For centuries, Constantinople was the centre of the known world. One result of its splendour is the large number of words which this city has given to the world, and which describe its unique hedonistic character: divan, caftan, kiosk, sofa, coffee, turban…
No city in the world has been more dreamed about than this one, and it has very often been referred to as the ‘New Rome’, the ‘Gate of Happiness’, the ‘Eye of the World’, the ‘Sublime Gate’, or the ‘Refuge of the Universe’. Or, simply, ‘the Polis’ or ‘the City’, which is precisely where the Turkish name of Istanbul comes from: eis tin poli or ‘in the city’. However, glory can sometimes become a double-edged sword. If old Constantinople was “the most longed-for city in the world”, as a Byzantine holy man once wrote, no other city in the world has been the object of as many attempted sieges and sackings as this one.
It is therefore truly a miracle that Istanbul is still standing and conserving its many monuments and attractions. There stands the impressive Roman cistern that still dazzles its visitors, and there stand the enormous walls that have protected it for over a thousand years. And also the most beautiful mosques of the Muslim world, and the immense Topkapi palace. The most important basilica in the history of Christianity, Hagia Sophia (with the permission of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, of course) will also take your breath away.
The heart of a great empire, former Byzantium was for almost two thousand years the true mecca for musicians and artists from all over the world. Legend has it that even Michelangelo stayed in Istanbul for a couple of years, seduced by the sultan. Its thermal baths (or Turkish baths), taverns and cafes were also very popular. And of course, the fantasy of the harems. One survival from the splendour of that time is the Istanbulites’ love of the tulip (whose origins are Turkish, not Dutch), and another is the most emblematic market in Europe: the Great Bazaar. Its statistics are colossal: forty-five thousand square metres, nearly five thousand stalls and twenty thousand people working there. It is said that almost half a million people come to this emporium every day.
But this isn’t the city’s only market. Here we can also find the Egyptian Bazaar, the Kadiköy Bazaar and the fish market in Kumkapi. Thriller writer Petros Markaris, in his book Death in Istanbul, tells us that the Turkish are slaves to flavours, and the blame for this lies with the variety and richness of these great markets. The best cheeses, honeys and yoghurts are brought to the markets from the cold mountains of Anatolia. From the central hills come hard wheat, dried fruits, a wide range of meat and legumes. From the Aegean, Marmara and Black seas comes a great range of fish. From the East, spices, sugar, coffee and tea. From Mediterranean lands come fruits, vegetables and even good wine.
Officially, Turkey is a secular country, although the vast majority of the population follows the Muslim faith. But the country’s vineyards attest to over five thousand years of wine-growing. The list of restaurants in Istanbul is endless. All of this is what happens in the world’s most longed-for city.
"In Beyoglu you will find good restaurants and bars. You must walk along Istiklal Caddesim: Istanbul’s great shopping and pedestrian street, with its elegant shops. I get away to Istanbul for a few days every year".Carmen M. Sales Manager, Madrid
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