The vast city of Istanbul fascinated me with its complex Byzantine and Ottoman history. As the largest of Turkey’s cities, it is filled with architectural and cultural wonders worth visiting. They range from mosques, churches and palaces to museums, parks and bazaars. Its magnificent monuments gain roots from the once Roman capitol of Constantinople, followed by the Muslim conquest by the Ottoman sultans who transformed this land. I took a day to cruise its primary waterway, the Bosphorus Strait, to take in the views of this metropolis.
The culture of modern-day Istanbul is dominated by the military hero turned politician, Mustafa Kemal Paşa, universally known as Atatürk, “Father of the Turks.” Following a war for independence primarily from Greece, Atatürk promoted an ambitious, Westernized political and social reform. The sultanate was abolished; religion and state were separated; the Arabic alphabet was replaced with a Roman-based one; women gained more rights; and Turks were obliged to choose a surname. Today, portraits of his image are on display proudly throughout the city.
The dynamic complexity of Istanbul gives it a sense of being fully integrated. Several churches and synagogues stand in unity amid hundreds of mosques with numerous minarets shooting into the skyline. Five times a day, the call to prayer rings out throughout this vast metropolis.
There is great sense of Turkish pride felt throughout this friendly city and seen in the thousands of crescents and stars of the national flag waving in the marine air. As a western woman, I felt at ease and found it a welcoming place in which to experience a dominantly Muslim culture.
Further adding to Istanbul’s diversity is its location. Straddled between the two continents of Europe and Asia, the city is divided by its waterways: the Bosphorus Straight provides it a connection between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea; the Golden Horn is perhaps one of history’s greatest natural harbors.
This is great port city is influenced by its proximity to both Europe and the Middle East. It is bustling with fishermen, freight ships, ferries and cruise ships, whose details I look forward to exploring further.