Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day 149 - Basilica Cistern and Whirling Dervishes

Anto and I decided to do some sightseeing in Old Istanbul since we felt like we were bumming around too much at home. We got advice from locals to go see the Basilica Cistern, which was a vast underground water storage system that stored up to 80,000 cubic meters of water for use by the Grand Palace. It was creepy to walk through the cistern, where everything was dark, murky, and filled with artificial lighting. They had strange music to accompany the visit too, where half the time it sounded like some foreign animal squeaking in the night. The entire cistern was beautiful to walk through though, knowing that such a structure was designed to withstand time and keep the Grand Palace flowing with waters in the summers.

The highlight of the tour was a spot where two heads of Medusa were placed on the bottom of the columns used to support the system. One of the heads was upside-down while the other was placed on its side. There are various hypothesises about why these two heads were placed the way they were. In mythology, Medusa turned anyone who looked her in the eye into stone. Some people believe they were placed there to protect the cisterns. Others believe that they were placed upside-down and to the side to prevent Medusa from turning them into stone. No one really knows...

Afterwards, we headed to a part of the city where we could see twirling dervishes. It was funny because yesterday, I assumed that it was some sort of dancing performance, and I asked Stefan if there would be dinner served, or we could get drinks while watching the “performance.” Little did I know that this “dance” was a sort of meditation and religious ceremony and that it would be disrespectful to be eating or drinking while watching these Muslims while they are chanting and dancing. From what I know, only a minority of Muslims practice this, and the ones that do, end up spinning around in circles for lengthy amounts of time, without getting dizzy, connecting with their spirtual side and entering a different reality from ours, which enables them to do this without getting nauseous.

We took a train to the area and walked around, asking numerous people where we could see this act. So many people gave us different directions about where to go, and it seemed like a cat and mouse game, until we came across an older Muslim man who invited us for some Turkish Tea, and he helped us out by calling the company to get more information about it. He curiously asked us what our religions were. We told him, and I honest expected him to talk to us about converting to being Muslim, but that was all he asked, and we were on our way. He was such a nice man to help us out and treat us to some tea!

We finally reached the mosque - the Nurettin Tekke and watched in silence as the members of the Mosque performed their prayers around 8pm. The tourists who managed to arrive in time were led into the back of the room where we sat and watched an ongoing chant by most of the members of the group. It was almost like an hour-long song that everyone participated in, with chanting in between. About halfway through the song, 4 men in black robes entered the room. Three of them took off their robes and had on white religious outfits and began spinning in the room while the others continued chanting in a slow beat, rocking back and forth in unison. The group continued to spin for maybe 10 minutes before stopping, and the others in the room started chanting louder and faster, swaying back and forth in a semi-circle motion. The three dervishes started spinning again for about 10 minutes. This happened again one last time for another 10 minutes, and I felt sort of anxious and worried that one of the them might faint or get nauseous, but they all seemed peaceful and calm, even though such a feat required a lot of physical exertion. The entire process took over 1 hour, but was definitely worth seeing in such an environment. I felt lucky to be included in such a ritual.

Sea of Marmara

Haydarpasa Railway Station

Basilica Cistern

Sultan Ahmad (Blue Mosque)

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