Istanbul, mon amour
Aşk, Aşk, Hürriyet (Love, Love, Freedom) was the first sentence I heard when I walked on the Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue). An alluring welcome note… I was facing the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. They spoke of its beauty, but that much beauty gathered in one place is almost unbearable.
Istanbul is rich in history and traditions. When you are walking the streets, you feel like traveling through the city’s eclectic past and cultures. This city was witness to Ancient Greece’s, Persia’s and Rome’s existence. Many conquering armies strived to ransack the city. But all changed with the Byzantines, who decorated their churches and palaces with impressive mosaics and frescoes. One of the most famous museums in the world, Hagia Sophia, originally a church, later a mosque, was built by a Byzantine Emperor. For nearly a millennium, the city was called Byzantium.
Byzantium later became Constantinople. After the Ottomans conquered the city, they devised a great building plan. Their magnificent mosques are still, 500 years later, architectural treasures that together form one of the world's great skylines. In the beginning of the 1600s on the city’s skyline the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque appeared; the graceful construction decorated with its glittering blue tiles and six minarets, directly facing Hagia Sophia.
The religious monuments are marvelous, but this city offers a great deal more. Let’s not forget to mention Topkapi Palace, home to Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years, and the first-ever enclosed shopping mall, known as the Grand Bazaar. It seems like the chaotic labyrinth of bazaar (market place) represents the true essence of the city and its citizens. It is the attack on all the senses! The most magnificent, fabulous and liveliest city I’ve ever experienced. It makes you feel free and attached at the same time, insecure and safe. And safe zones are in Sokak/Sokağı, intimate small streets, which imprison you with its fatale power of simple beauty and seduction. You breathe the air of music, art and fascination surrounded with eccentric vibes. Whatever the Turks do is a kind of ritual, a manifestation of pure life energy; from daily coffee drinking, singing, chatting on the street, bargaining at bazaars to the spectacular way of serving the Dondurma, a Turkish ice cream which the purveyors have rolling it down to an art.
Constantinople became Istanbul in early 20th century. Crossing the bridge was never that much exciting unlike there. It is unusual and magical, because every step you take leads you to, not only another coast, but another continent. What a feeling! Conquering the differences. The historic Bosphorus Straits, which connects the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, separates European from Asian side. And the fact that city straddles two continent is not its only raison d'être. Either you choose to sit at the street and watch performances of the various street artists at Istiklal Caddessi, or dine at some luxurious restaurant with a perfect view of the Bosphorus, you will feel like you fit in perfectly.
I left Istanbul with promise to come back. Fascinating power of this city lies in its seductive sunsets. Each stone, corner and street is tireless story whisperer. Doesn’t matter whether it is Byzantium, Constantinople, or Istanbul… It is s a sweet talker; it fits in the perfect call that made me fall in love with this city. Aşk, Aşk, Hürriyet…