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