In contrast with my previous trips in the last five years, this one has proven to be the best. Firstly, the reason behind this delightful experience was the selecting of Istanbul, the cradle of civilization, as my destination. Secondly, I choose to travel solo this time, whereas previously I was part of guided tours. This is time I got to pick and choose when and where to go and what attractions to see. During this trip I enjoyed my stay at a hotel located in the heart of old Istanbul, only a walking distance to great historic sites. I was simply fascinated by the rich history of Turkey, which was the vanguard of the Muslim renaissance during the time of the Ottoman Empire. However, it would be unfair if I didn’t mention the strong influences of the Byzantine, Roman, and Greek empires, which further increased my appreciation and interest in this great nation. A two day side trip to Antalya, a Mediterranean coastal town, was also full of history, fun, and relaxation. All these factors combined have created a favorable ambience for the perfect trip. As always, I'd like to share with you and your readers the highlights of my historic journey to the land of Ottomans.
Istanbul is a world metropolis with a population over 15 million. What made this city important and historic is its location at 48 north latitude and 28 east longitude – it is the only city in the world that has been established in two continents (one side in Asia and the other in Europe). The Posphorus water way separates the two sides and connects the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea. Because of its location, the city always had a great geopolitical importance. My first day in Istanbul, I realized that I was fortunate to be in a modern European city with highly civilized, urban and friendly people, but on the other hand, when I began visiting the historic sites, it was as if I stepped back to 6500 BC. An interesting fact, the earliest human settlement was found in Anatolia (catalhoyuk).
Istanbul started as settlement known as Byzantium after its founder, and would later take on the name of Constantinople, after Emperor Constantine. It wasn’t until the great conquest by the Ottomans that the city would come to be known as Istanbul, turning into the biggest and the most crowded city in Europe at that time. In the late fifties and sixties, Somalis use to name their new born daughters after Istanbul, Paris, or Berlin for the sake of the great history and prestige of these popular cities. As a young boy, it was my dream that one day I’d be able to visit Istanbul and that dream has become a realization, as I have always admired Turkey from afar.
Love for traveling
As I noted in my previous articles, I love traveling and being stateless for the last 20 years, I have no peaceful homeland to go in my travels, yet I long for cultures and places that resemble my old Somalia. I know it is nothing but a distant dream to see our Somalia reinvented and revived from its prolonged suffering. So in the meantime, I commit to being a global citizen and a world traveler, who wants to leave a good legacy and instill in his children the appreciation for travel.
While I’m in foreign lands, I want to learn lessons of peace-building that can be implemented in Somalia from the communities I visit. I ask myself why we are in war and famine; why we have fallen behind from the rest of human civilization. Even during a lovely trip like this it wouldn't be too long before I would be reminded by the reality of my homeland, even here I couldn't escape it. On my fourth day, walking through the center of Istanbul, I came across a billboard with photos of famine stricken Somali women and children dying for food distribution. I took two quick pictures of the poster before anyone could see me. I didn’t want anyone to make the connection between me taking the pictures as a Somali and have to feel their pity.
On that same day, in the center of the city, it was ironic to see a sign pointing to Odessa-Ukraine showing a distance of 621kms. It instantly reminded me of my first journey outside Somalia to Odessa – former Soviet Union in 1976. I thought to myself how lovely it would be to continue traveling to Ukraine and make a full circle after 35 years, "A 35 year journey concluded, I would end where I started". I have no doubt that all these years of traveling have had a positive impact on my perception of the world and like many Somalis after the collapse of the state, my world knowledge paved the way and made life easier for me and my family in transitioning to a comfortable life, first settling in Europe and later in the USA.
What can we learn from Turkey?
In this trip, I began reflecting on the history of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Somalia and Turkey have some parallels – they both experienced war and upheaval; they are both Muslim nations and in the beginning of the 20th century, Turkey under the leadership of Sultan Abduhamid II, the last Ottoman emperor witnessed the disintegration of Turkish hegemony around the world. They lost most of lands they ruled. In 1912, Mustafa Kemal, a young officer would see Balkan rebels gain their independence after easily defeating the Turkish army twice their size. He even saw his birth place fall to advancing Greek patriots shouting, “Christ is risen,” leaving a powerful impact on young Kemal. I’m saddened by the never ending conflict of Somalia and the repeated violation of Somalia’s territorial integrity by foreigners, most recently by Kenyan military supported by the great powers. Kemal went into action after hearing a radical nineteenth century poet’s verses: "The enemy has pressed his dagger to the breast of the motherland. Will no one arise to save his mother from her black fate?"
In our Somali poetry, the she-camel “Maandeeq” symbolizes the motherland and she is either dead or comatose, but who will resuscitate or save mother Somalia. Kemal like me enjoyed traveling and made journeys to Tripoli, Cairo, Damascus, and Sofia. He also visited Germany and Austria. He knew the world around him and the trends against his country. He learned French and studied the European enlightenment, the works of Voltaire and Rousseau; and knew that, “Turkey has fallen far behind the west; the main aim is to lead it to a modern society”. He fulfilled his promise and rose to the occasion.
During the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Suleiman, the magnificent, the Fatih (the conqueror) was responsible for the expansion of the Ottoman influence into Athens, Tabriz, Damascus, Cairo, Belgrade, Rhodes, Baghdad, Buda, Tripoli, and Cyprus. He nearly took Vienna in 1529. Will Somalia ever find the likes of Kemal and Sultan Suleiman who will save Somalia from its suffering and make its people proud citizens again?
Some of the places I visited
The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
Blue Mosque, which was constructed by the 14th Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I, who ruled between the years of 1603 – 1617, is the greatest and most splendid mosque of Istanbul. The construction of the mosque was started in 1609 by Architect Mehmet Agha, who was student of Architect Sinan. The construction was completed in 1616.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the last impressive structure of the Ottoman religious architecture. Although many other mosques were built after this one, none of them reached the dimension and the elegance in decorations of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The Blue Mosque has six minarets which makes it matchless among other Ottoman mosques. On the 6th of November, I had the opportunity to pray the Eid prayer in the mosque.
The Hagia Sophia, one the most important example of Byzantine architecture in Istanbul, was originally built as a Christian catherdral that was meant to surpass the beauty of any cathedral built up until that point. In 1453 it was converted into a mosque as the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans. Today the building is classified as a museum. The name Hagia Sophia means ‘holy wisdom’. I spent half a day touring this site.
For 400 years, the Ottoman Empire used this palace as their administrative center. Topkapi Palace is certainly the most important historical site to be visited in Istanbul. The palace attracts 2.5 million visitors per year. After the conquest of Istanbul by the Turks in 1453, the Ottoman Sultan Fatih Sultan Mehmet constructed the structures that formed the essence of Topkapi Palace on the ruins of ancient Roman city between 1475-1478.
The Grand Bazaar
The grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world – there are approximately 3,500 shops and 15,000 tradesmen in 80 streets and roads inside the complex. During the time of the Ottomans, the Bazaar was not only shopping and trade center, but also a place with exchange offices and banks, a huge economic hub for the Ottoman Empire. The day before my departure, I bought rugs, hand bags, T-shirts, Turkish delights and other gifts for my family and friends.
Antalya is a Mediterranean coast city and a big tourist destination. Konyaalti as one of the Antalya beaches and is considered to be the most beautiful beach in the world. I stayed in this city for two days and spent time sight-seeing the historic places and the next day swimming.
To know more about the Turkish cuisine, I went to Turkish Mezane (tavern), a place they exchange news, discussions, and the latest gossip. First, you're served food in small portions before the main course arrives which is called “Meze” in Turkish, it's absolutely delicious. This dish is usually consumed with the famous Turkish alcoholic drink called “Raki” (the anise flavoured national drink). It is also referred to as the “lion’s milk.
Once I found out it was alcohol – I requested orange juice instead. I was told Kemal Ataturk's favorite drink was Raki and perhaps it was that which killed him in the end at age 57 – he died of liver cirrhosis
The conclusion of my enchanting trip to Turkey
Traveling is something that reinvigorates my life and I can’t imagine how my life would have been without having the opportunity to travel. To me, the history, the culture and the exposure to the world is priceless and if you have any interest to travel to Turkey, I will certainly provide you all the needed info and tips that will help make your trip successful, if not unforgettable.
Abdisalam M. Garjeex
My Previous Travel Stories and Related Topics
- Let us go to Turkey : Calais Beach of Fathiye Coast By Abdikarim Buh
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