Felik and I had a chance to visit Turkey with Euro Discovery (yes, having boyfriend whose father is running luxury travel agency is a bless). This country is a very popular choice for European and Russian tourist during summer time, thanks to the beautiful and budget friendly resorts. We have celebrated there Chinese New Year (the end of February and the beginning of March) and at these time, there were not many visitors.
Turkey is bigger and more populated that France, and event though we have traveled more than 2000km, we have only visited 30% of the country. Those few amazing days were not enough to understand this country, but it gave us a glimpse of the local culture.
Istanbul. The connection between East and West
Istanbul is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. In the beginning of March the town was still covered all over by the snow, and it definitely kept the magic from Orhan Pamuk books. The architecture of Istanbul is beautiful and very unique. While Taskim Square is full of typical Western style bars, the mosques are covering each part of the town. Many parts of Istanbul (and Eastern part of the country) resemble Greece, and the more we were directing ourselves to the West, the vibe was becoming more and more Middle Eastern.
The most beautiful mosque of Istanbul is the Blue Mosque. Another stunning destination for Islamic art was Tokapi Palace (Tokapi Sarayi) which was a home for 25 sultans during almost four hundred sultans.
The East and West connection is not only symbolic. We have passed twice by the First Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the European and Asian part of the country. Even thought, there are many bridges connecting the 2 continents, still the traffic in Istanbul is horrible. The main reason is the difference between the both sides of the town. The costs of living in the Asian part are much lower, but there is far more employment opportunities on the European part. That means that everyday locals prefer to live in the Asian part but work in European parts and government is forced to constructed more connection points.
Tourist Attractions in Turkey All fashion-oriented people should definitely visit Bursa, the city that has been the last stop on the great Silk Road from China, and it has been the center of silk production since XV century until today. These days the local vendors offer an amazing selection of very high quality silk and cashmere products. For a little trait it is worth to stop at Koza Han, the “Silk Cotton Market”. The place was built on 1491 by Sultan Beyazit and used as both the silk market and the caravanserai and today is full of nice cafés and bars.
Fine silk scarf from Bursa
Koza Han, the “Silk Cotton Market”
Besides the fabrics, in the town there are 2 beautiful mosques the Grand Mosque (Ulu Cami) and the Green Mosque (Yesil Cami Mosque), the typical Ottoman style mosque, built on the reverse T plan, with stunning interior decorated by mosaic of green tiles.
Pamukkale (in Turkish “the cotton castle”) was another stop during our journey. The city is famous for its hot springs and travertines, giving an amazing view. Pamukkale and the ancient city Hierapolis, have been both, declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Site.
Final stop of our journey was Cappadocia where we visited the churches in Goreme Open Air Museum and went to the road trip by jeep. In this part of the country we have seen the most breathtaking landscapes.
Goreme Open Air Museum
Life in Turkey: Gender equality. Islam. Reality
Living In Paris and in Kuala Lumpur I am quite familiar with Islamic culture. Turkey is considered as the most modernized Muslim country. It is impossible to discuss with this statement, as the first president and founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, successfully separated the Islamic law from the secular one, abolished the caliphate, as well as the polygamy. In 1926 he successfully passed the new civil code (modeled on the Swiss Civil Code) and since that moment woman in Turkey become equal to the men. It was especially important in the matters like divorce or inheritance. Ataturk strongly believed that the new republic could succeed only if society will become more educated end all Turkish citizens, regardless the gender, will stay united. He also understood the importance of secular law, which he established. Modeled on French Civil law, the new regulations stayed that religion was not forbidden, but it was limited to the private sphere.
Women’s Rights in Turkey
Until today the Atatürk is very important figure for Turkish citizens. His portraits are present in many hotels, stores and restaurants. But Turkey these days is a little bit different that during the time of this great man. First of all, in the government there is more and more conservative influence, and due to this fact the women are again allowed to cover their hers with the scarfs (which are considered religious symbol) in the government places. Secondly, the first thing we have noticed in Turkey was an enormous difference between the Istanbul and the other parts of the country. Our local guide has confirmed our feelings, saying that in the smallest town like Cappadocia, working in tourism is not considered as a “proper” job for a woman and it is not unusual that the families forbid their daughters to work in this industry. It is true that the artisanal craft, especially beautiful hand-made carpets are esthetically mind-blowing, but as our guide informed us, it was the government who invested the money in order to reestablish the business, trying to fight the huge unemployment in the provincial places. Looking at the woman working on their stunning carpets I couldn’t help but wonder, if that was really their first career choice.
Religion is also very complicated subject in the country. Turkish Muslims love their dogs (officially considered as “dirty” by the religion), what is more the country has the national production of alcohol with the signature drink Raki (very similar to Greek Ouzo) and there are some local vineries. Quite surprising, considering that 99% of the country are Muslims and alcohol is forbidden by that religion. I have also seen for the first time people during the prayer in the mosque. My feelings are quite mixed. Entering the mosque, I had the feeling of calmness. But it did not last long. It was impossible to not to notice the separated place for woman, which is only 30% of the entire space. It almost immediately remained me the quote from Bill Maher Show. “We respect woman, we have a special place for them”. And comparing to other religion that I am familiar with, the main difference would be that while many of Christian and Buddhist authorities at least tries from time to time to prove that women are equal to men in these religions (even if these voices are not heart by the mainstream), Islam, even in its the most “modern” version does not do even these effort. And the only think that has changed… the “woman space” in the modern mosques are located on the second floor.
Fashion, Street Style and the culture
Street style also well expresses these differences. In Istanbul and Ankara (at least in the city center) more than half of the woman chose, so-called Western aesthetic. There are many designers and independent brands, that could easily compete with Paris or NYC based. But again situation changes in Bursa or Cappadocia, where majority of girls wear very long, robes and coats and cover their hairs under the scarf. Their style definitely expresses “the modesty”. It remained me the chapter of “Museum of Innocence” where Pamuk explains the double standard between the genders in Turkey. Listing to our local guide and observing the streets, it become quite clear that those double standards still exist and not all female citizens are able to make the decision regarding their life.
Turkey, one time is not enough Staying these few days in Turkey was very interesting experience. The country has definitely a lot to offer, the mix of stunning Islamic art, rich history, nature, local food and typical summer traits. We have seen only 30% of the country so we will be back for the rest.