Compared to our prior recordings (Venice, the Dolomites, or Florence), I notice a difference in the style and feeling in this recording of Istanbuls’s sounds. Partly, this is because we’re in a big city of 12 million people (not my favorite size for cities, I confess); and partly, Istanbul is more “foreign” than the other places we’ve visited to date. I hope you’ll tell me if you also notice it in this recording.
As usual, I’ve demonstrated that an iPod is not the optimal recording device, so if you have headphones it may improve your listening experience. (And you may find the listening notes below interesting before you click play, too.)
For Istanbul’s recording, I wanted to highlight azan, the Islamic Call to Prayer, both because it is beautiful and because we heard it 225 times while in Turkey and Egypt.
The call to prayer is recited 5 times a day in any Muslim country; interestingly, Turkey has a slightly different version following Ataturk’s secular reforms in the 1920’s. The timing varies according to sunrise and sunset, so I found a website which tracks the times (thanks to Turkey Traveller for an excellent English-language resource on all things Turkish).
Observant Muslims pray each time the call to prayer is announced by the müezzin, a man selected for his good voice to chant the phrases through a loudspeaker mounted on the minaret of each neighborhood’s local mosque. Worshippers may go to the mosque to pray or they may unroll a prayer mat where-ever they are when the call sounds, kneel in what looks much like child’s pose (yoga), and touch their forehead to the ground several times as part of their prayers.
Although much of Istanbul ignores the call and goes about daily business as if they didn’t hear it (and after a few days, we didn’t pay it much attention, either, often sleeping through the pre-dawn call), sometimes in a back corner of a shop I noticed employees praying. If you pass by a mosque a few minutes before the call to prayer, you’ll see men outside at the fountains or spigots performing ablutions (washing hands and feet before entering the mosque) and a pile of shoes near the doorway (shoes aren’t worn in a mosque, I’m told, mostly to protect the gorgeous carpets. I’m not certain whether there’s a religious purpose or not).
In this full-length recording of a call to prayer from the mosque down the street from our apartment, I have interspersed several other Istanbul sounds. You will hear, in order:
0:00 Rain falling as it did frequently during the dreary winter days we spent in Turkey, and neighbors chatting as they pass under our window. We found Turks to be very social.
1:17 Street music. It wasn’t exactly Florence and street musicians were few and far between, possibly because it was the dead of winter.
2:32 Protesters on Istiklal Cadessi (a popular shopping/pedestrian street). The protests were about Syria but I couldn’t tell which side they supported. We saw several protests about Syria; as the country shares one of Turkey’s borders, it’s obviously of serious concern here. (Trivia: driving from Istanbul to Damascus takes about as long as it would to drive from LA to Oklahoma City)
3:35 A minute-long introduction to the noise and chaos of the Spice Bazaar, one of my favorite places in Istanbul to shop. You can hear a young boy yelling out to shoppers, practicing his sales skills while he hung out with his father – or maybe an uncle – in a cheese stall.
The clip ends by letting you eavesdrop on one of our hard-driving bargaining sessions with a dried-fruit vendor.
You may notice some singing sounds in the quiet spaces between the chants coming from our mosque. Those are the echoes of all the other chants from all the other mosques around Istanbul!
If you’re interested in the stunning beauty of mosques (I was completely captivated), check out this series of trip reports by a wonderful writer KC and I met in Italy. He and his wife live in southern Turkey and took a driving tour to find and photograph former mosques from the mystical practice of Sufism (you may know the practitioners as the Whirling Dervishes).