CATHERINE MORTENSEN- HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Travels, Work, Family and Friendship in Turkey this Spring


Ask me anything  
Waking in beautiful Mardin…. 
Perched high above the Mesopotamian Plain but a stone’s throw from the Syrian border our hotel is an old restored stone konak. The terraces with their stone balustrades and fluted arches make for the perfect place to reflect and start the day.

Leah and I are here on a ‘memorial journey’ remembering our friend Josephine  Powell whose response to my statement that ’ I could spend a week in Mardin and never run out of things to photograph’ was to reply ” what do you mean I could! Don’t tell me what you COULD do, DO IT!!

Here we are cameras in hand but aside from images caught are interactions shared with the open and welcoming people of this city.

So I toast Josephine from the terrace, a woman of inspiration and challenge….

Waking in beautiful Mardin….
Perched high above the Mesopotamian Plain but a stone’s throw from the Syrian border our hotel is an old restored stone konak. The terraces with their stone balustrades and fluted arches make for the perfect place to reflect and start the day.

Leah and I are here on a ‘memorial journey’ remembering our friend Josephine Powell whose response to my statement that ’ I could spend a week in Mardin and never run out of things to photograph’ was to reply ” what do you mean I could! Don’t tell me what you COULD do, DO IT!!

Here we are cameras in hand but aside from images caught are interactions shared with the open and welcoming people of this city.

So I toast Josephine from the terrace, a woman of inspiration and challenge….

A Bigger View of Karatay Museum in Konya.


I posted the miniature portraits from the museum exhibition in the previous post.  From the tiniest morsels of delight that could be held in the palm of your hand to this massive Selchuk building that houses these wonders.  The gate through which one enters the medresse is imposing and grand with it’s ‘crown’ arched above the entry.  Many stone carved inscriptions cover the facade along with black and white marble designs, one featuring a ‘swastika’ motif from the 13th c.

The interior of the building is breathtakingly beautiful with a significant portion of the dynamic turquoise and black ceramic work remaining.

Life brings moments to look carefully at the smallest objects of beauty as in the portrait fragments in this museum as well as time to marvel at creativity on a such a grand scale that this building represents. I left this site with a deep feeling of privilege at having had the opportunity to see such beauty - large and small….

An Intimate Look Back to the 13th c Portraits in the KARATAY MEDRESSE MUSEUM in Konya.

My experience previously in Konya has focused on the Mausoleum of Mevlana (Rumi) when visiting Konya.  Last week I had extra days and explored a few more museums that I had not previously visited.

A highlight was the Karatay Medresse Museum.  Built by the Selchuk Turks in the 13th c it is a building of breathtaking magnificence.  In the midst of the beauty of the building there was this collection of portraiture in ceramic fragments that caught my attention.  There is something so immediate about the drawing and a sense for me of the depictions being a very personal rendering of specific individuals.  You could hold each fragment in the palm of your hand (if they were not protected in their glass cabinets). They were small, captivating and pulled me back in time to another era.  Just one of the delights that my eyes feasted upon as I made my way through the interior of Turkey with my sister.

Turkish Breakfast. On a short road trip with my sister outside of Istanbul in Cappadocia. We had the perfect start to our day in the delightful small hotel called Urgup Evi. We sat outdoors on their terrace overlooking the caves, fairy chimneys and extraordinary landscape of this World Heritage Site. 
The Turks know how to start the day serving a breakfast of cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, olives and fresh bread. An omelette completed the meal which set us up for a descent into the Underground City at Derinkuyu, a place of refuge for early Christians and then on to the Ilhara Gorge. We climbed high on the gorge and checked out 11th century frescoes in the cave churches. One particularly lovely image was of an angel watching over a reclining/sleeping figure. Good breakfast, great day.

Turkish Breakfast. On a short road trip with my sister outside of Istanbul in Cappadocia. We had the perfect start to our day in the delightful small hotel called Urgup Evi. We sat outdoors on their terrace overlooking the caves, fairy chimneys and extraordinary landscape of this World Heritage Site.
The Turks know how to start the day serving a breakfast of cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, olives and fresh bread. An omelette completed the meal which set us up for a descent into the Underground City at Derinkuyu, a place of refuge for early Christians and then on to the Ilhara Gorge. We climbed high on the gorge and checked out 11th century frescoes in the cave churches. One particularly lovely image was of an angel watching over a reclining/sleeping figure. Good breakfast, great day.

Late at night after dinner we walked through the landmark Blue Mosque in the centre of the Old City of Istanbul.  The full moon was illuminating the courtyard giving it an amazing ambience of beauty and peace.  Most often this most popular site is full of tourists and visitors but we caught it just before closing when we were able to enjoy in quiet the beauty of the spaces.  I shot these two images as we headed out the door with some light playing on the intricate design.

My sister and I are off to Konya tomorrow and will be seeing Selchuk tiles and carvings that were the earlier expression of this magnificent geometric Islamic art.

I had several requests for more images from my time in this late Ottoman Mosque - Valide Sultan Mosque.  The last image in this series that I posted was among one of the most interesting details.  From a private room of the Sultan on the upper floor there was a strategically placed skylight with a direct view of one of the minarets. This allowed the Sultan to be the first informed that it was time to break the daily fast during Ramadan. I was fascinated with this architectural detail that had such a specific function to serve the Ruler of the Empire.  Wonderful to see the mosque in detail and gain insight into some of these more obscure corners.

There is some archeological restoration going on under the mosque.  There was a large photo and information board by the mosque with photographs of the progress of this excavation and the upper edges of large earthen jars that held lamp oil were visible at the surface.  This part of the mosque was not open to the public so I will have to return in a year or two and see what sort of progress has been made.

I had a late afternoon ramble in Aksaray, a neighbourhood in the Old City. It started out with a specific errand and evolved into a bite to eat along the way and half an hour or so in the Valide Sultan Mosque.
This mosque was designd by the Italian architect Montani and built in 1871.  This magnificent structure was dedicated to the wife of Sultan Mahmut the 2nd, Sultana Pertevniyal.
The caretaker of the mosque gave us a thorough private tour.  The mosque has recently been restored and he was proud to show us the before and after photos of all the work. I was surprised at all the varied rooms.  Our host used the word ‘labyrinth’ in Turkish and it was most apt to describe all the various personal rooms for the Sultan’s use beyond the main prayer space.  With some encouragement he fetched the key to the Sultan’s private hamam where the Sultan was able to perform his ablutions before prayers. Great to see these beautiful spaces and wonderful to explore and photograph every nook and cranny.

I had a late afternoon ramble in Aksaray, a neighbourhood in the Old City. It started out with a specific errand and evolved into a bite to eat along the way and half an hour or so in the Valide Sultan Mosque.

This mosque was designd by the Italian architect Montani and built in 1871.  This magnificent structure was dedicated to the wife of Sultan Mahmut the 2nd, Sultana Pertevniyal.

The caretaker of the mosque gave us a thorough private tour.  The mosque has recently been restored and he was proud to show us the before and after photos of all the work. I was surprised at all the varied rooms.  Our host used the word ‘labyrinth’ in Turkish and it was most apt to describe all the various personal rooms for the Sultan’s use beyond the main prayer space.  With some encouragement he fetched the key to the Sultan’s private hamam where the Sultan was able to perform his ablutions before prayers. Great to see these beautiful spaces and wonderful to explore and photograph every nook and cranny.

Tulip time in Istanbul. Brilliant day today with sun, warmth and some of the sheltered beds of tulips still looking
stellar. Leah and I were dropping off a kilim for repair and passed by this bed in the lee of the hill which was still looking great. Several days ago there was a massive wind storm that wrecked
havoc with most of the blooms.

Tulips,the Ottoman’s export to the Dutch,are depicted with great elegance in the textiles of the ottoman court and tile production from the workshops of Kutayha and Iznik.

Spring is definitely here in Istanbul. Such a good season of the year full of colour and warmth.

Tulip time in Istanbul. Brilliant day today with sun, warmth and some of the sheltered beds of tulips still looking
stellar. Leah and I were dropping off a kilim for repair and passed by this bed in the lee of the hill which was still looking great. Several days ago there was a massive wind storm that wrecked
havoc with most of the blooms.

Tulips,the Ottoman’s export to the Dutch,are depicted with great elegance in the textiles of the ottoman court and tile production from the workshops of Kutayha and Iznik.

Spring is definitely here in Istanbul. Such a good season of the year full of colour and warmth.

I spent a great afternoon with friends and their two daughters in Bachesehir Park. We had a lunch of kabobs overlooking the small lake and joined the other families walking on the paths by the water and throughout the park. The tulips were blooming in profusion in large beds under planted with other colorful low flowers. Sunshine, gardens, good food and good friends the perfect combination on a Sunday afternoon.

This family will be coming to Canada for a visit this summer  bringing along their older son as well. It will be our delight to be their Canadian ‘guides’. We have shared many miles together hosting others as they have toured in Turkey and so there will be lots of friendships to renew along the way in Canada.

Today I was looking their twin daughters thinking to myself ‘where has the time gone?’.  It was in 2003 when we first met here in Istanbul and the girls were babes in arms and now they are so grown up. Yes, time is zinging by at an alarming rate but I am so aware that I would not have wants to miss a moment of this past decade; today included, it was a very good one….

I spent a great afternoon with friends and their two daughters in Bachesehir Park. We had a lunch of kabobs overlooking the small lake and joined the other families walking on the paths by the water and throughout the park. The tulips were blooming in profusion in large beds under planted with other colorful low flowers. Sunshine, gardens, good food and good friends the perfect combination on a Sunday afternoon.

This family will be coming to Canada for a visit this summer bringing along their older son as well. It will be our delight to be their Canadian ‘guides’. We have shared many miles together hosting others as they have toured in Turkey and so there will be lots of friendships to renew along the way in Canada.

Today I was looking their twin daughters thinking to myself ‘where has the time gone?’. It was in 2003 when we first met here in Istanbul and the girls were babes in arms and now they are so grown up. Yes, time is zinging by at an alarming rate but I am so aware that I would not have wants to miss a moment of this past decade; today included, it was a very good one….

Morning on the ferry crossing from Asia to Europe and into the Old City to keep an appointment with a fellow Calgarian visiting Istanbul for the first time. It is this 20 minute voyage that deeply confirms for me that I am ‘here’ in Istanbul. It must be a combination of the sea air, the busyness of the marine traffic, the skyline with the mosque minarets reaching skyward and the tea in the Turkish tea glasses that all combine to produce a feeling of well being and contentment.
I am one of tens of thousands daily foot passengers using this public transport system that works with huge efficiency connecting on to trams, buses and the metros. Prepaid travel cards ensure quick and easy transfer between the various means of public transit.

For me as I people watch it is with the realization that each of my fellow travelers are heading off to such a vast variety of destinations and circumstances. We are such a socially diverse group on the ferry. I love being a part of all of this.

Morning on the ferry crossing from Asia to Europe and into the Old City to keep an appointment with a fellow Calgarian visiting Istanbul for the first time. It is this 20 minute voyage that deeply confirms for me that I am ‘here’ in Istanbul. It must be a combination of the sea air, the busyness of the marine traffic, the skyline with the mosque minarets reaching skyward and the tea in the Turkish tea glasses that all combine to produce a feeling of well being and contentment.
I am one of tens of thousands daily foot passengers using this public transport system that works with huge efficiency connecting on to trams, buses and the metros. Prepaid travel cards ensure quick and easy transfer between the various means of public transit.

For me as I people watch it is with the realization that each of my fellow travelers are heading off to such a vast variety of destinations and circumstances. We are such a socially diverse group on the ferry. I love being a part of all of this.