Monday, July 13, 2009

Grey Bear Potters About

Yesterday, I took my bipedals to Iznik, a sleepy little lakeside resort town which lies on the shores of Lake Iznik, south of Izmit. These days, Iznik is known for two things and both are connected with its past: its church councils and its tiles.

In 301 b.c., the town became Nicaea - although for centuries before that it'd had several other names - when a certain general Lysimachus seized the area from one of Alexander the Great's generals and named it after his own wife. She must have been a very nice wife - I mean, you don't see too many towns named after my female bipedal attendant.

Nicaea was an important political and commercial town during the Imperial (Roman) period but its claim to fame came with the First Ecumenical Council - which is a rather posh name for a conference of bishops - held there in 325. There would be many other councils (the second was held in Nicaea's Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya Church) but it was the first one which decided (and told Christians) what they believed in.

It seems not everyone was on the same page. Apparently, there were a lot of different views about God and Jesus floating about at that time - like the rather logical (in this bear's opinion) idea that Jesus was not the same "person" as God and hadn't lived forever (i.e., existed before he was born). A certain priest named Arian just couldn't get his head around that one so the Men in the Big Hats got together and hammered something out that put an end to all of these so-called heresies.

The result was the Nicene creed, which Catholics and Anglicans still profess to this day; it begins with I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible ... I think "one bear" works better than "one God" although, of course, I believe in many bears. Bears are more pluralistic. Christians can be so dogmatic and, to be honest, just aren't as freethinking and fun as the rest of us. You'd never see a bear burning another bear at the stake for their beliefs.

Enough about religion. I mentioned in a previous blog that when the porcelain-loving Sultan Ahmet built the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, he insisted that its tiles come from Iznik. So let's fast-forward to the 17th century (bypassing the Seljuk Turks and the Christian crusaders) and we find Nicaea part of the Ottoman Empire. It's also become a centre for the ceramics industry, known as İznik Çini - Çin meaning China. I even had the chance to visit what's left of one of the city's master tile makers (above left). We had a really nice visit.

The industry would eventually move to Istanbul and so it pretty much died out in Iznik and the town became a farming community. Nowadays, there are still tile makers in the area and I found a particularly pretty shop and picked out a lovely old tile for my bipedals. Of course you-know-who wanted something bigger and better (you see why she doesn't have a town named after her?). I should've just given her a clump of mud!

Of course I just had to pick a studio where the girl working there - her name is Rachida - recognized me (above left). I wasn't too surprised: people in the arts are generally in the loop about these sorts of things. Still, it was something to be recognized in such a small town but, then again, my fans never cease to amaze me.

These days there aren't any hoity-toity church councils in Nicaea/Iznik but tourists come to visit its churches, mosques and museums, and to see its four imposing grand gates (that's me at the Istanbul Gate, below and the Lefke Gate, top-top right), its aqueduct, the massive ancient city walls, its pottery kilns and hammams. This is probably the former international fashion model in me speaking, but I was quite taken with the aesthetics of the town - even their bus kiosks and rubbish bins are decorated with its famous tiles. Such attention to detail always makes me happy.

There are also the ruins of a Roman theatre which made me very sad because it's be
come a dumping ground for garbage. It made me so mad (and sad) that I couldn't even have my photo taken there. The theatre was built by one of the most famous Romans of all time: Pliny the Younger - remembered today for his eyewitness account of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 - while he was governor of Bithynia (Nicaea was its capital). Today the amphitheatre is a public toilet. Just when I think your race has a chance, you guys go and blow it. Maybe you should start putting more faith in bears ...


Anonymous said...

Excellent Blog Mr. Bear. I learn so much about world history from you!

Grey Bear said...

Thank you Anon ... I'm really not a historian at all, but I do like to know a little bit about what I'm seeing when I travel.