Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A much loved friend of Turkish learners gets a facelift



A group of foreigners living in Turkey attend a Turkish language class in Ankara.


2010 seems to have been a year of rebuilding and restoration in İstanbul. The several efforts starting a few years early to renovate some of the city’s best-loved monuments gained speed, focus and, most importantly, a budget as the city became a European Capital of Culture.



I guess I first noticed the sea-change in attitudes to old buildings in the fall of 2009 when I took some foreign visitors to the Hagia Sophia and was absolutely delighted to see the work then under way on the outer buttresses. The plaster and bright paint that had been added in misguided enhancements to the building towards the end of the 20th century were being painstakingly removed, revealing the most magnificent original brickwork underneath.


At that time, of course, the inside of the church-turned-mosque-turned-museum was scarred by the scaffolding so necessary for the interior renovations, but this too was dismantled at the beginning of the year to reveal the nave and dome in all its glory, including a newly renovated archangel.

Arguably the most outstanding restoration in 2010 was that of Sinan’s İstanbul masterpiece -- the Süleymaniye Mosque. Although not quite as marvelous as his later work in Edirne, this mosque is an amazing example of the architect’s genius.


It also was given a special place in the cultural heritage of the country by Yahya Kemal Beyatlı, who wrote a famous poem about prayers on a religious feast day at Süleymaniye. The poet describes the mystery of the footsteps of hundreds of people coming together in the early hours of the morning “under our own dome, the sky,” and imagines the curtain of time rising over the ghosts of nine centuries of the faithful who have trod the same path every religious feast day morning. So it was fitting that the reopening of the newly restored mosque should coincide with the first religious feast day of Kurban Bayramı.


Another of Sinan’s works being given a facelift as a result of 2010 financing is the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque at Tophane. Once a week I pass by on my way to Karaköy, and I have watched the external progress on the dome, as old sheets of metal have been replaced with gleaming new ones. In eager anticipation I wonder what the scene will look like once the corrugated metal fencing is taken down.


Just a quick scan of the 2010 website shows many more buildings that have been renewed in the year. Not just mosques: bridges, clock towers and even the historic Hasköy Mayor Synagogue have received a little bit of the 2010 stardust. A banner over the motorway invited İstanbulites to visit the renewed Otağ-ı Hümayun. Curious about this, I did a little research and discovered it is an old building on the Yıldız University campus, named after the old sultan’s tents, which now is potentially a wonderful location for exhibitions and events.

Not all of the 2010 changes have been publicly funded. Closed for a long period, the Pera Palas Hotel opened with its newly restored face in September. The style and elegance of the Orient Express era is alive and well in the center of old İstanbul. I have always loved the dramatic elevator, with its velvet lining and cast metal frame, and am enthralled every time I see the sedan chair in which visitors -- maybe merchants, lords or ambassadors -- were carried up the steep hill from the Galata Bridge to the hotel. It was a delight to see these survive the refit, in pride of place, along with the fascinating chairs in the patisserie with their hoods to protect the modesty (or anonymity?) of female guests.


Marble has been re-polished, wood and glass restored, and much of the hotel is vastly improved. Some parts, however, are a slight disappointment, with a restaurant named after Agatha Christie, but otherwise resembling a bland 21st century hotel dining room....[CONTINUED BELOW]

http://www.todayszaman.com/news-231936-a-much-loved-friend-of-turkish-learners-gets-a-facelift.html

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