January 28, 2011

Travel: The changing face of Istanbul

"From the Eminonu ferry dock in Istanbul's "Old City" it's a short walk to Yeni Camil, the "New Mosque," but in Istanbul the words old and new are relative rather than literate. The New Mosque was completed in AD1663, a mere 348 years before we visited it in 2010, but more than a thousand years after the Old City was established. 

It is still called the "New Mosque" but as I stand on its plaza watching the swarm of workboats in the harbour and the turmoil of pedestrian and vehicle traffic on shore, the New Mosque seems very old indeed - an anachronism in the business-driven society of Modern Istanbul. When the evening call to prayer booms from a loudspeaker on its minaret, no one pays any attention. There is not even a lull in the frenetic pace of business on the Eminonu waterfront.

The transformation of Istanbul began in 1923 when Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara and made Turkey a secular republic. A benevolent autocrat with boundless energy and an iron will, Ataturk dragged Turkey into the 20th century and let nothing interfere with his vision of a modern nation-state modeled on the west. The Roman alphabet replaced Arabic script. The European calendar was adopted. Sharia law was scrapped in favor of the Swiss civil code and the Italian penal code. Women were granted equal rights and religion was banished from schools and government institutions.

Since his death in 1938 Turkey's economy has swung wildly through several boom and bust cycles, but through it all Ataturk's vision of a modern, secular, westernized state has been the central tenet of the new Republic. But the country, and particularly Istanbul, are now facing new cultural and economic changes that are equally as challenging as those faced by Ataturk 85 years ago.


Until 1961 it was the terminus of the Orient Express, a train steeped in the glamour and intrigue of Agatha Christie spy thrillers. The trip from Paris took three and a half days (provided the train wasn't held up by bandits or stalled in a snowdrift) and if there were delays the carpeted cabins with leather armchairs and gas-lit chandeliers provided all the comforts a gentleman could desire. But that was a different era. Despite its extravagant luxury the Orient Express could not compete with air travel and today the only trains using Eminonu's Sirkeci Station are on short-haul domestic routes. Istanbul has become an ultra-modern jet-age city." (Jack Souther)

Read more on Pique News Magazine: Travel: The changing face of Istanbul


Unknown said...

am a follower now..

ranababac said...

Thank you Caroline :)

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