Istanbul is one of those cities for which you fall in love at first sight. It was love from the first time my eyes have looked at the majestic profile of Santa Sofia, the minarets of its Blue Mosque, the old tram that crosses Istiklal Caddesi, the chai tea served in the pastry shops of the city centre.
Istanbul is a city that, even if you see for a few days, you are going to miss. Istanbul is love at first sight, but it is one of those neverending love stories.
My love for Istanbul
I fell in love with Istanbul the first time I was there in 2011, and I couldn’t wait to go back. A few weeks ago I went back with an organised tour that included Istanbul and Cappadocia (which is not the kind of trip I usually choose, but this was terrific thanks to the people I met on the trip) and found it even more fascinating. I’ve revisited places I’ve seen before, visited places I hadn’t been to, and I still feel like I’ve explored only a small part of it. Istanbul is beautiful for this reason too, because you need to discover it slowly, Istanbul does not immediately reveal itself as maybe other cities do. You have to go back again and again, explore one piece at a time, fall in love slowly and then never forget it.
The places that made me fall in love are the best known and most frequented, but I don’t see it as a bad thing, and you know why? Because I’m sure that when I discover its historic neighbourhoods, its most hidden corners, I can only fall in love with it even more.
Hagia Sophia is, in my opinion, one of the most significant buildings in the world. It has such a fascinating history, built as an Orthodox Church it later became Catholic Cathedral and Muslim Mosque and then it was deconsecrated and become a museum. (I won’t tell you its story because you can find it on any tour guide or website).
For me, it is the absolute symbol of human diversity, diversity understood as beauty and as communion. In the end, everyone who walked into it believed in something superior, so they were united in their diversity. And today this museum represents this diversity in its various representations, in Christian frescoes, in Muslim medallions. Humanity would need more places like this to remember that in the end, we are all the same; we all believe in something, whatever is or isn’t your religion.
The Spice Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar, on the other hand, reminds me of a past made of merchants and travellers, who stopped in Istanbul to trade and to refuel and then continue their journey to Asia. A world made of exchanges, discoveries, flavours and smells that came from distant countries, from the East and the West. The colourful spices, the scents, the teas evoke in my mind images of a story of which we have only read in the books, with Istanbul that was still Constantinople, a city known to everyone and all over the world for its greatness.
Istanbul is the only city in the world on two continents, crossing the Bosphorus you can go from West to East, from Europe to Asia. And the bridges, whether those on the Bosphorus or the one crossing the Golden Horn, are crucial for Istanbulers and visitors. They allow you to switch between the two parts of the city. The Galata Bridge is perhaps one of Istanbul’s best known, thanks in part to fishers stopping by every day to catch fish in the Golden Horn. The location of the bridge, with the Galata Tower on one side and the Suleiman Mosque on the other.
Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s shopping street, which runs from Taksim Square to Galata Bridge, is another symbol of the city. It represents the modern, westernised part, but do you know what makes it more beautiful? The old tram that crosses it and that binds it inextricably to its past. Istanbul, after all, is an old lady with a new dress, but with the history, elegance and dignity of a whole life in her eyes and wrinkles.