Istanbul is Turkey’s most populous city, and its cultural and financial centre. Located on both shores of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, it bridges Asia and Europe physically and culturally.
The peninsula of the Old City was Constantine’s New Rome and Ottoman Stamboul. At one end Topkapı Palace, at the other Topkapı Gate; between are bazaars, baths, museums, views and shrines too numerous to count. Take good shoes.
Once it was the hub of commercial life, its shores lined with bustling quays and the biggest concentration of mosques, churches and synagogues in the city. But the tide turned on this famous Bosphorus inlet and it became a backwater lined with gently crumbling districts of old palaces, city walls and shrines, places to discover as you head for the great monuments on the hills.
Art, entertainment, business and fashion are all based north of the Golden Horn. From bohemia in busy Beyoğlu to cosmopolitan cool in Cihangir, and from upmarket shopping in Nişantaşı to high-rise offices in Levent.
The narrow strait that links the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean is the reason for Istanbul’s pre-eminence. Its banks offer ideal places for a day’s excursion, though to enjoy them all could take many weeks.
Istanbul spreads for tens of miles along the Sea of Mamara and either side of the Bosphorus. What was once a loose-knit scattering of villages and leafy suburbs has mushroomed along the hilltops above the Bosphorus and the long low shoreline of the Marmara into mini-Manhattans – places like Levent (which barely existed 40 years ago) and Maslak (10 years ago) on the European side of the Bosphorus, Umraniye and ‘Ataşehir’, on the Asian. For the inquisitive shopper, there are heaving hives of energy to be tapped into, whole industrial zones devoted to carpentry, ironmongery and printing. And for mall-ignants, there is lots of those as well. You could end up in IKEA. But on the bright side, you never know when you are going to suddenly find yourself with an astonishing view opening before you.