Sunday, October 21, 2012

19. Malta Here We Come!

Vacation's coming up. Leaving midweek for Valletta! That's the capital of Malta. I cannot wait. Although, it's kinda sorta hard to leave now that our sea shipment has FINALLY arrived.

I don't know a ding-dang thing about Malta other than all the pictures look gorgeous. And, we might never pass this way again, so we should take advantage of the travel while we're in the general vicinity.

Where's Malta?
Right there! Below Sicily.
What I have learned is that the Republic of Malta is a small island nation in the middle of the Mediterranean. It sits between Tunisia (North Africa) and Italy. The islands measure a mere 122 square miles (316 square kilometers) in total, with a population of ~415,000 people. It consists of seven islands, and it has a unique history stretching back to the Ggantija Temples on the Island of Gozo--built by an advanced civilization that crossed from Sicily on a land bridge that no longer exists. These temples are the oldest structures in the world, and were built 1,400 years before the Pyramids! So cool, right!?

The Maltese islands have been coveted for their highly strategic position at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and Africa and, therefore, they've been controlled by a string of dominions over the centuries. In more "recent" history, Charles V of Spain--as King of Sicily--ceded the islands to the Order of the Knights of St. John in 1530. This was an assembly of English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Bavarian Knights who became the biggest influence in the eventual development of the islands. As a refuge for soldiers returning from the Crusades, Valletta is now the capital of Malta and a piece of living history. From what I've read, the city has an outstanding collection of original Baroque architecture, fortified city walls overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and the spectacular Co-Cathedral of St. John. And this smallest of European capital cities is a world heritage site. Amazing. Wiki UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Knights of St. John's reign lasted until Napoleon Bonaparte seized the islands in 1798 at a time when the Knighthood had basically run its course. Napoleon was then defeated by Admiral Nelson's navy, beginning a lengthy period of English rule. This ended with the granting of independence in 1964, when Malta became a sovereign state within the British Commonwealth.

The Capital : Valletta.
Apparently well known for all
the balconies jutting out over the streets.

We should have enough time to see all that Valletta has to offer. The Grand Masters Palace which currently houses parliament and the office of the president. The Upper Barrakka Gardens, the Valletta waterfront, and the War Museum--which houses the Lascaris War Rooms that are still intact and exactly as they were on the last day of the war. The hubster has a big interest in WWII history, so he should totally dig that!

We've booked at The Phoenicia, billed as Malta's "imposing Grande Dame" situated at the entrance to Valletta in seven acres of gardens. It's all Art Deco-y and looks pretty fab. The travel agent recommended--so, here's hoping he knows what he's talking about! xx

The Phoenicia.
Pool area at the Phoenicia.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

18. The Feast of the Sacrifice.

It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him. Quran 22:37

There's an upcoming, big holiday in Turkey: Eid al-Adha. The Feast of the Sacrifice. The Arabic word "Eid" means festival and the word "Adha" means sacrifice. That's when we're heading to Malta (more on that in an upcoming blog). Anyway, here are the particulars on this important national holiday, and insight into why we'll be going on vacation!

Although Ramazan is probably the best known Islamic celebration, it's only a small part of a wider period of festivities taking place every year in places as diverse as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Mauritius. Dubbed the "Islamic Christmas," Eid al-Adha is celebrated throughout the Muslim world as a commemoration of Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice everything for God, including the life of his son Ishmael. Because God spared Ishmael, substituting a sheep in his place, Muslims observe this occasion by slaughtering an animal.

Muslim boy in India with a festive goat for the holiday.
Note the quote at the beginning--the sacrifice itself is not related to atoning for sins or using the blood to wash themselves from sin, but rather as a way to reach God. The meat is divided into three equal parts. The family retains one third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends, and neighbors; and the other third is given to the poor and needy. Because of this tradition, many poor Muslims are able to enjoy the unusual luxury of eating meat during the days of the festival.

A Muslim boy attends a prayer session in celebration
of the Eid al-Adha festival. Manila, Philippines. (Reuters)

Everyone is expected to dress in their finest clothing and to perform Eid prayer in a large congregation in an open field or mosque. It's traditional that parents buy new outfits for their children and give the old clothes to the poor. Then the children usually wear their new clothes throughout the festival.

A Yemeni girl wearing a new dress as she stands in an alley
of the old city, on the first day of Eid al-Adha.
Sanaa, Yemen. Muhammed Muheisen/AP

The Feast takes place roughly 70 days after the end of Ramazan, and the festival lasts four and a half days. The festival's eve is the half day to prepare for the four days of festivities. This holiday is about charity and community. During these four+ days, people are constantly on the move visiting family and friends; family ties get strengthened and children are given an opportunity to bond with the older generations. I hear it's a lot like our Christmas from the standpoint of family time and traveling to and fro to visit everyone, eat, drink, and be merry.

Indonesian mother and daughter celebrating the holiday.
But, back to the animals. In the not so distant past, a butcher or the head of the family would perform the sacrifice in the garden or street. That practice is now prohibited by law. Today, special mobile slaughter houses are installed throughout the city where trained butchers will kill, clean, and package the meat at the request of the families. Right! Well, I've heard tell of non-natives making an unexpected turn down a street where sacrifices were being performed. While I can respect the tradition and meaning, no thanks on sticking around Turkey for this holiday! We'll be soaking up some history in Malta instead. xx

Friday, October 12, 2012

17. Göksin Sipahioglu the Photographer.

A little over a year ago Steve Jobs died, and we all saw a lot of people mentioning him in the media, via Facebook, etc. A very accomplished, inspiring, game changer that one. On the same day, here in Turkey, folks were remembering the one-year anniversary of the death of a daring, frontline photojournalist: Göksin Sipahioglu. He was a Turk who founded the Paris-based Sipa photo agency--which went on to become one of the most respected and most successful in the world.

Göksin Sipahioglu was born in Izmir, Turkey, in 1926. After attending the Lycée St. Joseph High School in Istanbul, he helped found the Kadiköy Sports Club (now best known for the Efes Pilsen basketball team). He later studied journalism at Istanbul University. 

During his career, initially for Turkish newspapers, Sipahioglu was one of the few "western" reporters or photographers in Havana during the 1962 missile crisis. With President Kennedy poised to take out Soviet missiles on Cuba, Havana was not high on the list of places to be for normal foreigners. But Sipahioglu stayed, and conveyed to the world much of the tension of the time--famously capturing a young, armed civilian girl protecting a Havana bank on behalf of her revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. That photo, and many of his other images of the crisis, appeared on the front pages of countless U.S. newspapers.

Then, in 1968, he was one of the photographers in between riot police, students, and other protesters in the streets of his adopted Paris. His photo of a well-dressed woman in high heels, pleading to riot police amid exploding tear gas canisters on the Place Mabillon, became one of the enduring images of the uprising. Another photo showed a female student sticking a flower in the hat of a wary policeman.

Sipahioglu was sent to Munich in 1972 to cover the Olympics and found himself visually chronicling the Palestinian attack on Israeli athletes and its bloody outcome. His international recognition for those pictures led him to launch Sipa the following year along with his girlfriend, American journalist Phyllis Springer (whom he would marry almost 30 years later!).


Sipa Press, which still provides many of the photos we see in our papers, on TVs, and online every day, was one of three Paris-based agencies that dominated world photojournalism from the 70s until the digital revolution allowed freelancers to transmit and sell directly to media outlets. In the pre-digital days, photographers would send their rolls of film via international courier services--or sometimes by persuading or paying an airline passenger to "pigeon" their film to someone from their agency, who would pick them up at the arrival gate. Sounds very mysterious and glamorous, but in actuality was probably a pain in the rear to coordinate!

"Sipahioglu was the greatest photojournalist ever," the French photojournalist Jean-Francois Leroy told the British Journal of Photography. "He helped so many photographers ... giving them their first assignments. He had a unique position in this industry. He was a giant." In January 2007, then French president Jacques Chirac appointed him Knight of the Legion of Honour.

During his life in Paris, Sipahioglu was dubbed "le Grand Turc" by the French media. He launched or accelerated the careers of some of the greatest photojournalists and war photographers of our time, including the Iranians Abbas Attar and Reza Deghati and the Frenchmen Luc Delahaye and Patrick Chauvel. "He managed Sipa as a father," the agency said when they announced his death.

What a wonderful legacy. xx

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

16. Backgammon as a Wedding Gift.

The hubster's sister got married this past Saturday. The first weekend in October--same as us, and my girlfriend in Ohio, and my cousins, and (I'm sure) a bazillion other couples. Obviously, early October is a very popular time to get hitched! Anyway, due to administrative red tape on our end, we weren't able to make the trip back to the states to attend. Which meant we wanted to come up with a fabulous, meaningful gift to send them.

Noting that the bride is now going to be a stepmother, the groom has 11-year-old twins from his previous marriage, we really wanted to send a great family gift they could all enjoy. Which actually made choosing a traditional, Turkish keepsake a simple task. BACKGAMMON!

A little research taught us that backgammon originally spread to Turkey from Persia/Mesopotamia (which is what's now the eastern side of modern Turkey), and its roots can be traced back ~5,000 years which makes it the oldest recorded board game in the world. 

Turks love backgammon and have been charmed by it since the sixteenth century Ottoman times. Walking around Istanbul, you can tell it's an extremely popular pastime--we see people playing it at just about all the cafes and coffee shops. And according to a 2002 survey, there are about 30 million Turks who know and play backgammon.

The board we chose is the best quality we could find. It was handmade by three separate people over the course of at least a week. Hand-stained solid walnut inlayed with brass and mother of pearl. The mother of pearl is one thing--but all that brass you see, that's not painted on, the wood is carved and then thin strips of brass are pounded in. Pretty impressive skill set! 

The dark and light game pieces we chose are solid boxwood and will patina with age and use. And the bonus is that we picked a design where a person can play checkers or chess on the back as well.

And if you find yourself overseas with no craft or card stores in sight--but you can rustle up a roll of plain paper, a marker, a glue stick, and a local map--then you can certainly get creative and wing the gift wrap!

They're off to Australia and New Zealand for their honeymoon. But when they get back, they'll have a real family treasure waiting to greet them! xx

Monday, October 8, 2012

15. Let's Talk Turkey.

BASICS: Turkey is truly a young country, more than two-thirds of the population is under age thirty. (I've read that and find it hard to believe, so I'll be investigating!) The Republic of Turkey is a parliamentary democracy. It's the only secular and democratic Muslim country in the world. Its capital is Ankara. Its population is almost 74 million people--in contrast, the U.S. population is ~300M. Approximately 16 million people live in Istanbul alone. The official language here is Turkish; and the monetary unit is the Turkish lira. It's about 60 cents to buy 1 lira. Or, put another way, every item I purchase that's 10TL is really costing me +/- $6US.

WEATHER: The latitude in Istanbul is generally the same as in Washington, D.C. There are four seasons, with spring and autumn being long with blue skies and a breeze. Summers are hot, damn hot if you're not a fan of 90+F, which I am not! And winters usually run from November through March being mainly gray and rainy, although they do have occasional snow.

GOVERNMENT: The prime minister is considered the head of the government and is in charge of the country. The Grand National Assembly (usually just referred to as Meclis or the parliament) is a 550-member body that is elected by the people. The assembly elects the president, a position that's largely ceremonial. Thanks to Atatürk, the government is secular--a separation between religion and government--since 1923.

MEMBERSHIPS: Turkey was a founding member of the United Nations. They've been an associate member of the European Union since 1963, but have not been accepted as a full member. Turkey is also a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). And because of its location straddling the Middle East and Europe, Turkey is strategic in world affairs.

RECREATION: Soccer is the most popular sport in Turkey. There are three popular teams based in Istanbul, and there are a total of 18 teams in the Super League. Not only is our local team, Galatasaray, usually at the top of the game--they also wear the colors of Gryffindor! Turks also excel at weightlifting and Turkish wrestling (which involves oil).

FOOD: Turkey is one of the few agriculturally self-sufficient countries in the world. The most popular food is kebap made from grilled lamb. The three staples here are lamb, eggplant, and yogurt. Apricots, honey, figs, peppers, cucumber, and tomatoes are plentiful. There are also sweets called Turkish delights (lokum) which come in a lot of flavors and colors. And, as I've mentioned before, more than 70% of the hazelnuts in the world come from Turkey!

CULTURE: Turks are from diverse backgrounds--a reminder of the many different groups that conquered Turkey over thousands of years. The Ottoman Navy brought the Jewish people who were expelled from Spain to safety in the Ottoman lands in 1492. One-fifth of the population is Kurdish. People are mostly Sunni Muslim, but Turkey is the only secular government among all the Muslim countries in the world. 

GEOGRAPHY: Turkey is larger than the state of Texas. It's surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, and the Aegean Sea. More than two-thirds of Turkey's borders are coastline that stretches over 3,700 miles. Istanbul--the largest city in Turkey--is partly in Europe and partly in Asia, and built on land in the Bosphorus seaway. Also, Turkey is one of the most earthquake prone areas on Earth. The North Anatolian Fault extends hundreds of miles from the Sea of Marmara to the Eastern Anatolian Highlands. Apparently, the fault moves about 8 inches a year, and there have been 13 major earthquakes in the past 70 years.

FACTOIDS: King Midas ruled western Turkey around 700 BC. Saint Nicholas was born here, in Patara, and lived as a bishop in Myra. Yes, people, Santa Claus is Turkish! Aesop was also born here on the Black Sea coast. It's reported that he was a slave before winning his freedom through wit and quick thinking--then he became one of the most famous storytellers of all time.

HISTORY: Turkey is home to one of the earliest settlements in the world. Catalhoyuk was built 8,800 years ago! About 4,000 years ago, the Hittites created an empire in Anatolia. Then there was King Midas, then Alexander the Great, Roman Asia Minor, and Constantine. The city of Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans; and after WWII, the country was invaded by Greece which led to the Turkish war of independence in 1920. Then came Atatürk, Turkey was declared a republic, and Istanbul became the modern name for this city!

COOLNESS: Once known as Cotton Castle, the white cliffs in Pamukkale western Turkey are made of the calcium-rich mineral travertine. From a distance, the cliffs look like a sheet of ice covering a hillside. A spring flows from pool to pool, and the cascade is more than a mile and a half long.

Anything else you're curious about, please let me know. I would welcome inspiration for blog topics! xx

Thursday, October 4, 2012

14. What's Wrong with a Kurdistan Anyway?

While everyone back home in America is fussin' and fightin' about who is the biggest liar in the presidential race, I'm over here trying to wrap my arms around the issues involving our new neighbor Syria. Oh. My. I'll just give you my white girl opinion up front: Let the Kurds band together like they want to, give them their land to become Kurdistan, and everyone go home and spend some quality time loving your families. What the hell.

Of course, it's nearly impossible for me to understand this without doing some heavy-duty reading. And I won't bore you with all that I'm finding out (unless you privately ask me). But in my preliminary investigations, I did find this tidbit interesting: The states in the Middle East have very artificial borders. Borders created for the most part at the end of World War I, and carved out largely by the British and French. In almost no cases do they conform to natural borders such as mountains, rivers, and valleys the way nations have usually been formed throughout history. Some say the only two natural countries in the Middle East are Iran and Egypt. (One might add Turkey, though it is not wholly Middle Eastern.)

Instead, borders in the Middle East were often formed by deliberately cobbling together separate groups that--in the case of Britain--allowed it to rule over these countries in the full knowledge that there was no one dominant group that would be able to drive them out. Iraq is thus made up of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, who more often than not place their sectarian identity above a national identity. Oof, no wonder there's always trouble!

Syrian Kurds have already gained a measure of autonomy in their territories because the government has relinquished Kurdish communities to local control. Kurds now have a head start on self-rule; Kurdish flags fly over former government buildings in those areas, and schools have opened that teach in the Kurdish language (something the current Syrian government had prohibited).

Kurdish folk dancers.

The thing that makes me personally nervous (and is apparently making the average peace-loving Kurdish groups suspicious, too) about this Syrian Kurd movement is that they have close ties to Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Europe and the U.S. and is fairly relentless in its guerrilla attacks here in Turkey.

Rest assured, Syria is not merely an internal affair--but something likely to undermine the entire state system of the Middle East. And it's an unfortunate reality that the powers who could rein in the violence will not likely sit down together anytime soon: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, and Egypt. (Ha, and we think we have issues with Democrats and Republicans.)

From what I've read, I don't think any solutions will occur with Bashar al-Assad remaining as Syria's president. And once he is ousted from power, the Kurds are likely going to take up arms in the vacuum that follows. The Iraqis are already training them. They've been oppressed for decades by Arabs, denied rights by one post-Ottoman Turkish leader after another, and betrayed after World War I by Allied powers who had once promised Kurdish independence. Now it seems the Kurds are feeling pretty determined. And I think the hubster and I have a front row seat. Zoinks! xx

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

13. Ottoman Opium and John Astor.

Let's talk about John Jacob Astor and his nefarious tie to Turkey. Name familiar? He was the first prominent member of the Astor family--a German-born American business magnate, merchant, and investor--and a serious opium smuggler.

I'll warn you right now that once I started researching this, my whole blog got twisty and turny and wordy. So, if you hate history, just go ahead and stop reading now!

Between 1789 and 1791, due to his success in the fur trade, Astor started putting his profits into Manhattan real estate. His strategy was to buy land very cheaply beyond the developed area of the city and then wait for the city's rapid growth to reach his lots. In 1803, for instance, he paid $25,000 for 70 acres located more than an hour's ride north of what was then the city's limit. By the 1870s the land was worth $20M to the Astor family, and today the area is known as Times Square!

By 1800, he had amassed almost a quarter of a million dollars and had become one of the leading figures in the fur trade. A quarter million, in 1800? Dang. Anyway, Astor was trading furs, teas, and sandalwood with Canton in China but his fur trading ventures were disrupted when the British captured his trading posts during the War of 1812. So, in 1816, he joined the opium smuggling trade!

His American Fur Company purchased ten tons of Turkish opium, then shipped the contraband to Canton on the Macedonian. (Finally, a tie in to Turkey, right?!) Mind you, the Turks and Indians had been shipping opium to China for centuries, and Astor eventually left the China opium trade and sold solely to England. With the fortune he fast-tracked from dealing in opium, he started to more heavily invest in land in New York City and ended up becoming America's first multi-millionaire.

Interesting side story: Astor's great-granddaughter, Helen Schermerhorn Astor married James "Rosy" Roosevelt, the half-brother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Incidentally, FDR's maternal grandfather, Warren Delano, Jr., also made his fortune in opium, working for the leading American opium trader--Russell and Company.

In 1823, Samuel Russell had established Russell and Co. for the purpose of acquiring opium in Turkey and smuggling it to China. Russell and Co. merged with Boston's Perkins syndicate and became the primary American opium smuggler. Many of the great American and European fortunes were built on the "China"(opium) trade--how do I not remember this from history class?

One of Russell and Co.'s Chiefs of Operations in Canton was Warren Delano, Jr., grandfather of Franklin Roosevelt. Other Russell partners included John Cleve Green (who financed Princeton), Abiel Low (who financed the construction of Columbia), Joseph Coolidge, and the Perkins, Sturgis, and Forbes families. Coolidge's son organized the United Fruit Company, and his grandson, Archibald C. Coolidge, was a co-founder of the Council on Foreign Relations.

As opium traders before, during, and after the Opium Wars, Russell and Co. were agents of merchant banks like Baring Brothers and N.M. Rothschild. Initially, the merchant banks funded the purchase of the opium, and Russell and Co. sailed to make the purchase and subsequently smuggled the drugs into China, making tremendous fees for their work as operatives in the drug trade. The company's biggest client, Baring Brothers, was agent for the U.S. government between 1843 and 1871, and actually sold the Louisiana Purchase to the U.S. Baring Brothers was later agent for the British government and had a close relationship with the British monarchy from 1891 to 1995.

After reading up on all this, how can anyone take America's "war on drugs" seriously? The drug money and drug trade date so far back, and involve so many politicians, foreign governments, and wealthy business people that I don't think it's remotely feasible to pretend we're even trying. Kind of sadly laughable, really.

Meanwhile, currently in Turkey, all of the opium harvest will be raised under a unique government-sponsored program that lets farmers grow the crop legally. The drugs are then processed for medical use and sold through a U.N. agency that regulates sales. The success of the program here has some wondering if the lessons could be applied in other countries, like Afghanistan, where illegal drug production has exploded over the past several years.

OK, boys and girls, that's the little history lesson for today. There was so much to write about the ridiculousness of the United Fruit Company alone, that I didn't know where to start--or stop! These are the kinds of frustrating issues of greed and debauchery that make my skin crawl. xx

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

12. The Turkish Evil Eye.

I want to write about one of the most popular symbols I've seen here in Istanbul, if for no other reason than so everyone who receives one from me at Christmas (or various other gift-gifting occasions) knows a little about its background.

The evil eye bead, or nazar boncuğu (nah-ZAHR bohn-ju-u), is very popular in Turkey. You're aware of them pretty quickly because you see them everywhere! It's used as a form of fighting fire with fire, an eye for an evil eye. Usually wrongly translated into English as the evil eye itself, it's actually a "benevolent eye" fending off the evil one. Its purpose is to reflect the dark powers of an envious glance.

The amulet is typically round and made of glass fashioned with blue and white concentric circles made to look like a wide open eye. Although, I have seen plenty that are funky, cool, artisan, and just plain weird. The color blue is believed to ward off bad luck--which is why blue front doors are common in the Greek Isles for example, and why haint blue ceilings are popular on southern U.S. porch ceilings. 

While traditionally round, blue and white, evil eyes really do come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and decorated on everything imaginable: pendants, earrings, key chains, wall hangings, pins, shot glasses, tee-shirts, and so on and so forth. Sometimes the amulets are worked into the foundations of new buildings. Most homes and shops have one displayed somewhere. And while you'd think these powers are just a figment for grandmothers, the hubster has seen them hanging at manly-man construction sites. Also, I've read that many Turks may shrug it off with a smile, but there aren't too many baby cribs that don't have one of the protective blue eyes displayed. Mothers might even attach a small bead on a safety pin to a child’s clothing. Why take chances?

I learned that the best beads are made by artisans following a longstanding tradition of glassmaking in the Middle East. Arabs brought the practice to Izmir on the Aegean coast in the 19th century and brought back the popularity of a practice that once flourished in Anatolia (the central high plain of modern Turkey). There's some tussling about who makes the most authentic beads with those claiming theirs are more "real" adding a touch of yellow to the eye--using an oxide in the glassmaking process that remains a sort of secret recipe.

You can purchase these trinkets in most tourist shops, at street side vendors, and in the Grand Bazaar you can find whole shops dedicated solely to the nazar boncuğu. Just beware that tradition dictates you do not buy one for yourself. They must be a gift to work their magic! Therefore, Niks bought me my little amulet when she was here. It's sweet and simple and looks very much like this:

Safe to say, if you're someone I give gifts to--chances are you'll be seeing one of these crop up in your future. A little benevolence for those we love is a good thing! xx

Monday, October 1, 2012

11. Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque.

There is not a ding-dang thing I can say about the Blue Mosque that you couldn't readily read about in any travel guide. But I now can personally attest that it's a beautiful sight to behold, and I'm glad we went this past weekend (even though I swore I wouldn't go to tourist destinations this early in our move).

First picture, a gratuitous shot of a sleeping kitty near one of the entrances to the mosque. Let's just get my feline obsession out of the way first.

Basic historic background: Sultan Ahmet I wanted to build a place of Islamic worship that would rival the Hagia Sophia across the square. He commissioned his mosque when he was only 19 years old--and unfortunately died at the tender age of 27 only one year after it was completed. It was built over the site of the ancient hippodrome and Byzantine imperial palace (whose mosaics can be seen in the nearby Mosaic Museum, which is definitely on my to-do list). Construction began in 1609 and took seven years.

I learned that the original mosque complex included a madrasa, a hospital, a han, a primary school, a market, an imaret, and the tomb of the founder. Most of these buildings were torn down in the 19th century.

     ma·dra·sa \mə-ˈdra-sə, -ˈdrä-\
     : a Muslim school, college, or university that
     is often part of a mosque

     ima·ret \i-ˈmär-ət\

     : an inn or hospice in Turkey

One of the most noted features of the Blue Mosque is visible from far away: its six minarets. This is very unique, as most mosques have four, two, or just one minaret. The six minarets caused quite a scandal back in the early 1600s, because the Haram Mosque in Mecca (the holiest in the world) also had six minarets. In the end, the sultan solved the problem by sending his architect to Mecca to add a seventh minaret. The price of doing business!

Shoes removed, head covered for women, and you can enter for free during non-prayer times. (I wasn't expecting wall-to-wall carpet, nor the Bikram yoga studio dirty feet smell.)  

Brought my own scarf,
but loaners are available (eww!?)

Inside, the high ceiling is lined with the 20,000 blue tiles that give the mosque its popular name. The oldest tiles feature flowers, trees, and abstract patterns--16th-century Iznik designs. And here are several photos that will hopefully make my very enthusiastic friend KTK in Arizona happy!

I was disappointed to learn that the interior 260 windows, which were once filled with 17th-century stained glass, were lost and replaced with "inferior" replicas. Boo. But I'm willing to bet that whoever said this mosque is one of the most exquisite sights in Istanbul--is correct. xx

p.s. OK, one last kitty photo. This sweet girl takes up residence at a small restaurant near the mosque. Loved her and her purriness!