Many people, especially outside of Europe, aren’t familiar with Turkey. Yet, Turkey has parallels to American history and some events unique to it’s own. In this article, we take a look at where Turkey has come from, who lives there, the climate and other general facts about this secret European jewel.
Turkey – At the Crossroads of Europe and Asia
The Republic of Turkey, commonly referred to as Turkey (you can link to the official Tourism Portal of Turkey here), is a country situated at the edge of both Europe and Asia. This makes Turkey a land that is directly affected by the conflicts of its neighbors, of which there have many. In fact, Turkey is bordered by eight countries. Over the centuries, there have been various struggles, conquests, and changes of power, which have all shaped the nation into its current setting as a gateway between the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.
Many people, especially outside of Europe, aren’t familiar with Istanbul. Yet, Istanbul has parallels to some events unique to it’s own. In this article, we take a look at where Istanbul has come from, who lives there, the climate and other general facts about this secret European jewel.
Istanbul– At the Crossroads of Europe and Asia
Istanbul (Turkish: İstanbul) is Turkey’s most populous city as well as its cultural and financial hub. Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, Istanbul bridges Asia and Europe both physically and culturally. Istanbul’s population is estimated to be between 12 and 19 million people, making it also one of the largest cities in Europe and the world.
Essentially the Constantinople of the Roman, Eastern Roman/Byzantine, and much of the Ottoman periods, this is where most of the famous historical sights of Istanbul are located.
Housing many of the nightlife venues of the city, this district includes Beyoğlu, Istiklal Street, and Taksim Square also its own share of sights and accommodation.
European bank of the Bosphorus dotted by numerous palaces, parks, water-front mansions, and bohemian neighbourhoods, such as Beşiktaş and Ortaköy.
Banks of Golden Horn, the estuary that separates the European side into distinctive districts. Eyüp, with an Ottoman ambience, is located here.
Expanding the ancient Roman colony of Byzantium by the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, the imperial city of Constantinople was for nearly a thousand years the last remaining outpost of the Roman (later termed Eastern Roman or Byzantine) Empire. It was finally conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II on 29 May 1453, an event sometimes used to mark the end of the Middle Ages. It was the nerve centre for military campaigns that were to enlarge the Ottoman Empire dramatically. By the mid 1500s, Istanbul, with a population of almost half a million, was a major cultural, political, and commercial centre. Ottoman rule continued until it was defeated in WWI and Istanbul was occupied by the allies. When the Republic of Turkey was born in 1923 after the War of Independence, Kemal Atatürk moved its capital to the city of Ankara. However, Istanbul has continued to expand dramatically; today its population is approximately 14 million and increases at an estimated 400,000 immigrants per year. Industry has expanded even as tourism has grown.
Istanbul is divided in three by the north-south Bosphorus Strait (Istanbul Bogazi), the dividing line between Europe and Asia, the estuary of the Golden Horn (Haliç) bisecting the western part and the Sea of Marmara (Marmara Denizi) forming a boundary to the south. Most sights are concentrated in the old city on the peninsula of Sultanahmet, to the west of the Bosphorus between the Horn and the Sea. Across the Horn to the north are Galata, Beyoğlu and Taksim, the heart of modern Istanbul, while Kadıköy is the major district on the comparatively less-visited Anatolian side of the city. The Black Sea forms the northern boundary of Istanbul.
Istanbul has a temperate oceanic climate which is influenced by a continental climate, with hot and humid summers and cold, wet and occasionally snowy winters.
Istanbul has a high annual average rainfall of 844mm (which is more than that of London, Dublin or Brussels, whose negative reputation Istanbul does not suffer), with late autumn and winter being the wettest, and late spring and summer being the driest. Although late spring and summer are relatively dry when compared to the other seasons, rainfall is significant during these seasons, and there is no dry season as a result.
If there is a negative reputation that Istanbul does suffer from, it is the high annual relative humidity, especially during winter and summer with the accompanying wind chill and concrete-island effect during each respective season.
Ortaköy Mosque, along the Bosphorus
Summer is generally hot with averages around 27ºC during the day and 18ºC at night. High relative humidity levels and the ‘concrete-island effect’ only make things worse. Expect temperatures of up to 35° C for the hottest days of the year. Summer is also the driest season, but it does infrequently rain. Showers tend to last for 15-30 minutes with the sun usually reappearing again on the same day. Flash floods are a common occurrence after heavy rainfalls (especially during summer), due to the city’s hilly topography and inadequate sewage systems.
Winter is cold and wet, averaging 2ºC at night and 7ºC during the day. Although rarely below freezing during the day, high relative humidity levels and the wind chill makes it feel bitterly cold and very unpleasant.
Snowfall, which occurs almost annually, is common between the months of December and March, with an annual total snow cover of almost three weeks, but average winter snowfall varies considerably from year to year, and snow cover usually remains only for a few days after each snowfall, even under intense snow conditions.
Late spring (late May to early June) and early autumn (late September to early October) are very pleasant and therefore the best times to visit the city. During these periods it is neither cold nor hot, and still sunny, though the nights can be chilly and rain is common.
For visitors an umbrella is recommended during spring, autumn and winter, and during the summer to avoid the sun and occasionally the rain. However, it’s not such a big problem, since streets of Istanbul are suddenly filled by umbrella sellers as soon as it starts raining. Although the umbrellas they provide are a little shoddy, going rate is only TRY5 –about USD3- per umbrella (though you can find much better umbrellas for that price at shops if you look around a bit).
Light clothing is recommended during summer and a light jacket and/or light sweater if the summer evenings do become chilly, warm clothing is essential during winter and a mixture of the two during spring and autumn.
Also take note that due to its huge size, topography and maritime influences, Istanbul exhibits a multitude of distinct micro-climates. Thus, different sections of Istanbul can experience different weather conditions at the same time. For example, at the same moment, it can be heavily raining in Sarıyer in the north, mildly raining in Levent (northern terminus of metro line), while Taksim, the southern terminus of metro line, is having a perfectly sunny day.
With its long history at the center of empires, Istanbul offers a wealth of historic and religious places to take in. The bulk of these ancient monuments, dating back to Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Basilica Cistern are located around Sultanahmet Square, while some others are dispersed throughout the peninsula of old city, such as Church of St Savior in Chora (Kariye Müzesi), entire inside of which is covered by mindblowing frescoes and mosaics. An impressive section of mostly intact Theodosian walls, which mark the full length of western boundary of the peninsula, is right next to this particular church.
North of the peninsula of old city, across the Golden Horn, is Galata, crowned by the Galata Tower. Istanbul Modern, with its exhibitions of contemporary Turkish art, is on the nearby waterfront of Karaköy. Another sight of religious significance close by is the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall of Sufi Mevlevi order, just north of the Tower. Further north is the Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s prominent pedestrian street running from near Galata Tower to Taksim Square, the central square of whole city.
Heading west rather than north from the old city brings you deeper into the banks of the Golden Horn estuary. A neighbourhood perhaps well worth a visit here is Eyüp, to visit city’s holiest Islamic shrine and just to see what daily life in Ottoman Istanbul was like. On the opposite shores of the Horn, in Sütlüce is the Miniaturk, the first miniature park in the city, with models from around the former Ottoman Empire.
North of Taksim Square is New Istanbul, main business district of the city. If venturing out to this direction, don’t forget to check out Military Museum, where Ottoman military music concerts (Mehter) are held every afternoon. Most of the skyscrapers of the city are located in the north of this district, around Levent and Maslak, with a totally different skyline from that of the old city. However southern reaches of the very same district has some fine neo-classical and Art Nouveau buildings from the turn of the 20th century, around the neighbourhoods of Osmanbey, Kurtuluş, and Nişantaşı. Just east from here, with a little drop in elevation as you approach the shore, is the banks of Bosphorus, that is lined by pleasant neighbourhoods full of waterfront mansions (yalı) and a number of waterside palaces where you can admire what money could buy in times gone by.
Across the Bosphorus to east is Asian Side, centred around the historical districts of Kadıköy and Üsküdar, and perhaps best symbolized by Maiden’s Tower, located at about the halfway between these districts, on an islet just off the shore. Bosphorus and Marmara coasts of this half of the city is characterized by quite picturesque neighbourhoods, overlooked by Çamlıca Hill, one of the highest hills of the city which has a view of much of the rest of the city as well, with a cafe and a pleasant park on its summit.
Southeast of the city, off the southern coast of Asian Side are the Princes’ Islands, an archipelago of nine car-free islands, characterized by stunning wooden mansions and pine groves.
The Mighty Ottoman Empire Becomes the Republic of Turkey
Before Turkey became a republic, the land was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman state was formed in 1299 after Osman Bey united many of the Turkish tribes. It wasn’t until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 that the Ottoman state truly became an empire. From that point, up until 1683, the Ottoman Empire continued to grow, through a series of conquests and invasions of other territories and tribes. During the peak of the Ottoman Empire’s control of the region, the area ruled by the empire included a population of over 15,000,000.
The start of the 18th century saw the beginning of a series of wars that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. From 1700 to 1878, there were dozens of battles and several large scale wars fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Russians. This would cripple the hold that the Ottoman Empire had on many of its territories.
World War I saw the official end of the Ottoman Empire and the transition to the Republic of Turkey. One of the founders of this new movement was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk was an Ottoman and Turkish army officer that led the Turkish National Movement during what is considered the Turkish War of Independence. After his victory, Ataturk began transitioning the Ottoman Empire into a European Nation-State. This was done through the opening of new schools, initiating government reform programs, and by lowering taxes. The emergence of this new type of government in Turkey was the start of its growth into a modernised European nation.
From Early Republic to Modern Power
After becoming a Republic, it took some time for Turkey to evolve into the modern power that it is today. The early steps taken by Ataturk to guide Turkey towards a more secular government were the stepping stones that needed to be placed. This also helped the growth of population in Turkey. In 1927, the population had been just 13 million. By 1950, the population had reached 20 million. This kind of explosive growth was not seen by other countries that were involved in World War I and II and demonstrated the security and national pride felt by most Turks.
In 1945, at the end of World War II, Turkey became a member of the United Nations. This helped them become a part of the Marshall Plan, which was written to aid in the rebuilding of Europe after World War II.
As a member of the United Nations, Turkey took part in the Korean War, after which, they joined NATO. Being directly involved in the conflicts of allies and other countries was instrumental in Turkey’s remaining a prominent country during the second half of the 20th century. This prominence can be noted by again looking at their population. The population of Turkey continues to grow at a rate of 1.35% each year, leading to their current population of over 75 million citizens.
The Parliamentary System of Turkey
The Grand National Assembly of Turkey is the name given to the legislative body that makes up the Turkish government. The outline of this parliamentary system was established in the Turkish Constitution, written during the Turkish War of Independence in 1920. The influence of religious leaders and clerics is often considered one of the reasons that the Ottoman Empire began falling apart. This is part of the reason that Turkey’s constitution is based around a secular government that separates itself from the church. The head of state in Turkey’s government is the President of the Republic. This position is voted for by the parliament and the parliament is elected by the Turkish people.
The government of Turkey is divided into three sections. The executive power is managed by the Council of Ministers and the Prime Minister. The Grand National Assembly of Turkey is responsible for the legislative decision-making. Independent of the other groups, the judiciary is ruled by the Constitutional Court, similar to the United States Supreme Court.
Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Relationships
Turkey is surrounded by eight neighbouring countries. These countries include Greece and Bulgaria to the north and west, Georgia to the northeast, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Armenia to the east, and Syria and Iraq to the south. This places them at a crossroads between Europe, the Middle East, and western Asia.
Turkey is a member of both the United Nations and NATO. They are closely allied with Western European countries and have begun negotiations to become a full member of the European Union. Since 1974, they still do not recognise the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus and the relationship is stable, but tenuous. Throughout the cold war, Turkey backed the United States in support of Democracy over Communism.
Turkey has been in a notable expansion mode for several years, unlike almost all of Europe and the United States. The government has ended barriers to foreign land ownership and added more time to tourist visas, encouraging foreign investment that is fuelling a building boom. Adding to the growth are very low interest rates for borrowers and above-average interest rates for investment funds parked in Turkish banks. Turkey’s varied regions also attract investors and tourists from around the globe and Turkey’s annual growth rate is over 10 percent while its neighbours see minimal or no growth.
The Geographical Regions of Turkey
The geographical layout of Turkey is varied, due to the location of the country. Turkey is surrounded by three seas. Turkey is divided into seven geographical regions. These regions are called the Aegean, Central Anatolia, Eastern Anatolia, Southeastern Anatolia, Black Sea, Marmara, and the Mediterranean region. The largest land area of Turkey is Anatolia, which connects Turkey to Asia. The majority of the Anatolia region is comprised of narrow coastal plains and high plateaus. The east, most of the land is mountainous and connected to major river systems.
• Total Area: 783, 562 square km
• Coastline: 7200 km
• Climate: Dry and hot summers and mild winters
• Highest Point: Mount Ararat 5,166 m
• Lowest Point: Mediterranean Sea 0 m
These different regions also have varied climates, a feature unique to Turkey. Along the coast of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, the climate is hot and dry during the summer and cool and wet during the winter. The coastal regions that lay along the Black Sea tend to be cooler and wetter in the summer than other coastal parts of Turkey.
The Demographics of Turkey
Turkey is a modern European country and home to a variety of cultures. This is partly due to the large amount of expansion they carried out during the middle ages. The census of 2000 recorded a population of 67 million citizens. 70-75% of Turkish citizens are of Turkish ancestry, primarily progressive Muslims. The minority groups in Turkey are mostly made up of Jews, Greeks, and Armenians. Turkey is also home to a large population of Muslim Kurds, comprising roughly 18% of the population of Turkey.
Unsurprisingly to some, Turkey boasts the 15th largest economy in the world.
With its combination of a progressive democratic government, aggressive growth rates and it’s gateway geographic position coupled with diverse regional climates, Turkey has come a long way and appears to have more to come.