Istanbul is not a city that can be summed up easily.
There was a particular confusion that I felt there, the strange experience of seeing one thing that felt so Western, after seeing another that had felt so Eastern, but being immersed in a place that was very clearly neither. I suppose it makes sense, as you frequently hear Istanbul called a mix of the East and the West. But that line doesn’t actually do the city any justice.
Yes, Istanbul is a city at the crossroads, with elements of European, Asian, and Middle Eastern influences in it – but to call it a mix of those is to degrade Istanbul’s identity. It implies that Istanbul is nothing without being defined by its neighbors.
In reality, though, this city is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Take the Aya Sofya. First built as a Byzantine church, later turned into an Ottoman mosque, it has both the Western element of Christianity and the Eastern element of Islam, but this building can’t be compared to any other church or mosque in the world. Is it the the dwarfing sense of space underneath its dome, the span of history depicted in its mosaics, the massive rondells of Islamic calligraphy hanging on the walls – or simply the unique combination of all three in one place?
The Aya Sofya is pure Istanbul. It couldn’t be anything else.
Istanbul captivated me, and for those there and in other Turkish cities currently fighting to express their voice and protect their space, I offer a tribute to the allure and the power of this city.
A tribute to the street art, the rainbow stencils, the intricate wheatpastes, the sly tags and the massive murals.
A tribute to the look of the streets, the minarets rising over rooftops, the tiny alleys winding through Beyoglu, the hidden vintage stores and cafes in bright facades.
Especially – oh yes – a tribute to the food, the pyramids of Turkish delight and sugary sweet baklava, the rounds of sesamed simit, the juice sellers with piles of pomegranates, the ubiquitous tea in tiny glasses and the breakfasts of cheese and honey and bread and olives.
To the architecture, the domes of mosques dotted over the hills, the Ottoman palaces along the Bosphorus, the marble and wood and brick and stone.
To the mosques and the churches, the mosaics and frescoes.
To the sea, the wind, and the waves.
To the spirit of resistance.
And a tribute to the people, the men playing backgammon, the students browing flea markets, the guys smoking hookah, the protesters on Istiklal Caddesi, the kids playing in the streets.
Oh, and to the young woman in Galata, with short dyed hair and neck tattoos yelling ‘As-salam alaykum!’ to her friends. She seemed pretty awesome.
A tribute to Istanbul, powerful and strange, ancient and alluring.
(My love and adoration for this city translates to far too many photos to cram into one post; for the full set, check out the slideshow on Flickr!)