Sunday, May 9, 2010

Merhaba from Turkey

Did you know that St. Nicholas was from the town of Myra, Turkey? In the 4th century a bishop who became St. Nicholas gave anonymous gifts to people by dropping bags of coins down the chimney. The people called them “gifts from heaven.” St. Nicholas became the patron saint of children. When the Dutch came to America they called him Sint Klaes or Santa Claus. Over the years Turkey was controlled by the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and other powerful groups so there are ruins of temples, theaters, city walls, tombs, and many other buildings that are 2000 years old.

Ephesus, Turkey is where the Virgin Mary lived out her last days. It is also where Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, spent her honeymoon. When we were walking down the street of Ephesus we realized we were walking on the same stones that Mary, St. John, St. Paul, Cleopatra, and many other famous people walked on. No one lives in Ephesus now but two thousand years ago it was the second largest city in the world after Rome, Italy. They had water and sewer systems, several theaters, public baths with hot water, and a very beautiful library. The theaters were built in a semicircle making it possible for everyone to see and hear. There were no microphones.

Turkey’s largest city is Istanbul. It is on an important waterway that connects the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Can you find Istanbul on your map? Most of the Turkish people are Muslim. There are over 2500 mosques in Istanbul. Muslims are suppose to pray five times a day. To remind people of prayer time there is an announcement from the tall minarets of each mosque five times a day. It is similar to church bells used in Christian churches. One of the most beautiful mosques is called the Blue Mosque built in the 1600s. The name comes from the blue tiles decorating the interior. When we visited the mosque we had to take off our shoes. We were given slippers and a bag to carry our shoes in. The floor of the mosque is covered with rugs. There are no chairs or pews. We sat on the floor and admired the beautiful decorations and stained glass windows.

Some people think shopping malls are a new idea. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest malls in the world with 58 covered streets and thousands of shops. It was built in the 1400s. It is easy to get lost! Almost as big and old is the Spice Market. They sell many things but mainly a variety of colorful spices. Spices are the things that make food taste different – and good. Before refrigeration, if food started to spoil they would just add spices. Did you ever notice that foods from the hottest climates are the spiciest? Most desired were the spices that came from Africa and Asia. Istanbul was the perfect meeting place for traders to buy and sell spices. One of the things Columbus was looking for was an easier and cheaper route to where the spices were grown.

When they dig to make a foundation for a new building they find important ruins. We visited one that was fascinating. Under the buildings in the center of the city is a huge cistern built in the 500s where they stored water for the city. It is about 500 by 215 feet with a ceiling supported by 336 huge marble pillars. The world is full of interesting places.