Monday, November 9, 2009

Turkey | Istanbul | Sultanahmed District

While still in the Sultanahmed district of Istanbul I wandered into the tomb of Sultan Ahmed, whom the area is named after (I am referring here of course to the ruler of the Ottoman Empire from 1603 to 1617 and not Guantanamo Detainee 842). I had already visited the Blue Mosque, which he had built, but that day I had bypassed his tomb, just to the side of the mosque, because it was engorged with people who had just disembarked from three big tourist buses. The reign of Sultan Ahmed is often referred to as the high watermark of the Ottomans; the inevitable decline and fall of the empire is said to begin with him.
Tomb of Sultan Ahmed
Casket of Sultan Ahmed
Relatives of Sultan Ahmed awaiting Resurrection Day
Just across the street from Sultan Ahmed’s Tomb is the so-called Column of the Serpents. Originally built by the Greek City-States to commemorate their victory over the Persians at the 479 BC Battle of Plataea, the column was moved to Constantinople by Byzantine Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century AD. The original column showed three snakes entwined together. The heads of the snakes disappeared some three hundred years ago and now only the main column survives.
The Column of the Serpents without its heads
The Column of the Serpents figures prominently in the plot of the novel The Snake Stone, by Jason Goodwin.

Goodwin is the author of three novels starring Yashim Togalu, a eunuch detective/private eye based in early 19th-century Istanbul. In The Snake Stone, one of the heads of the Serpent Column ends up in the hands of his sidekick and drinking buddy Stanislaw Palewski, who is the Polish ambassador to the Ottomans, even though Poland not longer exists as a country at the time (it’s a long story). Besides offering very atmospheric portrayals of Istanbul life both high and low the books also shed some light on the not-uninteresting sex-life of eunuchs. Yashim Togalu may lack balls, but he still has a tongue, which comes in quite handy when hot-blooded Russian hussies are involved.

Indeed, there is a whole genre of detective fiction based in Istanbul. See for example the books of Barbara Nadel and Jenny B. White.

Before resuming my search for the Portal to Shambhala, which I expected to be exhausting, I thought I better have lunch, so I wandered down the street to Sultanahmed Koftesi (cool web site), a local landmark immensely popular with both locals and visitors alike (check out their Menu). Right next door to this restaurant is the famous Pudding Shop, which as I mentioned in an earlier post was the western terminus of the Hippie Hegira back in the 1960s and 70s. See Photos from That Halcyon Era.