While staying in Bursa, our group made a day trip to the city of Iznik, a lakeside town that, under its former name of Nicaea, hosted the first council of the Christian church of Ayasofya. Though archaeologists now believe that the council conducted its business at an underwater site, it was long thought to have gathered in what is now a mosque in the city. Formerly a church, then converted into a mosque, once more into a museum, and, more recently, again into a mosque, the structure exists at an uneasy intersection of religious and secular uses. Its recent reconversion into a mosque was politically motivated, but that did not detract much from our viewing. Remnants of fading Christian icons can be found in unused corners of the building along with newer painting completed in Ottoman times. Part of the mystique of the place came from a dramatic reading of the Nicene Creed, which definitively settled the orthodox position of the divinity of Jesus. At least, within the circles that accepted the orthodox view.
Regrettably, we arrived in Iznik on an especially wet day, and the rains had blanketed the city streets in a layer of brown mud. Moreover, two of the sites we intended to view were hidden behind fences and screens, and large parts of the famous city walls were similarly shrouded. Fortunately, the group made the best of our time there, practicing their wall-scaling skills and yielding to our more antisocial impulses. Not all of the wall was inaccessible, and indeed it was fairly simple to clamber up a steep slope onto an old watchtower. Car traffic flowed sporadically through the archway that opened under the wall, something that we also observed around the citadel site in Bursa. Modern Turkish cities do not function in the shadow of the past so much as in its still-living presence. While the churches and mosques might fall into disuse, they continue to serve as a source of construction contracts. Given the immense importance of tourism in producing profits for local business and taxes for the state, that industry has a distortionary influence on these projects, which often focus on beautification rather than the integrity of the site. Our later to trip to Laodicea confirmed these observations even further.
One other memorable episode occurred early in the afternoon as children rushed out of school onto the sidewalks. Several of them hailed us, possibly because of bets made on the sly. They looked relieved and energized, wearing bright orange uniforms that flashed against the predominantly grey and brown surroundings. Between the students walking home and the road construction vehicles, the streets were bustling with activity.
Next post will focus on our half-day, one night stay in Afyon, where the snow and slush finally exacted their toll in the midst of an enchanting old city.