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The Golden Horn is booming as the world's most dynamic city transforms its skyline and artists and students help make it buzz
Istanbu Beyoglu Nightlife in Beyoglu, which is now home to boutique hotels, fusion eateries and world music clubs. Photograph: Carsten Koall/Getty Images
In the run-up to New Year, the tourists were haggling over Louis Vuitton and Prada rip-offs in Istanbul's fabled grand bazaar. But in the high-rise shopping centres on the other side of town, bargain hunters in the winter sales are battling to get their hands on the real thing.
Istanbul's covered market, an early shrine to shopaholism, is about to celebrate its 550th anniversary with a multimillion-pound facelift. In fact, the entire city is in the throes of a multibillion-pound makeover, as what was once an outpost on the edge of Europe rebrands itself as a regional magnet.
The city is buzzing. Only a few years ago, when residents spoke of millennium domes it was not the O2 venue for the latest Lady Gaga concert they had in mind, but the thousand years separating the Church of Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque on the skyline of the city's historic peninsula. But now there are new skylines. At the European entrance to the Bosphorus bridge, work goes on through the night on the Zorlu Centre, a hotel-arts-shopping-residential-office complex. It is just down the road from the Sapphire skyscraper, which advertises itself as Istanbul's tallest building, and with a strong arm you could throw a stone at the new Trump Towers.
"Istanbul is a country, not a city," says its mayor, Kadir Topbas, and the explanation of its modern boom is buried in the history of the past 30 years. In 1980 Istanbul could not afford the electricity to illuminate that famous skyline. The city, along with the rest of Turkey, was under martial law and there were midnight curfews and even shortages of Turkish coffee.
Since then the city has elbowed its way into the global economy. The backstreet clip joints in the European neighbourhood of Beyoglu have turned into boutique hotels, fusion eateries and world music clubs. The smoke-filled coffee houses whose patrons once scrounged for the price of a glass of tea, now serve lattes â€“ and if you try to light up, there is a Â£30 fine.
At the end of the second world war, when the iron curtain came down to isolate Istanbul from the rest of Europe, only a million people lived here. Since then, the city has increased its population by that amount every 10 years. "Today's Istanbul is above all an immigrant city," says Murat Guvenc, city planner and curator of Istanbul 1910-2010, a remarkable exhibition that explains the pace of change. It is housed in santralistanbul â€“ a converted power station more brutally chic than London's Tate Modern.
Turkey is already a young country â€“ the average age is 29 â€“ but Istanbul is even younger. People come there to work and often retire somewhere else. And if Turkey is notoriously poor at getting women into formal employment, nearly half of them work in Istanbul.
A recent study by the Washington-based Brookings Institution, in a joint investigation with the LSE Cities project, judged that Istanbul had beaten Beijing and Shanghai to claim the title of 2010's most dynamic city.
"Istanbul takes the top ranking for economic growth in the past year," wrote Alan Berube, director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Programme. "Its economy expanded by 5.5% on a per capita basis, and employment rose an astonishing 7.3% between 2009 and 2010. Turkey's banking sector, which was less invested in risky financial instruments, became a safe haven for global capital fleeing established (and exposed) markets during the downturn."
Economists may be just realising that Istanbul is the place to be. Couch surfers and Erasmus exchange students have known this for some time. If emerging markets are kick-starting the global economy, creative dynamism is ebbing away from the old centres to the new. Istanbul is fast resembling Henry Miller's Paris or the post-Soviet city-wide party in Prague where western twentysomethings can spend that critical time between university and life. "You just can't just show up in New York or London and hope to fit in," says Katherine Ammirati, 23, from Berkeley, California. "At least not without a plan bankrolled by well-heeled parents."
She came to Istanbul, doing tutoring jobs and then clerical work at a law firm and will go home one day to become a lawyer herself. "Istanbul still has rich and poor side by side, and that makes it feel like a real city," she says.
The international art community, too, has put the city on its nomadic route, drawn in large measure by the success of the privately organised Istanbul Biennial, which will be held again this September. Sotheby's recently set up shop in Istanbul, motivated by a new generation of Turkish artists and the new purchasing power of Turkish patrons. In the opening-night crush at Contemporary Istanbul, the city's late autumn art fair, there was hardly elbow room to lift a glass.
The frontiers are disappearing. New York galleries are opening up in Istanbul and Turkish collectors go abroad. Art Basel Miami Beach might not feel the competition yet, but the city founded by Constantine as the new Rome in 330 wasn't built in a day.
"Istanbul's biggest problem is that we don't know what we're doing right," says Kasim Zoto, a hotel keeper who sits on the board of the Turkish Hotel Association. In 1955 a Hilton hotel opened up a new modernist skyline across from the Golden Horn and the hillside was soon littered with convention centres, concert halls and more five-star hotels. In the next two years, the number of hotel rooms in the city will rise by a third and two new Hiltons will open.
Not everyone approves of the consequences of such vertiginous growth. To some, gentrification appears out of control as "real" neighbourhoods, whether those of the Roma community by the old city walls, or the working-class districts around Beyoglu, are bulldozed for redevelopment. Only high-level lobbying last year stopped the city from being defrocked by Unesco as a world heritage site, as a row blew up over plans for an overland rail link for the city's metro system that would slice the view of the Suleymaniye Mosque.
The city has so far failed to meet an undertaking to produce an inventory of historic buildings and a master plan to manage the peninsula â€“ all measures that would get in the way of the developers' axe. Environmentalists feel powerless to stop the construction of a third Bosphorus bridge which, if the precedents of bridges one and two are anything to go by, will lead to the destruction of the city's remaining green belt.
Optimists and pessimists over Istanbul's future tend to be divided along political lines, according to Hakan Yilmaz, a political scientist at the city's Bosphorus University.
Those who support the current religious-leaning government are inclined to see the glass half full. It is Turkey's ardent secularists, now losing their status, who feel less hopeful about the future.
And while some Istanbulites might see themselves caught up in a clash of civilisations, between the pious and religious and a western-oriented elite, for others it is precisely this tension that makes the city come alive.
"There is a new culture being born," says Kutlug Ataman, a Turner prize finalist. The "usual suspects" â€“ the food and the nightlife â€“ are what make Istanbul such an attractive place, he argues, but it's the pace of change that makes the city so addictive. Having fled the country after the 1980 military coup, he sees Turkey's transformation evolving, however imperfectly, in the right direction.
As if to make his point, alongside a retrospective of Ataman's own work in the Istanbul Modern museum is a celebration of the contribution of Armenian architects to the 19th and early 20th century city, an important step in allowing the city's remaining Armenian community to reclaim the space they created. "We are becoming more democratic and you feel as an artist that you can make an impact," Ataman says.
And if Istanbul feels despondent about surrendering its European capital of culture crown to Turku in Finland, it knows the cloud has a silver lining. In 2012, it will become European capital of sport.
Andrew Finkel is the author of the forthcoming book Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know, published by OUP
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/ja ... namic-city
Istanbul is gorgeous- it is very parisian; great architecture, great views and food. But since we are into dating, I do not think it is a good place for us to go and pick up girls. It is a Muslim country, OK? It is a wonderful place for women to find boyfriends or for already married or committed couples to go traveling to.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
When I lived in the Netherlands, I had a Thai massage therapist who would go to Turkey every month and wanted to start a business there. She said the business was good, living cheap, and taxes low. She also said the nightlife was excellent. She was going to some of the tourist areas of Turkey. Turkey seems like one of the more liberal Muslim countries. Some of us may be willing to convert to Islam if we can find a good Muslim wife. So, the question is, if you are a Muslim, is there a dating scene, will your brothers help you out, or do you have to go the arranged marriage route?
Hmm, note that your Thai massage person was a female.
I have had a male coworker who went to live in Turkey,learned the language and then married a local woman. I guess you can meet them at work in most big cities. It will be just a normal route, the way it is supposed to be. But if you are willing to convert to Islam, Malaysia/Indonesia would be a better choice. A greater selection of Muslim girls.
Why deliberately choose a country just because it is better than the US by a small margin; as in most Mediterranean countries, there are many handsome men and the women are stand offish and proud. Add Islam into the equasion and the situation is again good for women not for men. But hey, if you think that is your cup of tea, why not? I personally would not waste my time with the place as a dating haven. Ukraine is 45 minutes from there and it is even cheaper and more girls, and no Islam to deal with.
The nightlife was great? As in how great? Bars and clubs with 50 girls to 3 guys as in the Philippines? I don't think so.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
One thing I can add: Turkey is BY FAR number 1 destination for vacation of entire Eastern Europe, Russia included. So if you live somewhere in major resort areas, you can hook up with hot Russian-speaking girls at the clubs. But honestly, I would pick Bulgaria instead of Turkey - it is a Christian country and same goes for vacation - tons of Russian speaking tourists come to Bulgaria for vacation, but even their own girls are extremely beautiful.
The main reason to go to Turkey is if you are interested in the culture. If I went there, I would join a Sufi order and ask Allah for a belly dancer. I was also thinking of the Philippines. There are plenty of women there, but the culture doesn't seem that interesting. China would be interesting if I want to continue my martial arts training. I may also stay with Latin America.
BYO, Turkey is full of Russian speakers because they do not need a visa to go there. They just get it at the airport. So, they go there for the beaches and warm weather plus shopping and sightseeing. None of them get involved with Turkish women. So, they do party but with people that came with them. Slavic women will occasionally meet Turkish guys.
Picking up Russian chicks in Turkish clubs after they have been through 10-20-30 moustached, hairy Turkish men?
Hold me while I vomit. Same as in Dubai/Bahrain- these Russian chicks have been banging a hundred Arabs before you may of whom are bisexual Saudis with HIV.
Yeah, you can party in Istanbul. It is just not gonna be the same party you could have in some other parts of the world.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
I thought Istanbul sucked. The people were slightly rude unless they wanted to sell you something. The main nightlife areas are crawling with guys trying to sell you "girls" or drugs, and the women are not all that hot on average.
Antalia is THE place to visit in the summer months to catch all the Euro girls partying it up. Istanbul is for history buffs, and and people who want to spend money on trinkets and doo dads from the main bazaar.
One more thing, Turkish people have become more and more resentful of Americans over the last 15 years. You will feel the tension while there.
Going to a muslim country for girls is like going to a greasy falafel joint for a nice steak dinner. It's unlikely to happen and if you are fishing in those waters you're competing with sexually frustrated aggressive men and a relatively intolerant society. Turkey may be the most "secular" and developed (non oil producing) muslim country but that's like jockeying for a slightly higher position on the bottom of the global totem pole.
OK which places can you party better? HOw abut Lebanon? Syria?
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I was suppose to meet this girl in Turkey, she was in Siberia and went there to meet some Turkish guy I think. She thought he was creepy, so she went looking for me online and knew I was in Germany. She asked if I wanted to meet her but I said I had already committed to coming home and going back to work. I somewhat regret that, she was wifey material...
Last edited by djfourmoney on January 14th, 2011, 5:19 am, edited 2 times in total.
None of those places are good for guys! They are all good for girls. All that Mediterranean and Arab area is a desert for single guys. Just do not bother.
The writer says that Istanbul is the party capital of "Europe". What was not mentioned was what kind of party. A group of British students going there and shopping and getting drunk while watching a belly dance in a club filled with 3oo sweaty hairy Turkish men is a party! A group of German families flying in and attending a cultural performance of swirling dervishes or a big reception on some ferry is a party. A bunch of Russian guys coming with their wives and getting drunk on the beach is a party. And some horny Swedish blonds coming in to get banged by 4 muscular Turks is also a party.
Lebanon? Syria? Good places. For women! And families!
Everything else is crap crap crap and a major source of melancholy!
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
Visa for Russians are changed now. Ordinary, service and special passport holders are exempted from visa for their travels up to 30 days. Only diplomatic passport holders are exempted from visa for their travels up to 90 days. Russia is expelled from earlier 90 days within 180, for some reasons. Russian oligark interest have been noticed by law authorities, they don't buy flats, they buy building complexes, and filling up with hordes of russians, like some ghetto area, ie Mamuthlar in south. Also russian criminality has been exposed, forged 'Blue book' (long stay residence permit up to 5 yrs) discovered, russian scumbags responsible. That the majority of hookers comes from Russia and Ukraine maybe also have contributed to turkish changed attitude.
From what I experience the russians are not socially capable people. Starting in their ghetto areas with huge vodkas for breakfast, noisy and hardly able to communicate in english, makes these people not popular, at least where I live in southern subtropic belt of Turkey, the Antalya - Alanya area.