Monday, December 26, 2011

Mehmet the Conqueror

What was seen by Mehmet the Conqueror as he entered the smouldering city of Constantinople in 1453? We know by which gate he came through and by all accounts the walls were still standing at the end of the seige in May 1453 despite the pounding that the Ottomans had given them. I like to think that this is something like the direction he would have looked in, across the the city, over the sea of Marmara to the distant mountains.

Ok, so he wouldn't have seen the mosque that stands there now, neither would it have been so built up, in fact the areas near the walls would have probably been fields... etc... and he wouldn't have been on the walls either and no doubt he would have had a few things on his mind then. 

There is, despite all that, something stirring about going to the city walls that bizarrely remain long tall and strong flanking the northern edge of the city next to freeways and and the usual traffic.

Using ink, oil pastel, acrylic as well as watercolour made this picture just about work, it might need doing a few more times but the atmosphere is good.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The ten least painted scenes of Istanbul...

The above is a scene of the wonderful skyline of EminönĂ¼, the New Mosque is in the foreground.

This scene to the left, on the other hand, is surely one of the least painted but bizarre scenes of the city, in fact even I haven't painted it yet!

The Valens Aqueduct (4th Century) with four lanes of freeway traffic running through it. There's something almost poetic in this. It feels like a piece of installation art at it's most powerful. The message is so clear that I'm struggling to put it into writing. In fact there are so many facets of this piece of.... er...sculpture  shall we say,  that even the fact that it seems relatively unscathed despite the minute by minute assault of the fearsome Istanbul traffic seems riven with meaning. I think that perhaps the best way of understanding this would be to place a video link of it to the 'Istanbul Modern' art gallery and market this scene as the latest work of some up and coming experimental film maker.

As I write this I'm thinking of the many great cities of Europe that happily build freeways around ancient monuments but the breathtaking audacity of running a bus route through a relatively narrow Roman arch is pretty original, congratulations to the town planners, the Byzantines would be proud to see their engineering genius enduring this long.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More Food....

Turkish cooking really is excellent and by that I don't mean kebabs and bar-b-que'd meat. Traditional Turkish cooking relies heavily on pulses and vegetables. Meat is used mainly as something to add flavour. 

Now is the time when 'ashure' (a dessert with nuts, dried fruit, grains syrup and beans) is handed out from house to house, it's the food of the Prophet Noah and is served in the first month of the Islamic year (we've got a lot of it building up in the fridge!).

This is a 'little ditty' to go with the last picture of peppers....

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Mundane

Istanbul has a most intriguing version of post industrial urban decay. Despite the booming economy and growing affluence amongst some here, there is a real mixture of the old and new. The 'old' is not necessarily 'preserved' and sanitised in the way more ordered European cities might be, it still harbours many Gormenghast-like corners.

In the old city most of the buildings are the usual reinforced concrete apartments that grace most cities in most of the world these days. But there are thankfully a lot of exceptions to this. There are many old wooden Ottoman style houses, their flexible structure enabled them to stand throughout numerous earthquakes, the downside being that destruction by earth quake is probably a lot quicker than slow death by exhorbitant insurance premiums due to their easily catching fire.

Amidst some of these one can find the odd crumbling Byzantine pile and it's an interesting excercise (well for me, maybe not for my kids, or my wife, nor anyone else I know for that matter!) to ferret out the old Byzantine churches that were converted to become mosques in the years after 1453.

So what has all that to do with a fence post? Nothing except my eyes have been awakened recently to form and beauty in the mundane and even in this grand old city there is plenty of that. What is special about this place is that there is 'antique' mundane mixed in with the reinforced concrete. Take a look at this municipal spring, it's too commonplace to restore but was pre-1920s Ottoman chic with beautiful Ottoman Arabic script along the top complete with an anarchy sign that would grace any European urban scene. Such is the smorgasboard of culture that is the modern Turkey.

One last thing.... This doorway stands a stone's throw from the Arab Camiisi (Mosque) on the Galata side of the Golden Horn. The building was apparently built in the eighth century when invading Muslim armies attempted to take Constantinople. The mosque was converted to a church after that by the Venetians and then was once again changed back to a mosque after 1453. It's recently been restored uncovering Byzantine frescoes under the plaster put there by the Ottoman invaders.

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