Feb 28 2018

Beauty in the Istanbul sprawl

The vast expanse covered by the metropolis of Istanbul is home to dozens of chaotic, unplanned and poverty-stricken districts far from the imperial splendour of the city centre. Yet these areas are home to a beauty emanating from their humanity and positive energy, writes Istanbul-based journalist Paul Osterlund in a piece for the literary website Catapult.

Osterlund’s piece describes a trip to Istanbul’s Bağcılar district, a somewhat run-down, “densely-packed enclave” that typifies a difficult-to-translate Turkish term for this type of area – varoş.

The populations explosion since the 1980s – from 3 to at least 15 million inhabitants – has produced an abundance of similar areas across the city, where the millions of residents have to contend with chaotic or completely absent urban planning, cramped conditions, the lack of green spaces, and long commutes to work.

Despite the difficulties, these areas provide a vital and human atmosphere that can contrast the wealthier districts in the town centre.

“To be able to recognize the beautiful aspects of Istanbul alongside its difficulties, rather than from within a more sterile existence, one has to look at what is happening on the periphery of the center, and if possible, to be able to live in it,” Osterlund quotes a friend who grew up in one such district as saying.