The sights along the way have been good but there is nothing as magical as Istanbul.
Great cities have Iconic buildings, Rome the Pantheon, Athens the Parthenon and Istanbul has the Aya Sophia but there is this other dimension to Istanbul, the Bosphorus.
These other great cities have one imperial and cultural past but Istanbul has many.
There is really nothing like that immense stretch of water between Europe and Asia with it’s beautiful palaces from the Topkapi and the Dolmabahce and to the seven old forts. One can look out over this stretch of water and wonder on our collective histories, the greeks, the romans, the myths, Jason searching for the golden fleece, and the real, Constantine building a city that perhaps saved Christianity.. one looks out over the steely grey water and can dream of what lies lurking beneath the surface ,the ghosts of these histories from the ships and the bodies of invading armies the hidden corpses of pretenders to power, the American cars and guns of Beyoglu gangsters and the general detritus of a couple of thousand years. And above the myriad of ferries buzzing from Europe to Asia in a never ending waltz.
I had a few last days to relax and take in the city. I wandered up to Independence street to buy Orhan Panuk’s autobiographical book ‘Istanbul’ and ‘The Black Book’ and the bookshop had a poster for the annual Beyoglu Bookfair, starting that morning.
After seeing hardly any old books in China, because of the destruction of nearly everything during the cultural revolution, it is refreshing to see so many second hand and even antiquarian books, along with a lot of twentieth century ephemera. I found a friendly bookdealer, a Kurd, who a spoke some English and here I found a minor holy grail for a map dealer an early nineteenth century ottoman world map ..
Istanbul is a dynamic city and also on the same day in Pera on Independent street was a demonstration by one of the democratic parties with the attendant disproportionate police presence. The women all wore white headscarves.
Rain and autumn arrived together with a cold wind whipping across the Boshorus as I took the ferry from Kabatas to Kadikoy..
Kadikoy was the first Greek settlement on ther Boshorus although remains of settlements here go back some 7000 years.
Kadikoy originally named Chalcedon, was the first settlement which the Greeks from Megara established on the Bosphorus, in 685 BC, a few years before they established Byzantium on the other side of the strait in 667 BC. Chalcedon became known as the ‘city of the blind’, the story being that Byzantium was founded following a prophecy that a great capital would be built ‘opposite the city of the blind’ (meaning that the people of Chalcedon must have been blind not to see the obvious value of the peninsula on the Golden Horn as a natural defensive harbour).
Kadikoy is a vibrant place with many young people escaping the high rents of the European side. The seafront area is dull and even duller in the rain but the maze of little streets that wind up from the port are full of cafes with sofas and backgammon boards, and are a delight after so many austere cities across the Anatolian plain. It is well known for it’s bookshops and boutiques, and here for the first time in Turkey I found a café / bookies.
Hiding from the rain on the ferry back to Pera I thought how different it was both in Kadikoy and in Istanbul in general to see a more liberal side of Turkey after the east and centre; with the bookies and so many women both young and old not covering their heads, but the subjugation of women isn’t just about scarves and isn’t only about islam. That morning at breakfast in my hotel, I witnessed an american couple in their thirties ..he just sat down and opened his huge laptop and expected his wife to serve him his food while he not only didn’t look at her but hardly muttered a word of thanks !
Istanbul in October in the rain has such a different feel.
The tourists have largely gone along with the tourist touts. The covered bazaars come into their own with the Misr or Spice bazaar and the surrounding streets full of Istanbullus. The shopkeepers and stallholders don’t change though and hustle the locals just as much as they did the tourists.
I have an afternoon flight so after my last Turkish breakfast and as the sun is out for the first time in a few days I have my last walk up to Taksim Square.
I suppose part of Turkey’s future might be played out here. Erdogan as I write, now holds the positions of President and Prime Minister, plus he controls most of the media and access to the internet, that is too much too much power in one man’s hands. There are many potential pitfalls in Turkey’s future both economic and religious, and surely a more plural society would be better placed to deal with them.
It is a fascinating country with so much history and so much to see, and I enjoyed my trip round Turkey.. and now am looking forward to my next visit to Istanbul.
But first India …!
I would like to thank Emre for his hospitality and the knowledge that if anything happened to me he would have been there to help.
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