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Istanbul City Profile

"If the earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital"

Napoleon Bonaparte

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Ishak Alaton: Istanbul as non plus ultra © 2008 pre tv. All rights reserved.

Istanbul, capital and centre of two great empires, is a place where all of modern Turkey's contrasts, contradictions and promises can be studied. The largest city in South East Europe, it has been experiencing rapid change in recent decades, growing from 1 million a few decades ago to almost 12 million today. According to some tables, Istanbul is not only the largest city in Europe but also the third largest city in the world

Istanbul has been at the centre of European and world history ever since its founding in the fourth century AD by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who  transferred the Empire's seat to the shores of the Bosporus and renamed it after himself. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, the city's name changed again – to Istanbul. It was to remain the capital of the Ottoman Empire until the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

Istanbul has always been a global city: just before World War I it was home to some 130,000 foreigners. The 1910 Encyclopaedia Britannica described the city as "a remarkable conglomeration of different races, various nationalities, diverse languages, distinctive customs and conflicting faiths." The subsequent loss of much of its minority population deprived the city of a large number of its merchants and businessmen. The loss of Empire and the resentment of the new Republic's founders towards the Ottoman past (expressed through the construction of a new capital in the centre of Anatolia) deprived the city of its political role. Over the years and decades that followed, Istanbul became nostalgic, its culture inward-looking, its business contacts provincial.

Yet all of this appears to be changing. Since 2004 foreign investment has picked up sharply. The local economy (and real estate market) is booming. Money is being poured into preserving Istanbul's heritage, new museums are opening, and new infrastructure – including a tunnel connecting Asia and Europe – is being built. Is the city rediscovering the spirit of dynamism and cosmopolitanism that defined it for so many centuries?

Modern Istanbul

Istanbul province is divided into 32 districts: 27 of these form the City of Istanbul proper, administered by the Istanbul Greater Metropolitan Municipality. Each city district forms a municipality with an elected mayor and an executive council. Districts, in turn, are divided into neighbourhoods (mahalle), each headed by an elected muhtar. The muhtar represents the village (neighbourhood) and carries out his duties together with a committee, informing residents about laws and administrative orders and dealing with certain social problems.

Today Istanbul contributes some 40 percent of all taxes collected in Turkey and produces 27.5 percent of Turkey's national product. In 2005 the City of Istanbul had a GDP of $133 billion. According to the "Largest city economies in the world in 2005 and 2020" report, released in March 2007 by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Istanbul's GDP is expected to more than double to $287 billion by 2020.

Istanbul is already a business and financial centre: the financial districts of Levent and Maslak on the European side of the Bosporus are home to the headquarters of Turkey's largest companies and banks, as well as the local headquarters of global companies. New shopping centres are rising all over the city, including the Cevahir Shopping Mall in Sisli, which opened 2005 and is allegedly Europe's biggest. Many of Turkey's major manufacturing plants are also located in or around the city.

The Istanbul International Film Festival is one of the most important film festivals in Europe. The Istanbul Biennial is a major event in the world of fine arts. In addition to many public museums, private museums have opened their doors in past years. The Istanbul Modern (2004) has a collection of modern and contemporary art; the Sakip Sabanci Museum hosts exhibitions of world famous artists like Picasso, Rodin or Dali. Also new are the Pera Museum (2005) and two Museums located on the Golden Horn: the Rahmi M.Koc Museum 2003) and the Santral Istanbul (2007). Most of Turkey's dailies and weeklies, numerous national TV and radio stations, as well as most foreign correspondents have their main offices in Istanbul.

Modern Istanbul

Istanbul also has more than 20 public and private universities. Istanbul University (1453) is the oldest Turkish educational institution in the city, while the Istanbul Technical University (1773) is one of the world's oldest technical universities specialising in engineering. Other prominent state universities in Istanbul are Bogazici University (1863), Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts (1882), Marmara University (1883), Yildiz Technical University (1911) and Galatasaray University (1992). Recent years have seen an upsurge in the number of private universities. The major private universities in the city are Koc University (1993), Sabanci University (1994) and Bilgi University (1996).

Accommodating rapidly growing traffic is one of the city's biggest challenges: one response has been the development of new public transport infrastructure. The city is surrounded by water: the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn, the Bosporus and the Black Sea. Istanbul's commuter ferries are the backbone of the daily commute between the Asian and the European parts of the city.

Construction of Istanbul's underground railway in began in 1992. The first line went into service in 2000. New stations are currently under construction.

October 2008

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