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Published: March 28th 2018
Being taken around the ancient sites of Istanbul my imagination transports me back in history - they do things differently there you know! I feel the weight of privilege as a woman today able to stand in these places denied to so many women of times past. I mentally stick my middle finger up on their behalf!
We are standing in the grounds of what used to be the Sultan's Topkapi Palace (now Gülhane Park). Here egotistical men claimed themselves superior amongst all men (women didn't count for much in those days) and took on the role of leader, top dog, head honcho (or in my considered opinion - asshole extremist) living in opulant luxury while 'their people’ lived in abject poverty. These Sultan's felt the need to bolster their fragile masculinity by keeping up to 300 concubines all of whom vied for status as mother of the first born son and heir. Having produced this soon-to-be, pompous little, entitled upstart they were left having to look over their shoulder and sleep with one eye open as any further male children born to the Sultan viewed murdering their brother in order to become first in line as fair game.
We see a statue of the guy who ended this ridiculous system, Atatürk, who rose through the military ranks to become a political leader with clout, enabling an independent Turkey. He is viewed as a national hero and we are going to be seeing quite a lot of statues of Mr Freedom as we travel around Turkey.
As an aside we learn a bit about modern Turkey and the role of men. On reaching 20 years of age all young men have to undertake a period of national service - 1 year if you don't attend university and 6 months if you do. There are three ways of getting out of doing national service in Turkey: 1. Be declared medically unfit. 2. Prove that you're gay (a small compensation for the prejudicial crap dealt with throughout life). 3. Pay a 'get out of national service’ 20k lira fee. For those who don't get out of it, depending on timing, they get either a cushy number in Cyprus doing not a lot or they are enlisted to fight in any military action going on at the time. Once trained, men can be called up at any time during their lives
and be made to take part in any warring going on. Scary!
We move on up the hill (one of seven in Istanbul) and see in front of us the famous Blue Mosque. Sadly for us it is undergoing a huge restoration project so the stunning blue interior is covered up. The exterior is impressive in its own right with not one but six minarets flanking the large central domed building. These minarets are where the imams used to climb up to sing out the five times a day call to prayer. Now an amplified system makes it a lot easier.
Behind us is Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya which used to be a religious building but is now a museum thanks to Mr Freedom himself - Atatürk. More of this later.
We walk over to a long, rectangular open, paved area known as the hippodrome where I really feel the ghosts of times past bearing down on the present. Here up to 100,000 strong crowds gathered to watch public events like circus dance troops, chariot racing, and public slaughtering of anyone who had angered the Sultan. The noise of so many people cheering and shouting from
the tiered galleries mixed with the excitement of the chariots clattering past at high speed seems to echoe back from the past like it was just yesterday.
We see the huge obelisk Dikilitas brought by boat all the way from Karnak in Egypt by Constantine. How on earth did they get it on the boat you might ask. With lots of slaves of course! And what do the hieroglyphics say? Why 'eye, eye, snake, saw, feather, sack, not an anvil' of course! The obelisk is set into the ground about 3m or so below the level we are standing on as this is the hippodrome's original level, successive layers having built up over the years. A little further along, in a similar pit, we see the three intertwined snakes of the Serpentine Column or Yilani Sutun. These too were nicked from elsewhere and the bronze plates that covered the column were plundered and taken off to Venice. Shiney, shiney, mine, mine, mine, no mine!
With a hop and a jump we're back in the present, time for a spot of shopping and religion...
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