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Write: Murat Belge Photos: Abdullah Hekimhan
Istanbul Capital Of The World
Istanbul Capital Of The World
It is frequently said of Istanbul that it was the capital of three empires.
Those empires wanted their capital to be elaborate and imposing so as to impress visitors at first glance. So they never refrained from endowing it with magnificent buildings and monuments.
The third of the empires, the Ottoman, held on up to an age when empires of its type could no longer survive in this world but had aged considerably by its final moments. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, both the empire and its capital had embarked on a process of disintegration and collapse. The Westerners who came to the city in those years (writers like Flaubert, Lamartine and Mark Twain, for example) spoke mostly of mud in the streets and packs of stray dogs.
Much earlier, the Byzantine Empire had declined in similar fashion, becoming impoverished by the time of the Ottoman conquest and then pulling itself together again. Cities often outlive the states to which they belong, finding the strength to renew themselves and the ingenuity to adapt to a changing world. With three great empires in its history, Istanbul today is again enjoying a lively, vibrant period.
THE BOSPHORUS FROM IO UNTIL TODAY
At the core of that attraction is the Bosphorus. Io, who seduced Zeus and then assumed the form of a cow to avoid the wrath of his jealous wife, swam across the strait to escape a pesky fly Hera had put on her back and surfaced on the shores of Asia. The Argonauts of Greek mythology, too, sailed up the Aegean and through the Bosphorus to the Black Sea to capture the Golden Fleece. In other words, the strait was a ‘passage’ and a ‘crossroads’ between two continents and between two seas. What’s more, it boasted a port, the Golden Horn, symbol of plenty, that was safe in all weather. Geography created such a landscape here that it has attracted anybody and everybody down the ages.
And that’s exactly what happened. As Xenophon describes in the ‘Ten Thousand’, and as Alexander the Great would do later, they passed through here into the heart of Asia. The Roman armies, and later the Crusaders, traversed this terrain on their way to Asia. Meanwhile the Persian Emperor Darius marched an army of 200,000 men to the Peloponnese over a temporary bridge he built by joining ships together.
A MAGNIFICENT SKYLINE
One of three cities (the other two are Venice and New York) of which is it said, “If you are going to see it for the first time, go by sea,” Istanbul earns this distinction on account of its skyline. We have already spoken of empires. Empires demand splendor, we said. The Ottomans decked the famous seven hills inside the city walls with the most majestic of mosques: Sultanahmet (the Blue Mosque) and the Hagia Sophia with their total of ten minarets, Nuruosmaniye, the four-minaret Süleymaniye, then, parallel with the Golden Horn, Selim I, Fatih and Mihrimah, which adorns the hills of Edirnekapı, Cerrahpaşa on the ridge parallel with the Marmara, and in between, structures like Bozdoğan Aqueduct, Beyazıt Tower and Cemberlitaş (the Burnt Column).
The Ottoman Empire fostered architecture and adored music but did not care for realistic literature or painting. With a population of upwards of twelve million today, Istanbul is again poised to become an international hub, and for some time has been playing host to major art and culture festivals and other events. It’s clear from Orhan Pamuk and the young film directors who have walked off with awards at the international festivals that the consumption phase in art and culture will soon be turned into one of production and the lack of realistic art eliminated.
Roman, Byzantine or Ottoman, Istanbul residents have always been proud in their belief that they were at the center of the world. The Romans believed that “all roads lead to Rome”, and Istanbul people too believed that the world begins here. Since people were coming here in droves from all over the place, this city must surely have been the center of the world.
Turkish Lira (TL)
Average temperature (°C): Day 20, night 13
Average no of rainy days: 11
Time difference: GMT +2
All over the world, Istanbul is the first city that pops to mind at the mention of Turkey. It is also Turkey’s international city. It is a very old city but at the same time very new. It is tiring and troublesome, but with its structure that speaks to a myriad different interests, passions and tastes, it doesn’t let those who come to it, whether Turkish or foreign, go unrewarded in the end.
Sunset, when the blue waters of the Bosphorus are tinged slowly with red, is the time to discover Beyoğlu, one of Istanbul’s most vibrant districts. Running from Taksim Square down to Tünel, İstiklal Caddesi is a lively thoroughfare with bookshops, cinemas, restaurants, art galleries and entertainment venues. The red tram that glides between the avenue’s century-old neo-classical structures is ideal for a nostalgic Istanbul tour. The narrow back streets parallel to this avenue, where music rises from bookshops as well as from street musicians, harbor a surprise at every step.
It would be difficult to find another city in the world as intimately entwined with the sea as Istanbul. Venice, Mumbai, Rio, Hong Kong - all are cities we can’t imagine without water. But being shaped by a strait and an estuary is something else. The sea - water in general - adds beauty to a place. Consequently, this peerless waterway has always attracted poets and painters as much as merchants, seamen and military men, and it still does.
Country code: +90
European side area code: 212
Asian side area code: 216
Turkish Airlines Call Centre 444 0 849
The light rail system runs from Ataturk Airport in to Sultanahmet, Eminönü and Taksim.
Its streets brightly lit at all hours of the day, Kadıköy Fish Market offers everything from traditional Istanbul ‘meze’ (appetizers) to seafood and fresh mountain herbs. According to Murat Belge, it is the city’s most colorful market. Similarly, Tepebaşı is one of the city’s gastronomy headquarters with its restaurants offering a selection from the cuisines of the world.
Accommodations range from hostels to stately old mansions converted into boutique hotels.
All you need is to do is purchase a museum card to visit the over 300 museums and ruins in Turkey free of charge. And it only costs 20 TL.
Nişantaşı, one of Istanbul’s most vibrant districts with gourmet restaurants, fashion boutiques and entertainment venues.
Restaurants along the Bosphorus are the place for seafood and ‘meze’,
and the Beyoğlu and Ortaköy
areas for world cuisine.
A DAY ON THE ISLANDS
Istanbul’s first modern city museum, the Museum of the Islands is one of the city’s newest venues, where hundreds of objects, 20,000 documents and 6,000 photographs collected from various places on Büyükada, as well as films and recorded oral histories, tell the story of the Princes’ Islands from their geological formation until today.
ABDULLAH HEKİMHAN (Professional photographer)
Taking photos forces you to rediscover the beauty of Istanbul over and over again. The shoots I made of Istanbul for Skylife took close to three months and gave me supreme pleasure. The cultural treasures of Istanbul, which has sustained its identity as a city for 2,500 consecutive years, are overwhelming. Surveying the Istanbul landscape from the courtyard of Süleymaniye Mosque is a must.
In addition to the collections of contemporary art at the Modern Art Museum, befitting the vast spaces of a former warehouse, its cafe where the Bosphorus is spread at your feet is attractive at all times of day.
The expression, ‘simid-i halka’ for the sesame-encrusted Istanbul bread ring known as the ‘simit’, appears in 17th century records of the Ottoman palace kitchen. And Evliya Çelebi, one of the travelers who best described Istanbul, has special praise for the simits of Kasımpaşa.
The countdown has begun for the İf Istanbul Independent Films Festival, which delights cinema lovers every year with fabulous films. For information about the program of the festival, held this year for the 10th time February 17-27, just visit the website.
You can take an amazing Bosphorus cruise of close to two hours on the city lines ferries that leave from Eminönü and Beşiktaş. After you visit Sabancı Museum at Emirgan, the fish restaurants await you
DID YOU KNOW?
The garden of the 18th century Çorlulu Ali Paşa Madrasa in Beyazıt with its tranquil courtyard, colorful lamps, and carpet and kilim shops also boasts one of Istanbul’s loveliest coffeehouses.