Your heart melts at first. An incredible sense of nostalgia hits you, a yearning for a living past, a current present, and a future to be.
It’s a city of contrasts, mingling the old with the new, flamboyance with the traditional, the architecture, markets, the disparity of the seas and deep blue water tantalizing you into a sense of numbness and grace.
Istanbul is a heart-rending city, a place out of the history books, an architectural mosaic, a geographical tapestry of historical palaces and castles and precious drenching water that makes people happy and content, delightful and talkative, people with many faces.
Istanbul astounds, dumfounds and flabbergasts the mind, stocking it with hypnotizing icons of memories and structures that survived from the past.
Istanbul is so lucky. You would never picture the mantal image from the map as the ancient, living thriving city borders the Marmara Sea from the south, and the Black Sea to the north with a natural connection through the historically significant Bosphorus Straits and the Golden Horn estuary to its side.
For the tourists, and for one slick of a second, the city becomes the centre of the universe with connections from every single capital on earth, north, south, east, west, from different countries in Europe, Americas, Middle East, and Africa.
It was comfort at first sight. Getting the visa at the airport at an instant certainly eases the twinges one feels with authority. Then it's plain sailing downtown, becoming more relaxed along the plush motorways, and bobbing waters.
I was always surprised by the number of Five-Star hotels in the vicinity of the famous Taqsim Square. Within virtually less than a kilometer, international brand name hotels jealously face each other for the clients, ordinary visitors and high class individuals and those looking for a family outing. Yet it’s a homely atmosphere.
I was booked into the Marmara Hotel, an establishment traditionally receiving Turkey's top political brass, and then moved to the Intercontinental Hotel which captivated my sense of being and perception as I looked to the tipping blue waves of the Bosphorus under the rays of the sun while gazing at the city landscape and catching a miniature view of the famous Sultan Ahmad Mosque, with its six minarets.
You never forget Taqsim Square, and Istiqlal Street which lead to it and underlined by its chic and boutique shops, pastries, diners, and traditional restaurants.
Waves upon waves of a literal human mass dominates the square night and day. At first the stream wave makes you hold your breath but you soon melt into the crowed.
No actual shoving, but constant popular stream. Istanbul has a population of about 14 million, and 5 million come into the city every day, and most of them are walking here, I kept thinking to myself.
As the English would say, it is not everyone's cup of tea, but for me one of the most interesting of places was the underground secondhand bookshops on a side street off Taqsim.
Secondhand books are good not only because they are usually relatively cheap but because of their rugged touches handled by hands, fingers and minds. It was an intellectual market in Turkish, which was no use to me but there was many readings in English, spewing an inveterate set of cultures.
It was a literary litany spanning from the classics to today's intellectual gurus of dilettante aspirations like myself, quickly thumb-flicking the pages. This little underground arcade was testimony to a reading aura that contrasted the walking hiatus above ground.
Night bulbs flickered at my hotel on the Sultan Ahmad Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi palace that became even more radiant and enticing during the day.
The Mosque is a 17th century architectural gem built between 1609-1616, with an edifice of past glory. Visitors flocked to it, leaving its courtyard, and taking off their shoes to go inside and wonder at the awe of calligraphy and tapestry.
People and visitors chattering in languages filled its courtyards wanting a glimpse of an architecture that was uniquely different to what they were used to. Faces, mannerisms, expressions uttered gesticulations of awe. We prayed inside the huge mosque after performing ablutions, softly pushing into the piece of Islamic history.
Also termed as the Blue Mosque it radiated blue Isnik tiles among a great edifice that magically transformed itself from the outside, Its rich red-and-white decorative carpets, long arches, walls, lights, tainted windows great dome and the mini-domes represented Islamic calligraphy and art that oozed the soul from its place.
Opposite stood the Hagia Sophia, a magnificent piece of horizon-dominating architecture turned into a museum in 1935 was a place of Islamic worship since the mid-15th century, and before that a Byzantine Church.
Its external hugeness was repeated in its halls and lobbies inside underlined by coexistence of faith rather than occupation with Christian and Islamic religious symbolisms standing side-by-side.
This was oft-repeated by an intermingling of cultures and the experiences of spiritual feelings that spoke of a dynamism of a style of living underlain by the fact Istanbul is situated on two continents, Europe and Asia.
The Galata Bridge, was juxtaposed by the great Yeni Mosque, another awesome structure that has to be seen. There we boarded the ferry, getting set to maroon part of the loquacious 32-kilomer Bosphrous Strait. It is now Istanbul from the waters as if somebody took a brush and itched the area.
We passed the Dolmabahce palace, fortresses, mosques, two large suspension bridges, towers and pavilions amongst quaint colored villas, including the Four Seasons Hotel.
It was a trip of discovery trying to catch the breathiness of it all amidst a whiff of history that was rich and alive, talking to you as you passed land structures like the Topkapi Palace, behind the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and built between 1460 and 1479.
Topkapi, a series of majestic buildings foretold of an Ottoman Empire at its zenith. Decorative architecture palace grounds, auspicious buildings, gardens, courtyards, pavilions, towers and a library all gave a graphic picture of sultans and merriments.
The palace stretching a good few kilometers of edifices needs steady and conscious walking to be able to fathom the stages of Ottoman history. In the end I felt glad to set at a café alongside the Marmara waters and take off the weight of my soaring limbs.
This is a tiny glimpse. A visitor needs a good while to comprehend the structures and environs of Istanbul. They have to put on different hats to appreciate the history alongside the modernity, the waters and bridges, the souks and plush shops. For me Istanbul is a city to remember and cajole, to hold tightly and to be mesmerized by it, a sort of picture painting in a mahogany framework.
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