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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Istanbul Travel Guide
Istanbul Travel Guide and Istanbul Travel Information - TravelPuppy.com
Istanbul is time and again described as ‘the crossroads of Europe and Asia’ – a heaving bazaar-city of camels, carpets and caravanserais with an imperial history stretching back for more than 1500 years. This metropolis of fifteen million dwells both sides of an east-west land bridge divided by the 32km (20-mile) Bosphorus Strait, which also connects the trade routes of the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean. Thus, the city has been a jealously guarded centre of world trade since the Byzantine era, and protected by water on three sides, with the natural harbour of the Golden Horn nestled inside the city.

Even after Constantinople (as it was previously known) fell to the Ottoman Sultans in 1453, the city remained (and it still is) the trading post for valuable spices and textiles brought via the Silk Road from as far away as China. Its prime position has meant that Istanbul has suffered from recurrent sieges, changing from a Hellenic outpost to New Rome, the world’s first Christian capital, and the seat of the world’s biggest Muslim Empire. Its identity today combines that of both eastern and European.

Fragments of this varied architectural inheritance are noticeable, with stunning Ottoman mosques, classical columns, Byzantine structures, ancient city walls and fine churches. Added to this, rapid industrialisation has drawn thousands of rural poor to the metropolis, resulting in a vast social gap between ‘natives’ and migrants and a growth rate at treble the national average. Its wealthy elite (about 25%) live in the newly built suburbs and enjoy the sophistication of Istanbul’s café society, designer shops, thriving nightlife (over 60% of Istanbullites are under 25 years old) and vibrant contemporary cultural life.

Since early 2000, Turkey was caught in the worst economic crisis since the republic was formed in 1924. The August 1999 earthquake, corruption scandals, global depression, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, all took their toll, with record high unemployment and inflation. Ironically, increased competition and immense devaluation of the Turkish Lira against hard currency saw a huge upswing in tourism over the last few years, as foreigners took advantage of excellent prices. The 2002 elections resulted in a new prime minister (Erdogan, leader of the moderate Islamic AK party) and a more stable economy, with inflation down to around 10% by early 2004.

Istanbul suffered from Islamic terrorism in November 2003, with a number of simultaneous bomb attacks in the heart of the city, targeting synagogues and western and financial centres, and resulting in dozens of deaths. Turkey in recent times made long overdue and internationally welcomed improvements to its human rights, hoping for future entry into the EU. In 2004, it signed a protocol banning the death penalty, Turkish state television broadcast its first Kurdish language programme, and four Kurdish activists were freed from jail.

>With the buzzing atmosphere of the pedestrian Istiklal Caddesi and its hundreds of bars, cinemas, art galleries, restaurants and bistros, the city seems more funky and cosmopolitan than ever and young people even more keen on cultural expression.

Istanbul’s climate is, in the main, a Mediterranean one, although it is affected by climatic variations due to its location on the Marmara Sea and Bosphorus. Summers are hot and winters are mild, with no extreme temperature variations between seasons.