On our trip to Amritsar I knew I would be photographing the Golden Temple from many angles and at different times of the day. I knew I would get a picture of the reflection of the temple on the water, of the fishes in the pond and every other building around it. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Eric Weiner in an article in the New York times describes ‘thin places’ as places where the distance between heaven and earth collapse. In all my travels I have never gone looking for thin places nor have I found them by chance. I cannot imagine finding a god waiting for me amidst all the superficial devoutness of the tourists and the pretend piety of the touts. To me god comes silently in places that I am most familiar with.
But the photographs I took at the Golden temple assure me that while I may not believe in the gods of the thin places that does not mean that they do not exist.
Wedged in between Asia and Europe, Istanbul does not disappoint. Every two steps takes you through centuries of history.
It is believed that the first settlers came from Greece under the leadership of Byzas. He started the foundation of the city which he called Byzantium.
Following it’s flourishing trade and commerce owing to it’s strategic location Byzantium became a part of the Roman Empire. Emperor Constantine developed the city based on a Roman model. He made Istanbul the capital of the Roman Empire and following the trend set by the first settler renamed the city as Constantinople after himself. Not surprisingly after it became the capital of the entire Roman empire Constantinople prospered.
However this surge in prosperity was checked by the division of the empire by the sons of Emperor Theodosis after his death and Constantinople was demoted from the capital of the entire Roman empire to the capital of the Byzantine Empire. This caused a cultural shift in the city. The Byzantine Empire was a predominantly Greek Orthodox as opposed to the Latin Catholic identity of the Roman Empire. A revolt in the 532 AD almost destroyed the city. However the ever resilient city was rebuilt again. Many of its outstanding monuments namely the Hagia Sophia was constructed post this revolt.
The envied location of the city although favorable for trade and commerce was also the cause of many conquests. It was attacked by empires and troops from all over the middle east. For a short while it was under the hands of the fourth crusade. At this time the Greek Orthodox culture in the city declined giving rise to Latin Catholic ideologies and monuments. How ever the Greeks were not the ones to give up without a fight. The constant struggle to maintain control drained the exchequer and subsequently the Greek Orthodox and the Latin Catholic alike fell prey to the conquests of the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmed the second.
Constantinople then became the capital of the Ottoman Empire and unsurprisingly it’s name was changed to Istanbul.
Sultan Mehmed the second was a visionary. Unlike the Greeks and Romans before him , he did not believe that Istanbul could be dominated by a single religion or ideology. He encouraged settlements by Muslims and Jews along with the returning Greeks and Romans who had fled the city fearing captivity.The sultan built hospitals, schools, mosques and monuments.
The Ottoman ruled Istanbul till it was occupied by the allies in World war I. Following the Turkish War of Independence the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923. Ataturk the father of modern Turkey moved the capital away from Istanbul which had witnessed hundreds of battles and been subject to the ups and downs of the different empires.
Today Istanbul is a vibrant city. It was rightly named as the European Capital of culture in 2010 by the EU.
A lit up Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque by day
The ware on display at the spice market.
The Hagia Sophia