Notes on Istanbul

Posted on December 27, 2010

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Last month I had the pleasure of realising one of my dreams, to visit the ancient yet thoroughly modern city of Istanbul. My first taste of this city was both innocent and grand – a few long years ago I stumbled across a photo of the Aya Sofya in a tourism ad announcing Malaysia Airlines’ inaugural flight to Turkey. The sight of this magnificent building – once a Byzantine church and an Ottoman mosque in its illustrious history – made me shiver at the idea of humanity’s talents and ambitions in its search for intimacy with the one Creator.

Yet for all its history, past upheavals and prosperity, malign and decline, my friends would ask me when I tell them of my travel plans, “Why Istanbul?”

To me, this seemed like the most absurd enquiry. Why not Istanbul? My long distance affair with this city, built up over years through photos and articles, only made such ignorance the more palpable. The friendships I made with Turkish–Australians cured the heartache yet made the longing even more intense. But then I realised that, for many people outside Europe, Istanbul and Turkey are still very foreign, and nowhere near the familiarity that they feel for places like London and Paris. I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t for the chance encounter of that Malaysia Airlines tourism ad, would I feel the same way about Istanbul. Yet the greatest moments in life are often sparked by unexpected discoveries. And so in the next couple of photos I hope to relive and perpetuate the memory of my too-short visit to Istanbul, carrying with me the promise of visiting it again someday.

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