Istanbul Redrawn

Başıboş
A book of illustrations of Istanbul by Gijs Kast

De Harmonie


The grey-clad, grim-faced Turk who sells vibrantly coloured ladies’ underwear at the market. The shaggy street cat, weaving its way through the neighbour’s garden fence. The friendly face of a wizened elderly lady, each line in her face telling stories of lifetimes ago. One wouldn’t give these scenes a second glance if one passed them on the street. But perhaps it takes a fresh mind, an unbiased wanderer, to remind us of the beauty in these simple, everyday moments.

Gijs Kast, a young Dutch illustrator, wandered round Istanbul for six months, simply observing (hence the title: başıboş is Turkish for footloose). The result is an illustrated documentary in which you can almost smell, hear and taste the city. Rather than the tourist’s view, it shows the real Istanbul, unveiled and caught unawares.

As an avid lover of pen-and-ink illustrations, it warms my heart to see works such as these finally accepted as high art. In the days when illustrations were just used to accompany texts, make political statements or simply entertain with a three-picture gag, the art form was often associated with children’s stories or comic strips and its reputation was low. Thankfully, illustrators can now express whatever is on their minds, without limitations. Kast shows this brilliantly, drawing out the beauty in the everyday, the mundane, and turning it into art.

As a graphic art, illustration lends itself to a form of expression very different from the written word or the painted canvas, but combining the best of both these worlds. Kast knows his medium, using composition and the interplay of light and dark to capture the imagination. His work, though mostly consisting of line drawings, is varied and exciting, sometimes hinting at a clever observation with a splash of colour. Perhaps it is a statement he would like to make, or an interesting contrast he wants to share. Either way, the portraits, patterns and street views are both entertaining and thought-provoking.

I myself have sadly not been to Istanbul, so it is interesting to see the city observed by an outsider from the inside. Yet these images do not seem foreign. Somehow the feeling is one of recognition. By depicting the city without gloss or shine and allowing it to speak for itself, Kast manages to bring Istanbul close. Perhaps we should all stop living at a hundred miles an hour and take time simply to observe our surroundings. Who knows what beauty we might find?

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 50
  • Decked in Splendour

    The long-awaited Naval Museum has many wonders to reveal, but nothing to compare with the fabulously ornate imperial barges

  • Bean vivant

    From a trusty staple to the stuff of feasts, beans are at the very heart of Turkish cuisine. How did we ever live without them?


  • Byzantium’s Legacy

    In a vivid, impressionistic portrait of the Byzantine city, Robert Ousterhout uncovers the history of Byzantium in ten objects, explores the soaring edifice of Ayasofya and picks four of the city’s most inspiring smaller churches.


  • From Palace to Bazaar

    Take in the Topkapı, where the sultans held sway in secluded grandeur. Saunter round Sultanahmet and the Hippodrome: make the most of the mosques, monuments and museums. Get the buzz of the bazaar: where to snap up covetable collectables and cheerful bargains


  • Urns to yearn for

    Deep in the industrial outskirts of Istanbul, Griselda Warr enters an Aladdin’s cave of Anatolian treasures. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • Magic Movements

    AyşeDeniz Gökçin’s musical creations combine the rock-star appeal of Franz Liszt and the psychedelic/progressive brilliance of the band Pink Floyd. Tony Barrell found this prodigiously talented young pianist a force to be reckoned with. Photograph by Charles Hopkinson



  • A devilishly fine juicer

    John Carswell solves the mystery of the ‘lemon squeezer’ that wasn’t

  • The Best of a Classy Bunch

    In a decade of monitoring Turkey’s burgeoning wine industry, Kevin Gould has never been more impressed. He and the Cornucopia tasting team enthusiastically sampled this year’s top bottles and nominated their favourites


  • Horn of Plenty

    It is a joy to explore. New universities, a new museum, and a growing band of new aficionados who have invested modest means in old houses, have created a wonderful sense of optimism. But the ancient waterfront is in the eye of the storm, with many quarters due to be bulldozed and the threat of a hideous new marina. Enjoy it while you can


  • The Mirrored Pavilion

    Hidden away in one of Istanbul’s least prepossessing neighbourhoods is a walled garden surrounding a dream of a kiosk – a favourite of many sultans.


  • Full Steam Ahead

    Give yourself over to the grit and bustle of Eminönü’s waterside markets, then ascend to Sinan’s sublime hilltop mosques – the awesome Süleymaniye and the haunting Şehzade. In their shadow is the exuberantly tiles Rüstem Pasha Mosque. Cornucopia devotes 24 pages to this vibrant area, with features on Eminönü and the Suleymaniye district with photographs by Jürgen Frank, and a guide to the mosques beautifully depicted by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • Stony Heart of Empire

    Within the deepest reaches of the palace lies the very seat of the sultans’ power



  • Everything the heart desires

    The Grand Bazaar: From Iznik to Armani, objets d’art to handloomed carpets: the choice is yours

  • A City of Secret Gardens

    When David Wheeler set out to satisfy his craving to explore Turkish gardens, he was guided by a diverse cast of committed Istanbul citizens. What he discovered were myriad horticultural havens, from Byzantine market gardens to Ottoman cemeteries – many of them under imminent threat


  • Austerity and awe

    In his 40-year career, Sinan (1489–1588) transformed the Istanbul skyline. Here we explore three of the chief imperial architect’s masterpieces from the golden age of Süleyman the Magnificent. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg


  • Terrifying Beauty

    Justinian’s soaring edifice inspires the same awe today as it did in visitors a millennium ago who wondered if this were Heaven or Earth. Setting out on a tour of the city’s best-preserved Byzantine churches, Robert Ousterhout still senses an air of the miraculous in Ayasofya


Good places to stay
Buy the Book
Buy the issue
Issue 50, Autumn 2013 Istanbul Unwrapped: The Sultan’s City
£12.00 / $15.79 / 100.06 TL
More Reading
Related Destinations