New Old Book Strolls Through Istanbul

Book Cover

Destination: Istanbul

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.

Blue tilework, Topkapı Palace, Istanbul
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

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.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

8 thoughts on “New Old Book Strolls Through Istanbul

  1. I remember it a little differently. Actually the Israeli defense forces closed off the entire area blocking anyone from entering or leaving the bazaar. They thought they had cornered some terrorists and we were in the middle of their search. I envisioned my Vera as a typical shield for the bad guys–offering to kill the innocent civilians in exchange for their freedom.
    Although that was an interesting “adventure,” twenty years later, I recall panic in my mind at the time.
    I do believe that I would now avoid any bazaar in Israel or Turkey and look for souvenirs elsewhere.

  2. I’d love to visit this historic, famous and exotic city. The guide sounds like it focuses on the feel and layout of the city rather than things that go out of date like hotel prices and where to east. Sounds attractive to me.

  3. I have always wanted to see the former Constantinople because many Russians went there after the Revolution as a first stop. This book sounds like one my husband would enjoy. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. LOL! Now, why’d ya stress poor Ken out like that in the bazaar? 😉

    I like the sound of this book. I’d love to read it, even if I never make it to Istanbul. 😉


  5. I wish I’d waited until today.. .Saturday I purchased Rick Steves’ “Istanbul” as we are looking for a good guide to use during our overnight stop there during our October cruise. And your review is so timely, this book sounds great. (But that’s not to knock Steves’ book as it also provides suggestions for great walks and we will definitely use his recommendations.)

    We spent a day in Instanbul a couple years ago – approaching the city in the early morning on our cruise ship was absolutely magical. During our limited explorations the sights, sounds and smells overwhelmed our senses. We can hardly wait to return!

    1. Jackie: I think you’re better off not to use the Strolling Istanbul for an overnight stop–it might be a bit overwhelming, even though you’ve been there before. One of the things that surprised me about this book was that I felt LESS intimidated by the crowds and the overwhelming of the senses after reading it. Maybe it’s that British reserve?

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