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Istanbul’s charm to all

3 Ocak 2012 , Salı 10:27
Istanbul’s charm to all

Ahhh… the Bosphorus straits, dividing the fabled city of Istanbul between the Asian and the European continents, sets a romantic background enticing and inviting guests just for a simple glimpse if nothing else.   The city’s strategic location has been crucial throughout its history as Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul.   Living here and facing daily antics permits me to brag about the quintessential splendors of this town.   The only city in the world on two continents, having served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and the Ottoman empires, Istanbul combines relics of antiquity with its grand mosques, churches, synagogues and ancient palaces peeking behind legendary walls that once served to protect this exotic yet cosmopolitan splendor.   The seven hills of this city, all located within these walls, are all crowned with imperial monuments largely constructed during the Byzantine and Ottoman times.  The Hagia Sofia is an example of the cultural diversity, initially built as a Byzantine cathedral, converted into a mosque by the Ottomans, and is today a museum that graphically reflects Istanbul’s colorful history. 

Istanbul’s historical past has not only allowed this city its current picturesque charisma, but has contributed vastly to its cultural wealth.  Not a day goes by that I am not reminded to observe, praise, or celebrate an event that is important to a distinct group of people native and residing in this country, concentrated in this city representing an ethnic melting pot of approximately 14 million.   

December this year brought the month of Muharrem or Ashure month (Noah’s pudding month) for instance or also known as the first month of the Islamic calendar.   Ashure is a Turkish whole wheat pudding made of a mixture consisting of grains, fruit and nuts, prepared in large amounts in almost every household on the tenth and shared with neighbors and friends, and served to guests throughout the month.   Ashure is not only a culinary tradition of Turkey but also of many other countries that surround Turkey, in addition to Christian and Jewish nationalities who all share similar versions of the dessert under a variety of different names.  In my recent research, I additionally discovered that the 10th also corresponded to the Mosaic Yom Kippur observed by Jews in honor of the prophet Moses.  It additionally marks the end of the Battle of Karbala and is a special day of observance in Shia Islam.   Imagine having one day that could mean so much to so many people all concentrated in one city!

Christmas and New Years of course, had the city decorated in lights and ornaments from one end to the other as all cities throughout the world.  Incidentally, Hanukkah this year, the eight-day Jewish observance that remembers the Jewish people’s struggle for religious freedom, also took place from December 20th to the 28th this year and was celebrated by Turkey’s Jewish population equally.   The level of celebrations at Christmas had some of my non-native Turkish friends wondering why a country that is close to 99 percent Muslim would bequeath Christmas such meaning.  Well, the answer to that is also quite simple since Turks consider St. Nicholas a native.  Accordingly, he was born at Demre, formerly Myra, a town in Antalya on the Mediterranean coast, where he was a bishop and lived most of his life.  He is accepted as Father Christmas, as an Orthodox bishop and as the western Santa we’ve all come to know; all due to differing ideologies as a saint who has become a universal gift-giver.

So Istanbul, the European capital of 2010 with still a hint of an exotic atmosphere due to its Islamic influence, transformed into a Disney-like city at New Years with decorations, shows and celebrations throughout the city. 

Dine in Europe one night and in Asia the next! Everything you could wish for in 2012.


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