Istanbul (στην πολι: in the City)

In Byzantine times there was a close connection between Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Antioch. Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, but Antioch was the base for the campaigns against the Persians. Some of the Byzantine Emperors even stayed in Antioch for periods of time.

There was also cultural exchange. Constantine the Great (d. 337 AD) who made Byzantium his capital and gave it the name Constantinopolis had pieces of art taken from Antioch to have them put up in the in the hippodrome in capital.  In exchange Constantine saw to it that a new church was built in Antioch. It was shaped like an octagon and had a golden dome – not unlike the Dome on the Rock in Jerusalem.

Later the Emperor Valens (d. 378) who constructed the present aqueduct in Istanbul, had a new forum made in Antioch. It was situated in the neighbourhood of the present Grotto of St. Peter.

The Emperor Justinian (d. 565) who had the monumental church of Hagia Sophia built in Constantinople, had a dam erected on the river Parmenius in Antioch. It is still there between Mount Staurin and Mount Cassius up behind the Grotto of St. Peter. It is called the Iron Gate.

When the Crusaders continued to Antioch after being entertained by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (d. 1118) they had to walk or ride on horseback if they belonged to the nobility. The journey took them more or less half a year. Today it takes you less than one hour and a half if you take a plane from the airport outside Antakya to the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul.

The difference between the two cities is colossal. Antakya is a small and quiet town with 200.000 inhabitants. Istanbul has about 15 million. And you feel it. When you are in Istanbul you realise that Byzantium is alive and kicking. You have museums and galleries. You have music festivals with jazz, blues, rick and classical music. And you even have a Bach festival. Really, you have all what you may be looking for.

İstıklâl Caddesi (the old Grand Rue de Pera) between the Taksim Square and Tünel is so crowded in the evening that you can hardly walk. Along the side streets you find cafes, taverns, restaurants and bars.

In old days there were riots due to differences in religion and politics and riots between the fractions on the hippodrome. Today the clashes are between the police and Kurdish partisans from southeast Turkey, between the police and union members and between the police and people whose issue you do not know anything about.

Istanbul is a fascinating but noisy place. After a weeks time you start to long for your eventless life back in Antakya.

About Antiochene

Writer and translatorliving in Antioch on the Orontes (Antakya, Turkey) and Copenhagen.
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