As you continue to become enamored with all that we experience as Istanbul, enjoy this introduction from Buket Uzuner’s book, I Am Istanbul. It is well worth the length.
“I am Istanbul, city of cities, mistress of metropolises community of poets, seat of emperors, favorite of sultans, pearl of the world! My name is Istanbul and my subjects call themselves “Istanbullu”. And of all the world’s cities, I without doubt the most magnificent, mysterious, and terrible, a city upon whose shores Pagans, Christians, Jews, and unbelievers, friends and foe alike, have found safe harbor through the ages, a place where love and betrayal, pleasure and pain, live side by side.
I, daughter of Poseidon, miracle of the Argonauts, Empress of Medieval Cities, the harbinger of a New Age, whose star shines anew in the twenty-first century, am the city of prosperity and ruin, of defeat and glad tidings. Istanbul is my name. It is I! Place of extremes, the full gamut of human emotions experience at one and the same time, from the sublime to the basest, the loftiest to the lowest. I! My name is Istanbul, eternal archangel and goddess of cities. They come and they go, leaving their mark on my soul; I have seen them rise and fall, be born and declines; I harbor their jumbled relics in my underground cisterns and vaults.
Blue as hope, green as poison, rosy as dawn, I am Istanbul; I am in the Judas tree, in acacia, in lavender; I am turquoise! I am the unfathomable; the muse of possibility, vitality, creativity.
My name is Istanbul. That’s what they call me, what they have been calling me for a century past; but I have been Constantinople, city of Constantine; I began as Byzantium, and have had many names since: The Gate of Heavenly Felicity, Dersaadet, Dar’ussadet, New Rome, Asitane, Daraliye, He Polis, Tsargrad, Stamboul, Konstantininiyye…Mortals are like that, forever changing names, laws and borders! I laugh at these borders! I laugh at these mortals taking themselves so seriously in their fleeting mortal world of false illusion, fears, and shadows. Had anyone thought to consult me, I would have chosen “Queen of All I Survey” which is what I am anyway. I am Queen of Queens, City of Cities; I have walked with emperors and sultans, shared the confidences of travelers and poets. Aspiring authors still line up to write about me. In fact, here comes one now!
But even the soul of a great and noble city can feel the strain. Of late, I’ve been feeling restless. Lest I harm myself and fifteen million people who reside with me, I seek distraction. That is why I’ve chosen this day to turn my attention to Yesilkoy, my old “Green Village”, now my modern face, home to what they call “Ataturk International Airport.”
The original name was Ayastephanos. That was back in 395 or 495, I can’t quite remember now. On the night of that terrifying tempest, my Byzantine guests were still living there, and the small boat that was to transport St. Stephanos’s remains to Rome was forced to find refuge in this port. I remember it as though it were yesterday. They had caused me great distress, which had, of course, caused the storm. It was indeed a terrible night, a blinding squall. The remains of the saint languished in the port waiting for fair weather, but his body never left, and the church in which he was finally interred was called Hagia Stephanos, hence the nighborhood: Ayastephanos.
Many years later, in 1926 or 1927, long after the arrival of my Turkish guests, the author Halit Ziya Usakligil, who was fond of the place, renamed it Yesilkoy. And that’s how it stayed.
The reason I’ve turned my gaze on the airport today is to revel in the return of an Istanbullu, who many years ago packed her bags and imagined she’d left me for good. I’m in the mood for a little fun. She’s been angry with me for exactly thirteen years, had fled far from me, and here she comes running back. She’ll be touching my tarmac shortly. Her name is Belgin. It gives me particular pleasure to welcome back those mortals who, like this one, have stormed off, vowing never to return. In this case, Belgin of Bebek claims to have fallen in love with the sculptor Ayhan of Adana, now also of Istanbul.
I’ve seen it time and time again; what their really addicted to is my love. But it is no mortal love, this love of Istanbul. They carry me always in their hearts, and to me they must return; homesick, pining, missing me to death, their hearts ablaze with unquenchable love, solace for which can be found nowhere else. Once an Istanbullu, always an Istanbullu. I am the last song on the lips of dying exiles; I am pain and poetry; even to those who imagine they have left me of their own accord, I remain forever their lost home; for I am the smell of the earth, the tang of the sea, the stuff of dreams. I am Istanbul. City of magic, city of enchantment, object of the world’s desires.
And for millenia, no one has ever really left me. I will not be abandoned! Will never be deserted! My name is Istanbul.”