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The NESA Conference:
The conference itself was located in the Polat Renassance, a beautiful five-star hotel just four kilometers from the airport The first two days of the conference were devoted to outside speakers who presented research on a wide range of topics. It was also a chance to catch up with people from other schools we had met at other school events, and also some of Tracy's chums from Jakarta days. In addition to presentations, the Conference featured an Arabian nights style gala, and a Sunday performance by the Sufi "whirling dervishes." On the third day of the conference, we were bussed to Robert College for the teacher presentations. Tracy's presentation, "You and your students...On Stage: Theater Games in a Classroom Setting" introduced teachers to a number of hands on activities that can be used in a wide variety of disciplines. The picture at the right shows two teachers, Dr. Maritza Crespofrom ACS Beirut and Willi Clemens from Doha, playing "Park Bench." Dale's presentation was a bit less lively, but hands on in a different way. "Technology, Curriculum Design and the Block Schedule" tried to demonstrate how computers can be used to enhance teaching in the longer block periods, as well as practical steps to integrate technology into your teaching. Both presentations seemed to be well received.
The Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Camii:
We set aside one day for touring and headed north to the Golden Horn, the area where the Marmara sea narrows into the Bosporus straits, and the main bridge between the Asian and European halves of the city. It is home to many of Istanbul's treasures. The first sight we took in was the Sultan Ahmet Camii or Blue Mosque. Built between 1609 and 1619, its exterior is a contrast of cascading domes graced by six very slender minarets. Its interior, as the name suggests, is decorated by blue tiles and a blue dome, giving it a luminous appearance. Unfortunately, we did not get to see this part, as it was prayer time! However, the courtyard with its ablutions fountain in the center and the surrounding Iwan or meeting halls (pictured to the right and lower left here) were both very reminiscent of the Omayaad Mosque in Damascus. Below the photos in this section is a 360 degree video tour of the Blue Mosque by VR World 360.
The Splendor of the Hagia Sofia or Aya
The Hagia Sofia was an architectural marvel I was eager to see, both as a teacher of Western Civilization (it was built under the direction of the emperor when the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to then Constantinople) and also as a teacher of the history and culture of Islam (under the Ottomans it was converted into perhaps the grandest mosque outside of the Middle East). While we were a bit disappointed that a considerable part of the interior was hidden by scaffolding, it was a rewarding experience to finally see this landmark in person. My personal impression of the structure is that it was constructed as a Roman church and decorated as a mosque. From the exterior photo one can detect the flying buttresses between the church and minarets. Indeed, the Interior is laid out with barrel vaulted ceilings in a traditional cross shape. The front of the church, the apse, is now an area of secondary importance. One can still see where the cross was removed. The centerpiece of the sanctuary is the now the wall which faces Mecca. On this wall one can see the mihrab, the niche in the wall indicating the direction of Mecca (to the left), which is constructed at an angle for accuracy. On the other side of the wall is the minbar (lower right) where the imam gives the Friday sermon. No Friday sermons for us, however, as the mosque was converted into a museum in the 1930's by Mastiff Kemal Attaturk, who wisely permitted the beautiful mosaics that decorate the rather dark interior to be uncovered, restoring a great deal of its former beauty. Just a few meters in front of the minbar was the spot where the Roman emperors were coronated. On a subsequent trip in 2015 I was able to tour the mosque more extensively, and created this combination of desktop tour and mobile app shown below. If taking the desktop tour, you may need to allow the entire video to run through once before it "syncs"; technology still has its limits.
Sulieman Mosque or Beyzit Camii:
The final stop in our "mosques on parade" tour was the Sulieman mosque, created for the 16th century ruler by his most accomplished architect, Sinan. To my mind, this was the most beautiful of the three mosques that we saw.The first picture (to the right) shows the central part of the sanctuary. Unlike the Hagia Sofia, the mihrab and minbar occupy center stage. The mosque is a graceful series of arches, decorated in alternating natural stone and red stripes. As the picture at the left shows, one series of arches constitutes the basic exterior walls of the mosque, while a secondary upper level provides the support for the magnificent dome. The entire mosque is lit by a series of chandeliers that descend from the top of the building, as shown in the photo of the dome (right). This mosque looks very much like the one in which Denzel Washington prays in the film Malcolm X. For a better view of the interior of the Beyzit Camii, please look at the 360 interior panorama below by Vadi Dipcin. It gives a sense of the interior space.
360 Panorama of Beyzit Camii Interior
What is a Trip without FOOD? Hassan's Fish House:
Turkey is the affordable diner's paradise. Lamb and kebab dishes predominated. In some ways it was similar to Lebanese cuisine, in that there was usually a round of mezze, followed by aseries of fish and meat dishes for the main course. Desserts, of course, were wonderful, especially Kunufe(?), fried vermicelli noodles topped with a sweet cheese and smothered in a sugary syrup. Of all the places we dined however, our favorite was probably Hassan's, a fish house located in a nearby marina. And I mean fish house--they provide some hot bread, a plain salad, and then you go over to where the fish are on display and pick out the dishes of your choice, as Tracy is doing in the photo to your left. We dined on calamari, gigantic shrimp, sea bass, and swordfish, which our waiter is prominently displaying in the photo to the left. A memorable meal, all in all.
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