x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Istanbul, a city of history and intrigue

The Life: Halfway between London and Abu Dhabi, Istanbul waits for the business traveller.

Istanbul is a city rich in history.
Istanbul is a city rich in history.

Equidistant from London and Abu Dhabi, Istanbul makes an ideal half-way point to meet a friend from the Old Continent.

For the European visitor, this city spanning the Bosporus provides a tantalising glimpse of the Orient, with its rich Ottoman past. For the Gulf traveller already conversant with Islamic history, it offers a fascinating variation on the theme.

There is just so much history packed into this town, and so many delightful views, that any business traveller will need to set aside at least a weekend to take it in.

Top of the deck for this writer is the Topkapi Palace. Home to the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years until the mid-1850s, this hill-top fortress hides a city of exquisite tiles with painted floral designs behind its stone walls.

Perhaps the most fascinating enclave of the palace is the imperial harem, which was home to ruling Sultans' mothers, who were known as the Valide Sultans, the concubines and Sultans' wives plus the rest of the royal family, including servants. This complex household was overseen by African eunuchs and out of bounds for anyone else.

Perhaps the most evocative story of the harem was the Kafes, otherwise known as "the Cage". To avoid wars of succession, Ottoman rulers were mandated for centuries to kill their brothers on assuming office. But in the 17th century, Sultan Ahmet dictated the tradition of fratricide be reformed in favour of putting all potential successors under house arrest in this area of the harem. Brothers were confined to this precinct surrounded only by deaf mutes and barren concubines. Their only hope of escape was in the event of the Sultan's death.

For some, it proved too much.

Ibrahim I emerged from the cage in 1640 and earned the sobriquet "Ibrahim the Mad" for his depraved rule.

He was deposed eight years later after drowning 280 concubines in the Bosporus.

The Quote: "First the rent and taxes went up, and then, thanks to the immigrants, the city was flooded with razor sellers, simit sellers, stuffed mussel sellers, tissue sellers, slipper sellers, knife and fork sellers, sundries sellers, toys sellers, water sellers and soft drink sellers, and as if that weren’t enough, pudding sellers, sweet sellers and doner sellers have now invaded our ferries." Ohran Pamuk in Istanbul, Memories and the City

 

tashby@thenational.ae