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Turkey

Istanbul. The very name conjures up images that take on the power of metaphor. The waters of the Bosphorus, turgid with the traffic of tug boat and freighter, her docks piled high with Lego-bright containers and lined with ocean-going cruisers. The Sunday crush of Istiklal Street, where young women in miniskirts and bare midrift that leave little to the imagination rub elbows with those whose voluminous coats and head scarves are intended to dampen that same faculty. Aya Sophia, the solemnly beautiful 6th Century church and symbol of Byzantine power, which was converted in the 15th Century to a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror.and became, in the days of Kemal Atatuk, a museum which many Turks today would convert, once again, into a mosque. And, finally, less dramatic, perhaps, but arguably the best metaphor for Turkey, the kapali Carsi, the Covered or Grand Bazaar, the oldest and - until recently - the largest covered Bazaar in the world.

With dozens of streets, nearly 4000 shops, facilities ranging from cafes to money-changers, post office to police station, mascid (prayer room) to mosque, and hosting a planet-wide clientele, this is a world within a world, a city within a city. Here, as in a miniature, you can discern the social and economic circumstances that prevail in Istanbul, the city which gives it life.

This is a place which, Janus-like, looks in two directions: backward to the deeply-rooted culture of the east; forward to the shallow -rooted culture of the west. It is a place in flux . A world both resolutely sacred and adamantly secular. A man's world . One that insists - in spite of clear contradictory evidence - on its Turkishness. A world devoted to a democracy which it periodically safeguards through military action. And finally, it is a world in economic turmoil, exacerbated to some extent by these very contradictions.

Mirror to Change: Istanbul's Kapai Carsi was published in The World & I (culture section), March, 2003

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