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Istanbul: a city of contrasts

A place where East meets West and old meets new, Istanbul’s unique charm lies in its juxtapositions, which come together to create one of the most excitingly cosmopolitan cities in the world

Hannah Lewis / © Katie Wilson-Ells
Hannah Lewis,

Istanbul is a city rich in history. Founded circa 660BC as Byzantium, re-established as Constantinople around 330AD and later part of the Ottoman empire, Istanbul’s fascinating heritage has attributed to its distinctive character. The largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is also transcontinental: straddling the Bosphorus Strait, it is situated in both Europe and Asia. This cultural juxtaposition defines the style of the city. A meeting point for the East and the West, the old and the new, Istanbul is bustling, modern, cosmopolitan – yet permeated with the past.

Old meets new
One of the easiest ways to enjoy the mix of old and new is to look up. Istanbul’s skyline comprises mosques, palaces and minarets, which stand alongside high-rise skyscrapers, evidence of the city’s status as a financial hub. Back at street level, visitors can experience the old-world charm of the Grand Bazaar and the city’s beautiful ancient architecture, while enjoying all the amenities that have bolstered Istanbul’s reputation as a leading modern cultural destination. Offering the most covetable international designer labels, Istanbul is renowned as much for luxury shopping as for its traditional crafts. Karaköy, a busy port since Byzantine times, has been transformed into a commercial centre and is one of the liveliest areas in the city, with imaginative concept stores, fashionable eateries and popular nightlife spots. The district is also home to İstanbul Modern, an internationally acclaimed museum of contemporary art.

Taste the difference
A wide range of influences also combines in the city’s culinary scene, creating something greater than the sum of each individual part. At the smart Duble Meze Bar overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, co-owner Emre Çapa and his team present meze, a selection of small dishes traditionally served in Turkey. The restaurant menu was inspired by a modern interpretation of Spanish tapas, often compared to meze. ‘Our main influence is, of course, Turkish cuisine,’ says Çapa. ‘We have worked very hard to adapt Istanbul’s street food into a more modernised and disciplined concept.’ A good example of the Duble Meze Bar approach is its fresh interpretation of kokoreç, a traditional lamb offal delicacy, one of the most popular dishes on the menu.

For Çapa, it is the unique nature of the city that has made Duble Meze Bar possible. ‘I have lived and travelled in many parts of the world, including Geneva, London, Paris, Malaysia, Vietnam and South Africa, and, from all those experiences, I can certainly say Istanbul has it all. It’s one of the rare cities in the world where you can witness both the East and the West, not only literally, in terms of continents, but also culturally and spiritually.’

Design for life
The nature of the city also affects the creative efforts of its population. Deniz Tunç, who launched her eponymous label in 2000, designs everything from interiors and light fittings to furniture and home accessories. She cites Turkey’s ‘history, geography, culture, eastern objects, buildings and ornaments’ as the inspirations behind her creations, which translate these influences into starkly modern pieces. Tunç has quickly garnered attention with her modern use of eastern materials and motifs. Though different and new, the designer says her pieces also capture something familiar.

‘The rich decorative arts of Ottoman, Seljuk and eastern styles were simplified within my designs – they were reborn with completely different forms as sculpture-like art objects,’ says Tunç of her early creations, and she has carried this concept through all her collections to date. Among her latest pieces are the Wing table, which has a base of intricately carved metal supporting a sleek glass top, and the Orbit ceiling light, a nest of curved brass tubes adorned with glass balls. Both are strikingly modern yet distinctly influenced by the traditions of the East.

Uniquely Istanbul
It seems unlikely that her label, Deniz Tunç Design, could have been founded anywhere else, away from the ‘excitement and chaos’ she enjoys in Istanbul, with ‘different cultures waiting to be discovered on almost every street.’ The coexistence of old and new, East and West, is something she sees every day. ‘On the hills dividing Istanbul into two continents, you can view modern architecture and wooden mansions along the shores, and fibreglass yachts and colourful small sailing boats all together. There is backgammon to be played in traditional coffee shops and wine to be tasted in modern ones.’

The city showcases a wide variety of cultures and styles which come together to create a beautiful, rich and diverse city. As Tunç eloquently puts it: ‘at sunset, the same glow is reflected onto hundred-year-old mansions as it is onto the skyscrapers.’



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