For many centuries this city was the capital of the civilised world. Even though Ankara became the capital of the newly proclaimed Turkish Republic in 1923, Istanbul continues to be the Turkish metropolis. It is the largest city, the business and cultural centre, the largest port and the first destination for tourists, Turkish or foreign.
In recent years Istanbul has yielded some of its pre-eminence to up-and-coming towns such as Ankara, Izmir and Adana. However, it is still, without doubt, the heartbeat of the Turkish spirit. For Ankara, the up-tempo, 20th-century capital city, Turks feel pride; but it is Istanbul, the well-worn but still glorious metropolis, which they love. Its place in the country’s history, folklore, commerce and culture is unchallenged.
Here’s a quick summary of its past:
1000 to 657 BC Ancient fishing villages on this site. 657 BC to 330 AD Byzantium, a Greek city-state, later subject to Rome. 330 to 1453 AD Constantinople, the “New Rome”, capital of the Later Roman (“Byzantine”) Empire. Reached its height in the 1100s. 1453 to 1922 Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which reached the height of its glory in the 1500s. 1922 to 1984 Ankara becomes the capital of the Turkish Republic. Istanbul continues to be the country’s largest city and port, and its commercial and cultural centre. 1984 to Present Istanbul begins to enjoy a renaissance as ‘capital of the East’. A new municipal government undertakes vast schemes to modernise and beautify the city, and to attract international business operations. New parks, museums and cultural centres are opened, old ones are restored and refurbished.
There, God and human, nature and art are together, they have created such a perfect place that it is valuable to see.” Lamartine’s famous poetic line reveals his love for Istanbul, describing the embracing of two continents, with one arm reaching out to Asia and the other to Europe. Istanbul, once known as the capital of capital cities, has many unique features. It is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, and the only one to have been a capital during two consecutive empires – Christian and Islamic. Once capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul still remains the commercial, historical and cultural pulse of Turkey, and its beauty lies in its ability to embrace its contradictions. Ancient and modern, religious and secular, Asia and Europe, mystical and earthly all co-exist here. Its variety is one of Istanbul’s greatest attractions: The ancient mosques, palaces, museums and bazaars reflect its diverse history. The thriving shopping area of Taksim buzzes with life and entertainment. And the serene beauty of the Bosphorus, Princes Islands and parks bring a touch of peace to the otherwise chaotic metropolis. Districts Adalar, Avcılar, Bağcılar, Bahçelievler, Bakırköy, Beşiktaş, Bayrampaşa, Beykoz, Beyoğlu, Eminönü, Eyüb, Fatih, Gaziosmanpaşa, Kadıköy, Kâğıthane, Kartal, Küçükçekmece, Pendik, Sarıyer, Şişli, Ümraniye, Üsküdar, Zeytinburnu, Büyükçekmece, Çatalca, Silivri, Şile, Esenler, Güngören, Maltepe, Sultanbeyli.
Golden Horn: This horn-shaped estuary divides European Istanbul. One of the best natural harbours in the world, it was once the centre for the Byzantine and Ottoman navies and commercial shipping interests. Today, attractive parks and promenades line the shores, a picturesque scene especially as the sun goes down over the water. At Fener and Balat, neighbourhoods midway up the Golden Horn, there are entire streets filled with old wooden houses, churches, and synagogues dating from Byzantine and Ottoman times. The Orthodox Patriarchy resides at Fener and a little further up the Golden Horn at Eyup, are some wonderful examples of Ottoman architecture. Muslim pilgrims from all over the world visit Eyup Camii and Tomb of Eyup, the Prophet Mohammed’s standard bearer, and it is one of the holiest places in Islam. The area is a still a popular burial place, and the hills above the mosque are dotted with modern gravestones interspersed with ornate Ottoman stones. The Pierre Loti Cafe, atop the hill overlooking the shrine and the Golden Horn, is a wonderful place to enjoy the tranquility of the view.
Beyoğlu and Taksim: Beyoglu is an interesting example of a district with European-influenced architecture, from a century before. Europe’s second oldest subway, Tunel was built by the French in 1875, must be also one of the shortest – offering a one-stop ride to start of Taksim. Near to Tunel is the Galata district, whose Galata Tower became a famous symbols of Istanbul, and the top of which offers a tremendous 180 degree view of the city.
From the Tunel area to Taksim square is one of the city’s focal points for shopping, entertainment and urban promenading: Istiklal Cadesi is a fine example of the contrasts and compositions of Istanbul; fashion shops, bookshops, cinemas, markets, restaurants and even hand-carts selling trinkets and simit (sesame bread snack) ensure that the street is packed throughout the day until late into the night. The old tramcars re-entered into service, which shuttle up and down this fascinating street, and otherwise the street is entirely pedestrianised. There are old embassy buildings, Galatasaray High School, the colourful ambience of Balik Pazari (Fish Bazaar) and restaurants in Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage). Also on this street is the oldest church in the area, St Mary’s Draperis dating back to 1789, and the Franciscan Church of St Antoine, demolished and then rebuilt in 1913. The street ends at Taksim Square, a huge open plaza, the hub of modern Istanbul a