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September 9, 2013 / Congau

Istanbul

It’s not a city, it’s a symbol. It’s on a border which is not a border but just a thought experiment.

Bosporus, the strait that actually divides this city, divides in our imagination the entire world into East and West. Whoever crosses the strip of water, instantly leaves Europe and sails into Asia. Is that a gigantic step for mankind? No, visitors tell you that nothing changes by this continental shift. The city is still Istanbul; a modern Turkish metropolis.

It’s any city in any world, one should think. But our minds like categorizing, for that’s the only way for us to understand our chaotic world. The earth is not as one colored as it seems from the point of view of the universe. It consists of an infinite number of nuances, but there are no borders between the colors. They blur into an impressionistic lack of understanding. Therefore we need to construct an Istanbul; a place that marks the dividing line between different concepts.

There probably is a Europe. It doesn’t start on Bosporus, but we ought to think that it exists. It somehow makes sense to talk about a certain unity that is made from something called culture and formed in time and in space; that is, in history and in geography.

Once when the world was big, it was not easy for ideas to travel. They had time to get shaped in isolated areas. One idea, the idea of Christianity, was formed in Europe and formed Europe. It happened west of Bosporus, but also east of this watershed. Through centuries Istanbul was not at all a border between ideas and cultures.

Just like geography, history doesn’t have any real borders either. We only mention dates to keep a certain order, for the world remains the same also after a big and famous date. On the 29th of May 1453, the city we call Istanbul was conquered. That was the final fall of the Roman Empire, we imagine, even though that ancient greatness had shrunk to the size of insignificance by then. But again, when we talk about Istanbul, the symbol is what matters, for before reality is mentally processed there is nothing but chaos.

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