Book: Strolling Through Istanbul, The Classic Guide to the City by Hilary Sumner-Boyd & John Freely (Originally published 1972;NEW edition, 2010)
I try to imagine strolling the streets of Istanbul, but I am hampered by the perennial action movie shots–camera zooming overhead as swarthy men race through narrow passage ways, overturning carts of chickens who run squawking in all directions and….CUT!
Actually, that was probably Marakesh, not Istanbul, but a bazaar is a bazaar, right? And since I doubt that I am going to get Ken anywhere even close to Istanbul, since the little incident in Jerusalem, I have just done the next best thing and read Strolling Through Istanbul, revised and updated this year, 38 years after it was originally published.
Oh–the incident in Jerusalem? We were there in 1990 on a carefully chapereoned tour which had excluded the Arab quarter. On our last day, set free, we decided to wander a bit, climbed up to the Dome of the Rock and then entered one of the tightly packed streets of a bazaar. Ken, as usual, was a bit nervous about me getting into trouble, and of course as soon as I got a few feet away from him,out of sight in the crowded narrow street, khaki- uniformed policemen, armed to the teeth, bustled in and rushed someone off. Of course Ken was convinced I had been arrested and we would never get home again. I was just looking at jewelry. Not even the Holy Grail. I swear, he reads too many Ludlum novels. But, he never did like cities, and now he particularly does not like ancient cities with bazaars. So much for strolling Istanbul.
After writing scholarly works, the two British authors they joined forces to share this more accessible version of information with travelers. Sumner-Boyd passed away after the original guide was published and Freely took on the task of revision and updating. He points out in the preface to the new edition that although Istanbul has expanded from two million to twelve million people, the heart of the old city remains largely unchanged, and did not change any of their original itineraries.
I read through much of the book enjoying it like a history of the city that spanned such dramatic twists and turns of fortune. The authors ingratiate themselves by telling stories as they stroll through the neighborhoods and over the seven hills (yes, just like Rome). I will admit to skipping over much of the architectural detail although if I were on the spot in Hagia Sopia or Topkapi Palace, I probably would pay more attention.
As it was, I skimmed for the fun details, like those marvelous names the Sultans had for everything. “The Halberdiers with Tresses,” were called that because they were guards (carrying halberds) with two long curls (tresses) hanging down in front of their eyes to obstruct their eyes to obstruct their view of the lovelies in the Harem.
Another mark of a good guide, I think, is fearlessness in giving opinions, and these two felt justified in expressing themselves. My mind formed a sort of “tut-tut” British accent when the authors expressed frequent disapproval of things like “unfortunate restorations” for instance.
Each section starts with a clear, hand-drawn map, and diagrams for the major buildings help you follow the descriptions. The index divides everything by building type–there’s that architecture thing again–and I would have preferred place and people names, but is already quite a thick book.
Some people will find this book packed with extraneous information, like names of architects, and lacking essential things like prices of hotel rooms, for instance. However, for the traveler who appreciates digging deeply into the culture and history of a place, this will be a valuable addition to the Traveler’s Library–whether she has actual or virtual strolling in mind. Palgrave McMillan and publisher Tauris Parke Paperbacks should be congratulated and supported in their efforts to keep alive great classics of travel literature.
This book was furnished for review by Palgrave McMillan and the picture of tile work from Topakpi palace is used courtesy of Creative Commons license from Flickr. Click on the picture to get more information.