September 07, 2011

Istanbul, Turkey: Old City, New Spirit


"Today I have walked around one of the greatest cities on Earth, if not the greatest," said Gore Vidal, surveying the scene from a party yacht on the Bosphorus, as the Ottoman palaces, moonlit mosques and neon-lit skycrapers of Istanbul drifted by. 

This was high praise indeed from one of America's most abrasive political thinkers, here for the Liberatum arts festival of which this nocturnal cruise was a part. On the deck above, DJ Jefferson Hack threatened to drown out the great man's words with thundering techno beats. 

"In the birthplace of Pan, scenes like these with wine and song are not inappropriate," said Vidal, taking in the fashionistas milling about him: model Lily Cole swaying with local counterparts; Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue, chatting to Wallpaper* editor Tony Chambers; French artists exchanging notes with Istanbul architects. "This, after all, was the centre of civilisation, of great wine and great thought," Vidal reflected. 

Istanbul has long been a lure for classicists in search of inspiration and for travellers in pursuit of the exotic. A hundred years ago, it was the furthest east a sensible British traveller might go: the final destination for the Orient-Express, a place where one could sip Bordeaux or Earl Grey in the Pera Palace hotel, stock up on silk carpets in the Grand Bazaar and indulge in a hammam by day and a good hotel by night. It was the final frontier where the Christian world met its Muslim counterpart: a quiet, civilised city of fewer than a million people.

Read more on The Telegraph: Istanbul, Turkey: Old City, New Spirit

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