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A Tale Of Two Cities
A Tale Of Two Cities
As the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Byzantium once stood at the heart of the known universe. Modern-day Istanbul isn’t very far off
Abhishek Mande Bhot

It’s probably the poems we read in school. Keats, Tennyson, Yeats and, specifically, Wordsworth’s wanderings among those damned daffodil fields, that sold us on the idea of the countryside as an idyll. But there is a case to be made for the urban centers of the world too; I may go so far as to call our cities the pinnacles of human endeavor and achievement. Buildings that have stood for centuries, cuisines that have come from all parts of the world, people of differing faiths and opposing beliefs living together and powering the planet’s economic and cultural hubs – surely there’s something to celebrate about that? Give me a thriving metropolis over two roads diverging in some wood. Hand me a kebap while you’re at it.

Nowhere else is this truer than in Istanbul. The city that was once the heart of the ancient world is today a metaphor for the East meeting the West. Straddling two continents and their diverse cultures, Istanbul is where Europe and Asia face-off and where a bridge connects the two. These are all clichés, but clichés exist because they’re often true. In Istanbul, antiquity almost seamlessly blends with the modern. Sure, fez caps and groovy mustaches exist, but so do sharply dressed men and women walking along Istiklal Avenue, the city’s nerve centre and party district. As dervishes whirl on one side of the Bosphorus in Sultanahmet, on the other, in Taksim Square, modern music blares through cafés and bars that turn into performance venues at sundown. And as it begins to snow, the red tram trundling along the avenue lined by late Ottoman-era buildings completes the setting. You turn up your collar, slide your hands into your pockets and walk along the cobbled avenue. It’s how you want to remember Istanbul; it’s also how you want to remember yourself.

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December 2019