Impressions of Istanbul (part one)

From Camlica Hill, the highest point in greater Istanbul, we can see across the Bosphorus to the Golden Horn and beyond to the fortified walls built by the Romans 1,600 years ago. The Bosphorus, a narrow marine channel running north to south between the Marmara and Black Seas, separates Europe from Asia and it runs right through the middle of the city, making Istanbul the only city on earth that straddles the boundary between two continents.

The Golden Horn, a long inlet extending westward from the Bosphorus, divides the European side of the city into two parts. From the Golden Horn south to the Marmara Sea the "Old City" bristles with minarets and the domes of 14th century churches while north of the Golden Horn the "New City" is a mix of apartments and businesses with all the challenges of a rapidly growing modern city.

The three parts of the city are linked together by suspension bridges across both the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.

Located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Camlica Hill is a popular green refuge where both tourists and locals come to escape the turmoil of the city. An open-air teahouse on the summit is surrounded by a maze of walkways, gardens and secluded arbors - an ideal place to get our bearings before embarking on our four-day ramble through the city. We ordered lunch (tea, kabobs and lokum) and settled down to take in the view. Below us the city of 12 million people sprawls in a vast panorama of space and time - a tapestry of ancient and modern neighbourhoods woven into a cityscape that now extends far beyond the old Roman Walls and half way up the Bosphorus toward the Black Sea.

Ahmet, our friendly and knowledgeable local guide joins our table. "Istanbul is one of the oldest cities earth," he tells us. As we talk about the city's many transformations, from tribal fishing village to modern megalopolis, he points out some of its historic landmarks.

From our lofty vantage point it's easy to see why this spot was destined to become one of the world's great cities. Strategically located at the southern entry to the Bosphorus, the site has controlled the gateway between Europe and Asia for almost 16 centuries. Archaeological records suggest that the first fishing communities were built here as early as 1000 BC. Historic records go back to 657 BC when Greek colonists founded the town of Byzantium where the "Old City" now stands. Romans displaced the original settlers in 330 AD, renamed the town Constantinople, and made it the capital of their vast Byzantine Empire. In 1453 the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II, conquered Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul (city of Islam) and with the fall of Constantinople the Byzantine Empire collapsed and the Ottoman Empire surged into power. For the next 469 years, until Turkey became a Republic in 1922, Istanbul was part of the Ottoman Sultanate.


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