From the hill of Çamlıca on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, one has a majestic view of the multireligious, multiethnic character of the imperial city, the hub of many civilizations founded from 658 to 657 B.C., captured by Justinian and named the “New Rome” in 324 A.D., further named Constantinople in 330 A.D., and conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, to be designated Istanbul (from the Greek, eis tin polin: toward the city). In 1458, Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
From this hill of Çamlıca, I often watched my city and listened to two different lessons of history. One was related by my grandfather, an Ottoman subject and a soldier for the empire in World War I, and the other recounted by my father, a modern citizen of the Turkish Republic, born during World War I and coming of age at a time of national reconstruction.
The history that my grandfather told was one of imperial diversity, toleration, and a cultural bazaar. He worked very close to Yeni Cami and Mısır Carşısı (the Egyptian Market) and Rüstem Paşa Cami, finished in 1561 by the architect Mimar Sinan. His retelling of Ottoman life and culture mirrored the sites that he moved through – religious spaces of quietude and serenity; a multihued and vibrant display of eastern smells and tastes; perfumes, incense, drugs, and spices; and along squares filled with boisterous itinerant peddlers, street vendors, and mothers pulling their sons, with threatening images of boogey men lurking around the corner.