We've spent the last week in Turkey, first in Istanbul and then in Ankara, the capital, located in the interior in the country. Turkey is interesting historically because Constantinople was the seat of Christianity under the Roman and Byzantine empires for over 1000 years. Then the Ottoman Turks from Central Asia moved in during the 15th century, changing Constantinople to Istanbul and founding the Ottoman empire, which lasted until the end of World War I. This transition from Christianity to Islam makes the architecture and feel of Istanbul very interesting. We visited the Hagia Sophia, a huge church built in the 5th century, and probably the most impressive building I've ever seen. It was converted to a mosque when the Ottomans conquered Anatolia, and then became a museum in the 20th century under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Hagia Sophia has amazing domes and mosaics depicting Christ, but also Islamic symbols from the Ottoman empire. All the mosques in Turkey are modeled after the Hagia Sophia, so they all look the same, and much prettier than the ones in Egypt. In Istanbul we visited the U.S. Consulate, and heard from politicians and a Turkish Protestant pastor. We also visited the famous Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, which was basically a big covered maze of shops selling all sorts of tourist items. In Ankara, we visited the Turkish foreign ministry and toured Ataturk's mausoleum and museum. Ankara is a lot less interesting than Istanbul, so we've also spent a lot of time in our very nice hotel.
Today we head to Syria, where we'll spend the night in the town of Hama and then visit a Crusader castle on Friday. From there we'll go to an Aramaic-speaking town, and then to Damascus where we'll meet with a couple that are working for the Mennonite Central Committee, something I'm particularly interested in. We're also visiting the U.S. Embassy in Syria to discuss our foreign relations. We won't have internet in Syria, or at least not very accessible, so I won't be updating until we get to Jordan or Israel next week. For now, we're heading off on the road to Damascus . . .