European Capital of Culture: Istanbul

By Lisa Bethune

BBC Travel

From Saariselkum, Turkey’s third-largest city, to the unique cluster of buildings known as the House of Representatives, it’s a rich mix of culture and architecture that brings many visitors to southern Turkey.

Nezahualmi Çişm is a unique example of Istanbul’s labyrinthine old city Istanbul is a perennial contender for Europe’s most beautiful city. Still a mecca for tourists, the city is at risk of losing its charm if current planning plans are allowed to be implemented. It is a problem Iain Conn, CEO of English Heritage in Europe, shares with me in this piece:

“Eurostar chairman Richard Brown said the train service to London, which opened in 2003, had turned his city into Europe’s most beautiful city, and in 2008 chief European commissioner Viviane Reding declared a virtual city of Istanbul was a necessary condition of EU membership. This case is not only a unique opportunity to shape the future of Turkey but also of a race to the top in Europe. The architectural fabric of many of the world’s greatest cities becomes their unique and most spectacular features – and Istanbul is no exception. Istanbul has been built around the shifting lands of the Ziyağan prairies, the Hilis Tepe plains and the Gozu lakes. These fields represent the ultimate urban succession – the changed season of fields followed by the seasons of the city: morning from the high lake, afternoon from the valley and evening from the shore. These timeless variations are woven through Istanbul’s architectural fabric. Many of the ancient alleys have no sign of renovation. This is the case in Khazar Alley in the old quarter of Sultanahmet, which dates back to the 4th century BC. Adjoining a narrow alleyway lies the Mingan mosque. Even with a worn surface, it is astonishing for its form, detail and function. Elsewhere in the old quarter, the rooftops of the Sporizye houses are shadows of the skyline. Then there are the intricate stucco skylines of Golden Horn and Eminönü. The city doesn’t just stand alone on its own. Each building contributes to the architecture and of course is focused upon its own historic context. This is most obvious in the metropolis of the baroque, driven by an artistly activity for commercial success. But however beautiful the architecture, it has to form part of a world which has also created much less celebrated works of art. The brasserie in Marmaris has a magical glass mosaic ceiling. The hand-blown design is purely the result of thousands of hours of labour in a process set to last as long as the climatic conditions of the south coast where the tiles are made. Istanbul keeps changing. “We cannot operate in the past. We have to do it now and tomorrow. We must always look to the future,” the great Edmond Halley, the Swiss scientist who led a British expedition to the North Pole in 1909, once said. Although his beliefs have lost their relevance, his spirit lives on – and so do Turkey’s ability to adapt. Istanbul may be Europe’s most beautiful city but there are many cities around the continent that add to their richness. We look at some of the more beautiful places around the world

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