Sketching Istanbul’s Hans Part 2: Rüstem Paşa Han

This blog is reposted from Yabangee.com where I and my friend Emilie Varlet are regular contributors.  Emilie and I, as close friends and sketchers, have been collaborating on a writing/drawing project since the Fall 2014.  Here is my contribution to the first part of our Han Series.

Emilie Varlet and Gabrielle Reeves began exploring Istanbul’s hans in the summer of 2014, when they first started their sketching adventures in the city. They have since become fascinated with these buildings and how they reflect the city’s vast history. In this series of articles, they will share their discovery of these ancient places through drawing and how this exploration has really deepened their love for the city.

Rustem Pasa Han Sketch, Emilie Varlet

Rüstem Paşa Han Sketch (Emilie Varlet)

 

Rüstem Paşa Han

Tucked deep into the narrow streets that create a labyrinth along the Golden Horn in Karaköy, the caravanserai is nearly lost within an overgrowth of the hardware stores, paint shops, and piles of fish nets and anchors that have materialized outside of its walls. From the first time I stepped into its courtyard, I knew this place was special. A lost secret, a hidden jewel of history, a glimpse of the old and densely layered Istanbul. The Istanbul from which a new one has grown — this city has continually built itself on top of its old self. Always manipulated by its inhabitants; pushed, dragged, broken, rebuilt, restored, expanded, and stretched. Yet still with evidence of an ancient civilization below its surface.

Above the stone doorway, which droops slightly with age, a metal sign is nailed into the wall. “Kurşunlu Han” is printed in bold black letters above a previous name that is just legible under a smear of bright green spray paint: Rüstem Paşa Han. Inside the courtyard and just past the spring maker, or yaycı, a Corinthian column emerges from a floor paved with worn and mismatched stones. Placed incongruously on top of the elaborate marble stump sits a water pump, frequently used by passing workers. The column, so intertwined with its environment, is evidence of a the han’s layered history.

Rustem Pasa Han

 

The complex seen today was built upon the ruins of San Michelle, a Genoese church. Mimar Sinan, the most renowned architect of the Ottoman period, constructed Rüstem Paşa Han on the site as a commissioned caravanserai. A caravanserai is a kind of hotel or inn for travelers and traders taking rest along trade routes, especially the Silk Road, which passed through Anatolia and Istanbul. The han’s spacious courtyard is encompassed by two levels of columned archways which support the deep and low roof. A narrow flight of steps greets visitors in the central courtyard and extends to both sides of the upper level. As I look from the entrance through the web of barbarous grapevines at the rows of pointed archways, I can’t help but draw a parallel to another work by the same imperial architect: Rüstem Paşa Mosque. This mosque, which bears the same name, is just across the Golden Horn, perched above the chaos of tangled shopping streets in Tahtakale. Though each building provides a different purpose, they mirror one another in both form and energy, serving as serene havens in the midst of disarray.

Rustem Pasa Han Sketch 1, Gabrielle Reeves

Rüstem Paşa Han Sketch (Gabrielle Reeves)

 

Rüstem Paşa Han is small, easy to explore, and filled with an array of workshops, glowing neon signs, piles of shipping pallets, and kittens darting under cardboard boxes to escape our approaching footsteps.  As with many historical hans in Istanbul, Rüstem Paşa was converted into a series of workspaces when it no longer served as an inn. As we draw, workers pass and take a curious look at our emerging images, and we in turn glance into their workshops where men work tirelessly in the dim glow of florescent lights, perfecting a trade that has not yet been consumed by machines. As my pen scratches across paper, I fall into a meditation with the sound of the constant work around me; the ting of hammers, the blow of torches, the cutting of metal wires, and the perpetual call for çay.

Drawing is my way of connection. Connection with a place, with the people who inhabit that place, and with the person working beside me. Whether we are sketching with frozen finger tips or trickling with sweat in the fading summer light, this han continues as a source of intrigue, wonder, experience, and discovery. Our drawings in turn serving as a time capsule of each moment and memory as we sit in the midst of human history.

 

 

Sketching Istanbul’s Hans Part 1: Büyük Valide Han

This blog is reposted from Yabangee.com where I and my friend Emilie Varlet are regular contributors.  Emilie and I, as close friends and sketchers, have been collaborating on a writing/drawing project since the Fall 2014.  Here is Emilie’s contribution to the first part of our Han Series.  Mine is soon to follow…

Emilie Varlet and Gabrielle Reeves began exploring Istanbul’s hans in the summer of 2014, when they first started their sketching adventures in the city. They have since become fascinated with these buildings and how they reflect the city’s vast history. In this series of articles, they will share their discovery of these ancient places through drawing and how this exploration has really deepened their love for the city.

Buyuk Han Sketch 5, G Reeves

“Rooftop” Gabrielle Reeves

 

Büyük Valide Han

We sit on borrowed cushions, perched amongst the onion bulb protrusions of the han’s roof, above the hubbub of the anthill streets below, soaking in the luxurious calm. We take in the panorama of this ancient city spread out before us — a model that we never tire of, whose beauty is arresting and timeless. Behind us, an artisan releases pigeons and calls to them. They flip in the air in response, the long feathers on their legs making it look like they are wearing legwarmers.

The journey here is like a treasure hunt, as we wind up behind Eminönü’s backstreets, feeling our way with memory’s fingertips. We take a slightly different road each time, until we eventually wash up at one of its entrances. The Büyük Valide Han feels like a secret we’ve stumbled upon. We walk up to the second story, led by the distant clicking of hammers, and go past artisans’ studios to find the gatekeeper, a jolly man named Mehdi Bey. His crowded keyring also holds the one that opens to door to the rooftop. No password is required, however, just perhaps a few coins.

Buyuk Han Sketch, Emilie Varlet

“Han Sketch” Emilie Varlet

 

We sit, tools in hand, and sketch what we can see: The majestic domes that reign over the skyline, the Bosphorus bridge, and the clusters of buildings growing organically from every direction — a cacophony of angles and an ode to the beauty that can be found in chaos.

It is humbling to sit atop so much history. The building — one of the biggest hans in Istanbul — is as layered as the city it lives in. Originally a Byzantine structure, and later a palace, it was built anew in 1651 as a han and money-maker by Kösem Sultan, a harem girl turned powerful Sultan’s wife, and one of the only women to single-handedly rule the Ottoman Empire. Once a caravanserai and a storehouse for goods coming from the Golden Horn, the han is also said to have housed Kösem’s ample fortune, which disappeared when Kösem was strangled, in some versions of the story, by her long, flowing hair. A less grisly part of the han’s history is that it housed some of the city’s first illegal printing presses, and that the first quran was printed here.

Today, the Büyük Valide Han is very much alive. It isn’t just a crumbling building or a polished monument, but a functional space. It houses various artisans: lamp makers, tailors, and jewelers. On one of our first visits, we were eagerly ushered into a fabric dyer’s workshop, where bra straps bubbled like oversized spaghetti in blackened pots of blue and pink water, and where we were shown the process of dying silver colored buttons to gold with ordinary kitchen tools — illusory alchemy. The joy of sketching at the han has also been in meeting these various characters and getting a peek into the city’s rich world of atölye and their craftsmen.

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“Buyuk Valide Han Sketch” Gabrielle Reeves

 

After some time spent drawing, afternoon turns to evening, the call to prayer rings out, and the light starts to dim. We slowly pack our things, thinking about the journey and the people we’ve met, and take a look at the work we’ve made — our drawings, love letters to the city.

Buyuk Han 6

 

 

Brown Paper Drawings

In order to get more drawing in, I have been carrying a 5×7 inch brown paper sketchbook with me everywhere.  Sometimes life in the city goes so fast and when I look up from my daily activities, I realize it has been days or perhaps weeks since I have drawn.  Although I am painting, stretching canvases or working on some project nearly everyday in my studio, drawing from life introduces a different element to my artistic practice.  While studio work is meditative, something about the call and response of sketching on location makes me feel connected and engaged in an incomparable way.

As you can see from my recent drawings, I can’t seem to get away from this brown paper.  The push and pull of black and white on top of a mid tone seems to work so well with the layers of Istanbul, and I hardly seem to be starting from an intimidatingly white page these days.

If a mere 15 minutes opens in my day, it is enough to keep up with consistent drawing.  I have found through this practice that working within the limitations of my time and materials, can often provide the most creative results.

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Sketching the Asian Side from Besiktas

 

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A sketch and a poem in Karakoy

 

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Topkapi Palace on a sunny day

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An elaborate column from Hagia Sophia

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Sketching home objects in Trabzon

 

Visitors

Last week I had some visitors come from my hometown in Wyoming.  The night before they arrived I was so excited I could barely sleep.  Its not very often that I get guests from Wyoming, as Istanbul is so far away and not yet on the traveling radar for many people.  However, Casper College organizes a yearly trip lead by my dear friend and former professor, and this year the peak interest with everyone was Turkey.

Ever since I moved away from Wyoming, and especially since I have been in Turkey, I have felt overwhelming support from the Casper community.  Though I am far away, I am constantly offered shows and opportunities where I grew up, and it keeps me coming back several times a year.  I am always happy to visit my home town, but last week I got to share my new home with a group of very special people…and I think we will all remember it for years to come.

After 6 days of exploring exquisite mosques, byzantine wonders, busy bazaars, taking a trip to Asia for dinner, having an amazing yoga class lead by Ozgur, dancing to gypsy music in Beyoğlu, and taking a peek into the Istanbul art scene…we were ready to collapse by the weekend, though still full of joy and excitement.  The greatest pleasure for me was especially seeing how this city, which has been so immensely transformative for me, has an impact on each traveler in a different way.

A big thank you to Casper College and Valerie Maiers for allowing me to lead your group through Istanbul, introduce you to my favorite place and favorite people, and for the opportunity to teach my first Istanbul plain air workshops.  Thank you to everyone who joined the trip, for your patience and kindness, and your willingness to trust me.  Thank you to little 1 year old Ari for being so sweet and attracting the love and attention of everyone, including strangers on the street.  I hope to see you all this summer!

Love,

Gabby

A few of us on my favorite rooftop

A few of us on my favorite rooftop

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Istanbul Yogis after Ozgur’s class

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Valerie and I in the Harem at Topkapi Palace

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Watercolor workshop outside of Chora Church

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A beautiful morning in Topkapi Palace

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A watercolor study by Holly Turner

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Our last dinner together

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In the Snow

Earlier this month, we took a long weekend trip to the Black Sea.  Nearly 2 years ago, I traveled this region by car, camping, swimming and driving into the cool mountains and high plateaus.  This year I was anxious to see the Kara Deniz during these cold winter days, as the last time I visited had been in the hot and green summer.

I was picturing snow everywhere up to our ankles, so naturally the only shoes I brought with me were snow boots.  However, when our plane arrived into Trabzon late on a Thursday night, the air was warm and dry, a high contrast to the rainy Istanbul we left behind.

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a quick sketch of Ozgur on the flight to Trabzon

 

Central Trabzon during the day was sunny and pleasant, yet as we drove further into higher elevations, our view was blinded by snow.  Our first excursion into the mountains was to Hidirnebi Yaylasi, where there is an impossibly beautiful view to the sea.  Yet alas, because of the thick fog and falling snow, we could only see a few feet in front of our us.  This obscurity served as a completely different kind of beauty, and we walked among frozen trees and hanging icicles as if in a dream.  After a walk though the deep snow, we warmed our red faces and cold feet by propping them in front of a burning stove in a local cabin.  We were served our own çaydanlık, or tea kettle, and sipped glass after glass of black tea.  Later on, we ate honey on toasted bread and olives and more çay as it brewed on the stove beside us.  I could barely make out the images of huts and homes outside of the window, but did a little sketch regardless of the ambiguous view.

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A sketch from Hidirnebi̇ Yaylasi

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On the the following day, we drove again up the winding mountain roads to a village by the name of Zigana.  The snow was just as deep, but the air remarkably clean and the landscape luminous.  The fog of the previous day had lifted and we could see onto neighboring mountaintops for miles.  We walked through the village, analyzing animal tracks in the snow, taking pictures of the view and feeling the cool bright air on our faces.

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A Little Drawing at the Han

Yes, I am enamored with this place.  Ever since my first trip to Buyuk Valide Han nearly 4 years ago, I am always eager for another visit.  Whether its a day of yoga and picnicking on the hot rooftop in the summer, or sitting bundled up in the corridors drawing doorways and arches while a kind worker offers a warm salep in the dead of winter…hours pass by at the Han as if I were in a time warp.

Last Saturday, we visited the Han to do a bit of research and a quick interview for an upcoming article I am collaborating on with Emilie.  After our conversation with the Kapıcı, or doorman, we climbed up to the roof to take a look at a view that has become so familiar, yet endlessly breathtaking.  On that day, a warm Lodos wind was blowing in from the south, making it difficult to even remain standing as the wind whipped our hair around.

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Me and Ozgur on the rooftop, photo taken by Emilie.

 

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When the wind was no longer tolerable, we settled ourselves on some cement steps in the corridors below for a quick drawing.  I have recently been carrying around a small sketchbook with me, in order to do more daily drawing, even when I only have a minute.  The pocket sized notebook makes it easy to complete a fairly detailed sketch in a short time.  I was happy to see that regardless of its size, the little drawing still had presence.

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Ozgur and I left early as Emilie finished her graphite drawing, which turned out incredibly lovely.

 

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Emilie‘s sketch

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