I am Anthony E. Savvides. This is my blog.

Reflections & adventures of a writer at heart, a journalist by trade and a waiter by night.

Posts Tagged ‘Istanbul

Movin on up!

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My story about the restoration efforts at Hagia Sophia has been picked up by another site!  Click the link below to view.


Written by AESavvides

June 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm

A sleepless night, a long flight. A great story, from Istanbul to JFK.

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Congratulations to my peers, Kaileigh and Rob, whose excellent coverage of Sunday’s parliamentary eleciton in Turkey was picked up by the Boston Globe passport site.  Catherine’s dynamic photo also ran with the story, so kudos to you, Cat.

Turkey journal: Cheers and fears after a pivotal vote

This report from the front lines of the Turkish election was produced by Northeastern University students traveling to Turkey and Jordan as part of the college’s Dialogue of Civilization program. This Dialogue, involving 19 students and three professors, is a collaboration between the School of Journalism and the departments of Photography and International Affairs.

By Kaileigh Higgins and Robert Tokanel

ISTANBUL — Less than 24 hours before Sunday night’s parliamentary elections, the Sultanahmet neighborhood was a campaign battleground. Flags strung between old brick buildings hung like spider webs of laundry, and motorcars blared campaign rants as minivans wound their way through narrow streets.

On election night, though, it was almost silent. At an open-air café in the historic heart of the city, Sertac Ayhan sat alone with his back to a television tuned to the polls.

The 24-year old engineering student wasn’t apathetic about the projections flashing the names and parties of candidates that had been plastered across the city for weeks. He just knew who was going to win, and he feared what it could mean for his country.

“It’s going to be a monarchy,” he said.

>>Click here to continue reading.


Congratulations to you all, my friends.  Your hard work, sleepless night(s) and 11 hour flight, fiilled with edits and bad food, paid off.  So happy for you!

Written by AESavvides

June 14, 2011 at 11:03 am

Uncovered mosaics at famed Hagia Sophia have art historians anxious to fully restore this national gem

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Story and photos by Anthony Savvides

ISTANBUL, Turkey – It began in 1993 – a massive effort to stabilize and restore an architectural gem dating back to the 6th century. But today, a year after the Ministry of Culture and Tourism declared the project finished, there remains concern that work on the Hagia Sophia Museum is still not complete.

“Now, the restoration process has ended, maybe [due to] money problems. There may be some political agendas, too,” said Aslihan Erkman, a professor of art history at Istanbul Technical University who believes that the efforts should have continued.

A recent discovery in the apse, uncovered during the most recent restoration of Hagia Sophia. The angel was found by restoration workers in the summer of 2009.

Before the latest restoration efforts began, a mission to Turkey by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, noted falling plaster, dirty marble facings, decorative paintings damaged by moisture and ill-maintained lead roofing. Progress was clearly made, but not enough, according to some observers.

In 2008, two years before work stopped on the space, Zeynep Ahunbay, a professor of architecture at Istanbul Technical University, talked of her frustration with the process.

“For months at a time, you don’t see anybody working,” Ahunbay told Smithsonian Magazine in 2008. “One year there is a budget, the next year there is none. We need a permanent restoration staff, conservators for the mosaics, frescoes and masonry, and we need to have them continuously at work.”

That’s one view of the project. Others watching during the nearly two decades of work – and after the scaffolding came down – talked of the somewhat complicated history of the space. Visible for miles across the city, the Hagia Sophia is a symbol of Istanbul’s history as well as its cultural and religious clashes.

The extravagant buttresses, grand dome and four brick minarets, towering toward the sky, have been a prominent feature of the city’s skyline since the 6th century, when it was completed in 537. This historic, grandiose landmark intertwines the legacies of medieval Christianity and Islam, and those of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

A view of a few of the Islamic elements within Hagia Sophia, which were installed on top of and above the altar after the Ottomon conquest of the city in 1453.

Until the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans in 1453, Hagia Sophia served as the religious heart and core of the empire. After the Ottoman conquest of the former Byzantine capital, the building was turned into a mosque, which it remained until the early 20th century. In 1931, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the country’s first president and founder of the Republic of Turkey, closed Hagia Sophia and secularized it.

>>Click here to continue reading the story.

Written by AESavvides

June 13, 2011 at 5:11 am

After a long night…

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After a long, long night and early morning spent with the gang, my first story from Istanbul has been posted!  I wrote about recent restoration efforts to the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul.  Click the link below to check it out:

Uncovered mosaics at famed Hagia Sophia have art historians anxious to fully restore this national gem


Meanwhile, I’m not in the clear just yet.  I’m still hard at work, completing my final story from Istanbul.  Be sure to keep checking back here, you won’t want to miss my last story!

Everyone is all packed up by now, and I am at the hotel buffet with some friend chowing down on our final (unimaginative, boring, lame… insert more “I’m-so-sick-of-this-food” adjectives here) breakfast of this Dialogue of Civilizations program.  We will depart the hotel and head for Ataturk International Airport 30 mintues from riiiight…. Now.


Written by AESavvides

June 13, 2011 at 5:01 am

Only hours remain, but much work still to be done

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Well, here I am, on the verge of the end and still scrambling.  I feel like a crazy person, with my notebook, pencils and loose scraps of paper on which I have scribbled names, phone numbers or interview notes fluttering around me as I frantically tap away at my keyboard.  I am currently working on my final (and only) 2 stories from Turkey.  The first, which I believe I have now officially completed (just waiting to hear back from either Geoff or Carlene, now…) about the mosaics and restoration of Hagia Sophia, and the other about Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union.

Kaileigh, Rob, Catherine, Michele, Ryan, Erin and Ally, all hard at work on our final night (morning) in Istanbul.

I am exhausted; I have had 2 hours of sleep in the last 52 hours– not great, or healthy– by any means.  My room service just arrived- a plate of french fries, at 2:30 am- and I am surrounded by my peers.  Kaileigh, Rob, Ryan, Catherine, Michele, Erin, Jess, Ally, Catherine and I are all working on our final news packages.  Erin, Ally, Ryan and Michele are just here for moral support; they are all *lucky enough to be done with their work here.

Jessica edits video for her final news package, which will be about the parliamentary elections in Turkey on June 12.

*I’m not sure if it’s quite luck, though.  Maybe they’re just better reporters, and were able to pull their stories together at a faster pace.  Maybe I need to take notes on their outstanding performance throughout this program.  Truly remarkable work they have done over the last 5 weeks.  View examples of all of those stories here, Michele’s here, Erin’s here and Ally’s here.

Ally plays disc jockey for the night, entertaining all of us reporters as we work hard to complete our stories. We've come to call her DJ Legend.

I’ll keep this short, since I have much to do between now and takeoff from Ataturk International Airport at 12:15 pm.

Many more posts to come, recapping more of the trip.  Whether or not those go up while I am still actually overseas remains to be seen, but I am doing my best.  I also have a few drafts of random thoughts that need completion.  Keep an eye on this blog in the next 2-3 days…

Written by AESavvides

June 13, 2011 at 1:09 am

It’s been a busy day for us…

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Lots of new content has been posted to the main site, today.  Michele’s wonderful story about the dancing, whirling dervishes went up here.

You can also take a look at Fernanda’s beautifully written profile of a jeweler in the Grand Bazaar here.  Jess and Rob filmed a video news package about tomorrow’s election, which you can view here.  In addition to these wonderful stories, please visit the main site here to read the entire catalog of our work, both from Jordan and Turkey.  Catch up quickly, though, for many more articles will be published before we leave on Monday.

In addition to the wonderful work of my colleagues, today has been a busy day for me, as well.  I ran around this morning, scrounging up last-minute interviews for my stories about the Hagia Sophia and Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union.  Later on in the afternoon, while I worked feverishly on my upcoming story about the Hagia Sophia in the hotel lobby, Lila and I were treated to this impromptu rap performace by Fernanda, with Kailegh providing the beat:

Written by AESavvides

June 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm

A taste of Byzantium…

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Note: This post was written on Sunday, May 29.

Late last night, my cousin Lisa informed me, via Skype from New York, that Bishop Savas Zembellis would be in Istanbul, leading a pilgrimage of Americans from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.  She forwarded his contact information, and I sent him an email to inquire about when he would arrive and where exactly the group would be.  This morning, I awoke at 8am to an email response.  The group was to attend liturgy at Agia Triada, a church in Taksim Square.  This must have been one of the churches Itir referred to yesterday.  I did some brief research online, but to no avail.  I quickly showered, dressed, and hopped in a cab outside of the hotel.  “Taksim Square,” I said.  The driver nodded, and I was on my way.  I traveled for about 25 minutes, and arrived in Taksim Square with no inclination of the church’s actual location.  I wandered around the cobble pathways, asking people for directions here and there along the way.  No one really knew what I was asking for, so I stopped at looked around.  In the distance, beyond what seemed to be a few blocks and above a row or two of buildings in the skyline, I spotted a cross atop a domed structure.  That had to be it.  I began, once again, to navigate the twisted passageways, turning corners into alleys as I followed the cross.  I lost sight of it, and backtracked.  A cafe owner must have recognized the confusion that covered my face, and offered assistance.  I pointed at the cross, which was only barely popping out over the towering buildings around us, now, and asked him to direct me to the church.

After a mostly non-verbal conversation, with a lot of pointing and hand gestures signaling left and right turns, I headed in what I hoped was the right direction.  Within 5 minutes, I arrived at the concrete wall and iron gates of Agia Triada, a magnificent, majestic structure composed of marble and charcoal stone.  I entered through the heavy, towering black doors into a bright room, where the sunlight pouring through the windows reflected off of the white marble floor and white walls.  I lit a candle and proceeded through a second set of doors into the church.

The magnificent, grand mosaic churches here in Istanbul- formerly Byzantium- have an old-world feel to them, which I love.  Not only do they bring me back to Cyprus and the Greek isles, but also to Amman, where the Byzantine Empire’s sphere of power and influence stretched over for a time.  The sites we visited in Jordan, particularly Mount Nebo and Madaba, were filled with ancient Greek Orthodox churches and Byzantine sites, and I have found that here in Istanbul as well.

The whole liturgy at Agia Triada was in Greek, which was very welcoming, and comforting.  Thus far, I have not understood much of anything in this city.  Bareley anyone has spoken English, and I certainly do not understand Turkish, which I also find to be a very harsh, ugly language.  Hearing the soothing chants and beautiful prayers in Greek made me feel that maybe there’s in fact something here for me in Istanbul.  The Greek liturgy and prayers were a nice contrast to the English and Greek hybrid liturgies back home in New York, and even at the Annunciation Cathedral in Boston.  This trip, while through Northeastern University and during which I am reporting and exploring new cultures, has also taken on a different sort of meaning for me.  A hybrid journey, perhaps, partly educational and partly spiritual.  I took some videos during the liturgy, one of which you can view below.

After the service, I ran into Bishop Savas Zembillas, who is the Bishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and was in Constantinople, as he still affectionately calls it, on a pilgrimage with a group of 24 Greek Americans.  Three of the 24 looked familiar to me, perhaps I met them many years ago through

A view of the back exterior of Chora monastery.

GOYA, a church youth group.  It was strange to see familiar faces here besides those peers from Northeastern University.

I spent the rest of the afternoon with them, visiting Hagia Sophia on the 554th anniversary of its fall to the Turks as well as Chora, an ancient monastery about 20 minutes away from Hagia Sophia.  This monastery was also converted to a mosque, but was quickly turned into a museum and there are many more preserved mosaics than there are at Hagia Sophia.  All of the mosaic artwork at Chora was a bit untraditional, as many depictions were of the parables and proverbs instead of the scriptures.  As Bishop Savas explained, this artwork was extremely progressive for the Byzantine culture at the time, and it was also stifled when the city fell. Click the images below to enlarge.


ἡ Ἐκκλησία του Ἅγιου Σωτῆρος ἐν τῃ Χώρᾳ

While Byzantine culture and art forms flourished in what was formerly Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, it also ended prematurely here when the city was conquered.  All of the intricate mosaic tiles were covered with plaster and some Arabic phrases from the Quran.  This brings me to another similarity I have discovered between Jordan and Turkey, which is the coexistence of Christians and Muslims.  While most Greek Orthodox Christians have left this city since its fall to the Ottoman

Mosaic of enthroned Christ with Theodore Metochites presenting a model of his church.

Empire in 1453 and as part of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is still based here, and  I hope to visit before I leave Istanbul.  I was a bit surprised by this, given the rocky history between the two cultures and religions in this country.  While Turkey has far fewer Christians than Jordan does, they still share this city peacefully.


A fresco of the Resurrection of Christ.

What remains of a mosaic of Christ in the narthex.

Dome depicting various scenes from the Bible.

Virgin Mary with Christ.

Remnants of a Panaghia mosaic.

The mosaic depicting the Koimesis, or falling asleep, of the Blessed Virgin.

Written by AESavvides

June 10, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Turkey 101

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Note: This post was written on Saturday, May 28.

At 10am, Professor Itir Toksoz came to the Grand Yavuz Hotel where she lectured to the group; Turkey 101, she called it.  Itir is an assistant professor of international relations at Doğuş üniversitesi (Dogus University) and received her Phd at Northeastern University under Denis Sullivan.

Over the course of four hours, and what felt like eternity, I sat at the corner of the table as we discussed everything from population statistics, unemployment, Turkish politics, both historically (briefly) and currently.  I was surprised to learn that 27% of the population here is between the ages of one and 14, and that the unemployment rate is 14.5%.  I already knew that Turkey was a secular state despite the fact that 99% of the people are Muslim, but during the discussion I began to think that perhaps the government merely appears to be secular.  It seems to me that there are certainly Islamist ideals beneath the surface.

After the first few minutes in the conference room, I felt as though the hot, stale air was weighing down on my.  A few of my peers were fanning themselves with notebooks or their palms, so it wasn’t just me.  Just above my seat to the left, there was a dormant AC unit.  I stepped out of to ask one of the men working in the hotel if he could please turn it on.  Instead, he handed me the remote- even better.  Throughout the lecture, I played the role of a thermostat, and gauged my decision to increase or decrease the temperature based on silent, facial communications from everyone else in the room.

I felt bad to step away from the lecture around noon, but my stomach was growling and I wouldn’t be surprised if Itir heard it at the front of the conference room.  I ran across the street and was absent for about 13 minutes while I bought 8 slices of lamb, a roll of bread, half a lemon and a pint of cherry juice.  When I returned to the conference room, it felt even hotter than it did outside, so I resumed my duty as climate controller.  Itir was just wrapping up the main portion of the lecture upon my return, and as I took the first bite of my impromptu lamb-and-lemon sandwich, she began teaching basic Turkish phrases.


•günaydin—good morning

•iyi akşamlar—good evening

•iyi geceler—goodnight

•nasilsin—how are you?

•ben iyiyim—I’m fine


•sagol—thank you

•birşey değil—you’re welcome

•üzgünüm—I’m sorry




•nerde—where is it?

•müze toilet—where is the toilet?

•haydi—come on

•afedersiniz—excuse me

•yaklaşma—get away from me

After the lecture concluded, officially, we had a more candid conversation with Itir about where to go and places to see in Istanbul.  Her biggest recommendation was to go to Taksim Square, which is across the Bosphorus.  I added it to my inner to-do list.  I approached her to ask if she knew of any Greek Orthodox churches where I could attend liturgy this Sunday, and she told me that there were a few in Taksim Sqaure.

Everyone dispersed from the conference room and I shut off the AC and returned the remote, I went upstairs to my room to drop off my laptop and notebook.  The group was meeting in the lobby to go around Istanbul with Itir and become acqauinted with the public transportation system.  So, I headed back down to the lobby and our group headed up the hill to the main street with Denis, Rob and Itir leading the way.  First, we ate lunch; doners, kebabs, french fries.  I sat with Joe and Rob, and we discussed traveling.  I have wanted to travel around Europe and visit my family in Cyprus after the conclusion of this program, but none of those plans have panned out and I will unfortunately be returning to NY on June 13, much sooner than I had hoped.  Oh well.  Rob has traveled quite a bit, and I enjoyed hearing some of his tales about Prague, Egypt and Syria.

After lunch, the group was headed off four our transportation tour around Istanbul, but I opted out and returned to the hotel to rest and get some work done.  I want to go to church tomorrow, so I should get stuff done today.  I’ll figure out the tram when I need to…

Written by AESavvides

June 9, 2011 at 9:41 am

They found me. Boston to Istanbul in the press of a button.

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Somehow, my editor at the Huntington News at Northeastern tracked me down from Boston.  I think Google and Gmail are to blame; we chatted, Boston to Istanbul, despite the time difference.  Anna Marden, with whom I will be working at the Boston Globe beginning in July, asked if I would write a feature about my experience on this trip.  I have so much going on, and hesitated, but agreed to do it.  It was nice to reflect on this adventure, and a nice contrast to everything I have been doing here.  All of my work, both in Jordan and here in Turkey, has been so in-the-moment, that this was a pleasant change of pace.


So, here it is:

Dialogue Diaries – The Middle East

I hope you enjoy the story.

Written by AESavvides

June 9, 2011 at 7:41 am

Ιστανπουλ δεν είναι πια Κωνσταντινούπολη – Constantinople Ιstanbul değil

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First off, I have to share this video:

On my first morning at the Grand Yavuz Hotel, I went downstairs to the floor below the lobby, -1 in the elevator, where I ate breakfast with some of my peers.  The selection no longer consisted of hummus, sage, and pita bread.  Instead, there’s a giant glass bowl of Nutella, another filled with honey, corn flakes (among other cereal options), an entire table with baskets of bread, hard-boiled eggs and slices of pink grapefruit.  On another countertop sit four pots, two with coffee, one of tea and one of hot milk.  I ate two hard-boiled eggs and sipped a cup of tea before Denis came around to all of the tables to let us know that we would be assembling upstairs in the lobby for the tour.

We set off with Gokhan, our tour guide, up the hill to the main street.

The group marching up the street toward our first destination, Topkapi Palace.

A restaurant we walked by on the way, displaying a plethora of flags.

Our procession lead us first to Topkapi Palace that was the official and primary residence of the Ottoman Sultansfor approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign.  It was massive, and reminded me of the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris.  Apparently, if the Sultan decided he was tired, silence fell upon the entire domain.  I wish my house worked like that, but I’m not a Sultan with his own palace.  Wishful thinking…

Gokhan spoke to the group about Topkapi's history before we entered.

A view of Topkapi from the atrium.

The entrance to Topkapi.

After touring through the palace with Gokhan I was able to roam around on my own for 45 minutes.  The building has a massive atrium garden in the center, lined with flowerbeds, trees and broken columns and pottery scattered across the lawn.



Inside Topkapi Palace.

I took a stroll through an art gallery filled with portraits of all the Ottoman Sultans, and then moved on to a museum filled with Muslim artifacts, including Mohammed’s footprint and a lot of his swords.  Throughout this museum, a man’s voice was echoing through the speakers as he read passages of the Quran.  When I first walked in with my camera in hand, a security guard shook his head at me and waved his hand, motioning for me to leave.  So, I walked out and back in, this time with my camera on and at my side.  I took two illegal videos, which you can view here and here.

The Sultan's bed. Modest.

In stark contrast to all of the other doorways, this tiny one reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.

A view of the Bosphorus through one of the walls surrounding Topkapi.

Elaborate Islamic wall decorations in the palace.

The domes within Topkapi. Beautiful.
























I quickly grew tired of Topkapi Palace, though, and spent the last 15 minutes of our allotted time hanging out with Cal and Carlene on the grass.  Slowly, everyone in the group gathered and we left the palace and walked down the cobble pathway to the Blue Mosque.  Since it was a Friday afternoon and prayer time, we didn’t get to go inside, but took a tour around the building.  I’ll have to go back, at some point over the next two weeks, and see it for myself.


A bird perched in the main entrance into the Blue Mosque.

Intricate stone work covers the exterior of the building. This is a small example.

A grand entrance leading into the Blue Mosque.

Men washed themselves before entering the Blue Mosque.

People were growing anxious, and we quickly departed and went to a restaurant nearby where we at lunch.  I had some lentil soup, lots of pita bread, and a lamb kebob.  The food was so fresh and bursting with flavor.  I’m excited about eating the local Turkish cuisine over the next 18 days.  Lunch was followed by two pieces of baklava, which was incredible, moist yet perfectly crunchy at the same time.  I know they say the Turks invented baklava and the Greeks perfected it, but now I’m not so sure.  I’ll have to visit the local ζαχαροπλαστείο(or zacharoplasteio, a Greek pastry shop) in Astoria when I get home.

After lunch, everyone assembled for the dreaded head count, and we headed to Hagia Sophia.  This visit did not disappoint.  Hagia Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία, meaning Holy Wisdom) is everything I ever thought it would be and more- the structural design, the incredibly intricate and massive mosaic icons, the sky-high ceiling and even higher domes- awe-inspiring.  Here are some photos, because words can’t do it justice.

The initial site upon entering Hagia Sophia. Unfortunately, none of the dome mosaics here survived.

The massive main entrance of Hagia Sophia.





Jess and I in front of the altar and the mihrab.

Looking at them now, neither can the photographs.  You all need to come visit Hagia Sophia to see it for yourselves.

From Hagia Sophia, the plan was to go back to the Blue Mosque now that prayers had ended and then to the Grand Bazaar, but I asked Carlene for permission to stay behind and spend more time at Hagia Sophia.  After my inquiry, it became clear that many in the group felt the same way.  So, Gokhan lead the bunch back to the hotel and everyone was allowed to split off instead.  I felt bad for ending the tour abruptly, but it wasn’t just me, so I don’t feel that bad.

As people dispersed and left Hagia Sophia, both in the group and individually, I reentered the former Byzantine Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, wandering through its many passageways.  It was incredible to be in a place of worship, which, over the years, has been shared by Muslims and Christians alike.  Why must we focus on our differences- God, Allah, Jesus, Mohammed, Bible, Quran- when the core beliefs are the same.  To love one another and be respectful of all life are virtues preached by both faiths.

Looking out from the mezzanine and seeing the Blessed Virgin with Arabic, Islamic features all around, that the world should function more seamlessly the way Hagia Sophia exists.  Maybe one day, we will learn to love one another, despite personal or religious differences.  We are all one living organism here on Earth, one human race, and should not be divided by political boundaries or national borders.

Written by AESavvides

June 8, 2011 at 3:16 am