Istanbul clings to its ancient past as it surges into the future as a modern metropolis.
In the July/August 2006 issue of Traveler, Raphael Kadushin visits Istanbul, the fast-growing Turkish city sprawling across two continents. A perennial boomtown, Istanbul welcomes some 400,000 migrants each year. Want to see the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar for yourself? Here we offer the best resources to help plan your visit to this enchanting city.
Misadventures in Istanbul
Self-described as a "wandering thinker," 22-year-old American Alex Gray writes almost daily reports of his meanderings throughout Istanbul. (He lives the luxury of daily explorations, since "no one is entirely sure what he does.") A curious and quirky character, Gray reflects on the men he passes on morning walks, the reactions he receives to wearing a kilt in public, the changing management at the Funky Café, and the taste of hazelnut baklava. Interspersed with Gray's impressive array of observations about Istanbul are pictures of the city's sights and scenery—but, thankfully, no photos of Gray in a kilt.
Kay Ebel, Assistant Professor of Geography at Ohio Wesleyan University and currently a fellow of the American Research Institute in Turkey, tracks her life in Istanbul where she is completing a book on city views and painted topographies of the 16th-century Ottoman Empire. Ebel explains in great detail the Muslim holidays she experiences, offering keen comparisons to religious celebrations in the U.S. Much of the blog details the current cultural life of Istanbul; recently, Ebel plunges into a play-by-play of the Istanbul Film Festival. Find links to websites about current events in Istanbul and a link to a gorgeous, albeit dizzying, panoramic view of the city.
A team of five regional bloggers share local insights into Istanbul life, from "lovable kabobs at high prices" to vandalism of an outdoor exhibition honoring Ataturk. Read brief political commentaries, rants about crime and cut trees, and listings of upcoming arts events. Recent postings engage a discussion about the opening of Florya Beach, link to an article on the new exhibition at the Topkapi Palace, and an update on the latest football scores.
Founded by two researchers at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Global Voices tracks blogs, podcasts, and videoblogs relating to different world regions and reports the latest information, opinions, and discussions that are captivating blogging communities. Blogger-editors write short commentaries on and post links to the blogs, providing an accessible, comprehensive source for the current regional buzz worldwide. Recent postings under the Turkey section range include free speech and veiling in public.
Lonely Planet guidebook authors Verity Campbell and Virginia Maxwell introduce you to the sights, sounds, and feel of Istanbul as they share their favorite Istanbul destinations and dining locations in this podcast interview. Interspersed throughout the dialogue are authentic sounds of the city—live recordings of the markets, city streets, and the call to prayer—that transport you to the places the authors describe.
Host Robin Young of Boston's WBUR Here and Now program interviews the tour manager and a member of the whirling dervishes of Istanbul before a performance at Harvard's Sanders Theater last fall. Learn about the ritual dance of Islamic Sufis, from the education required to become a dervish to the spiritual significance of the dance to what it feels like to whirl "closer to God." Even without witnessing the Dervishes' performance, listeners are easily captivated by the traditional music and chanting that play in the background.
Turkish Daily Newspaper (TDN)
"Turkey's first and only English daily" newspaper provides in-depth coverage of both national and international news stories, aimed at foreigners living in Turkey, as they make up 60% of the paper's readership. With sections devoted to diplomacy, finance, sports, weather, and more, TDN offers broad news coverage from around the world, in addition to highly regarded columns written by noted politicians, businessmen, and scholars.
You're sure to be in the know when reading this independent, English-language newspaper that covers world news with a focus on national stories. Check out the "Features" section for expansive articles on local events, including art exhibitions and concerts. Additionally, the "Interview" section offers conversations with fascinating people of politics and society, including a women's rights activist and an Iraqi ambassador.
Time Out Istanbul
Published for both residents and tourists, Time Out Istanbul is a guide to the best restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and hotspots. The "What to Do" section gives up-to-date events happening around the city, and with the "Maps" and "Getting Around" pages you are sure to know where to go, and how to get there.
Touted as the "Magazine for Connoisseurs of Turkey," Cornucopia offers insight into the many cultures, people, and places, dating back to the ancient Ottoman Empire though modern day Turkey. Although not all articles can be found online, you can get a taste of everything Cornucopia has to offer with its vivid pictures and sophisticated articles.
Click on any of the color-coded dots on this map of Istanbul to see 1-to-5-star hotels with the name, rating, price, and picture of each, along with a description and details.
Turkey Road Map
Click on any segment of this map of Turkey to zoom in on Turkish highways and local roads. The distance calculator lists 81 destinations and an archaeological map lets users click on locales to learn more about an area's geography, history, and sights.
My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk (Faber and Faber, 2001)
Pamuk transports readers into the fantasyland of 16th-century Istanbul in this sweeping story about the soul of Turkey. The mystery begins when an artist commissioned by the Sultan to illuminate a manuscript is killed. What follows is a rich, layered tale that uses mystery, love, art, philosophy, and multiple points of view (including those of a tree, dog, ink, and gold coin) to convey not only a sense of place, but also a state of mind of the land of Turkey.
Istanbul, Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk (Knopf, 2005)
Pamuk paints a portrait of himself and of his city, Istanbul, in this gentle, ethereal novel that hangs, dreamlike, between fantasy and reality. As he revisits his life and childhood, Pamuk also recalls Istanbul as it once was, a city of thoughtful melancholy, huzun, in Arabic. Discover a man and the land that shaped him in this profound novel that rewards readers with a penetrating perspective of Istanbul.
Fez of the Heart: Travels Around Turkey in Search of a Hat, by Jeremy Seal (Harcourt, 1996)
Kemal Ataturk dealt a blow to tradition and history when, in the interest of promoting Westernism, he banned the fez in Turkey in 1925. Ever since (and for decades before), Turkey has teetered between tradition and modernity, East and West. Seal sets off in search of the fez, and of the soul of old Turkey, in this rollicking journey through Kurdish territories, the Black Sea, Ankara, Istanbul, and Cappadocia.
Tales from the Expat Harem, edited by Anastasia Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Gokmen (Seal Press, 2006)
Follow the journeys of 29 women as they discover Turkey and its people in this collection of stories designed to reveal a culture often veiled in mystery and mystique. A 30-year-old African American encounters a lust-filled dating scene in Istanbul; a shy English teacher confronts her self-image in a 13th-century bathhouse; an Iowan evangelist is changed by the very Turkish souls she hoped to convert. The beauty of Tales is that each story paints Turkey as the narrator experiences it, and, together, the stories construct a portrait of a people and their place.
Hamam: The Turkish Bath (1997)
Italian designer Francesco reluctantly travels to Istanbul to sell a hamam, or Turkish bath, he inherited from a deceased aunt. The ceremonies of Turkish life—from the careful preparation of meals, to the tranquil public baths—seduce him, and he begins to fall in love with Turkey and with a Turkish paramour. Watch the movie for its graceful direction, textured characters, and revealing interaction between cultures.
Don't Let Them Shoot the Kite (1989)
Based on the 1986 book Don't Let them Shoot the Kite, about Feride Cicekoglu's experiences as a political prisoner in a Turkish women's prison, this film (nominated by the Turkish Film Festival for the Best Turkish Picture of the Year Award) tells the story of Baris, a neglected five-year-old who pretends to stay in touch with his pardoned "prison-mother," Inci, through a magical kite. Through a local lens, the film considers the global issue of freedom.
Istanbul Tales (2005)
Set during one night in the Turkish city, Istanbul Tales is a series of interlocking stories that follows five sets of characters whose lives intersect after a mob gangster is killed. Each story is a modern fairy tale that depicts life in Turkey from vastly different perspectives (a lost man is mistaken for an ancient ghost, the daughter of a dead gangster is saved by a dwarf). Crisp characterization and vivid cinematography make Istanbul come alive.
Searching for Paradise (2002)
Described as a documentary about "living between East and West, Islam and Christianity, past, and present," this movie follows director Binnur Karaevli from Los Angeles to Istanbul on a personal quest to explore her roots and make sense of her Eastern heritage and Western upbringing. Searching for Paradise explores the East/West dichotomy of Turkey, and of Karaevli herself, and suggests both are better off for their rich backgrounds.
48 Hours: Istanbul
By Benay Brotman, Carolyn Galgano, and Husna Haq
Photo by Bruno Barbey/Magnum Photos
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