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Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister announced last week the introduction of the Museum Pass Istanbul Card for tourists visiting museums of Istanbul. Museum Pass is valid for Chora Museum and Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism -owned museums in İstanbul.

The Museum Pass Istanbul Card allows travelers to enter into Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism -owned museums in İstanbul. It costs 72 Turkish Liras and permits a single entrance to the museums for a maximum of three days or 72 hours. International travelers can purchase The Museum Pass Istanbul at four- and five-star hotels, mobile card stores and Tourism Information Offices.

This is a great solution for tourists who want to see the masterpieces of İstanbul that everyone talks about. No more standing in queue, this pass allows you to go straight to the turnstile and save time.

There are 6 museums which travelers can enter easily with this card. The museums are as follows; Hagia Sophia Museum, Topkapi Palace Museum (except Harem Apartments), Chora Museum, Istanbul Archaeological Museums, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul Mosaic Museum.

The ministry in cooperation with the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) introduced Museum Card in 2008 for Turkish citizens only in order to bring Turkish people to the museums.

Turkish Hotels Federation President Ahmet Barut and Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry Director of Promotion Cumhur Guven TasbasiAndy Kurum; FTNnews.com Los Angeles representative attended the reception held at Istanbul Archaeological Museum.Reception and conference organized with the participation of Mr. Ertugrul Gunay; Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister.

The head of the Culture and Tourism Ministry’s Revolving Capital Administration; Murat Usta said that number of museum cards issued for Turkish citizens reached 2.2 million by the end of 2010 and number of Turkish travelers visiting museums 61% from 2006 to 2010. Thanks to the “Museum Card”, Turkish travelers can visit more than 300 museums and archaeological sites in Turkey for a period of one year.

Mr. Günay also introduced a new museum card for Turkish citizens; Museum Card Plus. The new card has additional advantages compare to the Museum Card. Turkish travelers can get some discounts at culture and art events, free pass or discounts at some private museums. The new Museum Card Plus which is valid for one year and costs 40 Turkish Liras.

Mr. Günay also made another announcement during the reception held at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum for the return of the ancient Hittite Boğazköy Sphinx, which arrived in Istanbul after more than nine decades in Germany.

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Byzantine encounters, Fener in Istanbul


John Brunton, The Guardian, Saturday

Istanbul is one of those destinations that guarantees a shock to the system, a seething metropolis that is a chaotic meeting place of east and west, ancient and modern. But when it comes to choosing where to stay, there is a surprising return to normality, with most visitors choosing between reliable budget accommodation concentrated around the tourist golden triangle of the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and Sultanahmet, or the funkier neighbourhoods of Beyoglu, Taksim and Ortakoy, where there are a host of famous-name luxury hotels.

On my last trip, though, I booked a brilliant new holiday rental that offers a completely different way to discover this fascinating city, the chance to experience a genuine slice-of-local-life where there isn’t another tourist in sight. Verystanbul is hidden away on the shores of the Golden Horn, in the district of Fener, the historic home of a large Greek and Jewish population, just by the original city walls that date back to Istanbul’s origins as Byzantium and Constantinople. This charming two-room self-catering holiday home – you can rent one room or both – spreads over a three-storey traditional Greek house, newly renovated with a colourful bow-windowed facade and cool designer interiors, where guests have the run of the whole place, including a fully equipped kitchen, comfortable lounge and a sunny terrace on the top floor. The French owners, Pascal and Béatrice, are rarely around, and the place is efficiently overseen by a local Turk, Rahmi, and his friendly wife, Gulumser. But relaxing in this comfortable house is just half the story, as to stay in Fener is to immerse yourself in an Istanbul that bears little resemblance to guidebook descriptions.

The Verystanbul adventure begins just getting there by taxi. Even though I’d meticulously printed off both the map and Turkish instructions from the website, the driver still got utterly lost, and we found ourselves driving up and down a maze of steep, narrow backstreets, asking shopkeepers and stallholders for directions, until we finally pulled up outside. This is now a fiercely conservative Muslim neighbourhood, and first impressions produce a serious dose of culture shock: while several buildings have been carefully renovated – Fener was recently declared a Unesco world heritage site – the rest resemble crumbling ruins. The street is teeming with people, kids playing football, veiled housewives collecting scrapwood for heating, men sitting round a brazier brewing a pot of tea, while one family that owns a TV sets it up on the pavement so neighbours can watch a soccer match. There is a queue of people snaking out of the house next door to Verystanbul, and it turns out to be a medieval-like bakery, producing the traditional simit, sesame-covered Turkish bagels, perfect for breakfast as they come straight out of the oven.

Although initially we get a lot of curious looks, the locals are already used to strangely dressed foreigners trooping in and out of Pascal and Béatrice’s house, and could not be friendlier. So what at first seems intimidating turns out to be welcoming, from the Kurdish lady in the food store, who only frowns when we make the mistake of asking if she sells beer, to the helpful grocer where we stock up for a picnic of pomegranates, fresh goat’s cheese and honey, walnuts and delicious dried apricots. In the streets around Verystanbul, we discover Mekteb-i (Akcin Sok 3/A, Fener), a bohemian cafe where locals sip tiny glasses of boiling cay – Turkish tea – and an Armenian painter sets up his easel outside; Merkez Sekercisi (Leblebiciler Sok 33, Balat, +90 212 523 9334), an irresistible Aladdin’s cave selling homemade ice cream and luscious Turkish delight; and Tarihi Halic (Abdulezel Pasa Caddesi 117, Fener, +90 212 534 9414), a lively restaurant, open 24 hours a day, with a huge rooftop terrace overlooking the waters of the Golden Horn, specialising in traditional dishes like garlic soup, kokorec – tasty grilled lamb’s intestines – and the best kebabs I have ever eaten.

Although all the classic tourist sights of Topkapi and the Grand Bazaar are a quick bus ride away, we decide to continue the Verystanbul experience, escape the crowds and spend the weekend exploring Fener itself, coming across little-known churches like St Mary of the Mongols, the cast-iron Bulgarian church of St Stephen, the towering red-brick Orthodox College and sumptuous Vatican-like residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and a hidden jewel, the Kariye Museum (Chora Church). Decorated with delicate frescoes and mosaics, this unique building mirrors Istanbul’s complex history, originally a church, then transformed into a mosque and now a secular museum.

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A place not to miss in Istanbul: Chora Museum

Many tourists begin to visit Turkey in April, and from then on you can bet that every month throughout the summer numbers will increase. Tourism season has begun.

When my guests ask me what they should see in İstanbul. I always suggest that if they have time they must visit the Chora Museum. You may know the museum by its Turkish name, Kariye Müzesi. Kariye is the Turkish version of Chora, which was the Greek word for “countryside.” When you see where the church is situated today it takes some imagination to picture that at one time the location was countryside. The magnificent Chora Museum is an old Byzantine church, situated just inside the city walls at Edirnekapı. It is unparalleled in Turkey, and some would claim the world, for its beautiful frescos and mosaics. Although it is a bit off the routine tourist path, it is well worth the visit if you have time and enjoy mosaics and frescoes.

One of the leading frescos is the Anastasis fresco in the side chapel of the church. I wonder what you think of when you hear the word anastasios, “resurrection” in Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament. Easter Sunday this year is on April 24, the day when Christians remember Christ’s resurrection from the dead and many children enjoy Easter egg hunts.

It is said that the word anastasios is related to the name of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the daughter of the last tsar of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II. When the Bolsheviks executed Tsar Nicholas and his family on July 17, 1918 it was rumored that the 17-year-old survived. It is unclear how much of this is fact, it could be just the wishful thinking of royalist supporters as her name means “I will arise.” I leave it for you to judge.

A brief summary of Byzantine history: In the days of Byzantine Emperor Constantine, when the monastery the church was attached to was built this was the country area outside of the city walls. Emperor Theodosius in A.D. 413 built his walls a little further out, but the name, meaning countryside, stuck.

During the reign of Justinian the monastery was devastated by an earthquake and was rebuilt as a basilica. It was restored again in 843. Considerable rebuilding and redecoration were carried out in the 11th century; Alexios Komnenos, who sponsored this work, is immortalized in a mosaic, standing behind the Virgin Mary. Another 150 years later the structure was enlarged and decorated with complex and beautiful mosaics by Theodore Metochites. Everyone who has visited Chora has reported back how much they enjoyed the visit, the wonderful mosaics that tell the life of Christ in pictures and beautiful frescoes that illustrate Old Testament stories.

One of the delights of the church is that it is on a much smaller scale than, say, the Aya Sofya. Most describe it as being intimate and cozy. The arched ceilings that are so vividly decorated are not 20 or 30 meters above your head, they are so near you can almost reach up and touch them. This enables the visitor to really appreciate the fine detail of the artistry.

When the church was converted into a mosque after Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, thankfully, instead of destroying the wonderful artwork (that was held as blasphemous by Muslims as it depicted so many people) they just covered it up. So these wonderful pristine examples of Byzantine art lay dormant over the centuries until 1948, when the Byzantine Institute of America began the painstaking work of revealing and restoring these hidden masterpieces. The result: The Chora Church, which had previously undergone a metamorphosis into the Kariye Camii, was reborn as the Chora (or Kariye) Museum.

I always enjoy seeing the stories depicted in pageantry throughout each of the walkways of the church. The frescoes tell the story of the raising of the dead. The lighting and shade, the power and movement in the figures, just add to the amazing explosive feeling of the grave bursting open and the Easter miracle occurring before our very eyes. However, these frescoes are just a warm-up for the main event in Chora. You should walk along one side of the church to a side chapel, the parekklession, or grave chapel. The parekklession ends with a wide-arched apse, and here is the famous fresco of the Anastasis.

Take an afternoon to stroll into the area of Kariye, and visit the museum and its wonderful Easter theme today.

Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey, 2005.” Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: c.mcpherson@todayszaman.com

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