This post is part 11 of 17 of my trip to Istanbul. The series intends to give more than just a I-saw-this-and-did-that review. It aims to share the voice inside my head as I explore a world I’ve only read in books.
After devouring an entire feast at the Asitane Restaurant, JC and I became lethargic and comatosed. It was too early to call it a day and since I like to take 8 hour naps, it would have been a waste of a day in Istanbul. We wandered to the back streets behind the restaurant and the Chora Church and came upon the ruins of the old Theodosian Walls, also known as The Walls of Constantinople. We decided to walk back to Eminonu. Rick Steve’s guidebook told us to look for a large Turkish flag to guide us. It was no where to be found so we approached a local to ask for directions. He was way too eager to help. Carrying his shoe shining bucket, he led the way up a flight of stairs on to the top of the Theodosian Walls. I took my time climbing up knowing the fall would not be pleasant. He rambled about his three babies and asked if I was the misses. I couldn’t make out the rest of it so I just shook my head and smiled.
He pointed the way to Eminonu and we gave him our thanks but he wouldn’t let us go. He chatted away and we smiled and nodded and hoped that universal body language would convey to him that we had to go. He was still talking when we started to make our way toward the stairs. He suddenly plopped his chair and bucket down in the middle of the wall and motioned for us to give him our feet. He wanted to shine our shoes and we knew he was looking to get paid for his work. We politely declined and JC handed him a few Liras to thank him for showing us the way. He stopped talking after that and we proceeded to make our way carefully down the stairs. We went our separate ways but then JC and I realized we were walking in the wrong direction. We turned around and headed back the way the shoe shiner left. We saw him standing under a tree in front of an old dilapidated house. A short stubby woman came outside and shouted at the boy who was poking a dead cat with his wooden stick. The shoe shiner turned his back to us as if he didn’t want to see us and focused on the dead cat instead. I guess all that friendliness was just to make a buck or two.
During our 2 hour walk along the Theodosian Wall, we passed by underdeveloped neighborhoods that stood out starkly in contrast to Sultanahmet. What’s beautiful about it is that the locals embrace the ruins of the walls as part of their daily lives. They don’t ignore it or commercialize it as a tourist attraction. The Theodosian Walls are fully integrated into the neighborhood, the houses, the local food stands and the mosques. It doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb even with its remarkable history. The Theodosian Walls are one of the most impressive city walls in the world stretching from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara. They were breached in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade and in 1453 by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. After that, Constantinople became Istanbul.
We entered through the Edirnekapi Gate and walked along the length of the walls to Eminonu. We passed through the grave site of the followers of Muhammad. They fought the jihads of the Byzantine Empire but they failed and are now buried in the cemetery near the gate. Our walk consisted of running through oncoming traffic, scrambling through wet mud and passing by abandoned fish boats. They were the same ones used to make fish sandwiches down by Eminonu district.