Sounds of This Place: Istanbul

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.)

Click here to listen.

Listening Notes

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).

Istanbul 156 with loudspeakersObservant 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).

Istanbul 002

I got a kick out of this sign in the ladies’ room near the mosque inside the airport. In other words, please don’t wash your feet in the bathroom sink!

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)

Istanbul 065

Not a protest, but a rainy day in Istanbul with a ceremony for the Turkish National Cycling Team

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.

Istanbul 072

A quiet day inside the Grand Bazaar

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!

Blue Mosque 004

The carpeted interior of the famous Blue Mosque in 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).


  1. Awesome recording. I must admit that it had never occurred to me to post audio files, but they do give a very interesting perspective. While the sound quality of an Ipod may be limited, it certainly captures the scenes very well.

    As for the don’t wash your feet here sign, I saw several of them in Bolivia, particularly in bus terminals. They were usually accompanied by don’t wash your hair signs.

  2. Terrific. Thnak YOU. And please send them in future to the new email I gave you.

  3. Back again having listed better. Wonderful recordings brought back happy memories of my trip to Turkey and strolling the streets and bazaars – an listening to the calls to prayer.

    1. Glad to help you stroll those streets again; that’s the whole idea!

  4. This is great – and educational! Just FYI, the street musicians have been wandering here in Florence even in the dead of winter…

    1. Oh, I loved those impromptu evening concerts in Piazza della Signora…

      1. Every time that 3 piece wandering band passes my window here I think about your “sounds of this place” and how I should really try and record them…

      2. If you’re talking about the Rom Draculas, we bought their CD. It’s already one of our favorite souvenirs. Actually, I burned it and sent the CD to my dad, who’s now enjoying it, too.

  5. Great recording….I have vivid memories of the Grand Bazaar – and bought a gorgeous pale salmon leather jacket – I’m sure I disappointed the salesman as I couldn’t stand the haggling and probably paid way too much but it still was a very good deal. I realized I was not suited to Turkey. And the smell in the mosque….all that food odour embedded in those magnificent carpets! It’s probably best described as a love/hate relationship but then you spent so much more time that you got a proper feel for it.

    1. Too funny. We were probably terrible hagglers, too, as we both hate it, but having lots of time to shop slowly and research gave us time to gear up for it. When we finally found a ceramics artist we both loved, we went back to the store 3 times before settling on pieces and prices. It made for a much less stressful experience, but even so I think I developed a nervous twitch when walking by ANY shop and I still try to steal quick glances without being too obvious in stores in Gaborone. Which you probably know is ridiculous because they’re the most hands-off sales people on the planet!

      As for the food smell, I swear I’m part Turkish; I love it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: