Sunday, May 19, 2013

Istanbul - a cultural and ethnic melting pot

Istanbul is a city that shows a unique blend. A blend of continents, culture, tradition, architecture, people and religion. Istanbul is a city with a big heart and there's enough room for everyone and everything.

It has the right reputation of being a cultural and ethnic melting pot.

Blending continents
As most of you know Istanbul is spread across the two continents of Europe and Asia. The two continents are culturally so different yet in Istanbul the cultural differences blend.

The two sides are separated by the beautiful Bosphorus strait. A 10 minute ferry ride takes you from Europe to Asia. Perhaps, the best view of the European side of Istanbul is from the Asian side.

Blending cultures
The history of Turkey spans across the Byzantium, The Roman Empire, The Byzantine Empire, The Latin Empire, The Ottoman Empire, Republic of Turkey and the Turkey of today. The cultural mix is most visible in the city's architecture.

The Walls of Constantinople from 5th century BC share space with  Byzantine, Genoese, Ottoman, and modern Turkish architecture. This makes Istanbul's city skyline very interesting where one sees a magnificent  mosque between modern skyscrapers.

The historical streets of Sultanahmet are connected by a modern tram. For me that's another unique blend and its amazing as the the view outside changes as the tram reaches Eminonu. Interestingly there are two versions of the tram running - historic and modern.

Walking down in any street one will see women dressed in hijabs and burkhas while others dressed in significantly shorter dresses. However, the men almost dress alike.

Blending religion
The Hagia Sofia museum is the best example of two religion visible inside the same institution. Hagia Sofia was an Orthodox patriarchal basilica which was converted into a mosque and now its a museum. I've never heard of an institution that served two religion. Interestingly, today you can see mosaics of Jesus and Mary between Islamic religious structures and symbols.

Blending Cuisine
Although food habits and cuisine around the world today have a mix of old and new. Istanbul is no exception and one sees kebabs, shwarmah and traditional Turkish cuisine served as combo with fizzy cola.

People from atleast 12 different countries are staying at the hostel where I am putting up. Istanbul's geographical location is so strategic that international travelers prefer to extend their layover while travelling between East and West. The Sultanahmet area in particular is a tourist hotspot and the city embraces people of all nationalities.

I certainly am in love with this city like most others.


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