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Quick + Cool: Legends

November 8, 2010

I mentioned a week ago the potential of Pat Yale and Saffet Emre Tonguc’s Istanbul: The Ultimate Guide. To convince you to get this book, and not a Lonely Planet or Rick Steves or whatever, I’m going to flip to a random page in the book and tell you a cool story about it. Let’s see how it goes.

If you need things told to you clearly, directions laid out obviously, and politics transparent, then My God is Istanbul not the place for you.

One one hand, Istanbul is easy. There’s a metro and buses have routes labeled clearly. You can hammer away with English here. The wikipedia articles on Turkey are incredibly well-stated. You have nifty websites like this one telling you what to do.

But on the other hand, there’s this fascinating palimpsest where everything can be peeled back, and nothing is perfectly as it first seems. Fables count for gossip gossip counts for truth, and truth matters less than nothing. Even in politics, you can say something like “Kilicdaroglu’s family was responsibly for the Dersim Massacres” and actually kind of get away with it. And the city’s story itself? Well, that depends who you ask.

I already have told a couple of stories about Istanbul here. One was of the underground network to keep the city standing up. The other was of the Suzer Plaza’s non-existent room. Both of these are the sort of somewhat-factual thing that is fantastic enough to be interesting, yet reasonable enough to be true. The Ultimate Guide has a couple others that I’m going to share.

Beside the tomb of the two princesses in the grounds of the Kocamustafapasa Mosque you will see a cypress tree with a chain attached to it. Legend has it that after the Prophet Huseyin’s daughters were buried here, the Prophet Jabir had a tree planted beside their grave. To ensure that it would never lose its branches he wrapped a chain around it. According to local lore, if a debtor sat down under the tree the chain would reach out and touch them, so instead of going to a judge people would head for the tree and await its ruling. Should the chain ever break, the end of the wolrd would apparently be nigh.

So yeah, who needs lawyers when you have magnetism?

The Galata Bridge must be the only bridge in the world to have bestowed its name on a card game. According to a 1901 guide to this guintessentially British game, it was originally dreamt up by a group of British soldiers who were based in Galata during the Crimean War. Every evening they would walk across the Galata Bridge to coffeehouses in the Old City where they would play the game, so when pressed to come up with a name for it, they called it simply “bridge.”

There’s plenty more where this came from, of course. And please, make up your own myths and fables as you see fit. It’s way, way, better than the truth.

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