Istanbul is a crowded, paved city. Consider the graphic below, showing public green space in Istanbul, London, New York, Berlin, Hong Kong, and Paris. The green space of Istanbul is almost invisible.
Istanbul green space is invisible in the graphic that inspired the one above:
I saw this last graphic on Twitter, but the data used to create it can be found in the table on pages 44–5 of World Cities Culture Report 2013. In fact the disk for each city seems to be drawn so that the diameter of the green disk is the given percentage of the diameter of the whole. This makes the green disk too small. The square root of the percentage should have been taken first, since circles are to one another as the squares on their diameters: Euclid shows us this in one of the most remarkable theorems of antiquity, Proposition 2 of Book XII of the Elements. I used this result to create the first graphic above. Istanbul still has not got a lot of green.
I have spent at least a few days in each of the cities depicted except Hong Kong. Not counting Istanbul, I suppose Paris is the most beautiful, although it has less parkland than the others. However, Istanbul would not be more beautiful with an Ottoman-style building in place of Gezi Parkı. The city has already lost open space that would have been wanted in the next earthquake.
Although the Mecidiyeköy neighborhood of Istanbul where we live was settled in the nineteenth century, most of the development there is only a few decades old. In the midst of this development, no land was set aside for parks. There is a large stand of trees near us that we see every day: it is a cemetery. Actually it is three adjacent cemeteries, for Greeks, Armenians, and Jews respectively. The cemeteries lie behind a high wall.
Istanbul’s lack of trees and open space is oppressive. Sidewalks are not wide enough. Drivers may say that there are not enough roads; they should be saying that there are too many cars, too few busses, and too few subway lines. More subway lines are being laid. Our university building is surrounded by skyscrapers under construction. One may smile on this development as one might smile on the smoke pouring from a factory chimney: it means productivity and jobs. It also means damage to health, both physical or mental.
When we lived in Ankara, our university was in the midst of a forest, which had been planted by the students when the university was built in the 1960s. This forest was a spiritual benefit, or a mitigation, of life in that also-crowded city. Unfortunately, since we left, the university forest has been invaded by the highway-building crews of the mayor.
Last weekend we visited a part of Istanbul that cannot be so easily opened up to development. However, nothing is certain in that regard. Ayşe and I took a ferry to the Islands, specifically Burgazada. We stayed there the night of Saturday, February 8, 2014, just before the first week of classes of our spring semester.
Back on the European mainland, not far from our university and our home, police were attacking protesters of a new internet censorship law (passed by the Turkish parliament, not yet signed by the President of the Republic). Even under existing law, all WordPress blogs were blocked in Turkey a few years ago. (The present WordPress blog did not exist at the time.)
A foreign journalist called Mahir Zeynalov was deported from Turkey on Friday, February 7, ostensibly for tweeting against the state. I have retweeted some of Mr Zeynalov’s messages about the matter, if they contain links to news stories; but I have fewer than a hundred followers.
It was a delight to find in Burgazada an island of peace, literally, within a noisy crowded city. Maybe I should liken the island to the strawberry in a parable attributed to the Buddha:
A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!
Etymology and history
In Byzantine times, the islands were where you were sent into exile after being blinded. In Turkish times, it seems they have been a refuge for Christians and Jews. The first mosque on Burgazada was built only in 1953—“in commemoration of the 500 year anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul in 1453” as the Istanbul municipal website triumphantly points out. The same website tells us helpfully about the economics of the island: “In the 1950s…a number of Jewish merchants settled in Burgazada. This caused a sharp increase in the price of housing. The very wealthy people who settled there built summer villas and houses along the hillsides above Heybeliada.” My guess is that wealthy Muslims wanting summer homes are now helping to drive out the native population. Year-round residence is declining.
The Greek name of Burgazada is Αντιγόνη, after Antigonus I Monophthalmus, one of Alexander’s satraps. Supposedly Antigonus’s son Demetrius built a tower there, but no trace remains—except in the name Burgaz, which seems to be derived from the Greek πύργος “tower”, although the Greek Wikipedia article does not give this word.
The iconodule Methodius was supposedly imprisoned in a dungeon on Burgazada. We visited the Church of St John built over the dungeon. At least we visited the narthex; the nave was locked. But first we saw Sait Faik’s house nearby.
What we did
Saturday started out cloudy, but it cleared up. From home, we caught a 7:40 bus to the ferry terminal at Kabataş. On the ferry we sat on deck, though eventually Ayşe moved into the cabin for warmth. I could have moved as well, to be away from cigarette smoke. Smoking is forbidden everywhere on ferries, but this just means that lighting up, at least on deck, is one form of civil disobedience that people engage in without hesitation. Sometimes I ask people not to smoke, but I do not like to do it.
On the island, we walked to the öğretmenevi or teachers’ lodge. On the island, you either walk or take a fayton. There are no private automobiles. The police use cars, and we saw a van belonging to the gas company. Trash is collected in a truck, and this makes no sense to me, since the trash that people produce is no more than what they have brought in by hand in the first place. Food garbage could be composted; empty packaging could be taken back to the shops by the ferry pier.
In the summer of 1999, Ayşe and I visited Burgazada, but the day was cool and rainy. We tried to visit the house of Sait Faik then, but it was closed. This time it was open. Various panels told (usually in Turkish only) the story of the writer.
After lunch, we wandered about, eventually making our way to the top of the island’s one hill. Most of the island’s forest cover burned down in 2003, but trees at the peak somehow remained. In fact there are no direct signs of a fire. Everywhere is green. Planted trees are growing.
As we walked up to the peak, two boys alternately rode and led two horses up there.
Near the peak was a Greek church and cemetery. A man was building a wall around the cemetery; a boy unlocked the church for us. The boy said the island’s horses were allowed the graze freely.
I transcribe the text on an inside wall of the church. I mean I type it up; I am not translating. The oddities of the English are in the original. No other language was offered:
Christos Metamorphosis Monastery was built between the years 867 and 886, with the order of Byzantine King Basil I, the Macedonian. the name of the Monastery “Metamorphosis” refers to Jesus’ metamorphosis description; hence the monastery was dedicated to Jesus.
The monastery is built on top of the remaining of Ancient Greek God Zeus’s sanctuary. According to a story, the Monastery was ruined by people since the fire lit during the services was perceived as fire by public and caused chaos. Remaining of the ruined Monastery is then used in the construction of Aghios Ioannes (Aya Yani) Church and Agios Georgios (Aya Yorgi) Karipi Monastery, again located in Burgazada. After a while, a professor in Halki Academy of Commerce, Hurmuzis Triantafilu built a relatively smaller Church (the Church we see today), with great efforts, by collecting donations. In June 22, 1869, the Church started the service. When Triantafilu died in October 6, 1882 he was buried to the cemetery that is located next to the Church. In year 1928 the Monastery’s management is given to the Patriarchate Monastery’s Commission. Next to the Monastery there is the Burgazada Greek Cemetery. The building of the old Monastery is being used as the lodging for the cemetery’s keeper. Every year August 6th is celebrated as the Monastery’s day.
Some of the graves in the cemetery were covered by stone slabs, others by dirt alone in what I understand to be the Muslim style.
Wandering on Sunday morning, we found the working class district, or at least the stables where the horses that draw the phaetons are kept at night. The smell of manure pervades the area. The drivers seem to live in the same place.
I can appreciate the sentiment, at least, of a graffitist. But telling people not to use phaetons will be as effective as telling them not to smoke. And what should the drivers of phaetons do for their livelihoods? I would suggest they be given pedicabs.
Yassıada (“flat island”) and Sivriada (“pointed island”) were visible to the west. The former is occupied by the military.
We came to the restaurant at Kalpazankaya, “counterfeiter rock.” This was the end of the coastal road. But there were stairs down to the shore.
There was a lovely picnic spot, remarkably clean.
I tried to continue the counterclockwise tour of the island, but eventually the cliffs made it impossible.
Back at the pier, we had a Turkish coffee while waiting for the ferry.