Cape Town might be the world’s most visually striking city, between its dramatic coastal setting perched precariously against the looming Table Mountain and the town’s riotous collision of Europe and Africa, and from textiles to colonial Dutch architecture. Perhaps no Cape Town neighborhood better represents the sensory feast that is Cape Town than the Bo-Kaap, a wildly colorful enclave of brightly painted houses long home to the city’s unique population of Cape Malay residents.
Bo-Kaap got its start in the late 16th century, as Cape Town rose to prominence as a key stopover for merchant ships traveling between Europe and Asia. The largely Dutch traders who controlled Cape Town introduced Indonesian slaves (now known as Cape Malays) to the city, who then brought along their Islamic culture and cuisine. Bo-Kaap became home to the city’s Cape Malay community, weaving its way through a patchwork of brightly painted houses, historic mosques, spice shops and cobblestone streets.
Though the Bo-Kaap is quickly gentrifying, the neighborhood remains a fascinating sensory feast for an afternoon stroll. Turquoise and bright green houses compete for your eye’s attention with nearby Table Mountain, as a thick blanket of clouds gently rolls across its summit. Nearby a group of worshippers kneels outside one of Bo-Kaap’s mosques, their chanting wafting its way to your ears. On the next corner, a market stocks halal meats and fresh-made Koeksisters, a sweet South African donut.
Begin your own exploration of the Bo-Kaap signs and sights of the neighborhood in the Gadling gallery below!
This year, several major exhibitions and new galleries are focusing on Islamic art.
The biggest news comes from Paris, where the Louvre is building a new wing dedicated to Islamic art. This is the biggest expansion to the museum since the famous glass pyramid. The new wing will have room to display more than 2500 artifacts from the Louvre’s permanent collection as well as notable loans. It will open at an as-yet undetermined date this summer.
In London, the British Museum is hosting two Islamic-related exhibits–one on the Hajj and one on Arabian horses. In Provo, Utah, the Brigham Young University Museum of Art is running Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston opened two new galleries last December that include displays of Islamic art from Asia, and the Met in New York City also opened a new gallery late last year dedicated to the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.
Islamic art is also facing some challenges this year. Looting and selling national treasures on the international art market always happens in times of political unrest. It happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and now it’s happening in Libya, where the death of Qaddafi did little to stabilize the situation. Syria is another country to watch. Sadly, unscrupulous “collectors” take advantage of civil wars and poverty to grab historic treasures for cheap.
Photo of eleventh century crystal ewer with birds in the Louvre collection courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Christmas Day has arrived, and here in Istanbul, it’s just another Sunday but you could be fooled by all the festive decorations. Much of the city is festooned with colorful lights and ornamented trees, but with a Turkish twist. Most of the population is Muslim, while unlike in more conservative countries, many families will roast turkeys, decorate trees, and exchange gifts on New Year’s Eve. Turkey was the birthplace of St. Nicholas, and now Santa Claus (or Noel Baba) can be spotted on many Istanbul streets, selling lottery tickets. The traditional Christmas tree is called a Yılbaşı or Noel Ağacı and can be found (real or fake) at large supermarkets, while holly-like kokina plants with red berries are sold on street corners and in flower shops. No matter what, when, or how you celebrate, you can say Mutlu Yıllar (Happy New Year) and toast Şerefe to a great 2012.
The humble ham and cheese sandwich is a basic staple of the travel diet. In nearly every country I’ve traveled to, I can count on finding a cheap and tasty toasted ham and cheese at a snack bar or cafe while exploring a new city. With a nice glass of local wine or a cold beer, this simple sandwich can be sublime. The Spanish, however, have made ham an art form, noted by this display in Barcelona taken by Flickr user BaboMike. From the relatively cheap Pernil Bodega to the pricey (but worth it) Pernil Iberic de Gla, any of these would make a divine snack or a meal. Since I live in a Muslim country where pork is hard to find and expensive, I remember eyeing ham like this in Barcelona like a wolf in an old cartoon and contemplated bringing one home to be the envy of all my fellow expats in Istanbul.
Do you agree with the photographer that the Spanish out-do the Italians in the ham department? Where have you had the best ham? Upload your tastiest shots to the Gadling Flickr pool and we might salivate over them for a future Photo of the Day.
We’re halfway through the month of Ramadan (called Ramazan in Turkish), an important time for religious Muslims but also a time of many celebrations. Turkey is a largely secular country, thanks to founder Ataturk, who brought the country out of the Ottoman Empire into the modern world 90 years ago, and many Turks do not observe the fasting but do enjoy many of the traditions associated with Ramazan. Each day’s sunrise-to-sunset fast is broken with the iftar meal, a feast anyone can enjoy and typically started with consuming a few dates.
In Turkey, a large flat loaf of Ramazan pide bread is a specialty only made during this month and a must for any iftar. Last year, during my first Ramazan in Istanbul, I tried a few supermarket Ramazan pides and was mostly underwhelmed, it tastes similar to a pizza crust. This year I got wise and joined the many locals standing in line for a fresh hot pide and now I’m hooked. Bakeries all over the city make pides in the afternoon and evening to be fresh for sunset call-to-prayer and it’s one time you want to show up at a bakery at the end of the day. Look for a bakery with the longest line, get your lira ready (they generally cost around 1.50 TL or $1 USD), and grab a piping hot loaf wrapped in a paper sleeve. Pides are usually covered in sesame seeds and make a great sandwich base with cheese or spread with tahini and Nutella, that is if you can wait that long. Many Turks tear into their pide on the way home from the bakery, while it’s still hot and crusty from the oven. Enjoy them while you can, Ramazan will be over August 29, when the national bayram holidays begin and pides disappear until next year.