BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
Istanbul is a beautiful city. For the readers who have had the pleasure of visiting this majestic city, you will know the wonders to be found around each corner. The Hagia Sophia standing iconically in Sultanahmet, not far from the Blue Mosque. In between a park where people gather at all times of day, but that comes to life at night. The area of Sultanahmet, though touristy, is ripe with colours and glamorous views from atop hotels that look out over the Bosphorus.
A few minutes away one can get lost in the Grand Bazaar. Various corridors will take the visitor to shops of all kinds. If you need a souvenir, you can find it in the bazaar. Fresh fruits, fish and meats, nuts, spices, including Iranian saffron, are all there for the picking. Jewelry and household adornments. Clothing and housewares. An ornate tea set that would look great in your parent’s house. Hours later, you might still find yourself going down paths that are new to you, and keep finding new goods you cannot live without. The shopkeepers eager to encourage you to buy.
Walk long enough in the bazaar and you might come to an exit eventually. Though you entered coming from Sultanahmet, you find a new exit. This one brings you directly to the Bosphorus and the Galata Bridge. There is still much to see on the old side of the city, but you wander onto the bridge. Here, along the lower level, you can stop for lunch at one of the numerous restaurants clamoring for your patronage. Enjoy the fish coming off the boats and wash it down with the local brew, Efes.
From here, you can continue to the new side of the city, where modern shops with brand names litter Istiklal Street. You see more cafes, where artists gather to talk the hot topic. Restaurants and food vendors are found on every corner, and between. The Galata Tower towering over this area, and the steep steps leading you up to get a good view. Turn around, or climb the tower (which has a restaurant), and glance again at the Bosphorus and the old city. The minarets sprinkling the city from end to end. You see the bazaar waiting to greet you again. Maybe you continue to Taksim Square, or visit Galatasaray Lisesi, the high school on Istiklal. Or you do some shopping.
Eventually you return to Galata Bridge, but rather than head back into the old city, you take a ferry tour of the Bosphorus. A tour guide pointing out the famous buildings in landmarks, as you relax on the gentle waters. When done, you head back to Sultanahmet and you see a gathering of people. What is this, you wonder, and you come close to an outdoor theatre where whirling dervish dancers perform. They spin to the music, and you find yourself lost in the motion.
Nearby, as it is dark, you see families out playing with light toys that shoot up in the sky. Street vendors sell corn and other treats. Others, including locals and tourists, duck into hookah lounges, where they enjoy some chai and flavored shisha.
There is much to this city, and Francis Kelsey and George Swain found something quite similar when they visited. Back then, the city was still known as Constantinople, though in his photos, Swain refers to a “Stamboul.” The city has changed much since the 1920s. A comparison of photos shows the spread of buildings and new construction found everywhere. Still, locals will look over these photos and see much they recognize. And they speak to the changes to modern times. The photos Swain took are, quite literally, a snapshot of a bygone time, but one not that long ago.
Istanbul has been an important city for a long time. It is where Asia meets Europe. Much trade goes through this city, as it also controls access to the Black Sea. It is no wonder that Kelsey visited many times on his way back and forth between North Africa and Europe, with stops in Palestine and Syria. And many present-day Kelsey archaeologists go through Istanbul on their way to Notion, or Aphrodisias, or any number of sites where Michigan has a presence. Istanbul is a magical city, one highly recommended to visit. It is full of life and beautiful scenes. Nothing can detract from this.