No amount of imagination and study can prepare you for arriving in the beating heart of Istanbul. The city where East meets West, where history has been forged and empires prospered has no equal anywhere else in the world. From Greek explorers and Ottoman Turks to cloth merchants and modern entrepreneurs, few places can boast of such a diverse and profound development quite like the Turkish marvel. Just like it proved to be for the conquerors and travellers that traversed the lands over the millennia, Istanbul has and always will be more than a destination. It is a place where dreams are fulfilled, cultures merge and opportunities are created.
As both the origin and end of the ancient Silk Road, Istanbul allowed treasures to be spread and for economies to flourish. Skilled craftsmen and tradespeople sent their intricate goods to exotic lands, further enriching cities along the historic trade route. With every passing year Istanbul grew more important, and it has continued to do so even today.
History books know it as Byzantine and Constantinople, and for 600 years it has been Istanbul. But for the people who wander its streets, Istanbul is far more than its name: It is a way of life.
From the chic, bohemian alleyways of Beyoglu to the iconic mosques of Sultanahmet and Fatih, the sights and sounds of the city capture every traveller’s curiosity. Every waking moment in Istanbul is to be savoured. The sweet taste of apple tea that punctuates every conversation, the aroma of spices drifting in the air from the Egyptian bazaar, the hypnotic moves of the whirling dervishes, Istanbul is place where your senses are constantly intrigued.
Bearded men throw dice down on frayed backgammon boards, puffs of flavoured shisha smoke wafting up between the excited shouts of their friends. Steam billows from red carts, with smiling vendors selling fresh chestnuts on every street corner. A call to prayer echoes out over the city, a sound synonymous with the fascinating nation.
At the mouth of the Golden Horn swaying boats sell fresh fish sandwiches. Crowds of locals and tourists mingle in public squares, conversing over the idle topics of the day. Spectacular carpets are bought and sold in a hive of activity near the grand bazaar, one of the largest covered marketplaces on the planet.
Both men and women frequent their hammams, enjoying an age old bathing tradition. Keen fisherman throw a line over the rails of the Galata Bridge. Turkish cuisine entices the taste buds of young and old, supplemented with sweet baklava. The Princes Islands beckon those looking to escape from the bustling crowds and relish in the romantic atmosphere of horse-drawn transport.
On one side of the Bosphorus is Europe, and the other is Asia – the only metropolis to span two continents. Far more varied than its narrow distance would lead you to believe, each half of Istanbul has its own unique experiences to appreciate. There truly is no other city comparable.
We arrived in Istanbul at the end of our own two-year adventure overlanding across Asia. Our packs were not filled with spices and cloth, but with memories of an intrepid journey, along the same path caravans of a previous era traversed. Istanbul marked both the end of a road, and the beginning of a new one. Unlike anywhere we have visited previously, the Turkish city commands a sense of awe and wonder. The sights, the smells, the tastes, the emotions, it is more than just a destination – Istanbul is life.
by ALESHA BRADFORD and JARRYD SALEM