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

 

An Unexpected Adventure

2 weekends ago, I hopped on a plane with a few friends and flew a mere 45 minutes to Izmir, Turkey.  From there it was only a shuttle ride away from the town of Selçuk.  Selçuk was the first town that I visited in Turkey, way back in 2008 when I was traveling with a group of college students, all of us learning to draw on location while experiencing a foreign culture.  This time however, I was here for a very different reason…deve güreşleri..or camel wresting.

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Its something I have always hear about…Turkey has 2 kinds of famous wresting..camel wrestling and oil wrestling, and after a 6 year affair with this country, I’ve finally seen one of them.

I am usually not one to pass up cultural experiences, or weekend trips to a nostalgic town.  So very spontaneously, I found myself on the sunny Aegean Coast, just miles from the ancient city of Ephesus, but instead of strolling through ruins I was in the midst of hundreds of picnicking locals and elaborately dressed camels.  The air was thick with smoke from BBQs as onlookers grilled vegetables and meat, passed around mezes, poured rakı and danced to gypsy bands weaving their way among the crowd.

As the day continued, the action in the ring fell into the background as we wandered the area.  We sat for a time and watched a group of men performing a traditional Turkish folk dance, talked with locals who visit the event every year and bought our own camel wrestling scarves…a checkered and fringed type of shawl which usually features an embroidered camel in the center.  We visited the adorned camels, and learned they had names like “Black Uncle,” “Half World” and “Lightening.”

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After some time, we found a comfortable place on the grass, and sat down to sketch one of the waiting camels.  I usually don’t draw animals, because I never seem to have the chance.  But these stoic creatures were standing so still that it was the perfect chance to try it out.  We eventually gathered a crowd of curious festival fans and photographers and pretty soon were tourist attractions ourselves.

At the end of the day, we loaded onto our shuttle smelling like camp fire smoke and grass. Each one of us exhausted and sunburned, our ears ringing from the constant thump of drums and the blaring clarinet…tired and happy.

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Me and Emilie‘s sketchbooks

 

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My sketch of “Demiroz”

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Winter Days in Istanbul

Upon my return to Istanbul, I was greeted by a blast of cold moving in from Siberia and settling a layer of fresh snow in the city.  I was half expecting to find solace from the cold as I had just departed from the -33 degree Wyoming winter, and the mild Istanbul weather seemed like a promising relief.  I was not met with the warm sun but I was however met with love, friends, hot çay and a few adventurous days of sketching in the snow.

Emilie, a fellow sketcher, jewelry maker, coffee drinker and just great friend has been joining me since summer on drawing dates around the city.  You can read about her experiences and see her work on her blog.  Since Istanbul nearly shuts down at the sight of snow, Emilie was off work for 3 days, and we jumped at the chance to explore some new sketching spots.

Durring the entire week we drew huddled up in the Haydarpaşa Train Station with kitties keeping us warm on our laps, sat on the cold marble in Hagia Sophia, and sketched in warm hipster coffee shops with our friend Melody who is also joining us these days.  We had chance encounters, ate in newly found restaurants, planned new projects and filled up our sketchbooks.  It was as if we had extended our holidays, and stepped into a space where we could settle back into the city to rediscover all over again, what made us fall in love with it in the first place.

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Photo Credit: Emilie Varlet

 

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Photo Credit: Emilie Varlet

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My sketchbook in Haydarpasa Train Station

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My sketchbook in Gezi Park

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My drawing of Emilie in Karakoy

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Emilie’s drawing of me in Karakoy

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Drawing Melody and Emilie and and myself in the mirror.

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Emilie’s drawing of me

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Emilie’s drawing of Karabatak Cafe in Karakoy

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Pekmez Yaparkan

Fall in Cappadocia is a time for harvesting.  All along the village streets, women sit in front of their homes to remove seeds from piles of fresh pumpkins or pick white beans from their stocks.  Crates of grapes are carried home in the back of every tractor and the air is filled with a smell of burning wood as the grapes are boiled down into pekmez..

Pekmez is a kind of molasses made from grape juice, and since Cappadocia grows some of the best grapes in Turkey, you can find this thick syrup prepared in nearly every household in the area.

The process is fairly simple, but long and a bit exhausting.  I was invited into several homes to help with making pekmez during my stay at BCH this September.  The grapes are first gathered into large tarp bags and then stomped continuously until juice runs out from the bags and through a tube and into a plastic basin.  My job was to carry the basin full of juice to a large copper pot where it would eventually be boiled.  We occasionally dipped a cup into the juice as it was pouring out to enjoy a fresh glass while we worked.  When the copper basin was at last filled, it was placed on a fire and cooked until it was frothy and boiling.

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The pekmez is cooked for hours and nothing else is added to it besides a few large ladles of a special volcanic dirt…I was told that this addition is what makes the pekmez so sweet, and without it the taste would be sour.

Families work late into the night, and wake early in the morning to continue until all the grapes are stomped and boiled..resulting in an abundance of sweet golden colored liquid to be sold and consumed with nearly every meal for the coming winter months.  the entire process takes days, but I found it to be such an enjoyable event with lots of time to visit with family, friends and new guests.

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A page from my sketchbook, “Making Pekmez” September, 2014

I managed to make a pekmez drawing in the midst of the one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever been apart of…sitting under a tarp in the rain, while pots of pekmez boiled in front of us, sketching continuously even though the smoke from the fire burned our eyes, eating fresh potatoes cooked directly on the coals, and dipping bread into a bowl of pekmez cooked just hours before..an indescribable moment that can only be attempted to capture through drawing.

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Return

Now that I am caught up my my India posts, here is some news from the present:

I’ve recently retuned to one of my favorite places that I have ever visited, Ibrahimpasa village in Cappadocia.  I was here last summer for a 2 month residency before my Indian adventure, and I have to say, it was one of the best times in my life.  So this year, I have returned to do a shortened 2 week research period in order to reconnect with this place, and get back in touch with that constant flow of observation and response that I experienced last summer.

Some shots from my first day..

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