Sunday, September 6, 2015

The cross roads of the world

Where does East meet West, Europe meet Asia, where do the great conquerors cross paths, where do the world's great religions clash and cross over? At Istanbul, of course, besides the beautiful blue Bosphorus. Identities merge and emerge, opinions clash and synthesise,  territories change and rechange hands, civilisations syncretise, resulting in the most glorious art, architecture and literature that the world has ever seen.  Here is a picture of the crossroads of the world, note the distances to Russian cities  and to Babylon. The actual ancient crossroads are the Milion monument, the stone structure on the right, which was the starting point of the great Roman road Via Egnetia, that lead to European cities, and the reference point to all distances on it.  The crossroads of the world now faces the influx of refugees from Syria, and as the Turkish premier pointed out, has been far more generous than most countries of Europe with its hospitality.

The city is full of mosques, and churches and palaces, minarets and steeples, Byzantine architecture overlaid with Ottoman flourishes. Practically nothing in the city has not changed hands, not once, but several times. The blue mosque is one of the most famous mosques in Istanbul. The Aya Sophia mosque  just opposite it is now a museum, and  has changed function many times.

The heart of the city is the Bosphorus, and the bridges across it, bridging Asia and Europe. The Bosphorus cruise and the suspension bridges across it, constitute the highlights of any Istanbul trip. Public transport in the city covers all bases, ferry, tram, bus and taxi.

Here is a not so common Istanbul experience. A trip to an island in the Bosphorus, a lovely place with 150 year old houses, and a charming neighbourhood feel. Lucky are the friends who live there, who shared their gracious household with us. No motorized transport allowed here. If you won't walk, take a horse drawn carriage.

As always it was too short a trip. So here's to hoping we visit again to catch the many wonders we missed, and to meet again the warm citizens of the city who spent enormous time and trouble shepherding around confused foreigners.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

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