Compare the smart shoppers flitting between the galleries and boutiques around Beyoğlu's European-style central drag, Istiklal Caddesi, with the modestly dressed and headscarved weekend picnickers in mosque gardens in conservative areas like Fener and Balat. Or the old men sipping glasses of dark tea in the recesses of the Grand Bazaar with sleekly dressed patrons sipping cocktails in smart bars along the Bosphorus or on Beyoğlu rooftops.
Compare also the historic Istanbul and the modern – it's a well-worn cliché but one that is impossible to escape with this city. As the centre of two great empires – Ottoman and Byzantine – Istanbul is steeped in a weighty heritage. At the same time, the modern city is possessed of an enormous, creative, forward-looking energy, with a young population open to foreign influences and ready to embrace change, but creative enough not merely to import it.
Hence homegrown bands are at last finding their voice – and the right recording deals, while musicians from abroad play to packed houses; the 2006 Istanbul Biennial was the biggest ever in terms of international contributions, and local visitor numbers; people flock to cinemas to see foreign films during the International Istanbul Film Festival, while at least 30 new Turkish films were due to hit the screens in 2006.
Modern Istanbullus have a real appreciation for their roots, which means there's no danger of throwing out the old to welcome in the new. New bands may be forging their own modern Turkish identity, but everyone – old and young – still enjoys a night of traditional folk or fasıl music. Expect plenty of singing along and energetic dancing – possibly on the tables – in the bağlama bars and meyhanes of the city.
Respecting the past
A respect for heritage is also evident in Istanbul's well-preserved historic buildings and monuments – and the Istanbullus who choose to spend time visiting them. If you're not yet an aficionado of Ottoman history, you probably will be after a few hours at Topkapı Palace, hub of the empire. Its pavilions are filled with imperial treasures ranging from heavily bejewelled objets to artefacts from Mecca; its beautifully decorated harem quarters are sizeable yet still manage to feel claustrophobic.
And this is only one stop on the tour; there is so much more to see. The small Church of St Saviour in Chora, for example, is home to some of the best-preserved Byzantine mosaics and frescos in existence; and the architecturally outstanding mosques are open to all.
Forging past & present
An appreciation of the past – both cultural and monumental – and a willingness to forge the old with the new are two of Istanbul's greatest assets. Both are vital factors in the creation of a city identity that is unique and always fascinating.
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