The only city in the world to span two continents and to have been the capital of both Christian and Islamic empires, this ever-growing metropolis of the latest 16 million inhabitants is Turkey’s cultural and social fulcrum. More acutely than anywhere else in the country, here East and West meet in an endlessly fascinating meeting pot.
First and foremost visitors are drawn to the famous skyline. Domes and minarets of colossal mosques rise in moody outline, above waterways which bear a constant flow of snaking traffic. Whether veiled in the morning haze, at sunset or at night, no urban sprawl is more memorable.
There are enough outstanding palaces, mosques, museums, and churches to satisfy the most ravenous culture vulture. Yet even more absorbing is the city’s contemporary life. Lake many great metropolises, Istanbul feels on the edge of chaos but is borne along by invisible force.
Part of the city’s allure is its setting, where Europe faces Asia across the winding turquoise waters of the Bosphorus, making it the only city in the world to bridge two continents.
Here, where the waters of the Black Sea blend into the Marmara, East and West mingle and merge in the cultural melting pot of Turkey’s largest metropolis. Busy Oriental bazaars co-exist with European shops; kebab shops and coffee houses sit alongside international restaurants; modern office buildings and hotels alternate with Ottoman minarets along the city’s skyline; traditional music and Western pop, belly-dancing and ballet, Turkish wrestling and soccer all compete for the attention of the Istanbul audience.
The strategic location of Istanbul owes its long-held historical significance at the mouth of the Bosphorus . In the words of the 16th-century French traveller Pierre Giles: ‘The Bosphorus with one key opens and closes two continents, two seas’.