Istanbul, Turkey; A Bridge Between East and West
January 1, 1970
by Bree Poulin
Istanbul, Turkey is a city that is practically alive. By day, it showcases its abundant history through the towering spires of mosques and cobblestone streets. Monuments to the age when Romans and Turks ruled melt right into the everyday scene and around every corner is a chance to see how history itself has unfolded. Istanbul has been home for Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Christians, Europeans, and Asians alike- and today, it still stands as a city that can be a home for anyone. Throughout the centuries, the city has morphed and adapted itself for its new inhabitants, while still holding onto pieces of it’s past. Istanbul is a land bridge between Europe and Asia, but it’s also a bridge between old and new.
During my visit to Istanbul in the Spring of 2016, I tried to see the structures for what they were, but I also tried to see beyond it did look further into how they all fit together. At the time, I was so overwhelmed by the vast plethora of history and tales the city had to tell, that it was all I could do to take pictures and absorb as much as I could. However, now after years of reflection and thought, I have finally pieced together what they all mean for me. The places I visited in Istanbul were not just churches and monuments, but rather storytellers of the fables the city had to tell.
The Theodosian Walls
The Theodosian Walls showed me strength. Built in the 4th Century to protect the city from outside forces, they now stand as a testament to the resilience and fortitude of Istanbul’s spirit. On one side of the walls, inhabitants go through the motions of every day- shopping at the bazaar, cooking for the family, traveling to work, completely oblivious to the monument that marks the entrance to the city.
Before setting foot in Istanbul, the oldest thing I had ever seen was a pure copper penny from the year 1974. But the walls changed my entire perspective. It was one of the first structures I visited in the city and I was already overwhelmed by the thought of how much history they had been witness too. They had stood during the rise and fall of the Byzantine Empire, the rule and conquesting of the Turks, and now, they still stood casting a shadow of history over the city.
The Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia taught me the value of adaptability. Its walls had been built originally as a Christian Church but had later been converted into a mosque by the Ottomans. In places, the tiles have fallen down to reveal scenes of God and his followers among a sea of Arabic text. Writing of the Quran and verses of the bible co-existing peacefully on the same walls. In a world of conflict and misunderstanding, the Hagia Sophia is an island. It represents it’s past and present without favoring one or the other. There is no wrong or right- there just is.
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque sang to me of peace and tranquility. It’s grandiose ceilings and ornaments echoed a sentiment of faith and subtle thought. For the first time in my life, hushed whispers echoing off the walls sounded respectful instead of malicious. Bowed heads were that of awe than of sadness.
It was here that I first learned the value of faith. I had never been religious growing up, I had always thought it was nothing but fairytales that people told themselves at night to feel better. But here, I could see the power that faith had. It brought people together, and it made them feel as if they weren’t alone. Religion wasn’t scary. It was art.
The Galata Tower
The Galata Tower offered me a view of east and west- right and left. The only thing separating two continents was a narrow strip of water that we crossed with the help of a 20-minute boat ride. The skyline was like nothing else I’ve ever seen. The spires of the mosques could be seen for miles, a beacon connecting all people in sight of it with a wordless faith.
The tower was one of the last places we went during our trip and I told it in a special place in my heart. After being in Istanbul for over a week, feeling tiny next to the magnificence of such ancient structures, being up in the sky helped me gain some perspective. Istanbul is a city like no other- and one that I was blessed to have been able to visit.
I still don’t know exactly how to describe the feeling of walking through structures that are thousands of years old. In my mind’s eye, I tried to see the history unfolding on every surface. How many hundreds of people had come together to build the towering spires of the Hagia Sophia? How many millions of people had knelt down on these very same stones beneath my feet and prayed? How can I possibly imagine and appreciate all the stories these walls have to tell?
Two years later, the thing I remember most was the vibrancy of the city. The streets, the people, the air were all practically buzzing with energy and I promise you, I swear the city itself was alive and breathing. Tapestries of the deepest reds, the most delicate blues and every hue in between, lined the roads, street vendors called out to you with tantalizing offers of smoked chestnuts and deals for handwoven bags- even the air carried the sweet aroma of spice.
I brought home a beautiful handmade, mosaic Turkish lamp because it reminded me of the city. Each piece of glass a different size and shape than the others, but each coming together to make something beautiful and unique. I will forever remember the life of the city- the same way the lamp casts a glow on my face when it’s lit at night, Istanbul has cast a spell on me.