Thursday, 26 November 2015

My Masala Dabba

Twilight Taj Mahal
Tasting different spicy foods whilst travelling in Northern India and Kashmir earlier this year has encouraged me to be more experimental 
An Indian spice tin known as a Masala Dabba is a staple in most Indian homes. Cooking is so much easier when all the spices you need are close to hand rather than tucked away in the back of a cupboard, often forgotten, and turning stale.
A good Masala Dabba is made of quality stainless steel and has an inner transparent sealing lid in addition to the air tight outer lid to keep the spices fresh.

They have seven little bowls which are filled with favourite spices.
The best way to obtain spices for a Masala Dabba is to visit a an Indian shop where the spices are often cheaper and fresher than those purchased in small jars from the shelves of the supermarkets. However, because I visited Istanbul's Ottoman era Spice Bazaar my Masala Dabba has been filled with spices purchased there.
Rooftops Istanbul

As I selected the spices I wanted in the bazaar, they were vacum packed for transporting home, and then each was accompanied by a piece of turkish delight to taste - pompegranite with hazel nut, pistachio, mixed nuts, rose, orange and creme de menthe...... 
Spices to make curry apart from the Sumac - a spice used in Middle Eastern cuisine to enhance humous, meze, sprinkle on fish, chicken, raw onions, and in salad dressings. It can be used as a substute in any dish which uses lemon juice.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Exeter Cathedral

The carved bosses and corbels in Exeter Cathedral are amongst the finest examples of English Decorated Gothic architecture, a form of architecture that flourished in England for 100 years from 1270. The largest boss weighs in at over two tons; each one is different and decorated with either human figures, biblical stories, or naturalistic forms. The replica boss shown above gives a unique opportunity to view one of them close up and a chance to appreciate the intricate detail. Dated 1300, it shows a knight and three dragons signifying the Christian soul trampling on the world, the flesh, and the devil

 Most of the corbels along the nave show a naturalistic style or have a single figure - each one is different
On the north wall of the north transept is a large, blue faced astronomical clock, donated by Bishop Peter Courtenay towards the end of the C15th. A fleur-de-lys represents the sun's cycles around a 24 hour dial, with noon at the top and midnight at the bottom. The moon's phases are shown and the day of the lunar month can be read from the inner ring. The golden globe in the centre represents the earth.
Inside the mechanism are ropes which used to be greased by fat. The fat attracted mice who ran up and down the clock ropes - hence the nursey rhymn 'Hickory Dickory Dock' is thought to have been based on this clock.
The Pulpit was designed in 1876 by George Gilbert Scott, and shows the martyrdoms of St. Alban, St. Boniface and the Victorian missionary Bishop John Coleridge Patteson
A pair of finely wrought golden gates lead into the
quire (choir)
Most of the present Cathedral was constructed 1270 - 1342
However the two towers date from an earlier Norman Cathedral which was demolished to make way for the present building.
one of the two stout Norman towers
The impressive light and airey interior has the longest Gothic ceiling in the world
The West window sparkles like a jewel. It was designed by William Peckitt of York (1731-95) arguably the most important glass designer of the C18th

 The organ is an historical instrument of international significance, but is far from being a museum piece. It is a working instrument used day in and day out in the way it was intended to by its creator John Loosemore in 1665.

The properties ajacent to the Cathedral on the northern side in Cathedral Close are mostly over 500 years old. Many, like the one above, belong to the Cathedral. This one is entered via an impressive doorway.
On this sunny, late November weekend, a typical 'German Style' Christmas Market was being held on the Cathedral green with stalls from all over the Continent
Rather fancifully, Mol's is said to have been the haunt of Elizabethan seafarers Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, where they met to discuss their victory over the Armada. It was built in 1528 to house the Cathedral Annuellars. The facade seen here was added in 1596. Annuellars were priests who attended to the last wishes of benefactors to the Cathedral.
This Italian chocolate stall at the Christmas Market caught my eye, but I averted my gaze and walked on 

Spent the weekend in the city of Exeter, Devon, but next time it will be back to travels from Turkey

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Wind Brought Wealth to Troy

The ancient city of Troy engaged in extensive trade as far back as the Bronze Age. The city commanded a strategic point at the southern entrance to the Dardanelles, a narrow strait linking the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea via the Sea of Marmara. It also commanded a land route that ran north along the West Anatolian coast and crossed the narrowest point of the Dardanelles to the European shore. However, what made Troy's position so powerful was the wind. At the entrance to the Dardanelles, a strong wind prevails from the northeast; in addition, a powerful 5-knot surface current flows from the Sea of Marmara into the Aegean Sea. The flat bottom, square rigged ships of the Bronze Age had to lay up at Troy and wait for favourable southerly winds, which blow for only a short period during the summer. The Trojans were able to charge not only tolls for passage through the Dardenelles but also mooring fees. Due to the citys location much business was transacted; goods were exchanged, ships unloaded and reloaded making the city an important trading center between east and west and, in the late Bronze Age between the north and south.
On this picture it is possible to see just how far away the sea has receeded from what was the ancient city of Troy

A continual stream of vessels passes through the Dardenelles Straits today predominately travelling to and from Russia 
The Legend of the Wooden Horse
The war between the Greeks and the Trojans was in its tenth year. The Trojans rejoiced when they awoke one morning to find that the Greek army had sailed away, but they had left behind a strange gift - a giant wooden horse. The Trojans were divided - should they set fire to the statue or should they honour and worship it? Some wise old men realised there was something not quite right and advised setting fire to it. Others warned that if they did so the gods would be angry as the horse is dedicated to Athena, the great goddess of wisdom, and they did not wish to feel her wrath.
Thinking it must be a sacrifice the Trojans opened up the city gates and brought the horse inside and then began to celebrate. The Trojans did not realise that it was a ploy and that Greek soldiers, hidden inside the horse, were now amongst them in the city. After all their celebrations the exhausted Trojans slept, and then quietly a trapdoor hidden within the horse opened enabling the Greek soldiers to creep out. They opened the city gates to admit their colleagues, who had not sailed away, but had concealed themselves in the countryside. They set fire to the city and by dawn the once splendid city of Troy was nothing but a smoking, silent, ruin, and all the Trojans were dead.
There are 9 historical layers of different cities built one on top of another at Troy dating back over 5000 years -  from a Bronze Age settlement to the Greco-Roman metropolis that disappeared around 400 AD.
The walls of the acropolis have now been identified as the site of the Trojan war which took place during the late Bronze Age. The siege of Troy by Spartan and Achaean warriors from Greece has fired the imagination of writers and poets for thousands of years, probably the most familiar being that of Homer. After intensive reading of Homer's Iliad, wealthy German merchant Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur archaeologist, became convinced that Troy was to be found in the south of the Dardanelles, and he began excavation work there in 1871. Two years later he succeeded in making one of his most important discoveries - a discovery which he hid from the Turkish authorities - he had discovered the 'gold of Priam' consisting of more than 1,200 pieces of gold jewellery and ornaments. In 1880 he presented them as a gift to Emperor Wilhelm l, but in 1945, the 'Gold of Troy' was brought from Berlin to the Soviet Union as part of the spoils of war. It was believed to be lost until it turned up in the 1990s in Moscow's Pushkin Museum. Soon after, it was exhibited and made accessible to the public for the first time.
Sophia, Schliemann's wife, adorned in some of the gold he excavated in Troy  
The citadel's ring of walls stretches out on both sides of this ramp
It was not easy for me to understand the different city layers and remains of 5,000 years of habitation but nevertheless there is an overwhelming sense of Troy's long history as you view these massive walls.   
The Roman Odeion, a small theatre principally for musical performances 
The South Gate leads into the 6th historical layer of Troy which was probably the principal entrance to the citadel. Only the roadway survives today. It ran in a straight line up into Troy being entirely paved with stone slabs. In the middle of the road a drainage channel, thought to be from the 7th historical layer, runs beneath the paving stones.
Should you arrive here, as Alexander the Great did, carrying a copy of Homer in your hand, you will surely hear the echo of battle cries from Agamemnon's fleet across the Trojan plains. 
Footnote - Schliemann also discovered this golden funeral mask of Agamenmonon at Mycenae, Greece, three years after he found the Gold of Priam

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Where East meets West

Istanbul, a vibrant metropolis, once known as Constantinople, standing on both sides of the glittering Bosporus Straits straddling the cross-roads between Europe and Asia

Hagia Sophia

Across the centuries Hagia Sophia has been reincarnated countless times - her interior reveals her history. Used as a church for 916 years until the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, when she was then converted into a mosque for 482 years. In 1935 under orders from Atatürk she became a museum where Christian and Muslim symbols hang together side by side. 
Here an altar once stood, now occupied by a mihrab pointing towards Mecca
Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, and is decorated with mosaics, marble pillars, and paintings of great artistic value. It is so richly decorated that Emperor Justinian proclaimed, "Solomon, I have outdone thee!" His expenditure on Hagia Sophia is said to have weighed in at 20,000 pounds of gold
Many of the notable mosaics are in the Upper Gallery known as the Loge of the Empress - the one above is the Deësis mosaic dating from 1261. Commissioned to mark the end of 57 years of Roman Catholic use and a return to the Orthodox faith. It is widely considered to be the finest in Hagia Sophia because of the softness of the features, the human expressions, and the tones used. The style is close to that of Italian painters during the late C13th/early C14th such as Duccio.
Sultan Ahmned Mosque - the Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque, has one main dome, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. It incorporates some Byzantine Christian elements seen in Hagia Sophia along with traditional Islamic architecture, and is considered to be the last great mosque of the Classical period. The interior is lined with more than 20,000 handmade Iznik ceramic tiles, many showing different tulip designs. Did you know that tulips came to Europe from Turkey? They are native to Turkey and Central Asia.
Tulips on Iznik plate c.1550
Procession of the guilds in front of the Sultan
at the Hippodrome, now called Sultan Ahmned Square from an Ottoman miniature - 1582
The Hippodrome was a sporting and social centre - the word Hippodrome comes from the Greek 'hippos', horse, and 'dromos', path or way.  Horse and chariot racing were popular pastimes in the ancient world and hippodromes were common features of Greek cities in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras.
In what is now the Sultan Ahmned Square there remain a few pieces from antiquity such as the sculptural spiral bronze base shown above in the miniature and also in the photo below. However, the square is much depleted compared to the glory days of Emperor Constantine the Great when the central island was lined with bronze statues of horses, charioteers, gods, emperors and heroes. Amongst them was a magnificient statue of Heracles by Greek sculptor Lysippos, one of the greatest sculptors of the Classical Greek era during the C4th BC.
Made from bronze this spiral base once held a three-headed serpent which was brought to the Hippodrome from Delphi, Greece - the serpent's heads are not, however, lost but reside in the Archeological Museum located nearby.
 When I last visited Istanbul several years ago, I discovered that the four gilded bronze horses that now reside in Venice, had originally stood on top of the imperial box in the Hippodrome used by the emperor and other members of the family. Their exact Greek or Roman ancestry has never been determined, but they were looted, from what was then Constantinopole, during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and installed on the façade of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice.
Another survivor in the Hippodrome is the Egyptian Obelisk, the oldest monument in Istanbul
The obelisk was erected by the Emperor Theodosius in 390, but was originally set up by Thutmose III - 1479-1425 BC at the great temple of Karnak in Egypt. It is made of red granite from Aswan, between the four corners of the obelisk and this marble base pedestal are four bronze cubes used in its transportation and erection.  Each side of the marble base is engraved - on this side Theodosius l offers a victory laurel
Watch this video in full screen and you will see the obelisk, the spiral bronze base with its three headed serpent, and the four horses above the Imperial box  
Seen from the water, Beylerbeyi Palace, meaning 'Lord of Lords', is located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. An Imperial Ottoman summer residence built in the 1860s by Sultan Abdülazis as a place to entertain visiting heads of state. Empress Eugénie of France visited on her way to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and had her face slapped by the sultan's mother for daring to enter the palace on the sultan's arm. Despite this Eugénie was so delighted by the elegance of the palace that she had a copy of the window in the guest room made for her bedroom in the Tuilieries Palace in Paris. Other royal visitors were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Entrance to Topkapi Palace
The Gate of Felicity in Topkapi Palace gave access to the Inner Court and what were strictly private areas. It is here that the Ottoman sultans once ruled their empire. On religious, festive days, and accession, the sultan would sit before this gate on his Bayram throne whilst his subjects and officials paid him homage
The palace is a huge, an elaborate complex which could take many days to explore. It also contains holy relics from the Muslim world including Muhammed's cloak and sword.
 At its peak the palace was home to 4,000 people
The Imperial Harem occupied one of the sections of the private apartments of the sultan; it contained more than 400 rooms. It was home to the sultan's mother, the concubines and wives of the sultan, together with the rest of his family, including children and their servants. There was no trespassing through the gates of the harem, except for the sultan, the queen mother, the sultan's consorts, the princes, and the concubines as well as the eunuchs guarding them.
Our journey continues in the footsteps of Alexander the Great to Asia Minor