Universiteit Leiden

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The true Istanbul feeling

In the last week of March, twenty Leiden students of Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies left for a seven-day trip to Istanbul. Their goal: to follow lectures and immediately see the theory in practice, on a city walk.

Layers of Istanbul

The yearly student trip, organised by Hans Theunissen, Leiden lecturer in Turkish Studies, is based on the formula of a walking lecture. The city is an ideal place to illustrate topics surrounding minorities and the multicultural society. Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies Tsolin Nalbantian, research assistant Gaye Eksen and PhD student Emre Erol came up with the theme Layers of Istanbul. Eksen: 'We wanted to show that Istanbul consists of many layers, both culturally and architecturally. For me this was an interesting experience.’

Special visits

The highlight of the first day was the visit to the Armenian Patriarchate where Archbishop Aram Atashian warmly welcomed the students. This visit rsulted in an article about the student group in an Armenian newspaper. On the second day, thanks to a guided tour by Erol, the history of the layers of Istanbul came to life. There were remnants of the Byzantine Empire to be found in the tomb of Osman Ghaze, and superimposed on it there was Ottoman architecture. The last day in Istanbul was concluded with a visit to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, where Brother Nephone told the students about his community..

Tim Farid, student of Middle Eastern Studies, found the visits to the two patriarchates enriching. Farid: ‘The Archbishop told his story in Armenian, which gave us the chance to admire the speaking and translating skills of our teacher Nalbantian in Armenian.’

Lively Ottoman history

In addition to Istanbul, the students also visited the city of Bursa. Bursa was the first official capital of the Ottoman Empire and it plays an important role in Ottoman political history. The students visited such places as the tomb of the first Ottoman Sultan, Osman Gazi, who gave the Empire its name, and his son Orhan Gazi. The city is rich in tombs, holy shrines and mosques, but it is nowadays also known for the Iskender Kebab, a Turkish speciality which is now eaten all over the world. The visit to a typical old Ottoman village provided a pleasant change from the modern city, and some members of the group welcomed it as a relief from the busy atmosphere of Istanbul.

The town square of the old Ottoman village. Photo: Cem Bektas
The town square of the old Ottoman village. Photo: Cem Bektas


The real feeling

The tomb of Murat II in the Muradiye complex in Bursa. Photo: Özlem Arslan
The tomb of Murat II in the Muradiye complex in Bursa. Photo: Özlem Arslan

Pien Schenck, first-year student of Middle Eastern Studies, can attest to the success of the ‘lecturing on a city walk’ formula. Schenck: ‘I have been given a real feel of the city, something I would never have found in a book. There was nothing embellished here, nothing touristic.’

Cem Bektas, student of Turkish Studies, was most impressed by the tomb of Murat II. Bektas: ‘He set out his last wishes in his will. He wanted to be buried in a tomb where rain water could fall on his grave and where birds could fly freely. It is impressive to see that these wishes are still respected to this day.’

(15 April 2013)


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