Ortaköy on our next visit to Istanbul. By now I had noticed the common place name suffix of köy and discovered that it means "village". Arnavut means "Albanian", of course, and orta means "middle". The o with the umlaut will be familiar to speakers of German and several other European languages but can be intimidating to Americans who would prefer to ignore it. In my case I got several pained looks during our visit to Sweden for saying Malmoh before I figured out it was Malmeuh. The pronunciation of ö is actually fairly easy - just imagine the vowel sound in "good". Adding the y as in köy makes it a little more difficult and I'm still not sure if I have it right, but my best understanding is that the y is somewhat clipped compared to how it would sound at the end of an English word. The most important thing is not to pronounce köy as though it rhymes with boy. Do not use the pronunciation websites that are found online - they are generally worse than useless. YouTube is usually better, but not always. In my opinion the best site for learning Turkish language and pronunciation on YouTube is Turkishle.

By now we were old hands at the process of catching the Metro from Eminönü back to the Hippodrome. I spent a few minutes fruitlessly trying to find an angle to photograph the front of the Hagia Sophia that wasn't blocked by trees.

It was still only six o'clock which meant we had an excellent opportunity to finally see the interior of the Blue Mosque before it closed. We walked around the beautiful marble courtyard and admired the layered and symmetrical arrangement of domes.

The mosque is officially named after Sultan Ahmet I, who ordered its construction to rival the Hagia Sophia in the early seventeenth century, but it is popularly known as the Blue Mosque because of the thousands of blue İznik ceramic tiles that decorate its interior. Interestingly the reflection of the sunlight off the grey stone domes also appears to take a bluish tone. The detailed and colorful design of the tiles makes the ceiling of the mosque look almost as though it is encrusted in jewels. This would be the last mosque we would visit in Istanbul. Although they are beautiful buildings I didn't want to fall into the trap of seeing Istanbul as a collection of artifacts instead of a vital, pulsating metropolis.large_IMG_4584b.JPGlarge_IMG_4585MLb.PNG

The last order of business for the evening was getting a decent meal and once again TripAdvisor served us well in identifying a high-quality, atmospheric restaurant among a sea of tourist traps. After dinner we had another pleasant walk in the lively area around our hotel. Of course, every restaurant we passed had a hawker in front trying to get our business but when we indicated we had already eaten there were no hard feelings. Turks are well-known for their warmth and openness. Because many are also extroverted salesmen their friendliness is often interpreted by visitors as a sales tactic but we found that the locals were genuinely amicable towards us, especially the kids, and curious about our experiences in their country. This was a sharp contrast to places such as New York, London, or Paris where tourists are seen as more of an annoyance if they aren't in the process of dispensing their funds. Being in the area around our hotel in the evening always felt like were walking in our own neighborhood.

Posted by zzlangerhans 10:12 Archived in Turkey Tagged road_trip family bosphorus blue_mosque family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog

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