"There, God, man, nature and art
have together created and placed the most marvelous point
of view that the human eye can contemplate on earth."
Lamartine's words are fitting tribute to this unique city,
rising from the sparkling waters of Bosphorus into
striking skyline of domes and minarets, bridging the
continents of Europe and Asia and linking Black Sea to Sea
This strategic setting has dictated the city's destiny as
an imperial capital for 1600 years. Istanbul is founded
2600 years ago and was made Roman capital by Emperor
Constantine, and following the division of the empire, it
became Byzantine metropolis. In 1453, the city that
possessed the mightiest fortifications of Western world
fell to Ottoman Turks, led by their tempestuous young
sultan, Mehmet II.
In the most cosmopolitan of cities, past and present are
synthesized. Byzantine brilliance and Ottoman opulence
blend into this bustling port city, with its great liners
at anchor and its little fishing boats bobbing on the
Everywhere the city contrasts are apparent, from the
sirens of ships to the timeless sound of muezzins calling
the faithful to prayer, and from the sunlight flashing off
the golden crescents on the domes of mosques to the
hypnotic gaze of Byzantine mosaic figures.
So often silhouetted by flaming sunset in the old city,
set on triangular promontory between Golden Horn and
Bosphorus, and defended on the landward side by the
massive Byzantine walls. Here Emperor Justinian built
Christendom's greatest church, St. Sophia.
Yet rivaling the basilica in magnificence are Mosque of
Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, built by Turkey's
greatest architect Sinan, and Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I,
Blue Mosque, with its six minarets and blue Iznik tiles.
Dominating the old city is the mysterious labyrinth of
Topkapi Palace, the seat of Ottoman sultans for 300 years.
It was here that the power politics of ruling an empire,
that stretched from the Gates of Vienna to Persian Gulf,
were played out against background of harem intrigue. The
jeweled turban crests, silken kaftans and priceless
Chinese porcelains of the palace, bear witness to the
grandeur of bygone era.
Beside Topkapi Palace is Hippodrome and the heart of
another empire. The calm of Hippodrome today contrasts
with its violent Byzantine past of reckless chariot races
and rebellion that left 30,000 corpses on this spot. Just
inside the city walls is the other face of Byzantine
world, the formalized splendor of the mosaics of St.
Saviour in Chora.
From this kaleidoscope of past civilizations to patchwork
of crafts and Istanbul's great Covered Bazaar. Within this
maze of shops is an array of all Turkey's crafts; the
sparkle of jeweler, the glint of beaten copper and the
rainbow colors of oriental carpets.
Indeed, Turkish crafts are but a reflection of this
colorful country, and one has only to look at Istanbul's
natural setting to appreciate the vividness of these hues,
from the deep blue of Bosphorus to the dark green of the
cypresses lining its blank.
Here too, on Bosporus, is another collage of bygone grace
and jet-age living. As the boat, which leaves Galata
Bridge zigzags up Bosphorus, the eye darts from lovely
Ottoman wooden villas or "Yali" to the bold
forms of modern hotels, from the gaily painted hulls of
fishing boats to the sleek lines of racing yachts, and
from the humble fishing villages to the dramatic outline
of Bosphorus Suspension Bridge, the newest symbol of the
link between East and West.
With night the city bursts into brilliance of another
kind; glasses clink over plates of sea food and sequins
shimmer with the tinkle of tiny cymbals as oriental
dancers express the age old seduction of East.