cosmopolitan istanbul: then and now

D4681728-2e81-498a-8817-210ed9c2621bBernd Brunner at Lapham's Quarterly:

In 1850, when Gustave Flaubert visited Istanbul, or Constantinople, as it was still called, he wrote of discovering a fantastic “human anthill,” which he expected to become “the capital of the world”: “You know that feeling of being crushed and overwhelmed that one has on a first visit to Paris: here you are penetrated by that feeling, elbowing so many unknown men, from Persian and Indian, to the American and Englishman, so many separate individualities which, in their frightening total, humble your own.” Herman Melville, who spent six days in Constantinople in December 1856, found the city labyrinthine and often got lost. “Came home through the vast suburbs of Galata,” he noted in his journal. “Great crowds of all nations…coins of all nations circulate—Placards in four or five languages (Turkish, French, Greek, Armenian)…You feel you are among the nations…Great curse that of Babel; not being able to talk to a fellow being.”

Mark Twain came to Constantinople a decade later to see what he characterized as “an eternal circus”: “People were thicker than bees in those narrow streets, and the men were dressed in all the outrageous, outlandish, idolatrous, extravagant, thunder-and-lightning costumes that ever a tailor with the delirium tremens and seven devils could conceive of.” Constantinople, at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, with its unusual human mosaic, was a place that welcomed nearly everyone.

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