The unique landscape of Cappadocia is often described as “moon-like” and “other-worldly.” From the moment years ago when I first laid eyes on photographs of this region in central Turkey, it captured my imagination in a way that other places have not. When I visited this region last November, I wasn’t disappointed. Cappadocia is certainly unlike anywhere else I’ve been. I can understand why George Lucas had originally planned to shoot Star Wars Episode 1″ The Phantom Menace here. And where else in the world can you enjoy your pick of cave hotels after a day of exploring underground cities, cave churches, and ancient cave dwellings?
The evil eye is a traditional Turkish symbol that is widely used all across Turkey regardless of ethnicity, religion, and cultural backgrounds — it is used by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. Since ancient times, the eye figure has been regarded as a powerful charm for protection from evil, having the ability to deflect negative energy.
The art of handcrafting glass evil eye beads (“nazar boncugu“) has deep roots, extending from the Near Eastern tradition of glass making dating back 3,000 years. Remnants of this ancient but dying art can be found in Nazarkoy, a small village about 45 minutes west of Izmir, Turkey. There used to be 12 workshops in the village until the Chinese started mass-producing evil eyes from plastic and selling them for cheaper prices, rendering it impossible for the locals to compete price-wise at a time when most people don’t know the difference. Today only 5 workshops remain.
I came here to visit the workshop of Mahmut Sur, a Nazar Boncugu master who was designated as a “Living Human Treasure” in September 2012, an award given by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism in conjunction with UNESCO to promote cultural arts in danger of being lost.
Evil eyes looked at me from all directions as I walked through narrow streets sided by colorful tile mosaics. A brick structure covered with dried mud to keep the heat inside, Mahmut’s workshop was small, dark and hot. Somewhat surprisingly there was only a slight smoke smell. Five glass workers (“masters”), soaked in sweat, were seated around the ocak (a specially designed kiln for glass bead making) in the center of the room. Heated by burning pine harvested from nearby forests, the furnace operates at 1,200 degrees Celsius. After placing different colored glass in different sections of the kiln, the fire is started every morning at 6am. The masters start their work a few hours later once the fire is hot enough.
In Mahmut’s workshop, the eyes are created using recycled glass purchased from Istanbul. I watched as a master dipped an iron rod with a pointed end lightly into the molten glass and spun the rod until the desired size ball of glass was accumulated. He lifted it slowly for a moment then brought it out of the oven where another tool was used to round the glass. The bead was placed back into the fire and spun in other colors for decorative effect before being rolled again to ensure a circular shape. Another rod was used to grab another color glass for the eye and placed on larger bead. The process was repeated for the pupil. Another tool was used to flatten the eye before it was pushed off the iron rod into a holding area next to the fire where the heat is approx. 400C. This allows the bead to cool more slowly — if taken out of the furnace directly, the glass will shatter. Depending on the complexity of the eye being produced, each master produces between 100-1000 eyes per day.
Eye making is transmitted in master-apprentice relationships. Apprentices start around the age of 13, working after school to train. It is a skilled craft and not everyone is cut out for the business. As one master told me, “Some people are good at it; others find other work.” After some instruction, I was given the opportunity to try my hand at making an eye. Suffice it to say it didn’t turn out so well. But the experience did deepen my appreciation for how easy the masters made it appear!
In addition to selling the beads to various distributors, Mahmut’s beads are also purchased by local women and made into jewelry and other ornaments which are sold in the “village square,” a project undertaken with the support of local government to promote glass objects made in the village.
In some places, tourism can be seen as a threat to traditional ways. In Nazarkoy, however, tourism is being promoted as a way to preserve the heritage and keep the craft alive. I hope they succeed!
Istanbul was definitely a highlight of my recent trip to Turkey (even though our time in Istanbul was cut short by 3 days due to Hurricane Sandy). Experiencing the rich history and culture of Istanbul was a dream come true. I’m fascinated by religious architecture and am naturally drawn to photographing historic places of worship. As the capital of various civilizations through history, Istanbul didn’t disappoint!
From the majestic Fatih Mosque (commonly known as the Conqueror Mosque, as Mehmet “the Conqueror” is buried here, as are famous emperors like Justinian and Constantine) to the Hagia Sophia (which was, for 1,000 years, the largest church in the world), Istanbul has some of the most beautiful and historically significant places of worship in the world.
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Before I arrived in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I anticipated mountains, forests, waterfalls, wildlife and other natural beauty — of which there were plenty. What I didn’t quite expect was the extent to which history has been preserved in the park. According to the National Park Service, the park holds one of the best collections of log buildings in the eastern United States, with over 90 historic structures having been preserved or rehabilitated in the park.
One of my life goals is to visit every national park in America. With a reputation for some of the most imposing peaks in the eastern U.S., Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been high on my list for many years. So naturally I jumped at the opportunity when a friend asked if I might be interested in joining him on a trip to the park over the Labor Day weekend. Together we made the 11 hour drive down from Northeastern Pennsylvania for a terrific weekend of hiking, camping, and photography.
Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is famed for attracting the most visitors of any national park in the U.S, with over 9 million visits per year. Nevertheless, we managed to mostly avoid the crowds by being out before dawn every morning and by hiking on a few of the less popular trails.
An attractive young woman balances precariously with both of her feet on her partner’s head, while they both juggle flaming torches.
A young man runs and leaps, somersaulting through the air over 13 people lined up in a row below.
The “Fire Guy” jumps on his skateboard through a flaming star, followed minutes later with a spectacular display of fire breathing.
Many people see street performers as simple entertainers, but they’re more than that. Buskers are artists, pursuing their dreams, living to share their artistic skills with others.
[blockquote author=”Edward Readicker-Henderson”]Travel keeps me alive. The world is great and incredibly generous with time. Travel teaches us to dare, again and again, to say yes to the moments of wonder, so many of them, blown across the landscape with the generous weight of seeded flowers — and to share them with the people we hold dear.[/blockquote]
[blockquote author=”Anonymous”]Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.[/blockquote]
My love for travel and photography have grown hand in hand. I purchased my first DSLR in anticipation of a trip to the Amazon rainforest in Peru almost 10 years ago. Since then I’ve visited 20 countries on 6 continents (still waiting on Antarctica!) including India, China (including Tibet), Indonesia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Romania, and Australia.
Going to unfamiliar places can be scary – it’s often quite nerve-racking in advance. Facing that fear and seeing how much of it was unfounded is extremely rewarding.
I love traveling because when I travel I am more open to the world and willing to take risks that I otherwise wouldn’t. I feel alive, invigorated, ready to take on challenges, free of the invisible but very real social constraints of home. I can be anybody I want to be, my true self is free to come out of its shell. My preconceived ideas are challenged and transformed by personal experience. I see through my own eyes and not through those of someone else.