hidden europe 23

Istanbul's western districts

by Laurence Mitchell


Europe's largest city is a place where western and oriental influences collide. Laurence Mitchell, a regular contributor to the magazine, takes us on a tour of the western suburbs of Istanbul.

It is a city of many names: to the Ancients it was Byzantium. Later, as the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the city around the Golden Horn was known as Constantinople. It was less than a hundred years ago that the first president and founder of the modern Turkish State, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, decreed that it should be called Istanbul.

Laurence Mitchell, a regular contributor to hidden europe magazine, has been exploring some lesser known areas of Europe's largest city.

Istanbul, like Venice or Paris, is such an iconic city that even those who have never visited often have clear images in their minds of its bridges, shimmering waters, pencil-thin minarets and gleaming domes. It is, after all, a place on the very edge of Europe. For some, it marks the beginning of the Oriental world; for others it is the last of Europe, a city where contrasting ideas and philosophies have always cross-fertilised.

In recent years, Istanbul has grown dramatically to become Europe's largest city. The city's world image has changed from one of Oriental mystery to that of economic powerhouse and the metropolis seems to have finally shaken off any self-doubts it may have harboured about its place in the European milieu. Tourism has long been important and the extraordinary architectural gems of the Sultanahmet district - the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace - draw millions of admirers each year. But Istanbul has far more to offer beyond these, admittedly wonderful, tourist sites. Like any great city it is a place to simply wander at will and see what you can find.

Far away from the carpet touts, souvenir shops and manicured parks of Sultanahmet, just west of the former Greek and Jewish neighbourhoods of Fener and Balat, lies Edirnekap? (‘Edirne Gate'), a breach in the city walls that became the main exit to Thrace after the conquest of the city by Sultan Mehmed II in 1453. The streets around Edirnekap? are attractive enough, at least away from the traffic-heavy thoroughfare of Fevzi Pasa Caddesi, and a stroll through them reveals a middle class district of shuttered wooden houses, bakeries and grocery shops - everyday people living everyday lives.

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