Istanbul is a city of almost 3,000 mosques. Only sultans had the privilege of building a mosque with more than one minaret. The Turkish people, most of them Moslems, live their traditions in harmony with their Islamic beliefs. The wailing, yet melodious, call to prayer, piped into the streets five times a day from loudspeakers atop the mosques, competes with the honking of taxi horns struggling to crawl through bumper to bumper traffic. The meter has already registered 14 euros and I am far from my destination. We pass a large mosque; the steps are filled with people praying. The energy level of Istanbul is both invigorating and exhausting. My guide, Cem Tas, accompanies me to the world famous Grand Bazaar; there are no bargains due to the weak dollar. Turkey is the only country in the world to span two continents, Asia and Europe; its wealth of rich cultural diversity finds expression in exquisite handicrafts.
The Four Seasons Hotel at Sultanahmet, once a century old neo-classic prison was converted into a deluxe hotel of astonishing beauty in 1996. Surrounded by meandering historic alleyways, lined with shops and restaurants, it is within walking distance from most of the main sights---including the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar. Executive Chef Mehmet Gok. Mehmet began his culinary career as junior sous chef when the hotel opened, expanded his expertise at the Four Seasons in London, Nevis and Cairo; then returned in 2007. Chef joins us during dinner; we feast on his favorite traditional Turkish specialties.
The Sofa Hotel is vibrant, warm, intimate and happening; designed by Sinan Kafadar with the philosophy “time is the most luxurious element”, the lobby flows from bar to café to library book store; artwork by contemporary Turkish artists add subtle touches. My apartment suite, ideal for a long term stay, has modern tasteful furniture, a bedroom, living room, dining area, compact kitchen, huge bathroom . . . and a dressing room closet the size of a small New York studio. I order a traditional breakfast dish, Menemem (scrambled eggs, tomato sauce and white cheese), served with a pot of steamy Turkish coffee and a variety of hot freshly baked rolls. The Sofa is a wonderful place to meet after a day of shopping in this trendy Nisantasi neighborhood; the spa looked inviting, but there wasn’t time for a treatment or a swim.
THE DESIGN SCENE
Lucette introduces me to many designers, artists and shop owners. Erkal Ksoy, a passionate and obsessive rug collector and dealer welcomes me into his sumptuous showroom, housed in a restored house at #4 Filk in the Italian section. His inventory consists of 4,000 old and semi old hand made pieces from England, France and Belgium and Turkey. We have tea in his salon; he encourages me to taste his homemade sour cherry wine liquor.
Gunes, owner of Gunes Oztarakci’s Carpet and Kilm House in trendy Nisantasi has been buying and selling carpets for 29 years. She tells me: “I have a collection of rare carpets no other dealer has, and a carpet museum. Each carpet is different; the designs may be similar; weaving a carpet is more difficult than painting. Double knots are more durable and hand tied”.
Gaia & Gino, an award winning innovative design company makes home accessories; their new line of Gino the Dog canine products gives new meaning to “it’s a dog’s life” . . . from porcelain food bowls to a genuine leather doghouse.
Arzu Kaprol, the creative director of more than 60 stores, and one of the first Turkish designers to open a shop with her own brand, calls her style “Ottomodern”. She uses Ottoman details and themes on the inside of her garments; “ Turkish women could not express ourselves properly, now we can in a good way”. Having designed camouflage uniforms for the Turkish army, she was able to experiment with new techniques and fabrics which won her the Aviva Award.
Aynur Iyigun is a petite, deeply sensitive and passionate artist with huge soulful blue eyes. Elart, her eclectic chic boutique, reflects her many talents and accomplishments as a painter on canvas and ceramics, jewelry, clothing and accessory designer. We sit on exquisite little chairs in her charming shop sipping wine, and chatting about life and love.
Sevan Bicakci is a remarkable man of many facets, an intricately talented artist who spends his life living his dream and getting paid for it; his intricately designed rings are in the treasured possession of many discriminating collectors of fine art and exquisite jewelry. We meet at the Four Seasons in Istanbul where his work is showcased, as it is all over the world, including Barney’s New York. Emre Dilaver acts as Sevan’s interpreter. Only our eyes and our soul are able to speak the same language. This is a man whose heart is as large as the rings he works months to create. Sevan collaborates with all kinds of artisans; he is the master of micro mosaics, piling one layer on top of another to build huge rings that defy a meek finger. I look into the center of a stone and see seagulls flying around; they have all been hand painted on the back of the stone. I look into a huge citrine and see the head of a Trojan horse, and a scene from the Battle of Troy. He tells me: “I am never inspired by previously made jewelry, but how I perceive life in Istanbul. I am inspired by Rumi, the great philosopher and poet, who teaches us that when you find God in yourself, learn to love you, then you can love and find God in others.” As I embrace and examine each ring, I feel I am exploring Sevan’s soul. This is a man who wants to be understood; he is evolving within his own personal stratosphere as he searches for complex and deep meanings.
Each piece is a different collaboration. It begins with his idea, rooted in his passion for the history of Islamic art and architecture; he then collaborates with an archeologist who has knowledge of micro mosaics; a miniature painter from Iran with knowledge of porcelain making, and a stone setter (which is an art in its own way) who is a big contributor to the finished masterpiece. As many as nine people work on one piece: engraving on metal, enameling, miniatures painting, illuminating the piece, and setting the stone . . . all of which reflect his genus.
Sevan, a visionary and a magnet for talented people, continues to experiment as he explores his thoughts, ideas and emotions. Turkey can take great pride in Sevan’s devotion to Islamic art and its evolution as he preserves and translates the soul of Istanbul, Sufism and the roots of Rumi into priceless treasures.
Kaya Demirer’s new restaurant TOPAZ, the Jewel of Istanbul is about to open; his designer arrives from Paris to supervise finishing touches. The three of us dine at the Tules Restaurant in the Kempinki Ciragan Palace Hotel, then move on to Jazz By Les Ottomans. Mehmet Ali Acilmus has been a jazz fan for years. His sexy jazz club, next to the exquisite Les Ottomans Hotel is a great place for an after dinner drink; we mellow out to the sultry sounds of the singer and back up trio.
I am sorry to leave Istanbul, a city that welcomed me into its embrace and treated me like an Ottoman Princess. Turkey rates an A+ in my notebook of “Unforgettable Places and Memorable Visits”,
To learn more about designer SEVAN BICAKCI: www.sevanbicakci.com
The Ritz Carlton Hotels and Resorts reservations: www.ritzcarlton.com
Turkish Airlines Reservations: www.thy.com or 1-800-874-8875
Four Seasons: www.fourseasons.com
For info on Turkey: www.tourismturkey.org
The Sofa Hotel: www.sofahotel.com
To book a helpful English speaking guide contact [email protected]
Unusual Places in Istanbul
Sadberk Hanim Museum
A private collection of Antiquities and Ottoman embroideries and costumes
Old, colorful, multi cultural parts of Pera; streets are lined with junk and antique shops, Turkish Bath Houses and the Cukurcuma Mosque.
The biggest cistern constructed by the Roman and Byzantium Empire to store water during possible invasions.
An Ottoman museum, Industrialist Rahmi Koc helped restore in the Zeyrek District.
Pandeli Restaurant and the Spice Market
At the entrance of the spice market since 1956.
500 year old bazaar of rare books and priceless manuscripts; Book auctions are held Tuesdays and Fridays.
Great Places to Shop
The Grand Bazaar
Bursa Design Mall
Kanyon Shopping Mall
Akmerkez, 246 exclusive shops
Metro City, young dynamic shopping and dining center