by author :

Gery Ciftcioglu

The ever changing face of Istanbul

25 March 2023

The first time I set foot in this chaotic place I thought, “Wow, this feels like the center of the world!”. And Istanbul hasn't disproved me since. I moved to live here in the summer of 2003, and the first thing that shocked me was that no one spoke any English. As a person who grew up in a resort town I thought locals at any tourist place would have picked up some conversational English. 

Well that was not true for Istanbuleers, perhaps because this place is so vast and a big chunk of the people neither live around the sights nor have any interactions with travelers.

Since 2003, I've learned the language more or less well enough to order food, give directions, read the labels, or understand a heated street quarrel. And with that I’ve become part of this enormous hive with ever changing skyline, a place I call home. 

Chaotic as it may look, Istanbul has its own rhythm and has changed a lot in the past 20 years. Here are some of the most evident developments that might be interesting to travelers coming here after a long time or, in fact, for the first time.

Coffee houses 

Istanbul used to be the city of tea houses when I arrived. A passionate coffee lover, this was so devastating for me that one of the first things I got was a Delonghi coffee maker as back then one could enjoy the view at sunset of the Maiden tower and Topkapi Palace from the Uskudar’s seaside but only with a delicate tulip shaped glass of strong black tea.

Of course, there was Turkish coffee, and thankfully there still is. But nowadays you can have a late, frappuccino or macchiato practically anywhere around the city. Ah, what a bliss! Plus, there are not only big foreign brands like Costa or Nero but also some quite successful local ones like Espresso Lab and Kahve Dunyasi [The World of Coffee].

Public transport 

Metrobus and Marmaray, remember these two names if you want to efficiently go from one side of the city to the other. Preferably outside rush hours, unless you want to feel as a human size sardine stuffed in a can. These two transportation methods have transformed the city and connected Asia and Europe as never before. 

Metrobus is a fast bus line that has its own traffic lane. It crosses the Bosphorus over the oldest of the three bridges. But besides while it is on the bridge, Metrobus is not dependent on car congestion and can take you from Kadikoy, to the Golden Horn, and over Kucukcekmece creek to the last stop at the suburban area of Beylikduzu. The overall length of this bus line is about 50 km. 

Marmaray uses the old railway tracks and connects points of the city even further apart than the Metrobus. It links the train station on the European side, Halkali, with the furthest eastern suburb of Istanbul on the Marmara sea, Gebze. Marmaray is awesome because it goes under the Bosphorus, it is as fast as any subway and there are junction stops where you can transfer from it to a number of subway lines. 

Museums and libraries

You have probably heard or visited the most iconic sights in Istanbul: the Sultans’ Palace and its Harem - Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, St. Sophia church, Galata Tower, Rumeli and Anadolu Fortresses. However there are many other interesting but perhaps not as popular spots around town that have spurred in the last decade or so. 

For example, the Borusan Contemporary, also known as the Haunted House Museum of contemporary art. The construction of this distinctive building in the Rumelihisarı neighborhood began in the 1910s but due to the start of World War I it was halted. Then the Turkish republic was born, times were turbulent and consequently, the structure stayed unfinished for almost a century, hence the name Haunted House given it by the locals. 

Finally renovated and completed in 2000, the building opened doors as a museum of contemporary art in 2007. It hosts temporary art exhibitions but offers much more than that. Borusan Contemporary is also a cultural center with a number of educational programs and art performances and events.

The Painting Museum opened its doors in 2014 in a building part of the Dolmabahce Palace complex on the Bosphorus shore. Inside this two floored beauty, with a spectacularly laced marble facade, hosts over 500 paintings from the National Palaces Painting Collection and the Topkapı Palace Museum Collection dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Definitely worth visiting!

Ataturk Cultural Center Library is a charming, very architecturally pleasing library in the heart of Istanbul, Taksim square. This library, together with the renovated center, was opened to the public in 2021. It was established in the name of the famous designer group Vakko and hosts a large collection of books on music, art, architecture, and design. Nevmekan Sahil is a multi-purposed building situated in the Uskudar district. You can have a coffee there, enjoy an art exhibition, study for your exams or just hang out in the quiet space of the library. It hosts around 10,000 books, has a stage for music performances, and distributes free soup and tea to students once a day. The Lady Sultans’ museum is part of the same complex overlooking the Bosphorus. 

The city of Istanbul is a vibrant place that eats and breathes culture. It is a home of migrants from all corners of the country as well as the Earth, a fact which gets reflected in the variety of restaurants with foreign cuisines dotted around town. But more about the tastes and smells of the place where east meets west perhaps next time! 



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