The fabled capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires is a glittering, glorious muddle of influences and impulses
Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Jan McGready
AS THE SUN RISES ON ISTANBUL, the first call to prayer sounds from the eastern edge of the city and ripples inward, from Asia into Europe, drifting over the ruins of several empires, past the glimmering lights of the Bosporus Bridge and the late-night stragglers still dreamily dancing on riverboats.
For almost three millennia, Istanbul’s position on the Bosporus, the narrow strait that connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, has made it a trading hub for gold, silk, oil and spices, as well as a stomping ground for generations of merchants, hustlers and romantics. Location also made Istanbul the desideratum of conquerors the world over, many of whom decided that this place, and only this place, would suffice as the seat of an empire.
Today, this city of more than 13 million people is a muddle of influences and impulses: inscrutable and hospitable, indulgent and reverential. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed in such a place, so it’s fortunate that Turks are among the friendliest people on earth. If you find yourself lost and confused, as you well might, simply ask a local for help. You will invariably get more than you bargained for.