Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Europe's largest city is a place where western and oriental influences collide. Laurence Mitchell, a regular contributor to the magazine, takes us on a tour of the western suburbs of Istanbul.

article summary —

It is a city of many names: to the Ancients it was Byzantium. Later, as the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the city around the Golden Horn was known as Constantinople. It was less than a hundred years ago that the first president and founder of the modern Turkish State, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, decreed that it should be called Istanbul.

Laurence Mitchell, a regular contributor to hidden europe magazine, has been exploring some lesser known areas of Europe's largest city.

Istanbul, like Venice or Paris, is such an iconic city that even those who have never visited often have clear images in their minds of its bridges, shimmering waters, pencil-thin minarets and gleaming domes. It is, after all, a place on the very edge of Europe. For some, it marks the beginning of the Oriental world; for others it is the last of Europe, a city where contrasting ideas and philosophies have always cross-fertilised.

In recent years, Istanbul has grown dramatically to become Europe's largest city. The city's world image has changed from one of Oriental mystery to that of economic powerhouse and the metropolis seems to have finally shaken off any self-doubts it may have harboured about its place in the European milieu. Tourism has long been important and the extraordinary architectural gems of the Sultanahmet district - the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace - draw millions of admirers each year. But Istanbul has far more to offer beyond these, admittedly wonderful, tourist sites. Like any great city it is a place to simply wander at will and see what you can find.

Far away from the carpet touts, souvenir shops and manicured parks of Sultanahmet, just west of the former Greek and Jewish neighbourhoods of Fener and Balat, lies Edirnekap? (‘Edirne Gate'), a breach in the city walls that became the main exit to Thrace after the conquest of the city by Sultan Mehmed II in 1453. The streets around Edirnekap? are attractive enough, at least away from the traffic-heavy thoroughfare of Fevzi Pasa Caddesi, and a stroll through them reveals a middle class district of shuttered wooden houses, bakeries and grocery shops - everyday people living everyday lives.

This is just an excerpt. The full text of this article is not yet available to members with online access to hidden europe. Of course you can also read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 23.


Laurence Mitchell became a travel writer almost by default having squandered his youth travelling in North Africa and India. Following a stint teaching in Sudan, he went on to train as a geography teacher, which he pursued for a decade or so.

These days he concentrates on writing and photography and, while still drawn to transition zones and cultural frontiers like Central Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus region, is increasingly more content to explore closer to home. He loves ancient tracks, moss-covered ruins, graveyards and allotment gardens, and believes it is possible to find the extraordinary in even the most quotidian surroundings.

Despite a slight distrust of guidebooks, he has contributed several of his own to the world's literary stockpile – Bradt travel guides to Serbia and Kyrgyzstan, ‘slow’ guides to Norfolk and Suffolk (also Bradt), and walking guides to Norfolk and Suffolk for Cicerone. His travel memoir Westering, which describes a coast to coast walk across England and Wales that connects landscape, memory and spirit of place, will be published by Saraband in April 2021. Visit Laurence's blog.

This article was published in hidden europe 23.