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Istanbul REDEFINING THE SACRED


Istanbul REDEFINING THE SACRED

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TABLE OF CONTENTS a photographic journal

Cultural Place, Memory and Identity part one

Historic Qualities part two

Site of Conflict & Political Phenomenon part three

Materiality of Sacred part four

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ISTANBUL Istanbul. The only city in the world to sit on a continental divide. East meets West. Christianity mixing with Islam. The Black Sea flowing to the Mediterranean Sea. The Bosphorus merging with the Golden Horn. A city I never thought I would have the chance to experience. Western perception getting the better of me. But now I can not imagine not having the opportunity to experience this beautiful, historic, humble, ordinary city. It has left an imprint that will last forever. Not only because of the beautiful sites I have witnessed but for the experiences that have pushed me out of my comfort zone. The city is somewhat of a contradiction. It holds a rich history that is still visible at every turn yet modern times have left its own mark, leaving small traces throughout the city. Skyscrapers rise above the traditional landscape. New buildings of concrete and glazing contradict that of the old stone structures. Modern hotels and retailers squeezed between hundred year old derelict buildings. The local Starbucks bookmarking the corner of the local market.

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Taking time to stop and take in what is around you is important. Acknowledging what has come before us and how we got here is humbling and important for the soul. I have traveled to old cities before- Stockholm, Rome, Barcelona but it is the mixture of history and culture that makes Istanbul unique. Istanbul has a presence I have never experienced before. Elif Ĺžafak said it best in his writing The Forty Rules of Love, “Each time I say good-bye to a place I like, I feel like I am leaving a part of me behind.â€? Turkey will forever have a place in my heart. It has reassured me that there truly is beauty in the everyday.

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Istanbul’s Secrets Istanbul - light and hope for rich and poor Nameless, coming, going, asking for more her soul laid bare, ears blue from secrets Many memories left by the weakest... Many old things sleep in her silence Crying through nights, lost souls of violence Ships passing like oil on tears So many secrets taken to foreign ears... The cypress trees bend in the wind They hover like angels, make me believe That there’s life beyond the edges of the courtyards. I’m talking, walking... The old stone walls, climbing and sinking Haunted by the djinn, sneered at for their sins In the whispers of the Dervish spins... Mosques proud like her precious earrings Stone and metal on the wind sing Thesemelodies of two earths and minds If we listened, oh what we might find... How does it feel Istanbul To be so busy and so alone? The Golden Horn your sunken treasure A meeting place for money and pleasure... Black-blue sea wash and roll How strange the scenes unfold Left to right, East to West Wind and souls her only guests... - Rupert Mould & Sevval Sam

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View from Galata Tower

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CULTURAL PLACE, MEMORY & IDENTITY

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In a city where the landscape and exteriors are so muted and dilapidated, its interiors and culture are rich and vibrant. This contradiction is what makes the city so special. You have to immerse yourself to truly see the beauty. 1


Streets off Istiklal Caddesi

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Prior to visiting Istanbul, I knew little about it or its history, to be honest I knew nothing more then the current tensions advertised by the media. To learn of the rich cultural history, which competes with that of Rome and Greece, was quiet eye opening. To learn that a similar history, that of Islamic faith instead of Christianity, was just as rich, important and as old as that of which I knew really allowed me to realize how narrow my history of the world was. I had been taught a history that focused around one religion without even being aware of it. Being placed in a city where I knew nothing about both its past or present really helped me to understand what it is like to be a minority.

play ball between the cars on cobblestoned streets; … of the tens of thousands of identical apartment house entrances, their facades discolored by dirt, rust, soot, and dust; of the crowds rushing to catch ferries on winter evenings; of the city walls, ruins since the end of the Byzantine Empire; of the markets that empty in the evenings; of the dervish lodges, the tekkes, that have crumbled; of the seagulls perched on rusty barges caked with moss and mussels, unflinching under the pelting rain; of the tiny ribbons of smoke rising from the single chimney of a hundred-year old mansion on the coldest day of the year; of the crowds of men fishing from the sides of the Galata Bridge; of the cold reading rooms of libraries; … of the buses packed with passengers; of the mosques whose lead plates and rain gutters are forever being stolen; of the city cemeteries, which seem like gateways to a second world, and of their cypress trees; of the dim lights that you see of an evening on the boats crossing from Kadıköy to Karaköy; of the little children in the streets who try to sell the same packet of tissues to every passerby…

The density of the city alone is overwhelming, it is hard to grasp the scale of the entire city. But the minute you get on a tram, or take a cab ride into the suburban terrain and experience the sea of homes, you start to see the density, although it is still hard to truly grasp. The density has helped to amplify the derelict nature of the city. Buildings in disrepair, ruins remaining from a past fire adjacent to beautiful, well kept homes and sidewalks that have disappeared overtime as buildings have been built on top. But after sometime spent in the city you realize this isn’t because people don’t take pride in their city, but because the density doesn’t allow for fire trucks to reach homes in time, dump trucks to easily haul debris away, or space for expansion. Yet somehow all of these things add to the beauty of the city, it doesn’t put on a ‘show’ for its visitors, but allows them to see the cities true self.

The melancholy Pamuk speaks of is not one of sadness but an overall feeling of a culture. One that people are not ashamed but instead quite proud.

Orhan Pamuk described it best, in Istanbul: Memories and the City, with his writings about huzun:

I feel that Istanbul is in a moment of transition and tension. Not sure if it belongs in the east or west. Its Islamic culture assumes an eastern way of life, but new contemporary structures, companies and views, mirroring the ideals of the west, are seen all around the city. After the downfall of the Ottoman Empire it seems that Istanbul’s identity has been in a constant state of transition. Having been less than a century ago, there are still people who remember living under the empire, and those who grew up in a city learning to adapt to a new republic. It is hard to explain this feeling but yet somehow it is felt, maybe more so by visitors as it is a feeling foreign to me.

But what I am trying to describe now is not the melancholy of Istanbul but the hüzün in which we see ourselves reflected, the hüzün we absorb with pride and share as a community. To feel this hüzün is to see the scenes, evoke the memories, in which the city itself becomes the very illustration, the very essence, of hüzün. I am speaking of the evenings when the sun sets early, … of the children who

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Istiklal Caddesi

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“Few planners speak of the important phenomenological characteristics determining the qualities of urban life - spatial energy and mystery, qualities of light, colour, sound, and smell. The subjectivity of urban experience must be held in equal importance to the objective and practical. ... Time, light, stone, history, and urban geometry intermesh to form a unique impression. The intermeshing of these phenomenal aspects yields a visceral, intellectual, and physical experience that demands descriptive words such as amazement, wonder, poetic revelation; words not found in planning documents.� - Steven Holl

Unknown side street

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Buildings along an unknown street | Contemporary building on Istiklal Cadessi

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View of Dolmabahce Palace, unknown mosque and Ortakรถy Mosque from the Bosphorus.

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“A poet writing fourteen centuries ago described this city as being surround by a garland of waters. Much has changed since then, but the modern Istanbul still owes much of its spirit and beauty to the waters which bound and divide.� - Hilary Sumner-Boyd & John Freely Strolling through Istanbul, 2010, p.297

View of the Hidayet Camii mosque, ferry and tour boats from the Golden Horn.

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Evening view from the Galata Bridge.

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Saint Anthony’s Catholic church

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Interior of Saint Anthony’s Catholic church

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Church of St. Mary of the Mongols | Right, exterior drawing of Iron church

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Hagia Sophia’s resident cat | Right, candle lit inside St. Anthony’s Catholic church

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Galata Tower

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Maiden’s Tower

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THE EVERYDAY. What has stayed with me the most, was not the history of the Ottoman or the beauty of the buildings, but has been the organic, holistic lifestyles most of the Turks live. The pace of their everyday, although fast, feels more intentioned. Having your shoes shined on the street while having a conversation. Buying simit from the street vendor on the way to work. Preparing food from scratch made from the fresh ingredients purchase earlier at the markets. Fishermen fishing from the shores, ready to sell what they catch only the next day. It was all so refreshing to see. I couldn’t help but smile each and everytime I passed an instance such as these.

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Balat area residences

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Balat area merchants and residences

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HISTORIC QUALITIES The history of Istanbul reaches as far back as seventh century B.C. It provides meaning to its culture and a richness to the city. There is a genuine respect for this history, culture and religion; respected without feeling a need to glorify the past.

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The Ottoman Empire is one of a rich and lengthy past, one that would rival that of the romans, and Islamic culture is very present in its history. In Istanbul it has left traces of its existence behind at every corner. People like to attach themselves to these places, they can hold meaning and provide a sense of understanding where they have come from. Places like the Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed mosque, the Cistern, Dolmabahce and Topkapi palaces and hundreds of additional mosques, churches and holy places provide meaning to Istanbul. They represent it’s past and where it has been. In a city that is seeing the affects of western culture, these places are reference to a culture rooted in the east and a proud Islamic culture.

Koprulu Mehmet Pasa mosque

Acknowledging that there are three types of sacred space; religious and holy spaces, homelands “represent[ing] the roots or essence of the believer�, and historical sacred sites (taken from the studio brief received Dec 2015), means that almost the entirety of the city is sacred space. Due to the quantity of religious and holy spaces, the density of the city that includes millions of residents, homes, cemeteries, and other spaces sacred to the believer, and the lengthy history that precedes it all. This vastness of the sacred creates an overwhelming feeling. It makes you feel like you are part of something important, it makes you feel very special to have been a part of it.

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Interior of Hagia Sophia

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VISITING HAGIA SOHPIA. Entering Hagia Sophia there are two feelings; disbelief and awe. Disbelief that a building of this scale and detail was constructed over a thousand years ago. Growing up in Canada, a country only established just under a hundred and fifty years ago, it is hard to imagine anything this old. To try and imagine all the people who have been inside the same walls is unfathomable. The structure alone is overwhelming. Stone walls five story’s high, built in a time without modern technologies, seem impossible. In a time where we find beauty in a glazing walls with no warmth or character, the detail found on every inch of floor, wall and ceiling space makes you realize how flawed our current views are. The beauty in the handcraft provides beauty that is indescribable.

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Exterior of Hagia Sophia

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Sultan Ahmed mosque (Blue mosque)

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Saltan Ahmed sahn and Hagia Sophia wash area

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She has an early morning of her own, a blending of the mist and sea and sun Into an indistinguishable one, When Saint Sophia, from her lordly throne Rises above that opalescent cloud, A shadowy dome and soaring minaret Visible though the base be hidden yet Beneath the veiling wreaths of milky shroud, As some dark Turkish beauty haughtily Glances above the yashmak’s snowy fold. Beyond Stamboul’d long stretch, a bar of gold Falls from the sun across the distant sea. -Victoria Sackvill-West

Constantinople: Eight Poems, 1915 (Istanbul, 2007, p.53)

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Sultan Ahmed sahn and wash area of Mihrimah Sultan mosque

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THE BLUE MOSQUE The Sultan Ahmed mosque is an intersection of simplicity and complexity. Beautifully captivating. The sad part is that something so sacred has become a spectacle. Those trying to practice their faith in solace are being watched, admired and photographed by spectators. Although I am happy to have had the opportunity to experience this piece of history, some part of me felt like an intruder on a world I was not invited to.

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Interior details of Sultan Ahmed mosque

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Details of Bulgarian St. Stephen’s church (Iron church)

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Unknown mosque


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SITE OF CONFLICT & POLITICAL PHENOMENON Tensions can be felt throughout the city. They are not new, just multiplied by each new conflict. The west likes to amplify situations like these, making the world feel that Istanbul is not a safe place. But they are wrong.

] Sketch of Taksim Square

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Istanbul currently is a place of tension, which is easily felt throughout the city. Tensions from political unrest, the Syrian conflict and the sacred being paraded as a spectacle. In addition, as you walk through the city signs of poverty can be spotted throughout, missing bronze faucets, children selling tissues on the street corners and street peddlers trying to selling kağıt helva to everyone who walks by (the later two seemed to be targeted towards tourists). But overall the city seems to keep a calm demeanor.

fire trucks and ambulances went by in two large waves. After the second wave my heart was pounding, I knew something terrible had happened and I was immediate afraid. Once it was confirmed that it was a suicide bomber I felt terrified, shaky and that I could burst into tears at any moment. This was the exact situation I had feared about. To have seen so much of the city in such a normal manner you forget about the conflict, but then out of no where that normalcy is dismantled. Yet traveling only a few blocks away a short time after the bombing and everyone is going about their daily routine. As you witness this, you realize how normal this scenario must be.

However, planned protests, and often unplanned protests, are quite frequent. Spending an afternoon shopping in Kadikoy while walking along General Asim Gunduz Caddesi a large armored truck and at least a dozen armed officers marched down the center of the street. No warning, no reasoning and a little alarming to foreigners. To see large guns casually swung over the shoulders of officers is not a site I am used to. Witnessing this parade created an instant feeling of fear and anxiety. Yet the locals did not give this another thought. It was just a small glimpse into everyday life here. It turned out to be a preplanned protest at the ferry terminal but how is one to know that is it not something larger.

Istiklal Caddesi and Taksim Square are two areas of high tension, although I did not experience this myself. Istiklal Caddesi is an avenue that was claimed by western Europeans. Consulates, former embassies, for a dozen or more countries, including England, Holland, and Sweden to name a few, all reside here. It also leads directly to Taksim square, famously known as a host to many protests. I don’t know why Taksim square and it was an answer I did not get while visiting. Even though I was anxious prior to coming to Istanbul of riots and terrorist activity, once immersed among the people and the intensity of the area I forgot about my fears. The business of the everyday and visual stimulus of the street takes over and you are just present in the moment.

Only a few days later a suicide bomber targeted a tourist group at the Hippodrome. Only a few blocks away, we heard the blast and couldn’t place what it was. Only a few moments went by before a parade of police,

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TO THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN

German Pavilion

I can’t help but think of those who lost their lives that day. To be so unaware of the moments that essentially will be your last. The pain their families are in and the guilt the survivors will live with. I feel guilty to be so thankful it wasn’t me, because in that thankfulness there has to be a part where for it not to have been me, then it had to have been them. I pray for them and for their families.

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Istiklal Caddesi

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Hippodrome after bombing

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[ [ MATERIALITY OF SACRED

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Ceiling in Hagia Sophia

The sensory qualities of sacred spaces transcend beyond your present state. Allowing you to feel the history, power and essence of the place. As the sacred is not limited to sanctified buildings, but extent to the entirety of Istanbul.


Textures and patterns from various sites

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Interior of Pera Palas

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Topkapi Palace

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When visiting a place, especially places that hold much meaning, we take it all in. Looking around, admiring the details, visually immersing ourselves in our surrounding. Yet, we often forget that we experience a place through more than just sight, we are equally immersed in the the sounds, smells, textures and sometimes even tastes. Often many of these sensory experiences are not conjured up by our immediate consciousness, yet are still archived by our memory. As I reflect upon my time in Istanbul all these images flash through my mind but as I take the time to really think about the time I spent in each place, the different sensations are slowly conjured up. The Hagia Sophia’s material hardness and volume was heard through the way sound traveled within the building. The age of the building was felt through the stone, which had no thermal qualities and I can remember the coldness felt within the space. The Cistern had a dampness created by the humidity and there was a slight smell of sitting water. The tall ceilings in St. Anthony’s Church could be understood by the echo of the whispering voices. And although I did not try a single roasted chestnut a taste of burnt nuttiness comes to mind as I remember the smell each time we passed. The sacred extends beyond the walls of religious and historic places. The SALT Gallery and Istanbul modern both had a sacredness to them. They hold special meaning to the content they contained. Art, no matter what era is was created, holds meaning. That meaning may differ based on the audience but it is still there. This allows a sense of sacred to form. The galleries were places of reprieve, similar to a mosque, but for a different purpose. They offer visual and auditory stimulus to their visitors, whether that be the quiet nature of the SALT gallery of the multiple videos playing strange sounds at Istanbul modern. The city in its entirety is sacred and the sensory experience of is quite overwhelming. Yet, there is not a minute of it that I did not enjoy. The overwhelming nature of it all made it that much more exciting.

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Harem of Topkapi Palace

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Harem of Topkapi Palace

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Sketch of Mihrimah Sultan Mosque | Ceilings of Topkapi Palaces harem

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Rrcheology museums tile collections ceiling

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Dolmabahce Palace

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Gates to Dolmabahce Palace

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Istanbul Modern

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Details of merchandise from various areas

A DAY AT THE GRAND BAZAAR Overwhelmed. That is the first word that comes to mind when I think of my initially reaction as I entered the grand bazaar. The claustrophobic nature of entering into the enclosed narrow streets of the bazaar packed full of merchants and shoppers alike. The grand bazaar speaks to the density of the city itself, full of people, of life and of history. The respect for Muslim culture is even evident here, as you pass wash sinks dedicated to wadhu, the washing ritual preformed before prayer.

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Details of food from various areas

Istanbul: Redefining the Sacred  

A photographic journal. A personal account of a travel studio to Istanbul, Turkey in January 2016. The experience was to immerse ourselves...

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