October 03, 2011

The City: Istanbul

At the confluence of three strategic waters—the Bosporus, the Marmara, and the Golden Horn—the center of Istanbul occupies the skyline like an oriental Manhattan. Its gray-blue stone touches it with a steely glamour. The old palace of the sultans crouches on its promontory’s edge; nearby rises the cupola of Hagia Sophia, the greatest church of Orthodox Christendom; and over all ascend the pencil minarets of the city’s first mosques.

Wander these streets beyond the usual tourist trail and you are often in the labyrinth of a gently deteriorating past. Window grilles look onto imperial cemeteries; wooden mansions survive among the concrete; Byzantine walls crumble on the periphery. This, perhaps—the survival into modernity of a decaying splendor—is what imbues Istanbul with its pervasive melancholy. As Constantinople it presided over two of the longest-lasting empires in history: the Byzantine and the Ottoman. Both, in their prolonged old age, became bywords for decadence; and the feel of a long, heartsick twilight is never far away. This is the mournful hüzün of Orhan Pamuk, the country’s foremost writer: almost a quality in the air. The weather, indeed, may have something to do with it: in summer a drowsy and debilitating humidity sets in.

Read more on The Daily Beast: The City: Istanbul


Post a Comment