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Istanbul, the city that a tragic thaw turned into cosmopolitan

For 2,700 years it has been one of the centers of the world. Venetians, Arabs or Vikings chose it as a home. An essay by Bettany Hudges vindicates the resilience of the city

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Istanbul, the city that a tragic thaw turned into cosmopolitan

"The city was really born at that time, becoming a communicator, not only between East and west, but also between North and south. It is more an axis or a crucible than that which is often said of a bridge between East and west, as if it were just something that used to travel, "explains in an interview with country in Madrid British historian Bettany Hughes, author of essay Istanbul : The city of three names (critique), in which it devasted in almost a thousand pages cosmopolitanism and impulse of survival of Turkish city.

Bettany Hughes, in Istanbul. ONUR DAĞ

Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Genoese, Venetians, Jews, Arabs, Vikings, Azeris, Armenians, or Turks chose to settle re at some point in history. Under old Hippodrome of Istanbul, archaeologists have found remains in a strata even deeper than 42 layers of human settlements in site of Troy. "The city has a certain spell," historian points out. Therefore, he has often been given grand names: New Rome – as Emperor Constantine rechristened it by making it capital of his empire in 4th century – New Jerusalem, Eternal City of Allah, Queen of cities...

He even managed to fascinate Pausanias, a model Spartan chief who lost only 99 men from an army of 100,000 and who held a military feat with a sober refreshment while offering a banquet to vanquished Persian general. In face of famous denial of pleasures of his polis, Pausanias lost his head by taking Byzantion: walled off city ( Spartans mocked those who did), wrote poems that praiseed him and added only his name to a column that commemorated a Victory over Persia. What remains of monument can be seen today in Istanbul, near Blue Mosque.

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Hughes explains that location of city, with great strategic and commercial value, is what has attracted so many powers. "Your geography has made your story. That's why cosmopolitanism is part of city's DNA. " Also ir ability to survive. "It is longest-lasting political entity in Europe, so if something is Istanbul it is extremely resilient," he says.

2,700 years ago, journey between Europe and Asia that can now be crossed on foot by Bosphorus Bridge (officially martyrs of July 15 after failed coup d'etat of 2016) was not so easy to traverse. It was n that inhabitants of city of Megaa, in Greek peninsula, received divine order to prepare boats and to found anor polis "in front of city of blind", ie Chalcedony, today a district of Istanbul. Byzantion, in fact, was already occupied, but still unknown why people. It is not quoted in its first historical form, neir in Hebrew Bible nor in Greek New Testament. Not in Iliad.

The city received names of Byzantion or Byzantium between 670 BC and 330 A.D.; Those of Constantinople, Al-Qustantiniyye and, later, Kostantiniyye from n until 1930 and Istanbul or Stimboli from 1453 onwards. "From Constantinople a million square kilometres ruled. During First Crusade (1095 – 1099) It was ten times greater than any European city and in 16th century it was as big as London. He hasn't had a single ' golden age '. He's shining quietly re, even if people wanted to ignore that luminescence. "

Two people travel on a ferry last day 4. In background, Hagia Sophia. Osman Orsal REUTERS

And now? Does it not cross a significant downturn in collective imaginary? "After dissolution of Ottoman Empire (1922) was somewhat ignored because Middle East was being divided and was something like a city of yesterday: The Sultans were gone and Ankara was new capital. In last hundred years, Istanbul has suffered a public relations problem. But it's a very limited time. Since its refoundation by Greeks, re has not been a decade when it ceased to be on radar as a city that people want to talk about. "

Western contempt

Hugues says in book that one of recurrent mes of history of Istanbul is its double life: one as real physical space and anor as a fabulous story, metaphor or idea. "We think of Rome as Eternal City, in London as trade or in Jerusalem as City of God, but all se things are applicable to Istanbul," he summarizes.

The enlightened abbess and feminine power

A. P.

One of lesser-known elements of Istanbul is its openness to welcome. "There is this notion of offering refuge to those who come," Hugues emphasizes before putting two examples of 6th century: Emperor Justin I, who arrived in city from Balkans fleeing barbarian invasions; And consort of his successor, Emperor Theodora, who "received so many refugees in his own personal chambers of palace that one of soils fell apart."

The historian also highlights "clear power" that women had re. "In Ottoman period it was described as Sultanate of women. And not as a compliment. The Life of Kassia (a abbess, poet and composer of 9th century) shows that re were many more women literate than in or places. "

"When Power moved to west, it was almost embarrassing that re was such a powerful city in east. So it took away importance. Those who were writing official story could not admit that it was a beautiful city, sophisticated, cultured and moral principles, so y had to turn it into a city of barbarians and degenerate, "he adds. "In last 800 years its role has been systematically diminished and underestimated by western historians."


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