Monday, September 7, 2015

Turkey | Kayseri | Seljuqs of Rum

Kayseri, in Cappadocia region of Turkey (click on images for enlargements)
Decamped from Istanbul and wandered off to the city of Kayseri 400 miles to the southeast, in the Central Anatolian region of Cappadocia. The flight, which took just little over an hour, was sold out. There were at least twenty-five Chinese tourists on board, most if not all bound for the famous nearby tourist towns of Urgup, Göreme, Guzelyurt, Uchisar, and others famous for their cave houses, fairy chimneys, and balloon rides. These and most other tourists were met by shuttle buses and whisked off to the tourist destinations. I caught a cab to downtown and was soon esconsced in a hotel a five minute walk from the Citadel in the middle of the city. Kayseri has a population of about 850,000 people. It is located at an altitude of 3482 feet. Fifteen miles to the south looms 12,847-foot Mount Erciyes, the eroded cone of a now dormant volcano.
12,847-foot Mount Erciyes
There has probably been some sort of settlement on the current site of Kayseri or nearby, closer to Mount Erciyes,  for at least 5000 years. The first recorded name of the town was Mazaka. After the armies of Alexander the Great swept through in the fourth century b.c. the region became Hellenized, and from about 250 b.c on the city became known as Eusebia. The city and the rest of Cappodicia recognized the suzerainty of the Roman Empire in the first century b.c. In 17 a.d. the region became a Roman province. The last king of Cappadocia, Archelaus (d. 17 a.d.), changed the name of the city to Caesarea in honor of Caesar Augustus, who had died in 14 a.d. The Arab general and later first Umayyad Caliph Muawiyah seized the city in 647 and Caesarea was soon Arabized into Kaisariyah. The Seljuqs of Rum, another Islamic dynasty, took control of the city in 1178 and Turkicized the name into Kayseri, the name it retains to this day. Thus the current name is a corruption of Caeser (Augustus), a Roman emperor.
The original Citadel in the middle of the city was built by the Byzantine (East Roman) Emperor Justinian (482–565; r. 527–565). Justinian also built the world-famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and married the notorious ex-prostitute and nymphomaniac Theodora. The Citadel later updated and enlarged by the Seljuqs and Ottomans.
Another view of the Citadel
Citadel and city walls
Citadel and city walls
Top of the Citadel
The Citadel was the anchor of a much larger wall that surrounded the city. Most of the city wall is now gone, although one section does extend several blocks south of the Citadel. Here is the tower at the southeast corner of the old walled city.
Fascinating as Justinian-era citadels may be, the real reason I am in town is to see the surviving monuments of the Seljuqs of Rum period. The Seljuqs of Rum, as most of you know, were an offshoot of the Great Seljuq Empire founded in 1037. At its height the Great Seljuq dynasty controlled a vast swath of Asia from Afghanistan to the Black Sea, including the eastern shoreline of the Mediterranean, and from the Caspian and Aral Seas in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south. I had already seen the tomb of Sultan Sanjar, one of the great Seljuq rulers, in Merv, Turkmenistan, and the tomb of Tughrul III, the last ruler of the Great Seljuq empire, in Tehran, Iran, so of course I was eager to see the Seljuq of Rum monuments. 
Extent of the Great Seljuq Empire in orange
By 1193, however, the Great Seljuq Empire had collapsed, leaving only the rump in Anatolia known as the Seljuqs of Rum. The name “Rum” comes from the Persian word for the Roman Empire. The Seljuqs adopted the name because their sultanate had been founded on territories which had once belonged to the Roman, or Byzantine, Empire.
Territories of the Seljuqs of Rum in various shades of purple
The Seljuqs of Rum were an independent sultanate from around 1177 to 1243, when they were conquered by the Mongols, who had already established themselves in Persia to the east. From 1243 to the first decade of the fourteenth century the Sultanate remained under the suzerainty of the Mongols. Hereafter it broke up into a bunch of small independent emirates, or beyliks. In 1515 the city and region was finally incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

Although Iznik and Konya were the main capitals of the the Seljuqs of Rum, Kayseri served at times as a temporary capital. Its strategic position at the crossroads of several great trade routes, including the Silk Road from the East, made it an important commercial center. The city’s wealth was responsible for the Seljuqs mosques, tombs, madrassas, bathhouses, and caravanserais that have survived to the present day and are among the city’s biggest attractions. 
Just cross the street from the Citadel is the Mahperi Hunat Khatun Mosque complex, commissioned by Mahperi Hunat Khatun, wife of the Seljuq Sultan Alaettin Keykubat (r. 1223-1237). Built in the years 1228-1237, it consists of a mosque, a madrassa, and a public bath.
Mahperi Hunat Khatun Mosque
Entrance to Mahperi Hunat Khatun Mosque
Detail of stonework on the entrance to the Mahperi Hunat Khatun Mosque
To the left of the mosque is the madrassa of Mahperi Hunat Khatun. The interior courtyard now serves as a charming tea house, serving doddering old graybeards, school girls, and wanderers alike. Comfortably shaded by canvas awnings, the teahouse was a welcome shelter in the afternoons, when temperature were still hitting the mid-90s during the first week of September (my only compliant would be that they serve tea in paper cups instead of glasses). The cells of the former madrassa students that line the courtyard are now shops telling paintings and other local artworks and crafts. 
Front of the Mahperi Hunat Khatun Madrassa, now a tea house
Entrance to the Mahperi Hunat Khatun Madrassa
The Çifte Madrassa, or Twin Theological Schools, was built in 2005 by Seljuk Sultan Giyaseddin Keykhüsrev I in memory of his sister Gevher Nesibe Hatun. It originally served as a medical center complete with a room for surgeries and also, apparently, served as a medical school. It was considered one of the most advanced medical facilities of the thirteenth century. Sound ducts carried music thought to be conducive to healing into the rooms of patients, and medicinal herbs and vegetables for patients’ meals were grown on the grounds. It accepted all in need—Muslim, Christian or Jewish, Greek or Turk—and did not charge those who were unable to pay.

The madrassa now hosts the small but surprisingly well appointed Museum of Seljuq Civilization, complete with state-of-the art multi-media displays. One room features a map of the city on the floor. As you follow a path marked out on the map video screens show what you would be seeing if you were actually walking through the city. First the area is shown on a satellite image (looks like Google Earth), then the view zooms in on an important Seljuq building in the neighborhood, finally focusing in on the architectural details. As you walk through a corridor connecting two courtyards sensors in the floor turn on the “Sounds of Thirteenth Century Kayseri” played through speakers discreetly hidden in the ceiling. All I heard was a call to prayer, which of course can still be heard five times a day in Kayseri. I would have preferred to hear some sultry Seljuk siren say, “Hey big boy, looking for some company?” One of the courtyards hosts a tea room, thank goodness, for the 95º F heat was severely dehydrating me. Admittedly, very few of the displays have descriptions in English. But if you are blind, you are luck; many of the displays have descriptions in Braille. Next to some of the Braille descriptions small artifacts tethered on cords have been placed to that blind people can feel them.
Front of the Çifte Madrassa
Entrance to the Çifte Madrassa
Inscription about the entrance to the Çifte Madrassa
The Sahibiye Madrassa dates to 1267, after the Seljuqs of Rum had recognized Mongol suzerainty. It was commissioned by Fakhr al-Din Ali, a.k.a Sâhib Ata or Sâhip Ata, who held a number of important post in the Seljuq government under ruler Sultan Keykhüsrev III. He was famous for the charitable foundation he had set up throughout the Seljuq realm; the Sahibiye Madrassa was another of his contributions. The interior of the madrassa now serves as a book bazaar. 
Old and New: The Sahibiye Madrassa in the foreground and the Kayseri Hilton in the back.
Entrance to the Sahibiye Madrassa 
Detail of entrance to the Sahibiye Madrassa 
Detail of entrance to the Sahibiye Madrassa

Hacı Kılıç Mosque, dated to 1249, after the Seljuqs of Rum had recognized Mongol suzerainty. 
Entrance to the Hacı Kılıç Mosque
Detail of entrance to the Hacı Kılıç Mosque
Another entrance to the Hacı Kılıç Mosque
Detail of other entrance
 Lala Muslihiddin Pasha Mosque. Lala Muslihiddin was an important figure in the Seljuq government, but is it not quite clear when he lived. He apparently commissioned this mosque and a tomb for himself. 
Mausoleum, apparently of Lala Muslihiddin, associated with the mosque.
An impressive Seljuq monument known as the Döner Tomb. It is not quite clear who was entombed in it. 
 The Döner Tomb
Detail of the Döner Tomb. Note the Tree of Life motif. 
The Han Mosque. Built by the Seljuks originally as a caravanserai, it was later converted into a mosque. 
The Emir Han Tomb, connected with the Han Mosque. It was built in 1189 as a tomb for the Emir Cemaleddin Tanrivernis Bin David. It also contains the bodies of two other members of his family.

Alaca Tomb. Built in the thirteenth century for the emirs Cemalettin and Bin Muhammad.

The post-Seljuq-era monuments in the city include the tomb of Zeynel Abidin. A prominent member of the Rufayi Sufis, Zeynel Abidin, a.k.a. Imam Sultan (d. 1414), commissioned a mosque, a dervish lodge, and a fountain near the current site of his tomb. All these structures are now gone. The building which houses his tomb was not built until 1886. The tomb is still an important pilgrimage site. Many people come here to pray before the tomb of  Zeynel Abidin. I had to return five or six times before I found the building empty and could take a photo.
Mausoleum of Zeynel Abidin
Tomb of Zeynel Abidin
And of course the world-famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan (c. 1492–1588) was born in Kayseri. Responsible for the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and hundreds of other mosques, madrassas, and other buildings and structures, he must rank as one of the most prolific and influential architects of all time. (For an entertaining novelistic account of the world around Sinan see The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak.)
Statue of Mimar Sinan
Mimar Sinan did build one mosque in his hometown. Originally called the Hadji Ahmet Pasha Mosque, it was completely in 1573. It later became known as the Kursunlu Mosque. The difference in style from the Seljuq mosques could not be more obvious. 
Kursunlu Mosque

Friday, August 28, 2015

Turkey | Istanbul | Iconic Photos

 The iconic Süleymaniye Mosque above the shores of the Golden Horn in Istanbul (click on photos for enlargements)
Another view of Süleymaniye Mosque, with Rustem Pasha Mosque in foreground, lower right
Süleymaniye Mosque
Courtyard of Süleymaniye Mosque
Roses at the tomb of Sultan Süleyman
 The likewise iconic Hagia Sophia, originally a church, then a mosque, now a museum.
Another view of Hagia Sophia
Interior of Hagia Sophia. 
Sultan Ahmed Mosque, a.k. a. Blue Mosque
Another view of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Entrance to  Sultanahmed Mosque
Entrance to Sultanahmed Mosque
Courtyard of Sultanahmed Mosque
 Interior of Sultanahmed Mosque

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mongolia | Aral Sea | Turkey | Istanbul

Threw my Airbook, Kindle, and a camera into a bag and wandered off to Istanbul. I figured I could buy toiletries and whatever extra clothes I needed when I arrived in the city. The Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-900 ER lifted off from Chingis Khan Airport in Ulaanbaatar at exactly 12:49 p.m. The flight was completely sold out. I always enjoy the flight from Ulaanbaatar to Istanbul via Bishkek. The flight path follows much the same route as the old Silk Road and passes over numerous Silk Road cities that I have had the privilege of visiting. On clear days the flier is presented with a fascinating  panorama of the deserts and mountains of Inner Asia. 

Unfortunately I would not be seeing much today. We encountered cloud cover just outside of Ulaanbaatar that stayed with us until the approaches to Bishkek.  I was disappointed that I could not see the Tian Shan, to my mind the most noble of all the world’s mountain ranges. Oh, I know that some people rave on about the Himalayas, the Karakorams, and the Pamirs, and even the Alps in Europe, the Andes in South America, and the lowly Rockies in North America have their partisans, but for me the Tian Shan represent the ideal of mountains. They are the mountains of my dreams. I mean this quite literally. I first time I ever saw them looming about the deserts of the Zungarian Basin I realized that I had in fact seen them many times before in my dreams dating back to when I was a small boy .

We touched down in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, at 4:49 p.m. UB time, exactly four hours after leaving Ulaanbaatar. Passengers are required to get off the plane and take all their carry-on luggage with them while the plane is refueled. The transit lounge is a long hallway lined with duty free shops, with heavy emphasis on hooch and perfume. Perhaps of most interesting thing for sale is what purports to be Kyrgyzstan honey. Now we are the only flight in transit. On the return leg of the Istanbul–Ulaanbaatar flight, when the plane stops at Bishkek at around three in the morning, the transit lounge is a beehive of activity with passengers from all over Inner Asia waiting for their forward flights. 

The plane lifts off from Bishkek at 6:03 p.m UB time, for a layover of one hour and fourteen minutes.  It’s another 2337 miles to Istanbul, with an estimated flight time five hours and fifteen minutes. Although there had been clear skies on the approaches to Bishkek we soon encountered cloud cover again. After two hours or so the clouds suddenly disappeared, and down below, just off to the south could be seen the remnants of the Aral Sea. 
 Our flight path over the Aral Sea shown in red. The southern shore what is now the Northern Aral Sea could be seen directly below as we flew over. When this photo was taken when the eastern lobe of the Southern Aral Sea (in light green-blue) still appears to have some water in it.

Fed by the Syr Darya and Amu Darya, two the greatest rivers of Inner Asia, the Aral Sea was once the fourth largest inland sea, or lake, in the world ((26,300 square miles), after the Caspian Sea (saline), Lake Superior (fresh water), and Lake Victoria (fresh water).  Starting in the 1950s huge amount of water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya were siphoned off for irrigation projects in what was then the Soviet Union. The lake began shrinking and by the first decade of the twentieth century it had been reduced to about one-tenth of its original size. Some have termed this the biggest ecological disaster in recorded history, although because it occurred in a part of the world that relatively few people knew or cared about it has not received a lot of publicity. 
Map of the Aral Sea dating to 1853
After water levels dropped the Aral Sea split into four separate lakes: the north Aral Sea; two separate basins of what was once the southern part of the Aral Sea, and a small lake between the north and south portions.  In August 2014 it was recorded that for the first time in modern history the eastern basin of the southern part of the sea had completely dried up, leaving only three lakes. This now dry eastern basin is now called the Aralkum Desert. See Aral Sea's Eastern Basin Is Dry for First Time in 600 Years.
Before and after satellite photos of the Aral Sea. The photo on the right, taken recently, appears to show the eastern lobe of the Southern Aral Sea completely dried up. 
 We fly right over the southern shore of the northern lake. Off to the south can clearly be seen the elongated western lobe and the now dry eastern lobe of what was once was once the Southern Aral Sea. Several Mongolians pulled out smart phones and iPads and began taking pictures of what remains of this once great sea. It is indeed a sobering sight. The drainage system of the Aral Sea—the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya—ranks with the valley of the Nile and Mesopotamia as the birthplaces of civilization. Egypt and Iraq remain in the headlines, but the drainage of the Aral Sea, the core of Inner Asia, has in large part been forgotten. It remains the linchpin between China and Europe, however, and could play an ever-increasing role in world affairs as the twenty-first century progresses. The Wild Card is Global Warming, and what effect it might have on the already fragile water resources of the region. See Central Asia Must Unite to Revive the Aral Sea.

Usually this flight goes right over the middle of the Caspian Sea, the largest land-locked sea or lake in the world, but for some reason we now fly directly over its northern shore. I try in vain to spot Astrakhan, certainly one of the most charming cities in Russia, located on the Volga River near where it flows into the Caspian Sea. 

Soon we encountered cloud cover again and it did not clear until we were over the Black Sea about an hour out of Istanbul. The plane soon veered south over the eastern end of Anatolia and out over the Sea of Marmara, where the Prince Islands could be seen directly below. We touched down in Istanbul at 11:20 p.m. UB time (5:20 p.m. Istanbul time), for a total flight time of ten hours and thirty-one minutes. The distance was 5728 miles. There was no one in line at the Express Immigration Lane (I was flying Business, which allowed me to use the Express Lane), and I had to wait only thirty seconds for the train to the Zeytinburnu metro station where I caught the M1 Metro to the downtown area.  Soon the Theodosian Walls loomed up on ahead. As the incomparable John Julius Norwich points out in Volume 1 of his magisterial three-volume history of the Byzantine Empire, Byzantium: The Early Centuries:
It is one of the clichés of Constantinople [Istanbul] that it should, ideally, be approached by the sea. Only then, we are told, can the uniqueness of its geographical position be properly appreciated, to say nothing of that famous skyline of dome and minaret which has symbolized, for as long as any of us can remember, the Mysterious East. With this opinion we cannot easily disagree; but, for those of us on whom Byzantium will always cast a more powerful spell than Islam, there is another approach every bit as satisfying and very nearly as spectacular. No one, surely, whose first arrival has been by road from Edirne, can ever forget that first astonishing sight of the Land Walls, looming up from the surrounding plain . . . 
Theodosian Land Walls near Topkapi Gate
Being a land man myself I tend to agree with Viscount Norwich. The three mile-long Theodosian Land Walls, built in the fifth century, are one of the world’s great historical monuments, and I always experience a certain frisson of excitement when seeing them again after an absence of several months. Anyhow, my hotel is just inside the land walls. I got ready to get off at the Pazartekke metro stop, the closest to my hotel, but inexplicably the train just went by the stop without stopping. What fresh hell was this? I wondered. Surely the train driver could not have just forgotten to stop. I got off at the next stop and took the metro back the same way. Again we whizzed by the Pazartekke stop, but this time I noticed yellow tape blocking the entrances. Apparently it was closed for some reason. So I get off at the first metro station outside the walls and start hoofing it back. A four-lane freeway runs parallel to the land walls, but fortunately there is a pedestrian overpass leading directly to the Topkapi Gate. So I am able to enter Istanbul on foot via the historic Topkapi Gate instead of via the more mundane metro line. Attila the Hun (r. 434–453) once tried to enter Constantinople (Istanbul) via this gate, but was repulsed and finally had to give up altogether his investment of the city.
The historic Topkapi Gate
I receive a friendlier welcome. Just inside the gate the proprietor of a tea shop waves at me. I often have tea here in the morning when I stay in this neighborhood. Further down the street two shopkeepers greet me. A man on the street stops and stays in English, “Welcome back!” The waiter at the corner restaurant, where I often eat, is outside having a smoke and he gives me a polite nod. I feel like Jason returning from the Wars. 

The receptionist at my hotel doesn’t speak English (it’s one reason I stay at this place); he just smiles and hands me the key to my room, which is the same room I have had the last ten or more times I stayed here. I pay in cash and he doesn’t bother asking for ID. So I am back in Istanbul.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Camel Statues

The other day my pal Saka and I went shopping. As we were sitting in a line of traffic backed behind the traffic light at the intersection of Chingis Khan Avenue and the Zaisan Tolgoi road I noticed looming above the tops of cars in front of us a statue of a camel that had recently been installed in a traffic island in middle of the avenue. From our angle only the head of what I thought was one of two camels was visible.

“Did you see the statues of the two camels?” I asked Saka. “That’s a great idea. I wonder who is responsible for them?” 
“There is only one camel, replied Saka.
“No,” I replied, “there are two camels. You just can’t see the other one from here. I hope they install a whole string of them.” 
“I just drove by there on my way to your apartment, and there is only one camel there,” she insisted.
“There are two,” said I, “do you want to bet on it? 
“I don’t bet, but you are wrong; there is only one.” 
“No sorry, you are wrong.”

The light changed and we drove by the traffic island. There was only one camel. Saka almost peed her pants laughing (she’s easily amused). “And you wanted to bet! Hahahaha (or khikhikhikhi, as Mongolians write it). I should have bet you a hundred dollars! I could buy a new handbag!”

I was completely flummoxed. The bus I take to town goes right by this traffic island and I had noticed when they had installed the first camel. I said to myself, “wouldn’t it be a great idea to install a whole string of camels.” Then about a week ago I took a bus to town and we got struck in line of cars right in front of the traffic island. I could not help but notice that another statue had been installed. Now there were two of them. We sat there for at least five minutes in the traffic jam and I stared at the two camels the whole time. The image of two camels was indelibly imprinted in my mind.  I also thought, “Since there are now two camels maybe they are going to install a whole string of them. I certainly hope so.” Now, inexplicably, there was only one camel. Had I hallucinated the second camel? It seemed unlikely.

Five days later I took the bus to town again. Now there was indeed a string of camel statues on the traffic island; in fact, five of them. Instead of going straight into town I got out at the nearest bus stop and took photos of all five camel statues before any of them could disappear.
Three of the string of five camel statues (click on photos for enlargements)
One of the camel statues
I don’t know who is responsible for the camel statues, but they should be heaped knee deep in laurels to this wonderful tribute to the Most Noble Of All Four-Legged Animals. The statues serve to remind not only residents of the city but visitors who will drive right by them when arriving from the airport that Ulaanbaatar was once the nexus of numerous caravan routes running south to Beijing and Lhasa and other cities in China; west to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, China; from hence to Samarkand, Bukhara, Tabriz, and other great cites of the Silk Road; and north to Irkutsk in Siberia, which was once the northern terminus of the Tea Road between China and Russia. Camels were the main mode of transportation on all of these routes.
As I stood by the camel statues I could not help but think of the great Buryat lama Agvan Dorzhiev, who made the fastest recorded trip from Ulaanbaatar (then called Ikh Khüree [Их Хүрээ] = “Great Settlement”, or Örgöö [Өргөө] = “Palace”) to Lhasa by camel. Leaving the city on December 5, 1900 on an urgent diplomatic mission to the 13th Dalai Lama, Dorzhiev and his party had traveled day and night and arrived in Lhasa seventy-two days later. Normal caravans took four or five months. What I wouldn’t give to have been on that trip!
Agvan Dorzhiev (1854–1938)
I was also reminded of a ensemble of camel statues I had seen on Lyab-i-Haus square in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. The Bukhara Ensemble also honors the caravan men who accompanied the camels. Shouldn’t the caravan men be likewise honored in Ulaanbaatar?
Camel Ensemble in Bukhara
 Camel in Bukhara
Camel Man in Bukhara
Anyhow, I stick by my claim that there were at one time two camels standing alone on the traffic island in Ulaanbaatar. I think one was installed, then the second one, but for some reason this second one was temporarily removed—maybe it had been damaged. Then it and three more statues were installed for a total of five. Either that, or while I was sitting in the bus that day in a traffic jam in front of the statues I entered a time warp into a future where there were two camels, but then returned to the mundane time-space continuum where my friend Saka and I later saw only camel. Those are the only two possible explanations.