Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Istanbul's Tulip Festival

The beautiful Tulip Festival in Istanbul takes place in early April every year. It is an absolutely amazing experience to see the colourful display of 16 million tulips blooming all over the city, especially in Sultanahmet square, Gulhane park, Topkapi palace, and Emirgan park along the Bosphorus.

Most people think that tulips come from Holland. Actually, the tulip is  native to Central Asia Minor and was brought from Turkey to Holland via Austria in the 16th century.

Tulips were the favorite flower of the Ottomans for several hundred years. It even had a religious significance because, in the Arabic script, the word for tulip, l’le, resembles the name of Allah. Its botanical name, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word "tulbend", meaning “turban", which resembles the shape of a big tulip, as you can see in this portrait of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566).

The tulip was already a cherished element of Ottoman gardens, visual arts and poetry by the time Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent ascended the throne. In 1554, the Austrian ambassador Busbecq came to the court of Suleyman the Magnificent and was struck by the great beauty and variety of flowers in the imperial capital. He was especially impressed by the tulip, a flower then unknown to Europeans. He took some bulbs with him back to Vienna where the first picture of a tulip appeared in the Book of Garden Flowers in 1561. Later the Dutch botanist Clusius obtained some bulbs from Busbecq, and developed many new varieties.
Sultan Suleyman the Magnificient continued the Ottoman fascination with tulips in his own lifetime, as did the succeeding Sultans after him.

Examples of Tulip Motifs in Ottoman Artworks

Imperial monogram of Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566).
The decoration inside the loops and shafts includes tulips, hyacinths, carnations, and roses.

Iznik ceramic plate circa 1575 with a design of tulips in a naturalistic style. 

Kaftan of Sultan Murad III (1574-1595).
The design of large silver tulips and crescents enhanced the splendid appearance of the wearer.

Silver belt encrusted with pearls, emerald and rubies. The buckle is in the form of a tulip, and there are tulip motifs on the two segments attached to it.

Imperial throne used at religious festivals. The entire surface is inlaid with mother-of.pearl in the shape of tulips and roses.

Ceremonial shield dating from 16th century.
The shield is wound with silk in a design of tulips and carnations.

Today, the Tulip continues to fascinate. It often appears in the name of hotels and other public venues in Turkey, and there is even a Golden Tulip Award attributed every year at Istanbul’s Film Festival. The most spectacular example of modern tulip fascination is off course Istanbul's annual Tulip Festival in April, when 16 million tulips bring smiles to people's faces and inspire fresh feelings in their hearts.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Favorite Club Music in 2009

Top Favorite songs 
on Istanbul’s gay scene in 2009

Based on an article written by Rene Ames and published by Time Out Istanbul.

Turkish Pop and the Gay audience

It is often Pop music that is played for the listening pleasure of mixed audiences in restaurants and bars. In such places Turkish Pop is seamlessly interwoven with imported selections. That can easily be done because Turkish Pop sounds both familiar and exotic, and because it is a blend of imported genres (electronic, hip hop, rap) fused with original elements.

As a gay audience we identify strongly with pop music when the songs exalt certain essential values – such as pride, boldness, self realization, and understanding – and when the performers fascinate us. Unfortunately, in Turkish Pop music there are very few songs that extol fundamental human values. There is, however, an abundance of fascinating performers.

The winning songs each year are naturally the ones with the catchiest tunes; songs that stick in your mind and are impossible to ignore; the songs you start humming to yourself after hearing them 2-3 times.

Here are six of the most popular songs on Istanbul’s gay scene in 2009:
1.   Toz Pembe by Demet Akalin
The title – Pink Powder – is probably what makes this song so popular anywhere gay arms are up in the air, waving imaginary disco sticks. Could it be more gay? “Pink powder” squirting in relentless tempo after a gentle opening!

2.   Hayrola by Hande Yener
This pop superstar is arguably the queen of Turkey’s dance music. All the albums she has released since her debut in 1999 have produced top hits that make people’s bodies move even when they’re not on the dance floor. Having adopted Madonna’s formula of constant cosmetic and musical reshaping, Hande Yener is assured of her gay fans’ innocent devotion. They would never ask themselves “hayrola/what’s up?”, this song sounds like a rehash of Romeo, her number one hit in 2008. And why should they when her songs call for demolition of taboos, tolerance for alternative lifestyles, and diversity in love?

3. Herkes Evine by Ziynet Sali
This mega-hit is the title song of Ziynet Sali’s second album released in 2008. It didn’t start to dominate the gay club scene until a year later, when some DJs tinkered with the upbeat tempo arising from her melancholy voice. The slow popularity may also be because she is a Northern Cypriot, and considered an outsider in the tight Turkish music world. Yet another inhibiting factor could be the Greek tavern songs she has included in her repertoire. Consequently, many people don’t know how to define her as a singer.

4. Bu Böyle by Sertap Erener
Turkish pop diva Sertab Erener has an amazing voice, which is said to hit the high F. Perhaps this is why her songs are seldom played in bars and clubs; her delivery is too blazing for comfort and she’s better off seen on stage.  The couple of times she was on everybody’s play list was right after winning Eurovision 2003 with Every Way That I Can. The public’s fascination continued that year with Here I am, a single obviously designed to cash in on her recent victory. After that, she was accorded national icon status and mainly appreciated on TV guest appearances. Bu Böyle appeared this year with Sertab singing in her middle register - meaning no vocal pyrotechnics - and immediately she retrieved her lost charm. The song is easy on the ears and smooth for dancing.

5. Kasaba by Murat Dalkiliç
With most Turkish club music, there is a tendency to produce aggressive studio sounds that kill the human quality of the singer’s voice and make it sound mechanic. Luckily for Murat Dalkilic, this catchy song muffles the pumping techno beat and let the lyrics be heard loud and clear. No wonder it became a raging success all over Turkey and in some parts of the EU when the video clip was released in late December 2008.

6. Vur by Gökhan Tepe
Gökhan Tepe, talented actor/singer/composer, is widely considered to be the most handsome performing artist in Turkey and a serious rival to Tarkan. After studying music at Istanbul Conservatory, Gökhan Tepe released his debut album, Çöş Beni, in 1996. He has lived up to his early promise and produced a series of hit songs, including Gel Aşkım Gel, Yürü Yüreğim, and most recently Vur, a big hit in 2009.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Turkey's Song Contribution to Eurovision 2010

We Could Be the Same -- Söylüyor
Performed by the rock band MaNga

MaNga is a Turkish rap rock band. Their music is a fusion of alternative rock and hip hop music, with a touch of Anatolian melodies. In 2009 they won both the Best Turkish Act award from MTV Turkey and the Best European Act award at MTV Europe Music Awards. They will represent Turkey at the Eurovision Song Contest 2010.

We Could Be the Same

We Could Be the Same
You could be the one in my dreams
You could be much more than you seem
Anything I’ve wanted in life
Do you understand what I mean?
I can see that this could be fate
I can love you more than they hate
Doesn’t matter who they will blame
We can beat them at their own game
I can see it in your eyes
It doesn’t come as a suprise
I’ve seen you dancing like a star
No matter how different we are
For all this time
I’ve been loving you
Don’t even know your name
For just one night
We could be the same
No matter what they say
I feel I’m turning the page
And I feel the world is a stage
I don’t think the drama will stop
I don’t think they’ll give up the rage
But I know the world could be great
I can love you more then they hate
Doesn’t matter who they will blame
We can beat them at their own game
For all this time
I’ve been loving you
Don’t even know your name
For just one night
We could be the same
No matter what they say

Friday, 5 March 2010


A high-speed railroad system:
  • connecting Europe and Asia
  • protecting the historical beauty of Istanbul
  • solving the local transportation problem

Marmaray is a 76 km long high-capacity railroad between Gebze on the European side and Halka
ı on the Asian side of Istanbul. Construction started in 2004. The name Marmaray is a combination of “Marmara” and “Ray”, the Turkish word for Rail.
Marmaray trains cross the Bosphorus inside a 1,4 km long earthquake-proofed underwater tube. The tube lies 60 metres below sea level, making it the world’s deepest undersea tunnel:
The undersea tube opens into underground tunnels on both sides of the Bosphorus. This underground-undersea tunnel system is 14 km long and stretches from Kazlıçesme on the European side to Ayrılıkçeşme on the Asian sideNew underground stations will be built at Yenikapı, Sirkeci and Üsküdar. Another 37 above-ground stations will be rebuilt or modernized along the line. 
At Yenikapı station, Maramaray connects with both Istanbul Metro and the Light Rail Train.
Marmaray wıll carry as many people and vehicles as 14 Bosphorus bridges combined. Its trains can transport up to 75,000 passengers per hour in each direction. The trains will travel as close as two minutes apart at a top speed of 100 km/hour. Travelling from Bostancı to Bakırköy.will take 9 minutes compared to 90 minutes today. 
After completion, the use of rail transportation is predicted to rise in Istanbul from the present 4% to 28%, the third highest rate in the world behind Tokyo (60%) and New York City (31%).
Construction of Marmaray started in May 2004. The Marmaray tunnel was completed in September 2008. The project was initially expected to be completed in 2012 but is now four years behind schedule, mainly due to the discovery of a Byzantine era archaeological find at Yenikapı constructıon site in 2005.
The excavations uncovered Istanbul's largest harbour, the 4th century Port of Theodosius. There, archaeologists found traces of the city wall of Constantine the Great, and the remains of the only early medieval galley ever discovered. In addition, the excavation has uncovered the oldest evidences of settlement in Istanbul, dating back to 6000 BC.
The only early medieval galley ever discovered

Marmaray will change Istanbul profoundly
Professor Murat Guvenc, of Bilgi University's Architectural Design Masters Programme, says that the region will experience an unprecedented transformation once Marmaray begins to operate. He thinks that Marmaray is essential for Istanbul and that the social impacts of the changes that the project will bring about should be researched...
 What will change with the Marmaray Project?
What sort of transformation in the settlement
and transportation structures of the region is
The transportation lines will be interlaced.
Traveling from Bostancı to Bakırköy will take
only nine minutes, and not the current one
and half hours. As many as 1.5 million people
will change continents in Yenikapı. Marmaray
will carry as many people and vehicles as 14
Bosphorus bridges combined would do.
Marmaray will leave no stone unturned in
Istanbul. The city residents will also change.
The project is the most strategic one Istanbul
has seen until now.

How exactly will this change transform this city?
It will change Istanbul at a speed
unprecedented in the city's history. When it
begins to operate, we will wake up to see that
the firewood sellers working in the area are
gone, maybe replaced by textile businessmen.
Maybe no longer spices but Rolex watches will
be sold in the Egyptian Bazaar. The so-called
Historical Peninsula of the city will begin to
resemble Manhattan. Isolated from the
metropolis, this region will be the most
accessible location and therefore will receive
most of the glory. Places like the Grand
Bazaar will transform incredibly. They will no
longer sell handkerchiefs but famous brands.
The more visitors they have, the more likely
they will be able to sell higher value products.
We will together observe how the city will
change. Research must be undertaken to
forecast the social costs and impacts.

Istanbul 2010 - Heritage, winter issue, page 33

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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sports : Turkish Oil Wrestling - Yağlı Güreş

Are freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling not exciting enough for you?  Do you find the American wrestling shows on TV much too phony?  Then you will probably enjoy Yağlı Gűreş (yaw-luh gresh), the national sport of Turkey, commonly known as oil wrestling because the wrestlers douse themselves with olive oil before the match.

The wrestlers, known as pehlivan, wear a  kişbet, a pair of hand-stitched leather trunks extending from the waist to below the knee. The writing in metal studs on the wrestler's rear end indicates his name, sponsoring club, or home town. Unlike Olympic wrestling, oil wrestling matches may be won by taking effective hold of the kişbet. Thus, the pehlivan aims to control his opponent by putting his arm inside the latter's kişbet.

Before matches begin the pehlivans oil their bodies with a mixture of olive oil and water. Originally adopted as the basic method for training the Sultan's Janissaries (the Marines of the Ottoman armies), oil wrestling is more about strength and endurance than clever moves.

Originally, matches had no set duration and could go on for 1-2 days, until one man was able to establish his superiority, but in 1975 the duration was limited to 40 minutes. If no winner is determined, another 15 minutes of wrestling ensues, during which scores are kept to determine the winner.

Matches are held all over Turkey throughout the year, and in early summer Turkey’s best wrestlers – men and boys -- gather on a grass field near Edirne for the annual three-day wrestling tournament called Kırkpınar (Forty Springs) to determine who will be the başpehlivan (champion wrestler) of Turkey. Every year, around 1000 wrestlers attend the tournament.

Ottoman chroniclers attest that the Kırkpınar Games have been held since 1362, making them the world's oldest continually sanctioned sporting competition. Only about 70 times have the Games been cancelled. The 639th kırkpınar was organized in the year 2000.

For 700 years young wrestlers were brought up in Sufi lodges called "tekke", where they were trained by sheikhs who had themselves been master wrestlers when they were younger. Kırkpınar carries over the spiritual motifs of the past. Man is not simply made of muscles and bone; the other half of the human equation is our spirit. Wrestle training without spiritual discipline was considered to be harmful to the human character. Any wrestler from a traditional upbringing has an apprentice. The master trains with his apprentice: "cirak" and teaches him the art of oil wrestling. After the master wrestler retires from the "arena of the brave", his apprentice continues his tradition.

Customs & Rules

There are 13 categories, each with a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winner:

1) Başpehlivan "champion wrestler", 2) Başaltı "vice champion"; 3) Büyük Orta "big medium", 4) Küçük Orta Büyük Boy "small medium big size", 5) Küçük Orta Küçük Boy "small medium small size"; 6) Deste Büyük Boy "supporting big size", 7) Deste Orta Boy "supporting medium size", 8) Deste Küçük Boy "supporting small size"; 9) Toz Koparan "kickers up of dust", 10) Tesvik "encourager", 11) Minik-2 "small and sweet 2", 12) Minik-1 "small and sweet 1", 13) En İyi Peşrev "best beginner".

These divisions are not set by weight alone, as in the U.S. and Europe; rather pairs are chosen by a kind of judges' handicapping that considers size, age and "track record." The sole exception is the top category Başpehlivan, in which match-ups are decided by a lottery in full view of the stadium crowd. The age range at a modern Kırkpınar is approximately from twelve to forty.

At the end of the tournament the champions are awarded medals and purses, usually by the President of Turkey and by its political and military leaders. The cost of these is borne by the year's Ağa or "Master", a merchant benefactor who underwrites much of the festival expenses and who presides over the matches in a imperıal Ottoman-era costume.

All fighters in the same division line up along one side of the field and are introduced by the announcer. He summons them in God's name to manly valour on the field of battle, as the pairs of opponents join hands. The pipe-and-drum band begins playing and each wrestler starts his peşrev, a symbolic journey into the wilderness, a hero's quest. He wanders into the field, kneeling in supplication, leaping, working himself up for the challenge. Four times he meets his opponent, and they exchange symbolic greetings. After the last greeting they shake hands and begin the battle, each pair with its assigned referee. The match is not confined to any one part of the field, and often ranges over a large area with the referee running to keep up.

How a Winner is Decided
The first wrestler whose "umbilicus is exposed to heaven" loses the match. There are alternatives to this basic pin which also constitute a victory:

(1) The "crush." A fighter may manoeuvre his opponent onto his stomach and then trap him by sprawling on top. If he can keep him down with his face buried in the grass he can then turn his exhausted opponent with a half-nelson for a pin.

(2) Submission. Occasionally the match under a hot summer sun is so long and arduous that one fighter will simply signal his submission to the referee. Pin.

(3) Since a wrestler is not restricted from placing his hands inside his opponent's kişbet (he may not grab his balls or invade his rectum, however), he can also use the waistband to hold the other man in place. Occasionally the kişbet is yanked so far below his hips that the fighter being held cannot rise without exposing himself. Having lost his trunks he also loses the match.

(4) If a fighter is able to lift his opponent entirely off the ground and carry him five paces in any direction, that is a "carrying" pin.

(5) A running "flip" is sometimes employed, in which the wrestler causes both his opponent and himself to expose their navels during the roll. The loser is the one whose navel is first to be exposed. Unless the initiator of this move is careful, he may find himself the loser even though he was the "flipper."

The exemplary spirit of Turkish wrestlers is most clearly displayed whenever one gets a bit of grass in his eye or needs to adjust his kişbet. Without any signal from the referee they simply disengage and correct the situation. If water is needed to wash out an eye it is the opponent who runs to fetch it. Often winner and loser will walk off the field together arm in arm.