Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Farewell to Istanbul: Part 2

The Only City in the World that Spans Two Continents
This seems to be the mantra of Istanbul. It often proclaims itself as the bridge between East and West. These as both boosterism statements and need qualification. Being a geographer, definitions between regions are innately fuzzy. That Europe stops at one side of the Bosporus and Asia begins on the other is arbitrary. There is physically only one continent and that is the Eurasian continent if one defines a continent as one contiguous land mass that is a tectonic plate. If we consider a continent, as a physical barrier separating cultures, there also a problem with this as well. Societies from Asian and Europe have been migrating, invading, and sharing cultures for several thousands years. The Bosporus does not fit that characteristic. So, the symbol of bridges that promoters often use is purely metaphorical and has no substance. It is an intellectual vortex that traps all who enter and attempt to place any more meaning than one that is superficial.

However, on the local and regional aspect, the Bosporus is a barrier that has shaped the urban structure of Istanbul. All those from Istanbul, refer to the European and Asian side of Istanbul in reference to where they live. The European side is generally the industrial and cultural core of Istanbul, while the Asian is a residential suburb of the European core. It still represents a major barrier for movement, despite two bridges spanning this waterway. The Bosporus is the reason for the significant ferry movement from one side to another. These ferries are part of the unique character of Istanbul and and shapes its citizens' perception of the city. It is also where some of the most prosperous areas are found.

The Bosporus:The Real Treasure of Istanbul
Besides from the metaphorical use of the Bosporus for whatever purpose. It is truly the 'branding' of the city. Despite trying to have Hagia Sofia or Sultan Ahmet Mosques ('The Blue Mosque') as symbols of Istanbul, they are over shadowed by the beauty of this strait. It is wonderful in the daytime with the hills surrounding it and with the parade of ships going up and down it. At night, it is still a wonderful thing. It never ceases to amaze me and take hold of me. Before I leave, I must take one last cruise down it with the 'ghosts” of old mansions, palaces of various Sultan's families, and the Ottoman fort built before the Fall of Constantinople. Other places may have beautiful scenery, but there is only one Bosporus.

Inside the Walls
You know when you have entered Istanbul when you have passed through the gates of the Theodosian Wall. Erected in the early part of the first millennium by the Emperor Theodosius and later maintained by other Byzantine/Late Roman Emperor, it represents one of the few standing ancient city walls in the world. These walls define Istanbul just as much as the Bosporus. There is a feeling when you past through the walls and you know that many others have before you, some much more illustrious than you. The traffic in and out of the walls betray the grandeur of the place, making you realize that most do not wonder or think about them. To them, they are just there.

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