Imperial Capitals of Turkey field seminar: Istanbul, Iznik, Bursa & Edirne

This year’s International Field Seminar is exploring Turkey’s imperial capitals: Constantinople/Istanbul and its “satellite” capitals: Nicaea/Izink, Bursa & Edirne. The team-taught seminar ran all semester on-campus and is now culminated with a ten-day field trip.

Itinerary of the 2012 edition of AUI's International Field Seminar: Imperial Capitals of Turkey

Itinerary of the 2012 edition of AUI’s International Field Seminar: Imperial Capitals of Turkey

The International Field Seminar was created to reinforce the university’s Liberal Arts core. Each year it introduces students to a city or region of significance for the arts and culture. In May 2011 I led the New York City seminar.

This spring my good friend and colleague John Shoup is running the seminar on Byzantine and Ottoman capitals. Topics covered over the course of the semester ranged from the histories of these empires to issues in religion (Byzantine theological disputes, mysticism), literature, music and food. Turkey’s international relations, its insertion in both Europe and the Middle East, were also discussed. The Turkish Republic’s ambassador to Morocco, H. E. Mr. Tünç Üğdül, even came up to Ifrane one day to present to our students.

I made several contributions to the seminar. I started with a presentation on Constanbul’s geo-strategic location (Constanbul is not a slip up. It is the best way I can find to designate the city in the trés longue durée).

From A Short History of the World by H.G. Wells (first published in 1922).

I am indebted to H.G. Wells’ A Short History of the World, which I read when I was about ten. The author presents Constantinople’s geo-strategic advantages in a terrific map which certainly struck my young imagination.

I followed up with a presentation on the Ottoman navy and on the empire’s involvement in the Indian Ocean, with a wink to my all-time favorite Ottoman statesman, Sokollu Mehmed Paşa (mentioned in an earlier post for his patronage of Mimar Sinan).

Maps of Istanbul I prepared for the field trip. We can’t visit all these sites.

I also covered architecture and imperial urban design, presenting on Byzantine churches and devoting two sessions to Mimar Sinan. The seminar’s in-class activities ended with a discussion of cosmopolitanism and the legacies of the Ottoman Empire.

The best part of the International Field Seminar is the end-of-semester field trip, and John Shoup has graciously allowed a few faculty members, namely professor Avis Rupert and myself, to accompany the Al Akhawayn group to Turkey. We may be joined by other traveling academics who have been informed of our itinerary. We will stay in boutique hotels in Istanbul and Bursa, with day trips to Iznik and Edirne (see schedule below). The itinerary is ambitious, each day packed with site visits. Some of these scheduled activities may not happen and we may well indulge in unscheduled ones if opportunities arise. We have also left a bit of free time for students to do things on their own. We are hoping they will choose an activity other than shopping (we have provided some interesting shopping opportunities on-tour).

Shopping will beckon at every turn during our tour of monuments in Bursa’s Bazaar.

There will be a strong emphasis on in-the-field appreciation of architecture during the trip. Ottoman architecture is spectacular and refined (see post on Bursa). I can’t get enough of it so, like it or not, the students will have to visit many monuments.

We can devote only one day to the monuments of Edirne. We will visit as many of them as time will allow.

Museum exhibits come second in importance on the schedule. Moroccan students on the whole don’t do well in museums (I have experienced this during field trips to Boston and New York City). They need to be educated on how to look at art and artifacts (and I’m not a good art teacher!) and museums are not usually appropriate places to give presentations to groups. We would like to include performing arts on the schedule (possibly a session at a Mevlana evi) and hope to run into public performances and events (two of the days will be holidays).

The unofficial focus of the trip will be Turkish cuisine. For the most part, students will be left to dine as they please but a few of the on-the-road lunches will be taken as a group. For these, we have selected classic Turkish menus and local specialties. We have also scheduled two dinners in restored Ottoman imarets (the canteens of great mosque complexes) for a taste of high cuisine.

I am very excited about this trip. I was born in Turkey (I lived in Ankara until I was six) and still feel at home there (it’s not just the food). Let me digress…

The author’s father, David Ross (1921-2009), on the tarmac of the Eskişehir air force base ca. 1960. My father was an aircraft maintenance engineer. He was passionate about his work and enjoyed life in Turkey.

The author in the company of Turkish officers, probably Army Day (May 27) 1966.

I am a child of decolonization and the Cold War. My French mother left Morocco for Turkey shortly before independence (see this post about her life in Casablanca) whereas my Canadian father was sent there under a NATO agreement to represent the military aircraft company he worked for. They met at some embassy picnic in Ankara on Şeker Bayram (end of Ramadan feast day).

It gives me great pleasure to return to Turkey, the land of my birth. Furthermore, viewed from Morocco, my adopted home, Turkey has the wind at its back these days and is very much the flavor of the day. This has little to do with the recent Moroccan legislative elections which brought the PJD (Justice and Development Party) to power. Rather, it owes much to Turkey’s popular foreign policy positions and the rate of its economic growth. A diversity of Turkish-manufactured candies and snacks dominate Morocco’s store shelves and Turkish farm equipment can be seen on rural roads right across the country. More importantly for many students in the class (most of whom are female), Turkish soap operas (dubbed into Syrian Arabic) are all the rage in Morocco. In particular, Turkish heart-throb Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ (who plays the character of Mehmet Şadoğlu in the series Gümüş, broadcast in Arabic as Nour) has ruined things for boyfriends and husbands all across the Middle East. However, if it takes Mr. Tatlıtuğ to get Moroccan students to look at Byzantine mosaics, then all the more power to him.

Mosaic in Haghia Sophia depicting the Holy Virgin and Child. To the right is the founder of Constantinople, Emperor Constantine I (reigned 306-337). To the left is Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527-565), the builder of the great domed basilica of Haghia Sophia we know today. They are shown offering their respective creations to the Christ Child. (ph. Jeremy Gunn)

Field Trip Schedule

  • Saturday, May 19: Travel Day, Casablanca-Istanbul flight.


  • Sunday, May 20: Haghia Sophia, At Meydan, Museum of Turkish Culture and History, Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı).
  • Monday, May 21: Archeological Museum, the Milon, the Binbirdirek or Yerbatan (Basilica) cistern, Çemberlitaş (Constantine’s Column), Aqueduct of Valens, St. Savior in Chora (on site lecture on Byzantine Architecture?), Walls of Theodosius, Golden Gate at the Yedikule fortress.


  • Tuesday, May 22: Travel to Bursa (Mudanya ferry & public bus), afternoon walking tour: Tophane area (tombs of Osman and Orhan Gazi) and center of Bursa (Ulu Cami, Orhan Cami, Koza Han.
  • Wednesday, May 23: Yıldırım complex, Emir Sultan, Yeşil complex. Iskander kebab for lunch, Muradiye complex , monument to Karagöz and Hacivet (shadow theater), Hüdavendigar complex.


  • Thursday, May 24: public bus to Iznik, Haghia Sophia of Nicaea, Istanbul Gate, lunch at a fish place by the lake, Yeşil Mosque, Imaret of Nilüfar (museum), shopping for Iznik ceramics, public bus back to Bursa, dinner at the imaret of the Muradiye complex in Bursa (Ottoman cuisine).


  • Friday, May 25: travel to Istanbul (public bus & Mudanya ferry), visit of TRT studios (time tbd), otherwise free afternoon.
  • Saturday, May 26: Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Mosque (on-site lecture on Sinan Paşa), Şehzade complex, Süleymaniye complex, Rüstem Paşa Mosque, Egyptian Bazaar (Mısırçarşısı)
  • Sunday, May 27, Army Day (national holiday): free day, optional boat trip up the Bosporus to the great forts (Anadolu and Rumeli Hisars).


  • Monday, May 28: out and back in rented minivan, lunch in Edirne, Eski Cami, Selimiye complex, Bayezid complex, (other sites, time willing), return to Istanbul.


  • Tuesday, May 29, Feth-i Konstantiniyye Day (local holiday): Topkapı Palace, Sultan Ahmet Mosque (or the “Blue Mosque”), free afternoon, dinnerat the imaret of the Süleymaniye Complex (Ottoman court cuisine) for last night in Istanbul.
  • Wednesday, May 30: Travel Day, Istanbul-Casablanca flight.

Iznik tiles on a column in the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, Eminönü, Istanbul. (ph. Jeremy Gunn)


Upon our return, I am pleased to be able to write that the trip was an unequivocal success. Everything went according to plan with not even a minor mishap or hiccup. Most of the students were enthusiastic and genuinely interested in the sites and events we had scheduled for them. Many even used their free time to pursue cultural activities on their own.

Al Akhawayn University group resting beside the fountain of Mimar Sinan’s tomb in Istanbul. Professor Avis Rupert stands on the left. Professor John Shoup, our group’s “chef de mission,” stands on the right. (ph. Eric Ross)

One very successful unscheduled activity we were able to arrange on-site was a visit to a Mevlevi House for a sema (session with whirling dervishes). The sema is held nightly at the Karabaş-i Veli Cultural Center in Bursa’s Maksem neighborhood.

Dervishes whirl to the recitation of Rumi’s poetry, accompanied by a chamber orchestra, in the Karabaş-i Veli Cultural Center, Bursa. (ph. John Shoup)

The Karabaş-i Veli Cultural Center is a neighborhood community center. The historic hall, recently and lovingly restored, sits in a tea garden. It is a popular neighborhood gathering place, patronized by families and children each evening. It is a very friendly place, the perfect place to witness a Mevlana sema.

My most heartwarming experience during the trip occurred during one of the rare free afternoons the Istanbul schedule allowed for. I went to the Beyoglu side, to Tophane in particular, looking for what I thought was a museum of Mimar Sinan the architect. It Turns out that the Tophane-i Amire Külütre ve Sanat Mekezi is the museum of Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar Üniversitesi (Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts). It is housed in the Tophane, the spectacular multi-domed foundry that dominates the shoreline neighborhood. Inside, its five great bays offer ample room for exhibits.

View of the Tophane-i Amire Museum in Tophane seen from the busy street below. Across that street, Istanbul Modern has found a home in rehabilitated waterfront warehouses. Tophane is at the heart of Istanbul’s arts, galleries and fashion scenes. (ph. Eric Ross)

However, not only did I not get to see an exhibit of Mimar Sinan’s works, but there was currently no exhibit in the museum at all. Next door though, in a separate domed hall was a tribute to Ruhi Su, 2012 being the centenary of his birth. My parents adored this legendary folk singer and master of the saz. He was dedicated to improving the rights of Turkey’s hard working peasants, and he was always on the front lines of the battle against the fascists. His voice seemed to incarnate the spirit and aspirations of the Turkish left from the 1950s, when he was imprisoned, until his death in 1985. Hearing his well grounded voice upon entering the hall instantly brought back memories of family life. My parents played his records long after we left Turkey.

That afternoon I went looking for Mimar Sinan and found Ruhi Su.

In memory of my parents, who spent their best years in Turkey.

Ruhi Su on YouTube

About ericrossacademic

Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
This entry was posted in architecture, cities, field trips, map work and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Imperial Capitals of Turkey field seminar: Istanbul, Iznik, Bursa & Edirne

  1. Fascinating post. I’m going to pin it to my EDUCATION board on Pinterest.

  2. Reblogged this on Dispensable Thoughts and commented:
    Marvelous travel adventure. I liked the coining of the name “Constanbul” although at first reading (for an American), the sound of the name does take you aback. 🙂

  3. Fabulous post! As an American living in Ankara, let me be the first (or close to it) to welcome you back to Turkey! Have a safe trip!

  4. Pingback: Some architectural delights in Bursa, Turkey | Eric Ross, academic

  5. This is useful. Presently, I’m heading for a backpacking holiday in Turkey. I’m going to use your field trip schedule as a basis for my backpacking itinerary. Thank you!

  6. Pingback: Architectural heritage weekend in Casablanca | Eric Ross, academic

  7. Pingback: Attending a geography conference in Ankara | Eric Ross, academic

  8. Pingback: Accompanying students to Beijing | Eric Ross, academic

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