The three largest cities are
Turkeys foci. Istanbul, Ankara, or Izmir have become major urban centres by
history as well as design. Following the foundation of the Turkish Republic
after World War I, these cities became the focus for social and business life.
Industry and business clustered in the established commercial centres of
Istanbul and Izmir while the apparatus of the government built itself a new
capital inland in Ankara. These cities contain the country's most respected
universities, conservatories, theatres, and concert halls. Jewish and Christian
communities, and immigrants from different parts of the Ottoman Empire add
diversity to the cities, contributing to the human mosaic so characteristic of
Artists, actors, poets and
journalists hang out in pubs and taverns. Present day Young Turks plot
alternative futures for the country in coffeehouses and reading rooms. The
harried working class intellectuals from the 1960s lament what might have been
over wine and vodka in familiar restaurants. Young urbanites consume the fruits
of modernity in glittering shopping malls and discos. The typical Turkish
intellectual urbanite men and women have many commonalities with their kind
elsewhere in the world and they can be easy going, fun loving companions in your
expeditions. They are well travelled, bilingual, have a high degree of tolerance
for differences, yet are ready to voice opinions on issues. However, you should
also know that deep down, they share values common to all the Turkish people,
such as belief in the integrity of the family, loyalty and obligations to
country and community, hospitality, compassion and fairness in dealing with
other fellow beings, and respect for tradition.
For visitors, the big city 'offers
an abundance of museums and famous historic sites, night clubs, taverns, and
bazaars filled with silver and copper objects, carpets, and gold jewellery.
Istanbul, of course, is in a category of its own. A separate introduction is
needed to its own unique landscape.
The big cities also allow ample
opportunity to sample Turkish cuisine at good, well-established restaurants.
Eating is not taken lightly in Turkey. Dinner in a good restaurant may take
four, five hours in the company of friends and family, sipping drinks and
savouring the endless procession of hot and cold dishes while engaging in
conversations that begin with light-hearted humour, often turning into
recitations of mystic poetry and reminiscences of the past. Turkish cuisine is
next only to French and Chinese cooking in its variety, healthiness and
Most visitors want to experience
the old city. According to tradition, each alley or courtyard of the bazaar
specialized in a craft or trade corresponding to the old guilds. From Belgrade
to Damascus, the cities of the Ottoman Empire were organized in communities
formed along religious fines. These were integrated with the rest of the city
and the larger society via networks of locally controlled services such as fire
protection, security and schools. The old city centre with its places of
worship, government, trade, and entertainment, was where the citizens mingled,
enjoying the benefits of the security and bounty of the State while maintaining
their culture and way of life. The churches, the synagogues, and mosques, the
medrese and the mission schools are still found side by side in the old city
The new city centre revolves around
high rise international style office buildings, Luxury Villas, well-appointed
restaurants and bars, and fashionable shopping districts. Modernization brought
apartment life into the cities, replacing the traditional fabric which consisted
of one to three story houses overlooking cobblestone streets and cool
courtyards. Neighbourhood and neighbourliness are of great importance in the
Turkish way of life. The introduction of apartment buildings where a dozen or so
families have joint ownership of the property presented city dwellers with new
challenges and shifted the focus of their control over the environment from the
neighbourhood to the apartment budding with its myriad of issues such as heating
and maintenance. In three decades, a highly complex and uniquely Turkish
management pattern evolved with laws, regulations and administrative structure.
The apartment life, which has been the subject of numerous skits and humorous
television series, is the hub of neighbourly interaction. The old Turkish adage,
"Don't buy a house, buy a neighbour" is a more true than ever.
Almost all neighbourhoods have
weekly farmers' markets in addition to small grocery stores, fruit and vegetable
stands, butchers, charcuteries, bakeries and florists. If you happen to see a
farmer's market, stop, explore and taste some of the fruits and vegetables. This
is how they were meant to taste before civilization came up with genetic
Settlements on the outskirts of the
big cities are the first stop of recent immigrants from the countryside.
Migration from rural to urban areas has been a fact of life in Turkey since the
1960s. These settlements often referred to as "gecekondu" or "thrown up
overnight" house hard-working extended families. Although the communities lack
some city services, most have electricity, and almost all rooftops are adorned
with TV antennas.
Turkish cities, despite their size,
are remarkably safe. The low crime rate makes it safe to be out after dark and
many neighbourhoods are alive well into the late hours of the night.