2010 Reflections

Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies

Istanbul Travel Log

The massive group trip to our symposium in Istanbul was the second of its kind for us (first was Delphi 2008).  Arts and Humanities Assistant Dean, Nancy Messina was with us and fortunately kept track of all the goings on.  What follows is her six-day report.

Day 1

Well, thankfully we did not have a repeat of the 48 hour Greek Odyssey to Delphi.  Upon arrival in France, we made it to our connecting flight, after maneuvering through the very slow transportation system and security at DeGaulle Airport, just in the nick of time to board.  Flights were good and I was very happy to report to Tom Papademetriou that we made it to Istanbul. Tom arranged for the Stockton group to be met at the airport and transported through Istanbul to the ferry.  Once we got to the ferry, it felt like we were almost home :) The 1 hour 15 minute ferry ride to Heybeliada gave everyone in the group a chance to finally relax and just enjoy the ride.

Upon arrival we were welcomed at the dock by a smiling Tom Papademetriou and David Roessel.

Since there are no cars on the island, some of our luggage and members of the group were taken in horse carriages up the very steep hill to The Halki Palace Hotel.  A few of us  walked to the hotel and had a chance to take in many of the lovely old buildings, some of which are being renovated. It is really quite beautiful here on the island.

After a short break the group met in the hotel lobby and walked down the hill to have dinner.  Tom ordered a variety of different dishes for everyone to taste and we dined outside by the water where everyone shared in their first taste of the local cuisine, which was excellent. It was a perfect ending to a very long day of travel. It was very interesting to notice how quiet it is here while walking back to the hotel after dinner.

Day 2

A very busy day. The Richard Stockton College Second International Symposium Greek Orthodox (Rum Ortodoks) Religious Culture in Ottoman Anatolia: Monuments, Memory, and Material Culture opened with Session I greetings to all participants and attendees by Tom Papademetriou. The Opening Address was presented by Deacon Niphon Tsalikis, who spoke on behalf of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartolomew Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch.

Session II: Patrons, Communities and Churches included presentations by Dimitri Stamatopoulos (University of Macedonia), Tom Papademetriou (Richard Stockton College), Sacit Pekak (Hacetteppe University), Filiz Yenesehirlioglu (Baskent University), and Eva Aleksandru Sarlak (Isik University). A question and answer session followed.

The afternoon started off with a ferry boat ride to the Island of Buyukada (name means the large island) with a scheduled excursion to visit St. George Monastery.  Some members of the group, led by David Roessel, immediately headed off for the very long walk up the mountain to the Monastery. The remaining members of the group took a short break for lunch before taking a carriage ride half-way up the mountain to the Monastery. The last fifteen minute trek of the journey was accomplished either by donkey, pony or by foot.

The Monastery was quite beautiful. Many of the icons inside were decorated with ornate gold and silver. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling.  Most of the walls and the ceilings displayed iconography.  We also learned from one of the monks that the Monastery was named after St. George of the Bells. We were each given a small bell as a remembrance of our visit. The view from the top of the mountain was extremely beautiful.

The scheduled event of the evening was a staged reading of the play Auxentian Repentant coordinated by Iosif Vivilakis and performed by students Alcmene Kalogirou, Lina Margoni and Kosmas Hatzis from the University of Athens Department of Theatre Studies.

Day 3

Today was the never ending day for the group. It was a very full day of events as you will learn.

There were two Sessions during today's Symposium: Session III was titled Religious Culture Clash: Heresy and Missionaries with presentations by Iosif Vivilakis (University of Athens), and Elcin Macar (Yildiz Teknik University). Session IV: Memory, Heritage and Cultural Preservation I included papers by Anna Ballian (Benaki Museum), Ioanna Petropoulou (Center for Asia Minor Studies), Heath Lowry (Princeton University), and Nikiforos Metaxas (Bosphorus Cultural Alliance). Both sessions included a very interesting slate of papers and slide presentations, followed by thoughtful questions and discussions by both presenters and participants.

The afternoon included a scheduled tour of the Greek Theological School and Holy Trinity Monastery, which is located up a very steep hill on Heybeliada. We were given a tour and lecture on the history of the Monastery by Father Ephraim who is the only remaining monk there. We were allowed to visit the chapel, and also sat in the antique wooden desks in one of the former classrooms.  The highlight of the tour was the research library which included room after room of the hundreds of books in many languages, some dating back to the 1400's.

Later in the evening an outdoor performance of the Stockton College Theater Program STONES FROM GOD (TANRI'DAN TASLAR), took place at the site of Heybeliada International Sound Center. The cast of Jason Benjamin, Jaaron Boger, Allison Eisenberg, Lane Jackson, Patrick Judd, Alex London, Sarra Mazur and Alice Servellon gave an amazing performance of the original production by Pamela Hendrick and Tom Papademetriou. This special performance included a few 'extras' who literally walked on the stage (street) during the performance.  Audience members from the local community, Symposium participants, and a couple of the local dogs and cats that roam the streets of the island were all very impressed by the oral histories as they were performed by the actors.

The evening concluded with a lovely dinner on the terrace at the Halki Palace, where the Symposium was being held. At the conclusion of dinner we were treated to a concert by members of the musical ensemble BOSPHORUS. The music was wonderful, and although the songs were sung in Turkish the audience could feel the lyrics through the melodic voice of vocalist Vasiliki Papageorgiou and the talented musicians who accompanied her.

Needless to say it was a perfect ending to a very full day.

Day 4

The last day of the Symposium Session V: Memory, Heritage and Cultural Presentation II included a talk by Bruce Clark (The Economist), and Session VI: Monuments and Travel in The Ottoman Realm included a joint paper presented by Stockton College students Lillian Hussong and Leticia Ramos.  Upon conclusion of the final sessions, Tom Papademetriou acknowledged all the participants thanking them for their contributions to the Symposium.  He also acknowledged the enormous amount of work done by Co-chair David Roessel. In addition, Tom sent a special thanks to the ARHU staff, and to all those whose efforts over the past year contributed to the planning and to bringing the Symposium to fruition. And, finally kudos were given to Pam Hendrick and Mark Mallett and Cast for staging a very successful production of STONES FROM GOD on Heybeliada Island.

Shortly after the closing of the Symposium the Stockton group checked out of the hotel and headed down to the docks to take the ferry to Istanbul. This leg of the journey included transporting costumes, props, and the boxes used for the set along with all the luggage.

After a very pleasant ferry ride, we docked in Instanbul ready to set-out on the next part of our journey.  Thankfully a van awaited for the luggage and transport of the costumes, props and set to the second performance location. Those who did not go with the van were fortunate to enjoy their first experience of Istanbul, taking the very, very, very, very crowded tram to the hotel.

The remainder of the day allowed the group free time to visit the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque), explore the area nearby the hotel, or catch-up on their rest before dinner.  

Everyone in the group was excited to be in Istanbul and was looking forward to the second part of our journey.

Day 5

The group started the day with a tour of the Haghia Sophia (AYASLOFYA CAMI MUZESI), which is one of the most beautiful buildings in Istanbul. The building is under various stages of restoration, where parts of the ancient mosaics, which had once been covered over with plaster, have been restored.

The remainder of the tour included spending time at the Hippodrome (Sultanahmet), which included the Obelisk (Dikilitas) that was brought to Constantinople by emperor Theodosius I in 390 A.D. for the decoration of the Hippodrome, as well as the Serpentine Column (Burmali Sutun), which originally stood at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece. The last stop on the tour included a visit to the Cistern, the vast, hauntingly illuminated ancient underground water system. Among the many ancient columns are two columns where the base is an upside down head of Medusa, while on another column just adjacent is another Medusa with the head is positioned sideways. The channels just seemed to go on forever in an endless maze of water and columns of various sizes and designs. . .

The highlight of the day was the final performance of STONES FROM GOD at the Zappeion Greek Girls High School, which is located near Taksim Square. Principal Despina Rapine Philippou welcomed the audience and cast to the school, including The Counsul General of Greece, Vasileios Bornovas. Tom Papademetriou also extended an acknowledgment of Stockton's gratitude for the opportunity to perform at the school, and introduced Pam Hendrick who provided a brief explanation of the style of theatre performance known as 'chamber theatre' or 'story theatre' that would be the format for the evening's performance..

The cast of Jason Benjamin, Jaaron Boger, Allison Eisenberg, Lane Jackson, Patrick Judd, Alex London, Sarra Mazur and Alice Servellon outdid themselves and presented the audience with a relaxed and very memorable performance. Without a doubt the success of both productions and the fact that many of the overall details went seamlessly was due to the work of Joe Heim, who served as Stage Manager, and overall "wrangler in chief". Mark Mallett's role as Scenic and Lighting Designer evidenced the level of creativity and thoughtfulness that was required to adapt and successfully mount the production in Turkey.

The oral histories told by the characters were very real and meaningful to several of the members of the audience, including Principal Despina Rapine Philippou who spoke of her own family history. After many group photos were taken, a brief reception was held at the School. Principal Despina Rapine Philippou shared a brief history of the School, noting that this year they were celebrating its 135th anniversary. During the reception the Stockton group was presented with four tea settings that had been designed with the School logo commemorating this historic anniversary. Following the reception everyone in the Stockton group shared dinner at a wonderful Turkish Restaurant, Haci Baba, which was hosted by the Consul General of Greece, Vasileios Bornovas. It was a most memorable evening and enjoyable for everyone in attendance, but, especially for the students. Needless to say a good time was had by all including the waiters at Haci Baba.

Day 6

The last day in Istanbul included a morning tour of an old monastery, adorned with exquisite religious mosaics. Our next stop was to the Byzantine Walls, where some members of the group climbed the stairs to the top to see an expansive view of the city. The tour concluded with a visit to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Partiarchate chapel housed sacred relics, and was adorned with crystal chandeliers, and traditional gilded icons of saints.

The highlight of the afternoon, especially for the students,  included a visit to the Spice Bazaar and ended with a shopping spree at the Covered Bazaar, which can make one feel like a kid in a candy store, as there is just so much to choose from. The remainder of the day included free time for dinner and packing for the scheduled 6am departure to the airport the next morning.

At 5:45am Tuesday morning all of the students were waiting in the hotel lobby, surrounded by their luggage ready to depart, but wishing they could stay just a little while longer. Although they were all very tired, they agreed to indulge me one last time for a group photo :)

I would like to add a personal note of thanks to Dean Gregg, David Roessel, and Tom Papademetriou for offering this wonderful cultural and historical experience to our students. It was great to hear the students commenting on a course that they had taken in relation to a particular historical site, and witnessing their excitement that they were actually able to experience the history and culture firsthand.

I would also like to thank them for affording me the opportunity to make a small contribution in planning the trip, attending the Symposium, and most of all for the opportunity to engage in a meaningful way with our students and faculty. As always, it was a pleasure working with Pam Hendrick and Mark Mallett as well.

The benefits from this experience have been great for everyone who participated. Tom and David are to be commended for bringing the vision of their idea for a Richard Stockton College Second International Symposium to a very successful outcome.