LOADING...

























ISTANBUL MAGIC
2000 / JANUARY

Istanbul lies at the mouth of the Bosphorus, a strait which formed thousands of years ago when the land between the Black and Marmara seas split apart. Since it was founded the city has possessed a unique, even magical, attraction. This is true today, as travellers from all over the world attest, and was so in the past. Who were the first to be drawn by this irresistible magic? The history books tell us that in the 7th century BC people from the warm climes of Megara, a city in central Greece, travelled to the cooler seas of this region. Under their legendary leader, Byzas, they established a colony here. They must have been people who appreciated beauty, because others who arrived earlier were not so discriminating in their choice of site. If they had been, would they have settled on the flat Asian shore which lacked the spectacular views over both the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus on the opposite shore? Although so close, Chalcedon on the Asian shore enjoys slightly milder winters, and perhaps it was this which motivated them.

PAGE 1/7


























ISTANBUL MAGIC
2000 / JANUARY

Whatever the case, the Megarans settled down facing the Chalcedonians on the other side of the strait. But was it just beauty which drew them there? Cynical voices deny this, suggesting the less poetical explanation that they merely found the Golden Horn a perfect sheltered harbour for their ships.

However, poetry and lyricism are the food of life, and bring our story to life. Istanbulís enchantment has been shaped by many fascinating events, one of which occurred when the glorious Roman Empire stretched out its arms to this place, and one of its majestic rulers appeared on these shores and hills. In a struggle for power in the boot of Italy, this remote town played on the wrong horse when it backed Niger.


Instead his rival Septimus Severus won. As if that were not enough, it made another wrong move by refusing to surrender, and Septimus Severus laid siege.

PAGE 2/7


























ISTANBUL MAGIC
2000 / JANUARY
After a long and fierce struggle the city was taken, and the emperor took revenge for Byzantiumís stubbornness by razing it to the ground. Later regretting his storm of destruction, however, he set about rebuilding it. The cityís magic must have been at work here. I liken Severus to a hero of fairytale weeping over the body of the girl he has slain. I imagine him posed like a statue, dressed in magnificent armour, gazing out over the city he had destroyed from the heights of the ancient acropolis. To his left was the sheltered harbour, sleeping quietly, before him a channel whose blue waters wound northwards.

To his right the hills of Asia billowed into the distance, and a pale blue sea sparkled as if stars had fallen down from the sky into its waters. This picture was the work of nature alone, but over subsequent centuries creations of human hand added to its beauty.
PAGE 3/7


























ISTANBUL MAGIC
2000 / JANUARY

It was then that the magical elixir began to work again, and the emperors Constantine and Justinian brought new splendour to their capital city. The centuries passed, and in the 15th century the last stage in the elixirís life commenced.
A tribe of people from the distant heart of Asia had arrived in Asia Minor to mingle with the ancient indigenous peoples.

At the same time they drew into their midst the most promising young people of the Balkans. This process inevitably led to crowning their expanding empire with the city of Istanbul, and thus the rest of the story began to unfold. The successors of the Byzantines adapted with perfect harmony to their new capital, and with each passing century added to the manmade adornments of its beautiful natural setting. When Süleyman the Magnificent appointed a genius like Sinan as his architect and poured chests of gold at his feet to pay for a mosque in his name, Sinan created an extraordinary monument.

PAGE 4/7


























ISTANBUL MAGIC
2000 / JANUARY
Situated on the flat top of one of the city’s hills, its domes and arches seemed as if carved from granite by a giant sculptor. It was a remarkable sight. Ottoman civilisation did not only create marvellous monuments like Süleymaniye Mosque, but wove an enchanting fabric of beauty throughout the city. Each part whispered its own story. A tomb on a street corner threw the yellow flickering light of candles out into the dark blue night. Within the horologe room of a mosque, pendulum clocks and pocket watches counted the passing time. A fountain poured out its crystal clear water, which falling from basin to basin made music restful to the spirit. And when the young plane trees planted next to every fountain and every prayer terrace grew tall, birds perched in their spreading branches added their melodies to that of the water. Every season was a poem in Istanbul. The languid heat of summer, the melancholy fallen leaves of autumn, and the cold white blanket of winter were all part of the city’s many faceted beauty.
PAGE 5/7


























ISTANBUL MAGIC
2000 / JANUARY

But above all it was the spring months which caught at the heart. Spring was a time of joy and hope, as everywhere in the world. But springtime here, on these hills and these shores, was still more evocative. While greens of every hue painted the forests, the judas trees which nature grants so sparingly were like splashes of pink and cyclamen applied at random by a painter, transforming those expanses of green into paintings of bewildering loveliness. The magic of Istanbul was the result of such a spell woven by nature and art. The past century has affected this corner of the world, as it has so many other places. It seems as if the old magic has fallen silent, allowing a new world to impose itself in places over the past.

But universal beauties are not so easily defeated, and powerful actors do not so easily retreat from the stage. The machines of modern cities cannot always manage to silence the old enchantment, and in today’s crowded metropolis there are still places where the commotion fades and the old music can be heard.

PAGE 6/7


























ISTANBUL MAGIC
2000 / JANUARY

In spring on the hills of the Bosphorus the brush of that great painter still sprinkles his pink colours over the green background. The monumental fountain of Beykoz still plays its sweetest music. A ship passing close to the shores of the Bosphorus appears at the end of a deserted street like an old friend and carries your heart away. On moonlit nights the apricot coloured light of the moon lights up your soul like a magic lamp.

A silver wash of light on the dark blue waters glimmers with the magic of Istanbul, coursing through your heart and captivating you once more. It was both easy and difficult for Istanbul to hand you its magic elixir in a golden cup. Easy because nature provided so many readymade beauties as its raw material, and difficult because the elixir simmered on an ancient fire for nearly three thousand years before reaching perfection.

* Çelik Gülersoy is author of many books on the history of Istanbul.

PAGE 7/7
 

























Previous Next