A tour through Istanbul – the European Capital of Culture

The Mongol Messenger
2016-08-08 14:17:34

As a reporter of the Mongol Messenger newspaper, along with local journalists of ‘Today’ daily newspaper and ‘UBS” TV, I had the privilege to travel to the city of Istanbul, Turkey – the meeting place of the Asian and European continents to attend the 40th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee under the aegis of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. 

Looking down from the plane, Istanbul is shown to have a dazzling architectural mixture of diverse styles, such as mosques and palaces with dome shaped roofs, narrow streets fully packed with rows of orderly and territory-efficiently constructed low-rise apartment buildings, comparatively fewer modern steel-frame skyscrapers, and residential neighborhoods of houses with red roofs.  At the Istanbul Ataturk Airport, we encountered a high volume of international passengers flowing through its busy international departure terminals which definitely set us thinking that we had landed at the commercial, cultural and tourism hub of Turkey and Europe.

More than 14 million people reside in Istanbul, straddling the well-known Bosphorus strait, which separates the East from the West.  Attracting no less than 12 million tourists every year, the city is named as the European Capital of Culture, making it one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. 

It is home to a large number of historical and cultural heritages ranging from monuments and landmarks.  The impressive but tranquil Hagia Sophia museum towers next to the historic and photogenic Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque adorned with blue tiles in its walls, of which six striking minarets mark the sunsets in the most beautiful skyline of Istanbul.  To the southwest, the enormous Basilica Cistern nicknamed the 'Sunken Place' lies 55 stair-steps below the ground.  The Topkapi Palace, one of the best preserved structures from the Ottoman period, is there to showcase different traditional cultures of the Turkish people.  The medieval stone tower called Galata Tower stands 66 meters tall and offers you the best panoramic view of the city of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.

It is almost impossible to fully experience those must-see places, monumental buildings and sites in Istanbul in a few days because it would take months or years to experience them in person. However, the ‘Miniaturk’ miniature park provides an opportunity to snap all main structures in Turkey in such a short time.  The park houses more than a hundred models of architectural structures, 45 of which belong to structures from Istanbul.

As the city of Istanbul is located in a strategically unique geographic location connecting Asia with Europe, the city utilizes all possible types of public transportation vehicles.  A team led by Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of Istanbul in 2004 started implementing many projects aimed at improving the living standards and makes an Istanbul a world brand.  To mention just a few of the accomplishments achieved by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in the last few years, the total length of Istanbul's rail system increased by 215 percent, 293 crossroads and roads were put into service, Istanbul was ranked among the cities with the cleanest air across the globe, more than 122 monuments were restored, and more than a thousand cultural properties are waiting restoration.

When walking through the lively and burgeoning streets of Istanbul, it was not possible for me to not to pay attention to the abundance of green space everywhere.  Embellished with the beautiful Turkish national flower - the Tulip, (remember the annual Tulip festival of Turkey), the total green area of Istanbul has reached over 21 million square meters, increasing the amount of green space by 71 percent in the last decade.  During our visit to the Investment and Services Information Center (ISIC) operated by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality you are able to see models, photos and films presenting information on the past, ongoing, and future projects by the IMM, including data showing that there are 142 parks in 142 villages of the city proudly displayed there.

During the reception dinner held within the UNESCO WHC meeting, an unanticipated but opportune event happened when we got to meet and take a picture with Istanbul Mayor Mr. Kadir Topbaş and Turkish Cultural and Tourism Minister Nabi Avci who were very friendly to us as they heard that we were from Mongolia.  The Istanbul Mayor’s productive visit to Ulaanbaatar paid in April 2016, as well as his friendship with a Mongolian man named Bilguun, who was guiding us throughout our trip to Istanbul, helped interpret their easy-going and welcoming attitude towards us.  Bilguun used to work at the IMM and accompanied Mr. Kadir Topbaş to many events and projects related to Mongolia in Istanbul.

In conclusion, I should mention that the Turkish people are very family-oriented, hospitable and good humored with a peaceful homeland and pleasant weather.  Two days after we arrived back in Mongolia, we heard news that a military coup attempt took place in Turkey which surprised me; because it was hard to imagine the streets of Istanbul, which were filled with people walking about happily and leisurely with their families, to be subjected to such chaotic scenes.  Istanbul was my opportunity to experience and explore rich multicultural civilizations and cultures, both European and Islamic, as well as the ancient and contemporary world.


The article is featured in the Mongol Messenger's issue No.31 for August 5.