Istanbul: life on a political and cultural fault line

In Istanbul: Memories of a City, his mournful love letter to his hometown, Orhan Pamuk refers to the peculiar melancholy that haunts the grand buildings and dilapidated backstreets of the capital of the old Ottoman empire. He calls it ‘huzun’, a Turkish word that refers to spiritual loss or yearning. According to the Nobel Laureate, the monumental architecture and the little arches and fountains combine to ‘inflict heartache on all who live among them’. This, he writes, is because they ‘are reminders that the present city is so poor and confused that it can never again dream of rising to the same heights of wealth, power and culture’ of its glorious past. Reading these lines one wonders if it’s only coincidence that the city’s most famous landmark is known as the Blue Mosque.

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