Crossing the Bosphorus, which separates the European and Asian parts of Istanbul, is one of the best and cheapest ways of absorbing the panoramic views of the city. Taking the ferry from Eminonu in the European side to Uskudar, I could see in the distance the silhouette of Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, Istanbul’s three must see destinations. Not far away, perched in its lonesome on a commanding hill is the exquisite Suleymaniye mosque, the crowning glory of the Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan.
That Istanbul traverses both the European and Asian landmass is symbolic of the position Turkey occupies in the world – a bridge between East and West, a composite of the two but never truly belonging to either. This manifests itself in the character of the city; the stately European buildings competing with domes and minarets for glory, right down to the faces of Istanbullus themselves, the progeny of cultures of the East and the West intermingling and settling in this land that has bore witness to conquest and downfall from both sides.
There is an ongoing debate in Europe around Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. Many in the EU are opposed to the idea for various reasons, some valid while others less so. I used to think it will be good for Turkey to join the European Union, but lately I’ve been having doubts. Is it wise for Turkey to anchor itself so strongly to the West – a West that is declining in fortune – when it can be part of something greater? Turkey is neither of the East nor of the West, and that is its greatest strength.