Back from the brink: new breath for tourism in Istanbul

    Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

The whole time I was in Istanbul I was convinced I could hear a dull groaning sound. At last I realised what it was: the collective grumbling every time someone described the city as “where East meets West”, or “where Asia meets Europe” or some other formulation of the same tired old cliché.

I was there for the wedding of an old school friend, a woman who has always been driven bananas by this description of the city where she grew up. Were it not for the positioning of the Bosphorus, cleaving a city of 18 million in two, nobody would see Istanbul in these terms. Nobody fetes London as the battlefront of Europe and America, or organises bus trips around Berwick-upon-Tweed to mark the sacred ground of perfect equilibrium between Scotland and England. Istanbul’s history is irreducible, but if we are going for trite summaries, we might say that, like London and New York, it is trying to maintain a cosmopolitan and liberal outlook against the wishes of the nation’s disgruntled conservative rump. Old vs new.

“Amazing,” I murmured to our taxi driver as we approached from the airport at sunset, minarets silhouetted against a peach sky. “Yes,” he replied. “It’s where Europe meets Asia…”

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