Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Armchair Travel to Istanbul

images via weheartit (except one)
When your surroundings seem suddenly too familiar, it's always refreshing to have a brief glance at a different place. I love all things travel for this very reason; I actually cannot get enough of  Lonely Planet guidebooks and cheesy travelling shows such as Globe Trekker. (Although Getaway can take its cue and get. Away.) Today, I thought I'd educate us about the very awesome city of Istanbul. Ready for an adventure? You better fasten those metaphorical seat belts. Oh yes. I used that line.

Istanbul for all those not with it, is the capital of Turkey. [insert amusing pun about turkeys... Gobblelicious?] It is located in the north-western region of this country and is split by a trippy channel of water called the Bosphorus that connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. In other words, depending on which side of the Bos you're on, you can either be in the Asian or European side of Istanbul. This is a bi-continental city, bitch. Forgive me, but I think this is FUCKING STUPENDOUS.

With 13.5 million people, it is also one of the world's most populous cities. Istanbul is a fantastic example for having multiple names, as it was first established as Byzantium in 660 BC, became Constantinople under Constantine the Great's rule in 330 AD, who also gave it the name Nova Roma (New Rome), etc. and so the city became known as many things to all. The Turks sometimes referred to it as Beyoğlu or even Islambol (city of Islam). The name Istanbul was only officially adopted in 1930.

As King Byzas demanded, Byzantium was built by settlers from the ancient city of Megara (THEY BUILT THIS CITY). Different empires captured it in the centuries to come, before becoming an independent nation in 355 BC. In 73 AD, it became part of the Roman empire- which impacted it further when it sided with Pescennius Niger when he attempted to usurp the imperial throne before being smashed by his rival Septimus Severus. He died. 

The city however, did not. In 324, Constantine the Great became ruler of the Roman empire and he in his glory, constructed a new Christian city to replace Byzantium. Most individuals called it Constantinople. It did wonderfully, spreading Roman influence eastwards and becoming a centre for Christianity. Lots of churches were built, no Muslims could get in to preach their doctrines because of the city's walls and seafront which meant no invaders. (No gatecrashers for the win) Locals would go and hang out at the hippodrome, boss of all chariot racing venues which became essential to Constantinoplian life. Think of them as really enthusiastic sports fans; some were so intense that they instigated spectacularly violent riots. And while the Western Romans fell to shit in 476 CE, the Byzantines continued nicely, continuing on the Eastern Roman Empire for almost another 1000 years. 

However, in 1204, the Fourth Crusade saw the destruction of this town. So then it became the capital of the Catholic Crusader's Latin Empire which was a mere smudge on Constantinople's former splendour: the population now shrunk to a tenth of its prior size and all of the cool stuff like the churches and shit were broken. Over time, it was weakened even further until Sultan Mehmed II captured it, proclaimed it as the new capital of the Ottoman Empire and transformed it from a Christian hotspot into a Mecca for Islamic culture. Now we arrive at its current alias, Istanbul. This time meant for lots of mosques like this one:

the Blue Mosque - source

Over this period, the arts of entities such as architecture, calligraphy and ceramics prospered. Istanbul is famous for its architecture, as its historical buildings reflect its various past eras. The people here are still predominantly Muslim although there is a mix in religions and cultures. 

Nonetheless, I must add its promise in shopping ability. It hosts the Grand Baazar, founded in 1461, one of the oldest and  largest covered markets in the history of ever with 61 covered streets and an guesstimated 3000 shops. There are also the Mahmutpaşa Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaars to note, which all hold an enticing appeal to Mama Top Knot. Although if this is too old school for you, (boo you whore) there is also the award winning four storey Akmerkez shopping centre to consider, among many other enclosed malls. 

There is also the amazing Turkish cuisine to note. I shall not indulge myself too violently though as that would exhaust poor you to a pulp. Instead, I leave you with one word. Kebab.

Istanbul seems like a pretty groovitational place if you ask me. For that, it goes onto the Must Visit list, but for now, I'm feeling content to just bare my knowledge of it.

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