The only metropolis in the world straddling two continents, Istanbul
defies categorization. Sights, smells, sounds — all converge in
glorious cacophony in the bridging of Europe and Asia along the
Bosporus. Still called Constantinople by some and Stamboul by others,
Istanbul received its official name with the founding of the Republic
of Turkey in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal.
A pasha (general) in the Turkish army, Kemal resisted
the Sultan and the allied forces after World War I in their drive to
have Turkey accede to an American or British mandate. He retreated from
then-occupied Istanbul and launched a three-year War of Independence.
Hailed as Ataturk — father of the Turks — the nickname eventually
became his surname. Ataturk is responsible for modern Turkey, carrying
out drastic reforms that brought medieval Ottoman society into the 20th
century. He abolished polygamy, granted women equal status with men
before the law (which included the right to vote), separated government
and religion and replaced the Arabic alphabet with the Latin alphabet
for written Turkish. Fez and veil were outlawed, and European dress
took their place. This marked the beginning of Turkey’s westernization.
Still in pursuit of full membership in the European Union, Turkey aims
to adopt the E.U.’s basic system of national law and regulation (the acquis communataire) by 2014.
Chosen by the E.U. as a European Capital of Culture for 2010, Turkey
will have the opportunity to showcase its cultural life and development
in the next year. For travelers who have experienced Istanbul, that
culture is mesmerizing. For those who haven’t, wonders await. Minarets
punctuate the memorable skyline of domes, towers and, increasingly,
high-rises, as the Bosporus echoes the insistent call of the muezzin,
broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the city five times a day. The
call to prayer also broadcasts Istanbul’s Muslim heritage — if accepted
into the E.U., Turkey will be its first Muslim member.
Bordered by eight countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia,
Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria), Turkey’s location is of strategic
importance in bridging the Muslim world with Europe. A member of NATO
since 1952, Turkey is the alliance’s vital eastern anchor, controlling
the straits leading from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. In the
recent Georgia crisis, Turkey found itself playing the role of
mediator. It is also currently engaged in active diplomacy with Syria,
the Middle East, Armenia and the Caucasus in efforts to advance
Traditionally an agrarian economy — agriculture accounts for 10.5
percent of the gross national product and provides about 26 percent of
the nation’s jobs — Turkey has surged ahead as a textile and
ready-to-wear supplier to the European Union in recent years. It
currently ranks second only to China in these exports and counts
Germany, England and Italy as its biggest trading partners. Fashion is
thriving, and many boutiques in Istanbul feature local designers,
competing favorably with international names in the chic designer
shopping streets of the Nisantasi. Other significant growth sectors
include iron and steel, machine production, mining, automotive and
electronics. Turkey’s economy grew an average of 6 percent per year
from 2002 through 2007 — one of the highest sustained rates of growth
in the world. Figures for 2008 are expected to show a growth of 5.5
percent, even with the global economic downturn. As an international
commercial center, Istanbul contributes 40 percent of Turkey’s budget,
40 percent of Turkey’s total industry and 45 percent of the total tax
Istanbul’s population now exceeds 12 million, with 50 percent under 40
years of age — 51 percent male and 49 percent female. It’s no wonder
clubs, restaurants and boutiques are evolving weekly. From the ancient
cobblestone streets of Sultanahmet to an ever-expanding urban push
across the Bosporus into Uskudar and Kadikoy, Ist
anbul is forging ahead as Europe’s — and, increasingly, Asia’s — most exciting city.
FOUR SEASONS ISTANBUL AT SULTANAHMET
Just steps from the Topkapi Palace in the ancient Sultanahmet section,
the hotel’s 65 guestrooms and suites frame an open courtyard in what
was once a prison for political dissidents. Prisoners would not
recognize the extravagantly designed rooms, each with a fabulous view.
Architecturally true to tradition, the paint was applied as in Ottoman
times, with a spatula.