Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Istanbul, Turkey

Setting: Is Turkey in Asia or Europe? The answer turns out to be “yes.” Situated in southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia (the portion of Turkey west of the Bosporus is geographically part of Europe), Turkey literally straddles two continents. Sharing borders with Bulgaria and Iraq, the country has historical ties to both regions. The country is considering a bid to join the European Union which would economically tie the country to Europe, yet is also 99.8% Muslim, with strong cultural ties to the Middle East.
Istanbul reflects this blend of east and west, with a skyline dotted with domed mosques, a testament to its Islamic foundations.
Istanbul reflects this blend of east and west, with a skyline dotted with domed mosques, a testament to its Islamic foundations. Yet alongside, you will find modern bars, clubs, malls and haute cuisine. Described as one of the most romantic cities in the world, the city is the cultural heart of modern Turkey.

History: According to legend, Istanbul was born in 657 BC when a small town was established on the site by a man named Byzas. The town became a major population center because of its convenient location. Unfortunately, its location also made it a target. Overrun by Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire, Byzantium was destroyed several times and then rebuilt and named Constantinople after the new Roman emperor Constantine in 324 AD.

Seen for many years as the capital of the Eurasian world, Constantinople saw remarkable growth and development of infrastructure and many remarkable architectural masterpieces, including Aya Sofa (the Church of Divine Wisdom) which was regarded for many years as the greatest church in Christendom. Unfortunately, its location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia made the city a huge target for invasion, and over the next few centuries, the city was attacked, sacked, laid siege to, claimed, and reclaimed by Christian crusaders and the armies of the Islamic empire.

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire led to an irritating song when the city was renamed Istanbul. The next 400 years saw invasions by Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania, with France, Britain and Russia getting involved in the mid-1800s. The Turkish War of Independence, during which nationalist forces fought off invaders from Greece, France and Italy, allowed Turkey to become an independent republic in 1923.

Climate & Nature: Though it has cultural ties to the Middle East, Turkey is actually more ecologically variable than its neighbors. The country boasts mountains, rolling steppe, wandering rivers, fertile agricultural valleys and a 5200 mile coastline dotted with beaches. Fields of wildflowers are common in some places, with larger tracts of forests in a few areas. Wildlife is similar to other regions of the Balkans: bears, deer, jackals, lynx, wild boars, wolves and endangered leopards.

The People: Again, the fact that Turkey is at the crossroads of two cultures has strongly influenced its fine arts, architecture and literature. Many of the artistic works have a religious influence, particularly the architecture of Istanbul. The native Türkü music is traditional folk music with a modern urban slant.
The Turkish people have a well-deserved reputation for hospitality, with some traditional greetings and partings taking several minutes to perform.
The Turkish people have a well-deserved reputation for hospitality, with some traditional greetings and partings taking several minutes to perform. A surge in tourism in the last few decades has improved the economy and infrastructure of the country, with moderate rises in industry and commerce during the same time. Known for its textile industry, the country is also still largely agrarian, with 40% of its workforce employed in agriculture. Like many Muslim countries, the literacy rate varies by gender, with more men (94.3%) than women (78.7%) taught to read and write.

Interesting fact: Turkish cats that swim? Oh yeah. The Turkish Van is a breed of cat that originated in Turkey. These cats often have eyes of different colors (one blue, one amber), and they also love the water. Owners of this breed have to watch them carefully, since some have been known to turn on water faucets or even play in the toilet.

For further reading:
Istanbul Travel Guide
Lonely Planet
Ministry of Tourism
About Turkey
All About Turkey