Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Not Constantinople

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

- Istanbul (Not Constantinople), by They Might Be Giants, a song that, weirdly enough, had been banned by the Turkish Government.

We limped into Istanbul around 10 o'clock this morning. 

I'd always imagined it to be an awe-inspiring experience, because the train passes through the walls of old Constantinople. In my mind, I'd thought the train would pass through a giant archway underneath huge red-and-white brick fortifications that stretched across the city. What we went through was a couple of crumbling sections of wall with a giant bulldozed hole in the middle. 

Not what I had in mind. 

The American girls in the room are talking about this other girl who's latched onto them for a night's company. They're trying to shake her off before they go out for the night with the French boys. And the things they say about her... I've met some really awesome Americans while over here, but these girls ain't them. 

I have a problem remembering that it's Istanbul, not Constantinople. The city that fascinated me as a kid was the old city, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the city of Constantine and Justinian. When I think of this city, I think of the Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome and those red-and-white bricked city walls. 

It's hard to remember that it was also the Ottoman capital for 500 years, the cultural capital of Turkey for 70 more, and that it's well and truly been Islamasized. My knowledge of the city's history pretty much ended about 1453, and while the bones of old Constantinople still stick out, it's an Islamic city now. It's bizarre to sit in the Sultanahmet garden and see the Aya Sophia on my right, the Blue Mosque on my left, and realise there's a millennia of history separating the two. And it's a bit sad that while the former has been converted into a crumbling, poorly-funded museum, the latter's a beautifully maintained, functioning mosque. 

Still, it's a pretty city. I took a walk along Kennedy Cad today. It was beautiful. On your left, there's the old Sea Wall with the Topkapi Palace looming overhead. On your right, there's the glittering expanse of the Sea of Marama and the Asian half of Istanbul staring back at you. On sunny days like today, you've got fishermen on the rocks, bathers in the sea, and a fleet of yachts and ferries in the distance. 

And I came across an "Arsenal Youth Hostel" in Sultanahmet. The owner's a gooner, and there are pictures of himself and his little boy standing in front of Emirates. There's an Arsenal banner right next to the reception. If I hadn't already paid three nights for the place I'm at now, I might've stayed there.

Here's a picture:

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